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br   Brazil

I'm struggling with vocabulary.

July 2017

First of all sorry for the long post. I don't know what it is today that I felt like writing haha

But tldr: I'm struggling with vocabulary, how do you do to memorize new words?

I'm native brazilian, and I'm studying japanese. As you can see I speak english so you would think I already went through the process of learning vocabulary once, so I should know how it works. The thing is I feel it took me a very long time to actually learn english, considering how fast most other people I know learned it, and it being so close to portuguese as it is. And even in english, vocabulary has always been my biggest problem. It has been something like five years already since I started to be able to actually watch movies in english more or less comfortably. And I still consider my vocabulary to be very pour. And the thing with english is that it comes from the same place as portuguese, so there are a lot of similarities in the vocabulary. Most of the more complicated and unusual words are kind of the same in both languages, so I basically get them for free. Now japanese is all different. There are no similarities at all, and the words all sound the same because the sounds are more limited. So I'm in trouble. But at least... at least there is the kanji that helps, because most of them have a set amount of readings and meanings, so I think if I have a good enough base and know most of the common kanji, I will be able to figure out most of the unusual words that I came across. So I guess I'm thankful that kanji exists. I don't know how I would do it if I had to learn a language that is just represented by sounds like english, but have no similarities with my language at all. So I'm glad I have that. That, and the katakana words that come from english. But moving on...

As for japanese, it's already 1 year and 6 months since I started learning, but I didn't study very hard. So when I read or hear content in japanese, I get most of the grammar and structure and all, but the thing that I never get is vocabulary. The average sentence in japanese I read, I will probably understand 20% of the words that are nouns, verbs and adjectives, but I usually understand everything that surrounds them, the structure, the inflections and things like that. And I don't consider myself as someone who focus too much on grammar. So I think I really have a problem with vocabulary.

When I listen and read a new word, I can look up the meaning, understand what it means in it's context, but literally 5 seconds later, I forgot how to read the word ( the kanji reading ), and in 10 seconds, I already forgot the meaning. I can increase these times by "insisting" a bit more on that word, like repeating it to myself, writing it down remembering other words that use the same kanji and things like that, but I'ts never enough, the moment I wake up the next day, there is no trace of it in my mind. If I go through a text with 30 sentences, and wake up the next day and try to remember what did I learn from that text yesterday, I will maybe remember one word out of 20 new words in that text, that I spent an hour reading, and reinforce some words that I already knew, and that's it.

Now, I use spaced repetition as well, I spend somewhere around 10min reviewing cards everyday, and if I were to put these words that I easily forget as new cards, of course I would remember them. But how could I possibly do that with 10k or more common words that exist? In 3 months doing that I would easily be spending my whole day reviewing cards, and I can't even endure 20min of doing that. And also with SRS I feel like after a certain point reviewing a card over and over, it gets less and less effective. At some point I have read that card so much, that I'm reading it but my mind is somewhere else, not catching any of the actual meaning of it anymore.

Of course there are a lot of methods I can use to fixate words in my head: looking for more examples, writing it down, flashcards, mnemonics and so on, but whatever I need to do, the problem I have with it is how am I supposed to do that with each one of the 10k plus words that I need to be comfortable with the language?

So I don't know if there is some issue with the way my mind works, If I'm just too lazy and I don't study enough, or what it is, but something seems to be wrong with my ability to learn vocabulary, and I need to figure out what it is.

So I would like to ask for your help Steve, and from the community here that I see is always willing to help people and engage in discussions.

Can you give me some insight on how you learn vocabulary? Give me some tips? Ease my concerns?