Studying Japanese & The End of Smart.fm

The ALMOST perfect month!

When I first got to Japan, I was looking for convenient, inexpensive ways to study Japanese. A friend of mine mentioned Smart.fm, and after checking it out, I was hooked. The interface really worked for me, and the Spaced Repetition System seemed like a great learning method. I enjoyed being able to track my progress and quantify my efforts with all of the various calendars, percentage bars and what not. There was even a user-generated list based on the very books I had been using to study kanji—Basic Kanji Volumes 1 & 2. Best of all? It was free!

I made a habit of studying every day, starting with 10 or 20 words and slowly building up to 50 and beyond. I even got a bit compulsive about my studying, logging in tipsy after Enkais, getting up ridiculously early the mornings before trips, just so that I would avoid a blank spot in the calendar.

Then at the end of January, it was announced that Smart.fm would soon be no more, and iKnow.jp would be taking over. Gone would be the user-generated content, gone would be the structure that worked so well for me, and what WAS still available would be disappearing behind a paywall for the sum of 1000 ¥ a month. The internets railed against the change, but it goes on, and now my months of study have come to an end.

I’ve learned a lot in these past few months, and I’m definitely grateful for this amazing service I didn’t have to pay a dime for. If I had had this while I was studying Spanish, I have no doubt I could have reached a much higher level.

I still have a long way to go with Japanese—for example, my focus on vocabulary without much attention to grammar makes it so that while I often understand most of the words in a sentence or conversation, it’s sometimes hard to glean the actual meaning. I often find that I know what someone is saying, but I don’t know what they mean.

For example, in the sentence “Dog ball throw boy” you can probably assume from the context that the boy is throwing the ball to the dog. However, in a rapid-fire sentence, you might not know if the dog is throwing the ball, the boy is throwing the dog, or perhaps the ball has achieved sentience, grown arms and is throwing everything.

So here we are at the end of all things. Since August 14th, I’ve studied this goal for 7.5 months, with a total of over 86 hours clocked on this program alone. I have completed 1580 Kanji, and finished 100% of the goal. It looked briefly like I might not make it, but luckily I squeaked in before the service shut down.

So now that I don’t have Smart.fm for my studying ways, I’m a bit lost. What do you use to study Japanese? What’s worked for you, and what hasn’t? Everyone’s learning style is different, and not everything works for everyone, but luckily there’s tons of options out there to use. I just wish my favorite wasn’t going away!

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About superhappyawesome

Living in Japan!
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19 Responses to Studying Japanese & The End of Smart.fm

  1. NTG says:

    I’ll miss Smart.fm. I didn’t utilize it enough when I had it around, and now I regret that. I’d get into study habits of a few hours a day and then I’d fall off the wagon completely… hm. Ah well…

  2. Blue Shoe says:

    Nice post! I never tried Smart.fm, but heard good things

    For me personally, it’s been very difficult to find good study techniques, yet my Japanese has improved nonetheless. Without the structure of a regular class or the added push of tests and quizzes, it can be tough to find the proper materials and motivation. I’m really glad I got my foundation in Japanese by taking classes in university. Studied the Genki books and a few other texts.

    These days I’ve semi-adopted the AJATT approach. Though I’ve been using JLPT N2 texts, which have helped, I also try to supplement my study with recreational Japanese – movies, select manga, books, internet, and video games in Japanese. Having a Japanese girlfriend and Japanese coworkers has helped a lot, too.

    I think a lot of your approach has to depend on your own strengths/weaknesses and interests. Spend a little time thinking about what kinds of activities and techniques have worked well for you in the past.

    Good luck!

    • AJATT looks pretty cool. I hadn’t heard of it before, but it very much lines up with my theory of how language learning works best for me–as much immersion as possible, and do things that are enjoyable. That’s pretty much how I learned German as an exchange student! Lately I’ve been slacking a bit and watching more American TV than I used to, but I’ll get back into the Japanesey stuff, now that it’s less srs bzns all the time! And I should get some video games and comics too…learning tools, I mean 🙂

  3. Allie says:

    Wow, you were really dedicated to studying Japanese! As much as I want to improve it’s really hard to keep myself motivated. My favorite way to study lately has been Twitter, but even that I don’t do very often. Have you tried JapanesePod101.com? I’ve used that sporadically too. The podcasts are free but if you want the supplementary study materials you’ll have to pay. Please let us know what you end up using!! 😀

  4. Hilariously, I didn’t even know what smart.fm was until everyone started to talk about how it was changing.

    My studying is non-existent right now. I exist purely on what I learned in school, have gathered along the way, and can fudge in between. lol. Oh last year when I had lofty goals of trying to study for and pass N2…

    • Yeah, but having a Japanese boyfriend/girlfriend is like, the number 1 recommended language learning tip! I don’t think Sean would appreciate it though, haha. Do you and K speak more in Japanese or English?

  5. Lauren says:

    I studied in class, but it was Reading in Italian, not Speaking, which ho shit, is there a difference!!!!!!
    I think the study mileage may vary for every person but I guess try and google search similiar programs?

    • I studied Italian for a semester, but it kept getting wicked confused with my Spanish, and I couldn’t deal! There are some sort of similar programs out there, which I guess I’ll give a go. I’m just in the stompy “They took my toy away!” phase right now, you know?

  6. Shirokij says:

    I continue to study former Smart.fm, which is iknow.jp now. I was “hooked” on Smart.fm method and was in the middle of a goal, so decided to pay.
    Good thing is they’ve announced -50% discount for former smart.fm-ers(if you sign for half-year or whole year term), and I went for half-year for 30 dollars. Sounds not bad for me. What then? Time will show^^

    • My goal was User Generated, so it wasn’t compatible with the iKnow system. Still, iKnow isn’t TOO expensive, and the discount is pretty good, but it bugs me to pay for something I was getting for free! Heh 🙂

  7. Jason H says:

    I too was using Smart FM for a while and really liked it, especially on my iPhone.

    I got an email from them that said that during the month of April, you can sign up for half-price – it’s a special deal they’re doing – for 6 months or a year with the new service. It works out to be about 5000yen for a year, which isn’t bad when you think about it.

    • I didn’t know you could use it on the iPhone, I probably would have liked it even more, haha! It’s not a bad price, but I still feel like if I’m spending money, I might find something better, you know?

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  9. Daniel says:

    I’m surprised no one has mentioned Anki, it’s heavily used in the Japanese learning world. Even its name is Japanese.

  10. David says:

    I am a developer for WordStash.com (http://wordstash.com) which is a similar flashcard based learning tool but with better games imo. Check it out, let me know what you think.

  11. Samantha says:

    This article missed the biggest issue users are having with the transition from the free Smart.fm to the paid iKnow.jp:

    The new paid service does not provide all the services featured in the free service. Period.

    Namely:

    * NO CONTENT CREATION TOOLKIT – This hits students the hardest. If you once used Smart.fm to build lists of vocabulary that were being covered in the classroom… well, you are out of luck. With the new paid version called iKnow, you can only study the lists provided by Cerego. Although Cerego claims a new toolkit is coming, the release date continues to get pushed back every month with no explanation as to why.

    * NO REVIEW SYSTEM – That’s right, the vocabulary review system has been removed completely. Formally called BrainSpeed, the old Smart.fm review tools has been removed and the company has no intentions of bringing it back to the service… although being the #1 most user requested feature according to iKnow’s very own feature request system (called UserVoice):
    (link: http://iknowen.uservoice.com/forums/97635)

    * NO SOCIAL NETWORKING – One of the nice things about Smart.fm was the ability to interact and receive advice from other users through the mini-forums that were integrated into each course. These have been removed. Again, Cerego has made no announcement regarding their return in spite of the high volume of user requests submitted through their feature suggestion and bug reporting system (again, UserVoice).

    * POOR SUPPORT – Many user requests filed through the company’s support system (UserVoice) largely go completely ignored. For the case of the #1 Top Ranked user ticket entitled “Bring Back the BrainSpeed” (referring to the vocab review tool), Cerego initially responded that they were “considering alternatives,” but have since left the ticket completely unattended for going on 4 months — despite continued user additions to the ticket begging for attention to be returned to the issue. Meanwhile, other users who report extremely long load times or inability to use the site due to a failure on behalf of iKnow to deliver content reliably also go completely unattended.

    In short, many users were upset with the move from free to paid, but even more users are upset by the horrible degradation in the quality of the service and the deaf ear iKnow directs towards its users.

    The user base that has tried to stick it out with and succumed to paying for access to the service found only a scaled down version of what they once had. What’s worse… it’s being rewritten as people use it… so things are constantly breaking and being fixed.

    In all reality, Cerego migrated to iKnow.jp too early, asking users to pay for an incomplete and inferior version of the Smart.fm product. As a result, iKnow users are upset by the quality of their purchase and are even more upset by the lack of communication with Cerego.

    • Hey Samantha! Thanks for such a thoughtful response. I hadn’t mentioned these points because they weren’t features that I used myself, but I can see how the degradation has really affected the service. It’s disappointing that such a great product has fallen so far!

  12. joseph says:

    http://www.japancast.net/ on youtube, crunchyroll, or their iphone/touch app is great. Not so much for language as culture though. then there is http://japaneseclass.jp/ which is my favorite place to learn japanese for free. There is http://www.guidetojapanese.org/learn/grammar, a grammar guide. You could also do a no-no and download pdf versions of japanese textbooks off the internet, but I would not suggest it. Watch Anime!!! Great place to hear Japanese spoken in a fun context! Listen to songs in Japanese, learn the lyrics, and sing to yourself until you have it in your head, as you learn vocab, the song makes more sense. Write kanji on paper, cut it out, and tape it to the things in your house that correspond to them. Look up picture on google, and then find the japanese word for the photo, dont be afraid to use a english/japanese japanese/english dictionary to attach to the images. Make up silly games, do flashcards, write kanji in sand, or with chalk if you dont have paper. IMPORTANT: Learn Hiragana and then Katakana!!!!!!!! Screw romaji!!!! You can learn Japanese!! There are so many ways to do it, so do it in a way so that you are having fun.

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