Learning Routine / Pacing (Classic + Intensive)

EDIT Dec. 11: Now that enough time has passed and the JLPT is over, I’ve begun restructuring this post for clarity and further information. Consider this guide currently under construction.

Intensive Study Pacing Guide :blue_book::boom:

and very unofficial Tobira guide, too, I guess


The post above this one is a broad outline of the pacing of a regular academic semester, assuming that you are taking a Japanese class for one hour per day, five days per week (and also using Genki, since other text series might necessitate tweaking the routine slightly). An intensive study routine like this one is based on a far more rigorous schedule of actively learning for four hours per day, five days per week with the Tobira textbook. Outside of the four-hour class, we (students) also regularly put in about four more hours of essential homework, studying, and immersion.

Just like the previous learning structure, this pacing continues to expect that you will be reading absolutely everything aloud :speaking_head: to activate language memory and move through the content more quickly. The “production effect” has the most beneficial impact on memory and I will probably never go back to learning in silence (unless I’m, like, in public). In classes where students receive the highest language learning gains, the regular learning day is full of repetition, shadowing, and reading aloud. So do it!

Regarding “four hours per day,” as a general disclaimer, I did not come up with this manner of speed-learning nor do I attest that crushing one chapter per week from Tobira is a sustainable routine. However, as I am currently enduring it, I’m constantly shocked by how much I’ve learned since starting.

If you are 1) making a mad dash for the next JLPT level on a tight schedule, and/or 2) have lots of free days, and/or 3) insane, then this speed of studying might be right for you. :+1:

As with any sudden rigorous routine, there is a high risk of burnout - please pull back as soon as you feel the impending overwhelm creep in. And don’t forget to take weekends/rest days!

EDIT from the future: I burnt out on this schedule after a little over five weeks of it. I am not kidding about the “don’t ignore the signs” part.

4+ Hour Intensive Japanese Learning Schedule

1 :speaking_head: Focus: Verbal warm-up, using yesterday’s grammar from memory (+ quiz / test)
2 :open_book: Focus: Reading passage, identifying unknown grammar/words
3 :memo: Focus: New grammar/vocab from passage, practicing using in new sentences
4 :books: Focus: Finalizing notes, completing comprehension questions, writing a summary
Focus: Homework, self-study, immersion

:speaking_head: Hour 1

This is the most difficult hour of the day for me - starting early in the morning, trying to remember what grammar I learned yesterday, and attempting to use it correctly just from memory (and before any caffeine has hit my system) is rough. Before you begin your session, it’s important to ensure that you are free of any sort of distraction and are not likely to be disturbed. You should also make sure that all videos, audio, or relevant websites needed for your lesson(s) are prepared ahead of time.

The point of the first hour is to prime ourselves for the next three hours of textbook work.

For the first ten minutes of the session, we have a very casual “discussion time” where class has not officially been called to begin, and we sleepily answer some easy conversation-starter questions aloud. The purpose is both to turn on the “Japanese” switch in our brains as well as to try to recall any of the previous day’s grammar/vocab and use it casually. Though you won’t have anyone responding with follow-up questions at home, this is still a good way to dispel the talking-to-yourself trepidation right away.

Something to mark the official beginning of the lesson, following our lazy conversation time, is a short kindergarten-style show-and-tell. One student each day will grab a random item from home and open the class by describing a little bit about it (when/where/why/etc) in a short 2-3 minutes. For my show-and-tells, I told the class about my gachapon keychain collection and brought in my Sailor Moon manga to talk about the series. This would be a great exercise to do at home to practice polite speaking off the top of your head, and you can also use a goofy show-and-tell to mark the official “start” of your session like we do in class.

The remainder of this hour is a gentle easing into reading and grammar. Switch to an NHK (or Todai) news article and read it plainly, no pausing to look things up or even to hover with yomichan. Reading this way is “Tadoku-style” where you disregard unknowns to focus on building context for the knowns. Afterward, open your textbook for the first time of the day and skim the lessons you did yesterday for a recap.

Hour 1 task breakdown:

  • 10 mins - Casual verbal warm-up (try answering a kids’ conversation starter aloud) and use yesterday’s grammar/vocab when possible
  • 5 mins - Vocab or kanji quiz (use Seth’s Tobira quizzes for this!)
  • 5 mins - Show-and-tell - using no textbook/jisho nor scripts or prompts, describe an object or piece of media you like in polite desu-masu form (try recording this to listen back later)
  • 15 mins - NHK News Web Easy article - read this article Tadoku style, no looking up words or grammar, just read it and absorb what you can. Read it aloud or listen to it if you’d like. Don’t get caught in the intricacies of the vocab or grammar.
  • 10 mins - Crack open your textbook and re-read yesterday’s grammar explanations and notes for a refresher

“This doesn’t take a full hour” - This is true. In the classroom, extra minutes are often eaten up by switching between tasks, latecomers, questions, technical difficulties, students stumbling to read aloud if we alternate sentences (Remember: At all moments, speaking is key! Don’t go quiet after those warm-ups) or any number of things that take a minute or two. For you at home, the amount of time is not what matters more, it’s the content! Whether this takes an hour or more or less, your mind is primed for Japanese from both reading and speaking. Now you’re ready to stick your nose in a book for the rest of the session.

Take a 5 min break :coffee:

:open_book: Hour 2

In the second hour, we’re tackling our reading passage just one portion at a time. We’re no longer reading Tadoku-style like we did with the NHK article - the goal now is to break down the passage as intricately as possible. How you split the readings varies every few chapters, since a couple chapters have just one passage, or two passages, or one passage and a manga (the ramen chapter :ramen:). But generally try to read the passages split in a way that you’ll be finished after four days, with the fifth day of the week given to the kaiwa pages. So if your reading passages has 100 lines, it’d be a good split to do 20 pages per day.

This is when I suggest having a physical textbook or a pdf version that you can easily write on in an app like GoodNotes instead of just reading on a computer screen. Annotations like circling, highlighting, and writing in the margins while reading are all excellent methods for building strong comprehension quickly. Simply reading a textbook on a screen without being able to notate will definitely hold you back. For the reading part, especially, annotation is essential! You will be circling every single thing you don’t know as well as things you kinda know but they don’t make sense. It’s recommended that you do your first read-through along with the official audio, so unknown kanji don’t force you to stop.

After your selection of lines for the day is significantly scratched up with circles and underlines, don’t look anything up yet! In a document or notebook, jot down a quick summary in English (or your native language) about what you just read. We will come back to this later, so don’t lose it!

Moving back to your passage, begin with unknown vocabulary you’ve marked. Check the vocab list after the passage against words you’ve found and note the meaning/pronunciation. After vocab, move to the kanji list at the end of the chapter and do the same. This will be the end of Hour 2.

Hour 2 task breakdown:

  • 10-15 mins - Identify your reading portion (which lines? Kaiwa pages?) and read along to your section using the Tobira audio - circle quite literally ANY new word, strange grammar combination, strange particle choice, or any collection of words that seems like it could be a set phrase
  • 15 mins - After the read-along ends, write or type a summary of what you just read in English without looking up any of your unknown annotations - you will come back to this summary in Hour 4
  • 10-15 mins - Start with unknown vocab from your reading segment and locate them in the vocab list. My tactic here is to “resolve” my circled words by just writing the meaning underneath as well as adding the word to my SRS program (it’s torii-srs btw I love her)
    → If you have circled anything that is not in the vocab list, don’t worry! Use Jisho.org to look it up and treat it like the chapter-specific vocabulary. I like to do this at the very end of the class as a satisfying “resolving all problems” moment, but you can definitely do that now. Same with grammar and kanji that you are iffy on but aren’t in the chapter lesson.
  • 10 mins - After vocab is complete, pivot to the kanji list at the back of the chapter, take the time to identify any new kanji in the list. I like to handwrite kanji I haven’t come across before. If you are below level 30 on WaniKani, there is a high chance you will encounter unknown kanji as you move through the book.

Take a 10 min break :coffee: Look at something at a distance, like across the room or out a window. Staring at a screen/book closely for 4+ hours per day without breaks isn’t fun for your eyes!

:memo: Hour 3

Hour 3 is the Grammar Hour - we usually do 3-5 grammar points per day depending on complexity and time. This is also a speaking-heavy hour, since it’s important to build muscle memory for the grammar in context. You should expect to speak every single example sentence in the grammar explanations aloud, as well as modify them aloud to build your own understanding of their use.

Grammar is when I find myself asking tons of questions about exceptions because I have a professor at my disposal to answer them. At home, I recommend already having a grammar reference service pulled up and ready to be utilized in the probable case that the textbook explanation isn’t thorough enough. This might be Bunpro, JLPT Sensei, Core6k, or any of the Japanese Grammar Dictionaries.

Hour 3 breakdown:

  • Return to the passage and tackle each of your circled grammar points one-by-one
  • Start by referencing the grammar section in the back of the chapter - you will be given examples of the grammar in context; read these aloud, modify the subjects/objects to create new sentences while still using the framework provided
  • This would be a great time to insert the grammar into Immersion Kit and read/listen to your new grammar in the context of anime (use with caution - sometimes the hiragana of one sentence form will match that of another sentence form - use kanji when possible but otherwise use with a discerning eye)
  • We usually come up with 5-6 new simple sentences per grammar point on our own before moving to the next new point
  • Spending at least 10 minutes per new grammar will easily eat up this hour - again, take notes in the textbook, especially if there are exceptions for the grammar rule
  • Don’t neglect grammar structures that you understood immediately. They will have further uses and exceptions than you may have already known.

Take a 10 min break :coffee: (your brain might be fading now - this is usually the break where i eat a snack to get some energy back)

:books: Hour 4

You’re almost there! This is the wrap-up hour where we pull away from dissecting the intricacies and return to the big picture. Make sure you still have your English summary of the passage from before so you can come back to it.

Hour 4 breakdown:

  • Returning to your reading section, are all of your circled/highlighted parts resolved? If anything remains that wasn’t in the provided vocab/grammar lists, feel free to quickly look them up and complete your understanding of the reading
  • Read the passage section in its entirety again, this time without the audio - if want to build your speaking speed, read the passage aloud
  • After the reading pages are comprehension questions - try to answer the questions that relate to your reading portion (whether you write the answers out or not is up to your preference - I don’t, for the purpose of time, but if you’re not ready to tap out of the lesson yet then go for it)
  • Returning to the reading summary you wrote in English, make visible edits to what you first wrote or write a completely new summary - this is a great way to track how your understanding improved as you learned the new aspects of the chapter
  • In class, we also take the time to translate each individual sentence into English one-by-one, just verbally, and I think this could be additionally helpful but not necessarily required

You made it!! Four hours can really be a drag at first - it took me two full weeks before I stopped losing steam halfway through. You can always alter this schedule or build up to it as you see fit. Your personal schedule should always be flexible.


The homework in this course is less varied than that of the Genki course. Rather than conjugations or writing projects or kanji repetition, the work done outside of class always consists of:

  • Workbook pages (these are in the Tobira Grammar Power book - there are usually 3-4 pages per day that correspond with the grammar). This includes the wrap-up exercises in the workbook after the regular grammar questions.
  • Watching the corresponding Tobira chapter videos on the official website

Additional Information

Those that are taking on an intensive workload like this usually have very specific goals that they are working toward (usually JLPT). The “four more hours outside of class” that I mentioned in the preface includes the individualized work that we choose for ourselves to reach those goals. Since the workbook homework takes roughly 1.5-2 hours, we all usually put in another 2 hours of specialized practice.

This specialized practice may include:
Shin Kanzen Master JLPT books
Shin Nihongo Vocabulary books
にほんごはじめよう Try! books
にほんごチャレンジ books
Anything that continues to require focused, not passive, attention for specified skills

Something that I’ve identified as a past self-study struggle of mine was a total lack of preparation for my study session. Finding and bringing up websites and videos, making specific to-do lists for every lesson - these are things that, at least for me, were not done while self-studying and led me to waste significant time wondering “what should I do… what video should I use…” and ultimately not get anything done. If you think this might be something that you do, try making an actual list rather than a mental one of goals or steps for the day. Find that listening practice audio beforehand. Close out of distraction websites before starting. All my weaknesses :melting_face:

I’m reading Tobira but I don’t wanna slog through four hours per day

And you’re not expected to, unless you’re looking for a crazy challenge! At the very least, something I hope you take away from this guide is the content setup that my native Japanese professors have mapped out when teaching this rather sterile textbook. Rather than learning just one page at a time, Tobira requires meaningful connection between the various pieces of the chapter. There is a lot of flipping back and forth, reading and re-reading, answering questions, head-scratching, but it can all be done just as well on far slower schedules than this pace. Good luck!

As always, I’m happy to expand on anything and give even more granular detail. If you can, join one of the big language exchange discords and ask questions where native speakers can see to help/correct you.

btw can you guys help me decipher the japanese in this video? thanks