Optimizing the Bare Minimum

Recently I’ve been struggling with something that I’d like some advice on.

Currently I do 5 new items on Bunpro a day: one JLPT grammar, four book club related items be they vocab or grammar whatever comes up that I don’t know (I mark known vocab as mastered, but do grammar whether I know it or not) and previously I used to do a bit of Anki mining, but I currently only do Bunpro for any SRS because if I’m not doing Bunpro I’m immersing. My primary frustration with mining was the sheer number of words I’d learn and then never see again even when mining things that seemed high frequency with the information I had available.

I do not have a lot of time to study, but recently I’ve noticed I’m really struggling to feel like my reading in particular is improving at the pace I’d like it to, which makes me think I need to do more srs, but I’m not sure what the actual number should be. I know that when I do a lot more than this, like 15 items a day, my Japanese study time is dominated by SRS and I hate it(and lose too much immersion time), but I think what I’m doing now is a bit too slow. Anybody struggled with finding the happy medium here? I know I’m asking for general advice on a personal question but I’ve felt held up for a couple weeks now and was hoping for some advice (that isn’t not use Bunpro for vocab, I understand some people don’t love it, but that’s not the question I’m asking, andif I wasn’t using bunpro, I’d be doing no vocab study, and just immersing, but I want to be literate one day).


It’s paradoxical, but the better you get at reading the less progress you’ll feel you’re making. Perhaps, rather than focusing on SRS’ing tons of vocab to aid your reading, maybe you could look into dictionary-lookup tools like Yomitan to make the reading experience smoother and easier?

If you feel like the only thing holding you back from more reading is vocabulary knowledge, then I would really recommend taking this route. It’s much more important, IMO, to learn the “feel” of a language through reading, how complex sentences are formed and complex thoughts are phrased, than to learn thousands of random vocabulary words. You’ll eventually learn how to guess the meanings of unknown words, how to skim over long passages, and other important skills just by the act of reading more.

You’ll pick up the vocab words naturally as you repeatedly look them up, especially since a good chunk of N2-N1 and beyond vocabulary is just kanji compounds or conjoined verbs with an idiomatic meaning whose building blocks you already know. SRS is great to prioritize when you need active recall of a word, but I find it a little extraneous for passive recall at an advanced level of fluency, TBH!


Yeah, I don’t exactly use Yomitan because I don’t read on my PC generally but this is what I currently do(I use an app on my phone to take pictures of my kindle that does what Yomitan does).

My particular frustration is I’ve been reading stuff pretty consistently for a couple months now but it doesn’t feel like my relative consistency of lookups has gone down that much, and more specifically I’m not reaching that getting the “feel” part, particularly with fully unknown vocab. I can handle it when I have furigana as I at least have an idea of what the word sounds like, and I can take a guess as to whether I’ve heard the word before, but without them it just feels like beating my head against a brick wall. I’m not hitting that ‘let it flow through you’ point, and I don’t feel particularly close to it.

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Once you finish the core 2k/6k (or first kinda 6000 common words) in Japanese, look ups should become much easier (they did for me). After that its just read + yomitan away imo. It’ll never feel like ‘this is easy to read without lookups’ for a while because there is so many words to learn but as long as you stay focused, you’ll get to fluency eventually.
Prebuilt decks – jpdb is a great way to find anime, VNS, novels etc and list them by ease etc


In that case, to reduce the frequency of vocabulary lookup and get in that flow state quicker, I would recommend narrowing the scope of your readings into a specific niche.

When I was learning how to read Chinese, for example, there was a period when I would just read cookbooks — nothing but cookbooks. That really dimmed my frustration with vocabulary lookup considerably: since the scope of potential vocabulary used in cookbooks was so narrow, I got pretty quickly to the point where I didn’t need to lookup words at all (not knowing every word, but able to guess at the words I don’t know).

Focusing on a niche while choosing what to read is really useful if you want to reduce vocab lookup, quickly. Is there perhaps a niche genre of non-fiction, anything from fashion magazine articles to restaurant reviews to business journalism, that you might be interested in?

(Also, vis a vis Kindle, have you tried installing good dictionaries on there beyond the default one to help vocab lookup? There are guides available on YouTube on how to do so. That might be easier than taking photos of the screen, but YMMV!)


To piggyback off of what SoreWaMichiru was saying, a core 2000/6000 deck will no doubt help with reading. There is still plenty of difficult vocab in in Bunpro that goes beyond whats in those decks, but those decks build a solid vocab foundation which eases reading.

Jumping straight into immersion without having much vocab under your belt at least for me, was a lot of frustration. Too many lookups, and not enjoying what I was reading. There is a large sector of the learning community that is feverish about doing an ungodly amount of immersion without first establishing a solid foundation, and while that may work for some, they are basing their experience on their own results, rather than considering how different people learn. If you continue to be frustrated, I would consider it.


Maybe some kanji study will help?
I studied with the kanji on one side, and English on the other from the kanjidamage deck.

If most of the words tripping you up are kanji, kanji might be the part you need to work on.
I started up bunpro cause the hiragana are parts I don’t understand.

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This is probably where I need to go I think. I once did this before, years and years ago(like, 2016 I was level 30 something on Wanikani). But I think this is the most likely thing to help with my particular frustration, but kind of to the point I was level 30 something on wanikani and like, didn’t understand japanese. I had been avoiding Kanji study by itself lately as it never felt incredibly useful to me, but not having kanji knowledge in particular is probably what’s holding me back the most here(now that I do, kind of, understand japanese).

Yup, that is a trap. I’m in the same boat of “Why do I need this kanji, it doesn’t feel very useful.” I found when I was using Wanikani up until level 13 I did not learn too much about it.
One thing I have found helpful is any time I find a kanji in the wild, or if I am studying kanji specifically, (And I know you said you don’t like SRS, but hear me out in this case) I add a card with the kanji, and the reading, followed by words that use that kanji frequently. I try to add one word per reading of the kanji, or two words if the kanji most often uses that one reading.
Another strategy is to study a lot of kanji to a very basic level, where you can kinda recognize them, then only look them up when you actually see them. I also found that helpful.