Monthly Archives: December 2013

Spaced repetition with iKnow!

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I’ve recently renewed my iKnow! subscription, with the aim of finishing the Japanese Core 6000 series (the 6000 most commonly appearing Japanese words) once and for all. I’ve tried many different methods for vocabulary building and I’ve found iKnow! to be one of the most reliable to date (if you put in the time!). After learning some words in iKnow!, I seem to notice them randomly when watching TV shows, reading articles, etc. which further reinforces the words in my memory. In conjunction with generous helpings of natural sources of Japanese, I am hoping iKnow! will help push me towards fluency in 2014.

iKnow! is an online, paid, learning service based on spaced repetition that can help you learn and remember words. There are pre-built courses with example sentences, images and sounds, and your progress is saved online. iOS and Android apps are also available (full disclosure: I used to work on the iKnow! Android app).

iKnow! welcome screen.

iKnow! welcome screen.

Spaced repetition is a learning technique whereby you increase the amount of time between subsequent reviews to maximize learning efficiency. Intuitively, reviewing items too early (when you still remember it) is wasted effort, and so to minimize the amount of time studying you should only review just as you are about to forget it. There are algorithms that exist to try to calculate this optimal time interval, one of which is implemented by the iKnow! service. iKnow! also introduces the concept of ‘mastering’, which is basically a threshold at which retention is deemed sufficiently high.

Repeated reviewed items follow a different curve

Repeated reviewed items follow a different curve

There are several free spaced repetition apps available too (e.g. Anki), but I’m choosing to use iKnow! for the pre-packaged content, varied quiz types, target setting/progress system, and reliable syncing across different apps/platforms. iKnow! repeats content a lot more often during a session making reviews take a bit longer compared to Anki, but reading the example sentences again and again seems to help me with retention.

Core 6000 is split up into 6 different series (Core 1000 – Core 6000), each having 1000 words. In turn, each series has 10 courses, containing 100 words each. The initial courses have plenty of images and example sentences, but this degrades somewhat as you progress (from around Core 3000 you only get one example sentence per word, and no images).

iKnow! study screen.

iKnow! study screen.

I started on Core 1000 Step 1, and my most recently mastered course was Core 4000 Step 5. Having currently put in 208 hours in total, the average time for me to finish a course is 6 hours. With some extrapolation, and a study target of 7 hours per week, it will me 150 hours (21.4 weeks) to finish the remaining 25 courses. Maintaining 1 hour per day may seem straightforward, but without some basic planning it is easy to slip up. This time round, I’m going to try to split up my sessions throughout the day to get through it a bit easier. Feel free to ask me about my iKnow! progress in 2014!

Current progress in iKnow!

Current progress in iKnow!

JLPT… We meet again!

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On Sunday, I took the JLPT exam (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) here in Tokyo. The JLPT has several levels ranging from N5 (the least difficult) to N1 (the most difficult). Having recently passed N3 in July, I decided to give N2 a try this time round! N2 is generally considered the minimum level required to live and work in a Japanese environment without major problems. Improving my Japanese will help me in all aspects of my life (as long as I remain in Japan) and so it only make sense to spend the time to study properly. I think I sat this a bit prematurely, but it gave me a concrete target to aim for and has helped to guide my study in the past few months. Pass or fail, I am happy some progress was made!

In Japan, you can take the exam up to twice a year. You apply for a particular level a few months in advance, paying a nominal fee (5500 yen). The test location seems to be decided based on your address – I was assigned to Tokyo City University – Setagaya campus. The test site was 15 minutes walk from the nearest train station. I was worried the place might be hard to find, but there were many, many other people (1000s?) also sitting the exam, and we formed a long line from the station all the way up to the test site. The other candidates seemed to be predominately Asian (Chinese, Vietnamese), but there were also people from many other countries too. Everyone seemed to be in their early 20s, and judging from a few overheard conversations, mostly university students.

There were several exam rooms across several buildings, with each room having about 100 students. They were extremely strict on what was allowed and not allowed on your desk – in particular, several people were told off for having erasers still inside their cases. All of the instructions from the examiners were in Japanese, but they generally stuck to set phrases and used simple language. It was interesting to see how well (and not well) my fellow students could understand the oral instructions!

The N2 exam is broken into two sections, ‘Language Knowledge’ (vocabulary, grammar, reading) and listening. The first section, including prep time, was about 2 hours, while the second lasted about 1 hour. There was a generous break (about 30 minutes) in-between. Time management was a bit of a problem on the language knowledge section, but I managed to make it to half-way through the last question before time ran out. There were quite a few words I didn’t recognize in the vocab section, and it took me more than a while to read the long passages in the reading section, but grammar went reasonably well. I was feeling mentally drained going into the listening section, but had no choice but to keep as focused as I could throughout. Most questions and key points are only mentioned once, and so a brief slip in concentration could spell disaster. I made many notes whilst listening, but still missed a few things when it came to answering the questions. If the audio was played twice, this would be be the easiest section of the exam by far. But the extreme level of concentration required (along with being generally tired after the language knowledge section) keeps this somewhat challenging.

The results will be announced in early February 2014(!), so I have quite a while to go before I find out how well I did. I will keep studying in the meantime – hopefully 1 year from now I will be in a position to confidently sit JLPT N1! Time to ramp up my study for 2014!

Category: Japanese | Tags: , , ,