So, I absolutely LOVE FloFlo.moe. I just finished reading 時をかける少女 (The Girl Who Leapt Through Time) with the Beginners’ Book Club using FloFlo, and I wanted to make a post explaining how I approached it in case that’s helpful to others.
I didn’t do anything crazy, but I know some people wonder about how to use the site. If it’s not helpful to anybody, well, who doesn’t like talking about themselves ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
What is FloFlo?
FloFlo is a website created by Raionus designed to help you read Japanese books.
It provides vocabulary lists for a variety of books which are ordered by appearance in the text. You can add words which you want to learn to an SRS queue, thereby allowing you to pre-learn vocabulary before reading, or learn vocabulary as you go. What makes its so much more though, is that:
it remembers what you’ve learnt across lists
you can tell it words you already know by uploading lists and setting your WK level
you can see the frequency at which each word appears in the text, and can filter the list by frequency
This last point makes your learning so much more efficient, because you can confidently choose to ignore words which will only appear once or twice.
Is FloFlo right for you?
This section is just background thoughts on what WK level you want to be, what you should read first, etc.
So that people have an idea of where I’m coming from compared to them: I’ve been learning Japanese as a very casual hobby for a couple of years. Before using FloFlo I’d stumbled my way through two manga on my own and one with the Beginners’ Book Club.
時をかける少女 is the first ‘proper’ book I’ve ever finished in Japanese (i.e. not a manga, not a Graded Reader, not written for five-year-olds…). I felt like my approach this time worked really well for me, hence sharing.
If you’re a super-duper level 60, you might be able to handle pre-learning a lot more vocabulary without context than somebody like me who encounters a lot of new kanji still. Or if you already know a lot of vocabulary, there might be so few new words in a book that you already have a smooth reading experience and just need to add new words as you encounter them (looking at @Naphthalene here ).
What WK level do you need to be?
I started using FloFlo when I was in the mid-20s on WaniKani. Throughout reading 時をかける少女 I’ve been roughly at level 40.
FloFlo is really not for beginners. There’s no point beating your head against a rock learning loads of new kanji via FloFlo when you’ll have a much easier time learning them through WaniKani first. Based on kanji I’ve looked up while reading, I’d say that level 40 is probably pretty perfect, but I don’t regret using it throughout the thirties.
There’s a handy feature now where you can add and drill the kanji separately too, but just consider carefully whether you’re using your time and energy efficiently, basically.
What should you start with?
I started off reading the free folk / fairy tales available on FloFlo, like Obaa-san to Kuro Neko and Snow White, and tried to learn pretty much every word because they’re not long enough to have many. This was all well and good, but fairy tales have pretty niche vocabulary and language, so it was a big investment for little return and you don’t get much consolidation.
I had a lot of fun trashing words I already knew and got used to FloFlo though: I tried out different approaches to pre-learning and so on. I would only recommend them as a low-difficulty way of trying out the site and figuring out your preferences, or if you can’t afford to buy books at the moment.
What Did I Do?
時をかける少女 has 2700 unique words. I don’t quite remember now, but I’d guess over 2000 of them were ‘unknown’ to me before starting.
One thing to realise straight away is that this is a huge overestimate of what you’ll need to learn: I ended up learning around 600 in total. Embrace the joy of trashing all the words you already know! You’re also probably going to ignore or trash a large proportion of the low-frequency words.
1. Pre-learn High-Frequency Words
I had a couple of weeks available before the Book Club started reading, so I used that time to pre-learn high-frequency vocabulary.
I filtered the vocabulary list to show only words which showed up 6 or more times, then learnt 15 words per day. When I’d done them all, I filtered to show words which showed up 5 or more times, and so on. I did this all the way down to frequency 3 words and ended up learning only around two hundred - several hundred more were trashed along the way.
I took the drill-down approach because I wasn’t sure how much I’d be able to get through before we started, but it was really motivational to tick off each frequency as I went, and less overwhelming, so I will definitely follow this approach from now on.
High-frequency words are good to pre-learn because they’re worthwhile time-wise, and because they’ll be consolidated well once you start reading and see them multiple times in context. In addition, they’re more likely to have been correctly parsed by FloFlo, so you won’t accidentally learn things which are irrelevant*.
If your target novel is really wordy, you might only want to pre-learn words which appear, say, 4 or more times; use your discretion, of course.
2. Use FloFlo like a Dictionary
Once we started, I had FloFlo open as I read, showing all words (frequency 1 up). It basically acted like a magical dictionary that already knew what I wanted to look up. I very selectively added words that I thought would be useful to my lesson pile as I went: probably between 10 and 30 words per chapter and some of those were extra words (see 3 below).
Otherwise, I ignored them.
I decided whether they were worth learning based on the fact that I didn’t want to over-burden myself:
- Would it show up a second time or only that once?
- Did I already know the kanji in the word?
- Was it just hiragana (which I find harder to remember)?
- Would it help to reinforce a kanji I struggle with on WaniKani?
- Was it just super weird?!
I’m also a Patreon supporter of FloFlo, so I have access to the ‘alchemizer’. Basically, this lets me see whether those ‘useless’ frequency 1 words actually appear in other books I want to read in future. If a word only appears once in 時をかける少女 but will appear again three times in Kiki’s Delivery Service, then it’s probably worth learning. You don’t need this to use FloFlo effectively, but it’s certainly a fantastic addition.
3. Add More Words!
I mentioned above that I added extra words as I read. I think this can be incredibly helpful for consolidating the words you do choose to learn, but I only felt comfortable doing this because I was otherwise not learning many words per week. I added extra words in two situations:
- The original word included a new kanji
- The original word used a new reading for a kanji I already knew
For example, I learnt 疑い深い from the book. That first kanji does appear on WaniKani, but you only ever learn the on’yomi. So I also added 疑う and 疑いが晴れる; the latter because I sometimes muddle up that second kanji too and because I loved how intuitive it was. I just searched jisho and picked a couple which seemed helpful.
*So about those misparses… The word lists in FloFlo are generated automatically. This means there can be errors. In my experience these are usually both obvious and infrequent, but it’s another reason the site is best not used by total beginners, as you need some ability to judge these things (though the worst-case scenario still results in you learning a new word).
There are one or two book lists which have been checked by hand (such as Ookina Kani).