Going Monolingual: Part 1 of Many

About a year ago, I realized that suddenly everyone on the internet wanted me to go monolingual. You can’t possibly learn anything constantly translating, they said. Bilingual is a crutch that will slow you down, they said. Ten kittens die for every Anki card that has two languages on it, they said.

Well I love kittens, so I figured that everyone was right.

But it was difficult. And frustrating. And after being nose to the grindstone for a few months, studying that way caused a two-month long burnout where I couldn’t STAND to look at anything in Japanese — even the things that I tend to enjoy.

After I was done with my tantrum spiral and finally began to crawl back towards doing my Anki decks, I went back to bilingual cards and found myself enjoying studying again. The world didn’t end. The kittens are still here. And a really surprising thing happened over the course of the year: through bilingual usage I’ve found myself craving more and more monolingual cards and materials.

For those of you out there who are like me, slogging through books and TV shows and manga without understanding makes you feel–well, stupid. It requires a huge amount of effort to make sense out of a book written for a 10 year old, let alone difficult concepts, deep layers of metaphor, and beautiful prose that makes your heart ache. So you’re stuck looking up every other word and are lucky if you can sorta-kinda figure out what things are saying. Monolingual Anki cards with walls of foreign text aren’t much better if all that you get out of them is frustration.

But here’s the thing: just like pretty much every other part of language learning, going monolingual doesn’t have to be a rule. Nor does it have to be an end goal. A slow transition to monolingual cards and sources where possible, combined with supplemental translations and definitions will get you to the same destination, with far less angst.

In the next few weeks I’ll share with you the process that I took towards building a 90% monolingual Anki deck. It’s still a process for me, but one that becomes easier and easier every day.

How have you fared with going monolingual? Love it? Hate it? Run in terror from all the kanji in the dictionary entries?

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