Motivation

3 Reasons Why Breaks Improve your Productivity

Believe it or not, breaks are an essential part of a productive study session.

In our quest to master our target language, it is very easy to study in long intensive sessions. There is a lot of research to suggest that taking breaks is an easy way to improve your memory. We already know that sleeping is very important for good brain function, and this extends to our ability to learn new skills.

I think that having a cup of tea or coffee is a good excuse to take a break!

How are breaks beneficial for learning?

  1. Taking a break gives our brain a chance to retain new information better. Doing an easier task such as having a coffee is known as wakeful rest and allows the brain to dedicate more of its power to process new information.
  2. Breaks aid our creativity and problem-solving skills. Have you ever had an experience where you were stuck on a problem, only to take a break and suddenly find the right answer? Taking a break gives ourselves a chance to reset and approach tasks with a fresh mind. 
  3. Long study sessions normally lead to stress. When you try to learn a lot in a short time it is easy to get overwhelmed, making it difficult to actually learn anything effectively. Breaks help you to sustain your motivation, especially when tackling something difficult.

So with this in mind, there are a few easy things you can do to incorporate breaks into your study routine.

Tips on using breaks effectively

  • If your mind tends to wander a lot when you study, then try taking a break. It might be that your study sessions need to be broken down into smaller chunks. The Pomodoro technique takes advantage of our need for breaks. With the Pomodoro technique, you take a 5-minute break after 25 minutes of focus. After 4 focus sessions, you get a longer break of 20 minutes.
  • Make sure you do as little as possible during your breaks. Using your break to check your social media or do some chores might seem like a good idea, but you are not truly giving your brain a rest. Meditation is also a great idea to ensure that you switch off completely.
  • Try to go outside or for a walk. Physical activity improves oxygen flow to your brain and stimulates our hippocampus which is the part of the brain responsible for learning and memory.

For those of us living in the Northern Hemisphere, the summer break is pretty much over. You might have neglected your studies so that you can enjoy your holidays – I personally think that’s great! Don’t feel bad about taking breaks because they are critical to productive learning sessions. 

When your study sessions don’t feel productive, there are a few things that you may need to look at. Here are a few posts I’ve done related to this topic that might help you:

Decluttering and The Path of Least Resistance

The idea of having fewer ‘things’ has been on my mind a lot lately. This is mostly to do with the fact that I have moved house recently. However, this has also coincided with me finally watching Marie Kondo’s TV series on Netflix.

I thought that Marie Kondo was already fairly popular, but this show seems to have got a lot of people talking about decluttering. I believe that the Japanese word for decluttering is 断捨離:

断捨離 (だんしゃり/danshari)

Decluttering

Marie Kondo and her method might have a lot of critics, but it is obvious from watching her show that having fewer things makes her clients so much happier.

I’ve been on my own personal mission to declutter, which was very difficult at first but has gradually been getting easier. The vast majority of my Japanese books have survived my latest round of decluttering. Nevertheless, going through this process has got me thinking about why decluttering is a good idea both in general and when it comes to language learning.

The Power of Decluttering

I was watching a TV show about a Japanese minimalist called Fumio Sasaki (佐々木文雄). He realised that he needed to make a change in his life and decided to drastically remove the number of items he had. Through this process, he discovered that having fewer things improved his life in many ways. He’s since written a book about his experiences called ぼくたちに、もうモノは必要ない (the English title is Goodbye, Things).

His example is rather extreme but it did get me thinking about how decluttering can be beneficial.

Decluttering helps you create room for the most important things in your life. When you have fewer things, making decisions becomes much easier. It also means you have fewer things to worry about – for example, having fewer clothes means less laundry to do.

The Path of Least Resistance

I recently read about a theory called the Path of Least Resistance. In short, the path of least resistance means us humans will always do the things that it is easiest to do.

Let’s say I have some chocolates near my sofa and some fruit in the next room. I am more likely to eat the chocolate as it is physically closer to me, even though I know that eating the fruit is better for me. This concept applies to all areas of our lives.

It sounds like a very negative thing, but it is possible to use this aspect of human nature to our advantage. Going back to the food example, if I place the fruit near my sofa and lock the chocolates away in the next room, I am more likely to eat the fruit instead of the chocolates.

Ultimately, decluttering helps you to take advantage of the Path of Least Resistance. Fewer things to distract you means you can program yourself to make better decisions more easily. If I don’t buy any chocolate at all, then I no longer have to make the choice between chocolate or fruit – I can only eat the fruit.

How does this apply to language learning?

There are so many different resources out there for Japanese. Truthfully though, I think a lot of people (myself included) would make more progress if we restricted the number of resources we used. Choice is a wonderful thing, but just like when we have too many things it reduces our ability to focus on what we really want.

If you have this many Japanese books, then you should definitely be decluttering!

Most of the time our progress is not dependent on what resources we use, but how we use them. What habits do we have in place that help us learn the language? I’ve explored this idea before when I wrote about ways to simplify your language learning routine. I now challenge you to declutter your language learning resources!

Decluttering for Language Learners

  1. Take stock of the resources you use. Marie Kondo likes to get her clients to put all of their clothes in a huge pile before sorting through them. It’s a bit harder to do this with language learning resources (especially digital ones), so I write a list of all of the websites/ subscriptions/ apps that I am using.
  2. Ask yourself a few questions about each one. Do you use it? Do you like using it? Is it helping to move you towards your language goals? If the answer is no, then you probably don’t need it anymore.
  3. If you find it hard to identify which resources are holding you back, stop using one or more of them for a couple of weeks. If you didn’t really miss using the resource during this period, then it might not be as useful or helpful as you think.
  4. Sell/ give away/ unsubscribe from the resource.

The resources you have left should be the most effective in helping you make progress. What’s more, it should be easier to jump into a study session without having to spend time deciding what to use!

I write a lot about various resources on the blog, but in reality, I only use 3-4 at one time. If there is a resource that no longer serves a purpose, I stop using it. You should use the resources that are best suited to your goals. However, our goals and priorities can change, so our language learning should adapt to these changes too.

Sometimes I stop using something, only to go back to it later – I think this is perfectly fine to do. Whilst I believe that consistency is important, I focus on consistency in my habits rather than consistency in the resource I use.

Have you decluttered recently? Do you think it has had a positive impact in your life? Let me know in the comments!

My Mid-year Language Review

The end of June is near, which means we are nearly halfway through 2019 already. I honestly feel like it has flown by! Now feels like a good time to review how much progress you have made so far.

My birthday happens to be in June so this is the time I naturally think to myself “what is it that I want to achieve by my next birthday?”. A mid-year review is probably familiar if you work in a corporate environment, but over the last couple of years I’ve tried to do a personal review. It’s really easy to think that you can only set and revise your goals at the start of the year, but of course you can do this whenever you want!

In my case, I don’t really need to do a long review to know that I need to make changes. I have fallen behind with my goals for learning Japanese and the blog, but I am making steps to get back on track. I wanted to share how I have conducted my own language audit this year. If you’re not sure how you are doing with your languages, this post might give you some ideas.

How to carry out a mid-year language review/ audit

1. Look at your goals for the year. Do you need to make any changes?

  • Are your goals still relevant?
  • Have you added new goals since the start of the year? Try to be as specific and realistic as possible

I briefly wrote about a couple of goals in a blog post last December. My two goals were to read 1 book a month and work towards sitting the JLPT N1 in December. I was doing pretty well until March, which is when I moved house and my priorities had to change a bit. Not having the internet for a while had a bigger impact on my study than I initially thought!

2. Evaluate your progress

  • How much progress do you think you’ve made?
  • What do you think has contributed the most to your success or lack of progress?

The benefit of setting clear, measurable goals is a lot more obvious when you have to review them. You can use quizzes and tests from textbooks or online resources to judge your progress.

Having said that, even if you have set smart goals it can be difficult to assess yourself, so you might need to take a different approach. Have a look back at the types of things you were studying at the start of the year. Have you developed a better understanding of grammar points? You can also ask the people that you practice your target language with if they have noticed a difference in your ability.

Work backward from your end goals. What steps do you need to take to get there?

  • Are you studying regularly enough?
  • Are you covering the right amount of material in each study session?

Knowing what your priorities should be is important to making progress. It is always tempting to focus on your strengths, but this isn’t necessarily going to get you closer to your goals. Being uncomfortable is part of the process!

Are your habits aligned with the steps you need to take to make progress with your goals? Are there any particular areas that you need to focus on?

  • Is your routine focusing on your weak areas?
  • Do you need to introduce some variety into your routine?

Sometimes it isn’t what we are doing but how we are doing it that needs improvement. If you were taking a proficiency test, then you might realise at this point that you need to accelerate your learning. You always want to schedule time to revise what you have learned too.

If you haven’t progressed as much as you hoped, It’s important not to beat yourself up too much and try to think of some positives to keep things balanced. You can’t change what you did in the past, so focus on what you can do now and in the future to improve.

On the other hand, burnout is a very real thing and you should take care not to push yourself too hard. Making time in your schedule to relax is essential.

What I’ve learned from my review

My mid-year review has made me aware of a few things:

  • I’ve covered a fair bit of my grammar textbook, but when I tried a mock test recently I didn’t do as well as I’d hoped. I have realised that I need to spend more learning the difference in nuances between similar sounding grammar points. I am going to drill grammar every 1-2 weeks so that I can review gaps in my knowledge more regularly.
  • As I read a lot of fiction, I need to start reading more non-fiction as I feel that my reading skills are slower outside of novels (this could be due to a lack of vocabulary too)
  • Sometimes I feel overwhelmed with how much I still need to learn, which hinders my progress. My aim is to focus more on what is directly in front of me, whether that be my Anki reviews or grammar note taking.

One positive I can say is that I’ve managed to finish 4 books that have been on my to be read like for months (even years!). I’ve also started reading a book that I bought years ago – the last time I tried to read I couldn’t make any sense of it (lots of relative clauses).

I’m not sure whether I will be able to take the JLPT in December, but I will keep working on my grammar and vocab and see where I am in September. My listening skills have stayed fairly consistent as I listen to podcasts in Japanese pretty much every day.

I found this a really useful exercise and it has definitely boosted my motivation. If you have any tips or resources for me then I’d really appreciate it!

The 5 Second Rule

I really wish you could put your spare motivation into a bottle to use when you need it the most. Getting into a new routine is difficult sometimes, but I have seen making use of a new trick to boost my productivity: The 5 Second Rule.

The 5 second Rule is often used to refer to this myth that if you drop a piece of food on the floor but pick it up within 5 seconds, it is still safe to eat.

American TV host and motivational speaker Mel Robbins has written a book with the title The 5 Second Rule. The idea of the 5 Second Rule is simple, but if you are keen to get a feel for the book’s content I recommend checking out one this great summary video:

The gist of the book is that in order to develop better habits, you need to reduce the time you spend thinking about an action you might take. When you get an impulse to do something, you have 5 seconds to take action.

So if you find yourself thinking something like: “I should read an article in Japanese” “I should do my Anki reviews” “I should turn off the English subtitles

…You need to actually follow up on that thought in 5 seconds or less. After that point, you will most likely hesitate for too long and think of an excuse not to do it, especially if it is out of your comfort zone.

This works for reinforcing good habits and getting rid of bad ones. In fact, Mel used this method to tackle her bad habit of using the snooze button too much in the morning.

Apparently, the brain is very good at picking up on these impulses to take action whenever we are in close proximity to certain stimuli. For example, if you leave your Japanese textbook on a table that you walk past every day, you most likely have an impulse to pick up the textbook.

Acting on these brief moments of inspiration can have an extremely powerful effect, especially if you are a big procrastinator like me. Most of the time, it is the getting started that is the hardest part of my study lessons. Using the 5 second rule makes you feel much more in control of your habits, helping to reduce stress as well.

I started using the 5 Second Rule with really small things which made things feel much less scary. Together with making other changes like putting my Japanese books in easy to reach places has made a big difference. So far I feel like I have been able to make more time for Japanese study, mostly grammar stuff which I rarely look forward to starting. The truth is that I am using my time more effectively that I now feel like I have a bit more time left to focus on other interests.

What one thing has helped you to be more productive recently? Let me know in the comments!

Langjam and little discoveries

As you might know from the blog’s Instagram page, I took part in Langjam last weekend. I thought I’d do a little post about my experience, even though I didn’t make as much progress as planned.

What is LangJam?

Language Jam, (often referred to as Langjam) is a challenge where people interested in languages sign up to study a new language for a weekend.  

When you sign up, you input the languages that you already know and are then randomly assigned a language from the list available from the challenge. There’s a real range of languages covering all continents and various writing systems.

The language I was given to study was Swahili, which I was very excited about.

The “Whitecard” option gives you another language choice if you aren’t keen on the first one you are allocated

There is a prep phase for your language in the run up to the Langjam weekend where you have time to gather resources, read up on the language and start learning new scripts if applicable.

This was much needed as I basically knew nothing about Swahili. My knowledge was basically limited to the fact that it is spoken in a few different countries such as Kenya and Tanzania, and that Hakuna Matata is a Swahili phrase.

In my prep phase, I learned some interesting facts about Swahili. I didn’t know that Swahili has links to Arabic: Swahili can be written in the Arabic script and share some vocabulary. I also learned that there are a few other Swahili words referenced in The Lion King:

  • Rafiki = friend
  • Simba = lion
  • Pumbaa = foolish, silly, negligent
  • Nala = gift

I decided to join Langjam near the end of the prep phase, so I didn’t have much time to gather resources. In the end, I mainly used SwahiliPod101 and Duolingo as my main resources. I have mixed feelings about Duolingo, but the Swahili course seems pretty good.

My LangJam experience

Unfortunately I ended up being pretty busy over the weekend and didn’t get much time to study anything in depth. On the other hand, it has been really fun to follow how other people have been getting on with the challenge via the hashtag #langjam.

Swahili is a fascinating language and I hope that one day I will be able to develop some proficiency in it. I will stick with the Duolingo lessons as they are short and sweet, but my focus will remain on Japanese for now.

So it seems that nani can mean ‘what’ in English, just like Japanese! (it normally means ‘who’ though)

Doing the Langjam challenge reminded me of one very important thing; the joy of discovering new things about a language. Learning new words and phrases, sentence structures, writing systems, pronunciation can all be a lot of fun at the start.

That feeling we get from all of these new discoveries is so important for sustaining motivated in your target language. Sometimes even though we are settled in our language learning routines, we can be lacking that little spark that keeps you engaged. This is something I have tried to embody in my learning since finishing the challenge.

I love discovering new Japanese music and getting engrossed in Japanese dramas, so I am now trying to dedicate a little bit more time to both of these fun activities (not forgetting the ‘boring’ stuff too!).

If Langjam sounds interesting to you, keep an eye on the website and the social media channels to be notified of the next challenge (it gets held a few times a year).

Have you started any new languages recently? How have you found it so far? Let me know in the comments!

I failed with Anki (again)…my new approach to Anki reviews

As the title suggests, my relationship with Anki has its ups and downs. I haven’t been using Anki for Japanese vocabulary reviews on a regular basis for a couple of months, which I have been feeling guilty about recently.

The main reason for my guilt is that when I am consistent with Anki, I retain so much more information. Unfortunately, the problem I have is that I always end up falling off the bandwagon.

A few months ago, I was doing a pretty good job of keeping up with Anki reviews. I felt that I was retaining more vocabulary, especially in conjunction with daily tadoku reading. At first, I could get my reviews done in 20 minutes or less, which felt achievable even on a busy day.

But then I realised that I was spending more and more time reviewing cards – my review sessions were now at least 40 minutes. I began to dread opening up Anki and seeing how many minutes it would be until I finished my reviews, especially if I had missed a day. I stopped reading in Japanese as much because I felt that I needed to prioritise flashcards instead.

It seemed as if my Japanese study was being entirely dictated by Anki reviews and not any of the more exciting stuff. So at that time, sticking with Anki didn’t feel like the sensible choice and I stopped using it.

For the record, I do like Anki (and similar spaced repetition programs) a lot, but I find that after a couple of months I get burned out and have to take a break. This is probably the third or fourth time I have been in this situation, so I thought I would take a step back and think about how to be more consistent.

On reflection, here’s where I think I was going wrong:

I was learning stuff that was not important to me

I was using shared decks, which can be great, but it meant that there were words I was learning that I didn’t have any real interest in learning. I usually add interesting words I come across directly from Akebi (a wonderful free dictionary app) into Anki, which I find easier to learn because I discovered them in a context that interests me.

Eventually, I want to transition to making all of my flashcards myself but thinking more carefully about what vocabulary I want to learn is a good first step.

I was trying to do all reviews in one long session, rather than breaking it down into smaller chunks

Using the Pomodoro technique could work, but as I find it difficult to focus solely on flashcard reviews for 25 minutes at a time, I will change the time spent a little bit. I think I should be looking at focusing for 10 minutes at a time, perhaps at different times of day (eg. 10 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes during my lunch break, 10 minutes in the evening).

I wasn’t balancing flashcard reviews with the fun stuff

Flashcards are not a replacement for reading, listening and speaking the language. For every 10 minutes I spend in Anki, I want to be spending another 10 minutes practicing Japanese in another way that I enjoy (such as reading, or watching TV shows).

The limit on the number of new cards was too high

If you miss a day, the number of cards that I had to review the next day was very disheartening. Going forward I will experiment with how many cards I can comfortably review in about 20 minutes, and set a limit accordingly.

I wasn’t being honest with myself about whether I had actually learned the card or not

It is very easy to conflate recognition of a kanji with knowing how to write it, which doesn’t help me in the long term. So following on from my previous point, I want to limit the number of cards I review, and then I can spend more time reviewing each card in more depth.

There are a lot of ways to customise Anki, and I think that making better use of these will help me stay engaged with my vocabulary reviews.

It’s going to be a bit tough getting back into the rhythm of daily Anki reviews again, but I hope my new approach means I can keep an Anki habit for longer!

Stay motivated learning Japanese with these 7 tips

It’s always exciting when you first begin studying a language. However, as time goes on it is easy to forget how to stay motivated learning Japanese.

Learning Japanese is a long journey, with a bit of a steep learning curve. There will be times when we lack the willpower to keep going. I’ve been a little bit unwell recently and after a few days rest I have found it hard to start studying Japanese again.

Here are some of the things I do when I need to find motivation to study:

stay-motivated-japanese

Watch a video of something that reminds you why you started learning Japanese in the first place

It’s easy to lose sight of what initially drew us to our target language. Whether it be the culture, connecting to your roots, or to watch your favourite TV show without subtitles, there’s so many things that learning another language gives us an opportunity to experience. Whatever it is, watching a video or reading a book is a great way of getting and staying motivated learning Japanese.

I personally find watching videos of people who have been able to learn Japanese to a high level really motivate me to keep studying. Kemushichan’s videos are always inspiring for me; my other personal favourites include Dogen and Renehiko.

Visualise your Japanese language goals

Take some time to think about your language learning goals. What is it that you want to achieve in the future with your target language; is it passing language exams? Holding a conversation with a native speaker?

If this is something you haven’t decided on yet, I recommend taking some time to define your goals in detail. When I am lacking in motivation, I remind myself of my short-term and long-term goals and how I will feel being able to achieve them.

When it comes to setting short-term goals, you might find the #clearthelist language challenges helps you to formulate and work on the goals more effectively. Here is an example from the amazing Fluent Language from May 2018.

Make sure to celebrate little victories

Every time you feel yourself making progress, make sure to pat yourself on the back. It is easy to be demotivated when we experience setbacks, but it’s important to acknowledge the positives at the same time.

Let’s say you were having a conversation with a native speaker, but it was a little stilted. Whilst the conversation may not have flowed the way you wanted it to, you managed to get your point across and this is always something to celebrate. After all, languages are a form of communication, and being able to communicate is the most important part. With more practice you will learn what sounds more natural.

When you want to stay motivated studying Japanese in particular, thinking back to the progress you have made will really help.

Take time to look back at what you’ve achieved

This is similar to the previous point, but I find comparing what I understand now to what I understood either a few months ago or even when I first started really helps put my progress in perspective.

Think about what level you were at the start of the year. It’s quite likely that you have made more progress than you think. It is also a great incentive to keep studying.

This is one reason why journalling in a foreign language is a great idea. It is so easy to look back through your journal and see all the new things you have learned!

Having taken some time away from studying Japanese, I do tend to think about the words I used to know. In order to combat this, I like to I look back at my old study notes to remind myself of the progress I have made since then.

Make or evaluate your study routine

Sometimes a lack of motivation is linked to your current study routine. It is incredibly difficult to stay motivated learning Japanese when you have too many flashcard reviews or grammar points to learn. If motivation has been a consistent problem recently, it might be worth taking a look at your routine.

Are there any things that need changing? It might be that your expectations are too high, causing you unnecessary stress. Instead, try setting yourself a series of smaller goals every time you study. My post on simplifying your language routine might give you some ideas on how to do this.

Taking a different approach to your learning such as the Pomodoro technique has really helped me to have more effective Japanese study sessions too.

Surround yourself with positive people

The people that we choose to surround ourselves with can have a large impact on our motivation.

By surrounding ourselves with people who understand our journey, we can get support and encouragement from them when we are struggling to carry on. This can be in the form of other language learners, teachers and tutors.

You might not know any Japanese learners in your area. Don’t worry, because this is where social media can help. I’ve found Twitter and Facebook groups in particular to be a great place to find inspiration, share stories and ask questions when you get stuck. Twitter is super popular in Japan so is especially useful! There are also lots of great blogs out there for that I turn to when I need to stay motivated learning Japanese.

Language challenges are a great way to feel involved in the language learning community. For example:

I’ve also done my own 30-day Japanese writing challenge before which really helped motivate me to practice my writing skills.

Make sure to reward yourself when you’ve finished your study session

Having a reward to look forward to at the end of the session is important, especially when faced with something that seems particularly daunting. 

For me, this is usually my kanji flashcard reviews!). I will treat myself to an episode of a TV show or time to play video games. When working towards a bigger goal like the JLPT, I tend to treat myself if I’ve hit my smaller weekly study goals.

I hope this post helps if you’ve been finding yourself in a bit of a slump lately. The hardest part of studying is normally just getting started. Somtimes finding enough motivation to simply start is often all you need. The best thing I can recommend is to build helpful language learning habits wherever you can.

Have you got any tips or tricks for boosting your motivation? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section!

%d bloggers like this: