The story behind Japanese learning website Renshuu.org

This guest post is from Michael Hominick who talks about his Japanese learning website Renshuu.org:

renshuu.org started out as a tiny personal project to fight the most deadly of foes: laziness. At the time, I was a university student studying Japanese, and it was an almost daily battle to create and keep track of hundreds of paper flashcards that were going to keep me alive while I was learning Japanese.

While I did and still do enjoy studying, I have never had any love for the ‘secretarial’ side of studying: making flashcards, keeping them organized, and trying to rewrite the bad data in my head when I would realize weeks later that I had miswritten part of a kanji character on one of my cards.

I was majoring in computer science at the time, so it was a natural fit for me to make a site that would help automate all the busywork of language studying so I could focus on the actual learning. The only thing I would change if I could jump back to this point in time is that I would have build it from scratch as a tool for anyone to use, instead of creating it as a personal site and slowly growing it out from that point.

It has been about 13 years since renshuu.org was made and has been helping me (and many others) enjoy learning Japanese without spending unnecessary time fiddling around with my study materials. It has always been a second job next to my (hopefully) lifelong profession of teaching: I am currently designing and teaching a new curriculum for the language wing of a private high school in Japan. Fortunately, I have had two more people join me (we all work on renshuu as a second/side job) in building the completely rewritten renshuu 3.0, which is in beta at the time of writing this.

Although renshuu has grown in size and scope so that I could not possibly detail all the cool features built in, I am happiest with the level at which the site is able to customize itself to match any user’s Japanese knowledge level. No two students are alike – even a class using the same textbook will create learners of different knowledge levels as people supplement their Japanese with new words and expressions from books, anime, games, etc.

renshuu’s system keeps track of everything you learn on the site (with both broad and fine-toothed options for specifying kanji/vocab that you already knew before joining the site) and will, per your preferences, display all vocabulary, grammar explanations, and example sentences to match your personal knowledge level.

What does this mean? renshuu’s system will allow you to easily:
– rewrite any vocabulary term to show only kanji that you know (or show furigana above unknown kanji)
– automatically sort sentences in the dictionary/quizzes to best fit your vocabulary knowledge (not too many words you’re unfamiliar with)
– instantly populate words throughout the site with a kanji character as soon as you study it
– generate personalized quiz questions that help reinforce the material by never showing you incorrect answers that are easy to spot because they are words you’ve never studied before.
– grammar examples and explanations in the grammar library are automatically rewritten as well to match your kanji knowledge

While many study sites do a good job of keeping track of which ‘flashcards’ you know and don’t know, renshuu’s system leaps past that and makes ALL the content in the site aware of your knowledge level so it can react and provide you with a personalized study environment.

We’re a very tiny group and we like to keep in touch with our users, so if you join us and have any questions at all, you can post anywhere in the site asking for Michael and I’ll be there to help!

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