One of the tools in your Japanese toolbox – especially if you are a self-learner – should be a timer – or more than one. If you are taking classes you have the discipline of set tasks and homework. By yourself it is easy to lose track, waste time reading English sites about Japanese (gomen gomen) and generally not really know how you are doing. At least in time-terms timers can help with this.
You should set aside time for practicing things like reading and listening, and it is surprisingly difficult to accurately assess how much you are doing if you don’t time it. Right now I am having a campaign to improve my kikitori (hear-catching, or listening comprehension) which is decidedly my short suit in Japanese. I am putting in three hours every day, and I need to keep track of that time. The best tool I have found for the job is the online stopwatch.
Why do I recommend this one? There are occasions for a count-down timer (I’ll mention them in a moment), but if you are trying to track a daily target it is better to have a count-up timer. This one can be stopped and resumed as often as you want, so you can get to your target in increments. Even if you close the window it will remember your time when you go back to the site (if you haven’t stopped it it just keeps on ticking), and if you are by any chance actually dumb enough to reset the timer by accident (like – ahem – certain dolls) it still keeps a record of your recent times in the slots below the stopwatch.
I’ll be frank and tell you that I am a terrible record-keeper. At the start of my campaign I set up detailed record-blanks for myself to record exactly what I did every day. Guess how long that lasted. Some folks can do things like that and some folks can’t. Dolls are notorious for not. However I found this timer keeps as much record as I absolutely need – an idiot-proof track of exactly how long I have spent on my campaign-listening each day.
Another good feature of this timer is that it displays the count-up in the tab, so if you are working in another window you can still see your time progress at a glance.
A count-down timer is useful when you, say decide on an hour’s reading or listening right now. You can set the timer and tell yourself you won’t stop till that ping goes. There are several good count-down timers online or you can get a physical one.
Here’s mine which I got in Japan and love to pieces:
As you can probably guess I use it to time reading sessions – not because I regard reading as a chore, but because I have so little sense of time that it is useful to decide to read for an hour or a half-hour and actually know what is happening.
Being shaped like a bear or other cute animal is not absolutely necessary, but highly recommended.