The Rules of MasterY Pt.2 (Familiarity)

REWRITE:

As always I must emphasize that there are two disadvantages we as adult learners primarily have. One is that we do not have the luxury of the staggered learning approach that a child has where they learn the bulk of their vocabulary and higher level grammar over a period of ten years. We also do not have the luxury of the time to learn words and grammar incidentally through context over this same period of years. We must accelerate our process logically, but in a manner that also allows us the ability to use and process the data we are learning. This means that to be effective in this strategy, we must highly prioritize certain actions and information and highly avoid certain tasks until much later on. In learning a language, our one major goal is RECALL.

But recall really represents: The recall of hundreds of memorized grammar patterns, thousands of words and phonetic recall and recognition of these types of words and phrases in realtime. 

For Japanese, where based on our initial set of Kanji which is 2,136 Kanji, at 1.8 readings per Kanji, we have a minimum of 3,844 high frequency common words to learn as a base for our language acquisition. These words lay the concrete for everything else. Naturally, upon learning this information, many people become quite intimidated by the data. Even if you break it down and say, at 50 words pre day you’ll learn 1500 per month and hit 5,000 in around four months, just the mention of “four months” at one task for many is also equally daunting.

A large part of our mastery mentality is to get extremely comfortable with the idea of learning large sets of data, but by understanding that the data is not really as “large” as we thinking it is. A fluent English speaker can have a working vocabulary of around 100,000 words, an incredible number. For Japanese, most adults have a working vocabulary of 20,000-35,000 words. Our based of 3,844 words represents about1 19% o n the low end and  109% on the high end. So technically speaking 3,844 words actually isn’t “that much” and to become a real boss, the estimates are a vocabulary of 8-15,000 words really puts you at an unusual level. Obviously many of these words (thousands of them) are words that we probably never use. Things like Windmill, knick knack, brickabrack and so on. The point is, our goal is not as gargantuan as we think. We do not need to know 35,000 words to speak the language, most studies point to knowing 5,000 as the holy grail and the rest of words are really for reading novels or studying certain things to a high degree. So a working familiarity with 3,844 words gives us full access to the language and we can work our way up to five or eight thousand at our leisure. But this base, this 19%, represents for us an unusual ability to grow in the language.

In our languages we have a working vocabulary, that I say we have a “working familiarity” with. We know certain words are used in certain scenarios and settings and we have trained our minds to recognize those uses. It is the same with “basic” vocabulary (even though 3,844 words is certainly not ‘basic’). The perceptual block is the number of words and our perception of our ability to learn these words (and recall them with ease from memory). People do not realize there in individuals, who have no problems revising three to five hundred words per day. This means that this person, in ten days will expose themselves to three thousand words. Let’s say this person repeated this process with an effective means of memorization three times for the month. This means they would revise three thousands words, three times in a month. This is a far cry from someone learning 10 words a day bawling at the the 11 months it will take them to hit 3,500 words!

I mention this extreme for a reason: At 100 words per day, you can hit 3,000 in a month and 6,000 in two. Using regular methods of study, I estimate memorization of about 75% of that, with a working familiarity (shorter term memory) of the remaining 25% which can be trained. So after two months, you should be quite comfortable with 4,500 words, which puts you at that near enviable 98% comprehension mark in both reading and listening.

Extreme revision and word training develop what we can an extreme familiarity with the language you are pursuing. I’ve already spoken at length about how the brain operates and auto organizes. We all already have the software in our brains that allow us to learn any language on the planet, given the right data under the right conditions. When you expose yourself to thousands of words with the intention of familiarizing yourself with them (while doing immersive studies) the language will being to unfold on its own. This “forced familiarity” which make what seems foreign and scary before become quite welcoming. So it is important that we become very comfortable with what we perceive as “large data”. This is why I prefer doing things in shorter windows of time, to close the perceptual psychological gap. Of course it takes incredible work, but I know what the reward is.

This approach is also massively self-reinforcing. By learning thousands of words, you must learn by proxy thousands of sentences. By learning thousands of sentences, you are automatically exposed to grammar patterns thousands of times. Then, by selectively adding new grammar partners to your learning sentences, you being to incrementally master the recognition of both vocabulary and grammar with the guarantee of thousands of exposures.

Remember, we must get these exposures anyways, and doing them consciously only guarantees we reach our goal faster. 

Assuming we learn 1-3 cards per word (using an Anki deck to track our progress) this means our deck will contain around 4,500 cards for our first 3,000 words. These cards must be revised continuously. Let us assume we need 10 exposures to memorize the card. This means we get 45,000 exposures to these words and grammar patterns (audio as well if you set your deck up in this way). By the time we reach 6,000 cards, we’ve crossed over 100,000 exposures. Ask yourself, it is possible to get this much exposure done strategically and not make progress? Of course not. When viewed from this angle, understanding the value of exposure, it become very clear why these things work. Ignore the idea of “thousands of words” being a bad thing. Rather, look at the learning process as guaranteeing that you get tens of thousands of exposures to your target language.

Presently my “phase one” writing and loci-based memorization strategy has given more around 120,000 exposures to the Kanji i’ve learned. But ensuring I get another 100,000 exposures to word and phrases I will take that number of the exposures to Kanji up to almost a 250,000 mark. We do this normally in life, but we do not track it or count it. I do. You can’t fail with massive exposure done strategically.

Working with groups of hundreds of words over and over builds familiarity and you’ll find when you consume native media that certain words are almost always used in the same context, your brain will organize that on its own, and what is fascinating, come time for you to speak, you will be able to say the same things, in the same way, even if you didn’t really practice that much. Remember our brains already have this software. Once you deliver the data in the right way at the right volume, the brain takes over. 

This kind of work is not easy. It is not simple. It is super hardcore high level strategy, but it also promises and incredible reward. It requires unusual patience, but as i’ve said in a previous post. After your 8-10 weeks of pain, you start seeing your first major breakthrough in comprehension. You’ll be able to read sentences, you’ll be less intimidated by seeing a page full of Kanji and you’ll have the confidence to carry on to the next step. After crossing the 1,500 word barrier, you’ll be amazed at how you start to hear way more. At 3,000 your language ability starts to explode. You will be able to understand hundreds of “short chain” dialogue that uses these words. Immersion will begin to self-reinforce, then at 4,500 you will find that you will be able to anticipate things in speech and you’ll be able to start automating words and phrases on your own. When you put active focus on this, your abilities increase rapidly. This is when fluency begins to appear on its own as everything overlaps. This can all be triggered by YOU but it takes massive action and incredible patience and dedication.

I am about to enter phase 2 for this experiment, but I already know where the data will take me. There’s not way I can study 4,500 words get by proxy 45,000-75,000 exposures to these words and phrases and NOT improve my Japanese. Add that to the fact that i’ve already had 120,000 written exposures, these will just add more cement onto what i’ve already learned. This “massive familiarity” will orient the brain to do its thing, so when I dial down on grammar it will auto-reinforce and then the holy grail will be reached.

I’ll talk more on how immersion fits into this later as I expand more on the Golden Number theory. As I’ve explained i’ve actually been going through this process while not being physically well (which has revealed my own level of dedication to myself). My first month was a blast and then I started to falter due to health issues, but I stuck to the program. Phase II should be fun but I know the “100 words per day hammer” is pretty grisly. You have to mentally prepare to get into that rhythm, but after a week it gets pretty smooth. My milestone day is always day 10, when I know i’ve hit 1000 words.

This is definitely the work of “mad men” as this is such a delicate mix of madness, obsession and fortitude but I don’t think there are many things as complex and rewarding as language acquisition.

cheers

 

 

 

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The Rules of Mastery pt. 1 [ 2,062 Kanji Update]

Cheers! This update focuses on my thoughts on currently memorizing 2,062 Kanji without using any software. If this was ten years ago, before the Japanese government increased the Jouyou Kanji list to 2,136, i’d have “finished” all the Joyou Kanji, because the previous list ended at 2,043 if I’m correct. The 75 Kanji I have left to learn are all hard nouns with Kunyomi readings, so I’m going to explain my strategy around those. But first let me do a quick recap of the demands of this learning task.

GOAL: Learn to read and write 2,136 Kanji and all 297 Onyomi readings. By proxy during this process, learn about 1,000-1,500 words.

Utilize a “multi-modal” strategy to ensure that all memorized terms trigger high stimuli, operate within a familiar loci (memory base) and anchor to previously stored long-term memories for vastly enhanced retrieval.

MEMORIZATION PARAMETERS:

My parameters for defining ‘memorization’ are as follows: (1) to be able to write any of the 2,136 Kanji from memory by seeing the keyword. (2) to recognize the Kanji in print and extrapolate its potential reading. I emphasize this because for some, the idea of memorizing something is simply being able to recognize it on paper. However I have found that recognition based memorization is a one-way street that gets darker the more you learn. Studying with an Anki deck for example, will tell you that you have “memorized” hundreds (or thousands) of words and phrases, but for many learners they cannot use these words or phrases because they haven’t really practice recalling them, only recognizing them. As I define it, if you cannot recall what you are memorizing, then it is not fully memorized. These are terms I set for myself after studying many Anki decks over the years and realizing that the idea of “memorizing” with Anki is somewhat illusory, relative to one’s use of what what is memorizing. Anki is very good at allowing one to track one’s progress and work within a pre-defined subset of information, but is better used for the reinforcement of information you are working to actively recall. In my experience, in the context of intitially learning Kanji, Anki doesn’t challenge recall in the way that writing does, nor does it imprint with varying stimuli the neural connections between what i’m learning and what i’m trying to memorize. “In a sense” we could call it memorization within a narrow parameter but at the same time (for me) it felt like a false indicator of my ability to process the language. I make sure to emphasize “Learning Kanji” here because Romance languages are a bit different in the sense that we already have a familiarity with the base alphabet, phonetics and associated words. With that said, I used my experience with other languages and the gains made from certain actions then to assist in my current endeavors.

Unlike my past attempts I can actually claim to have fully memorized 2,062 Kanji as I can write all of them from memory provided the Keyword. By proxy, I am also able to read these Kanji (on yomi) and make educated guesses at the various readings since some Kanji have multiple readings. I will be creating another video writing all these Kanji in due time, but I have already made a video demonstrating writing 1,000 Kanji that I memorized in just over 30 days.

The Perfect System

I have realized over the years trying many systems out for language learning, that there generally is no “perfect system”, however, many systems integrate or overlap perfectly to assist in acquisition. It is my belief that my personal curiosity has always been to figure out these gaps and overlaps, versus trying to create a one size fits all system. The limitation for the majority of us, (even those who creates these systems) is looking at the vast amount of data we must learn.

By approaching this data in a different manner, I’ve created a different psychological approach to the memorization of large types of data utilizing systems that overlap. I call what I do “training”, which means that there will be different approaches to different tasks based on different methodologies, but it is not infinitely complex, but actually easier as time passes. When we understand that a certain subset of data can be mastered and acquired using a strategy that gives predictable results, we can then focus on other strategies that give predictable results in that data set.

To make this less “science talky” let’s take the subset of Kanji we must learn 2,136 with 297 readings. Let’s just call this PHASE ONE. For me, Phase one requires learning how to read and write these Kanji using a specific technique that will give me mastery of both recognition and recall. Those are the only two metrics I need at this time. Since each Kanji has 1.8 words, there is a minimum of 3,844 words to be learned within this subset. A Japanese child will learn one to two Kanji at most per week, for ten years. This means they can slowly acquire and master one Kanji and these 1.8 words per Kanji. After ten years they will easily master thousands of words.

The fault of a new, adult learner from a foreign country, is to attempt to learnt this information in tandem with learning the Kanji, which will not be done in this very slow and staggered manner of ten years. We do not have the luxury of this time and want to go faster, which sets up a problem. Whatever path we choose to learn will have great demands on us psychologically,  because as the number of Kanji increase, so too do the demands on memory and inevitably stress that settles in when the person thinks of the thousands of words they need to learn. However, if we work in a modular sense and only train and master what will make the next step more effective, then we are not only helping ourselves psychologically, but also strategically. I ignore the raw numbers and just break it into three simple subsets based on the general goals of the average learner.

Most language learners have the goal of being able to speak their target language. This only requires ONE action, which is the recall of everything you have learned. Irregardless of the methods you use to learn thousands of words or grammar patterns, everyone ends up at the sam finish line, which is being able to recall from memory with reasonable speed all this memorized information. 

With that said, there are three general components to getting this ability (before methodology).

We must (a) be able to READ our target language, as all vocabulary and grammar is written in our target language. We must then (b) be able to RECOGNIZE our target language, by training our ear in the unfamiliar phonetics, by both using the language and listening to it for several hundred hours. We must then (c) be able to RECALL this information (in the form of recognition and production of our own speech).

Romance languages have a very low barrier of entry because their alphabets (with the exception of Russian) are quite close to English and take little time to learn and master. Japanese has a very high barrier of entry because almost no words and grammar can be learned without learning three sets of writing systems. However, it doesn’t not take must time to learn the first two, hiragana and Katakana ,with each set having about 46 characters each. These can be learned quite quickly, in as little as a week. The challenge is Kanji, but as I’ve demonstrated, as “difficult” as this looks perceptually, one can learn all these Kanji in 8-12 weeks with a guaranteed level of memorization. So in our first 60 or 90 days, we will be able to mark off the first component, which is READING.

Once we do this, we are now able to more comfortably go after vocabulary and grammar, as these things were blocked to us only by our inability to read the material, not our ability to understand it. We as learners have a very dangerous psychological activity we do, where we see something we do not understand and get “upset” with ourselves for not understanding it. This is quite illogical based on the following universal rules, which I will emphasize heavily in my upcoming course (which isn’t just method but focuses heavily on psychology).

  1. You can’t know what you’ve never learned.
  2. You can’t read what you’ve never seen.
  3. You can’t recognize what you’ve never heard.

It doesn’t matter how many times a person says to me 大変だな!(たいへだな!)(taihen dana) I will never understand it if I do not know the language and have zero context with which to attempt an extrapolation of the meaning. These 3 rules keep me quite grounded because any frustration based on information I have never seen is unwarranted. How can I feel “stupid” not being able to read a word I have never seen? How can I feel “frustrated” being unable to use grammar patterns i’ve never seen or looked at even once? This is why I’m a proponent of avoiding the psychological maze of early speaking as for many learners it can trigger too many psychological feelings of inadequacy do to functional inadequacy, not ability-based inadequacy. Attempting to speak with a fluent French speaker after one day to me is completely wasted effort unless you have the odd mindset that keeps you going and you are fueled by a sense of failure (which is a very very small subset of people. Most people just feel bad and stop).

What i’m saying here is extremely important. For many learners, they conflate functional inadequacy with ability-based inadequacy. Let me break those two down:

Functional inadequacy simply means you are not equipped to do your task because you don’t have the right tools or information. A man who knows nothing about plumbing is functionally inadequate to fix his broken pipe. This doesn’t mean he cannot learn plumbing and eventually solve these problems, but in the situation, he doesn’t possess the skills or knowledge to solve his problem. This is a truism, yet some people not possessing these skills or knowledge will attempt to “be a plumber” and despite not having the skills or ability, make the process personal and think their lack of ability to solve the problem is ability based. 

Ability-based inadequacy is where on cannot achieve certain results because of one’s personal aptitude. Let us say you are a 400M runner and you train just as hard as your colleagues but cannot seem to cross the 60 second barrier in high school. That is an “ability based limitation”. You may judge yourself harshly by it and even create an entire personality around this inadequacy. Some ability-based inadequacy is absolute, as obviously not all of us are elite athletes, genius mathematicians or extremely socially savvy people. With the exception of things that require genetic advantages of height and strength, the majority of all ability based activity can be increased to an extremely high degree with unusual dedication. 

But before we go to deeply into that, understand that as a learner, quite possible the most dangerous thing you can do is to think your lack of progress is ability-based inadequacy. Once you think that “you” as a learner are unable to do this “impossible” task, you have signed your own death warrant. It is only a matter of time before you burn out and stop from sheer frustration (as I have many times). However, if you simply look at thing based on functions, that is, the actual tools you have, then your entire outlook changes. The simpler we look on large data, the more palatable it becomes. Whether it is one word or ten thousand, the rule holds.

If I cannot READ what I see, I cannot RECOGNIZE it. If i cannot RECOGNIZE it, I cannot MEMORIZE it and therefore I cannot RECALL it.

Each link in the chain sets up a logical truism that guides the entire process. We cannot expect one without the other, yet most of us do this quite illogically. We listen to our target language, “expecting” to understand words we have never heard, and grammar partners we have also never heard or used. We dive into conversation unarmed with words, vocabulary or proper pronunciation “expecting” to make gains from our attempts then are surprised (even shocked) that we can’t. I’ve done this way more times that I liked and as time passed it dawned on me that the majority of my issues were never about methodology, but mostly a mixture of preparation and psychology.

These three concepts READ, RECOGNIZE and RECALL set up all three phases of language acquisition and can actually be learned (independent of speaking with native speakers but that’s another post). In terms of Japanese it looks like:

READ = 2,136 Kanji + 297 Onymoi readings  @8-12 weeks.

RECOGNIZE = 3,844 words + grammar (based on target level) studied and trained @8-10 weeks + listening

RECALL = speaking at length for 8-10 weeks to solidify all previous data.

Naturally these numbers are adjustable, but from a “top-down view” this is the logical and psychological true path that everyone takes. Even the crazy guys who do it in 90 days, or do aspects of this in shorter time. Some people skip reading, learn less words, focus on other grammar, etc. The point is, this is the way and there is no way around it. 

Romance languages are different. It doesn’t need to take more than 2 weeks to master the phonetics and alphabet adjustments for most of them. Japanese requires a minimum of 8 weeks at 35 Kanji per day to hit 2,136. 

But let’s look at French for example:

READ =  learn french phonetics and pronunciation fully @ 2 weeks

RECOGNIZE = 3,500-5,000 high frequency words for 92-98% + grammar (number based on target level)

50 words/day = 1500 month  = 3.5 months to 5,000

RECALL = speaking at length for 8-10 weeks to solidify all previous data and ensure mastery.

We see here that we will massively shortcut reading and explosively go into reading and grammar learning quite quickly. Also in French, we already know thousands of words that we can recognize but have different pronunciations. I’m doing Japanese now, but based on my data, I think with this information it is quite possible for me to reach a very advanced French ability in about 8 weeks  based on what I know now. This top down approach is designed to give an easy look at the demands and then each phase (READ, RECOGNIZE, RECALL) has its strategy broken down specifically. It took me about 4.5 months to be able to start listening to German TEDX type speeches without problems (before a deeper understanding of what i’m saying now).

So currently, me being able to READ Japanese means that when I’m studying vocabulary and grammar (recognition phase) I will focus solely on this task, which was heavily built on my first exercise. As I learn words I will hear them and recognize them. I cannot “worry” about words I have never heard, or patterns I have never used. When you hear anything frequently enough, the brain understands it, period.

So the “work” is consistently and being able to predict where you will land when you fall. When everything gets jumbled up it presents several tricky psychological problems of perception that can be avoided when some aspects are made simpler.

Obviously people will say they want to speak quickly, or “dive right in” etc. But all three phases, READ, RECOGNIZE and RECALL won’t go away. If you dive into speaking, you can want to speak and fluently as possible as quickly as possible but you’ll still have to learn a minimum of 3,500-5,000 words to gain a certain level of mastery.

Meaning, if I grind myself to the bone practicing “speaking” and only have a limited vocabulary, I won’t be able to say much. Do you get this? There is NO AVOIDING LEARNING THOUSANDS OF WORDS.

Do not be frightened by this. “Thousands” is nothing to the brain which has near limitless storage capacity. Learning lots of words I call “exposure”, which is not “raw memorization”. Exposure deals with more of a “familiarity” than “memorization” which eventually leads to memorization. 

I’ll focus on this in part II.

 

 

 

 

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Training Versus Learning (Pt. 1)

Readings for Kanji + movies and characters I’ve used to memorize them over the past 10 days. Tracking is RIDICULOUSLY important to prevent overwhelm, but also be organized as you work towards this monstrous goal.

My approach and results have exponentially improved with a perceptual shift in my approach. I find the term “learning” to be quite passive. “I want to learn to speak German” or “I want to learn how to paint” are quite subjective. What is involved in “learning German” or “learning painting”? what will be the approach, what’s the ultimate goal? What are the time requirements and structure of this activity? The term “learning” does not immediately encompass this perceptually. The idea of learning is passive, open-ended and not concrete. It is also ambiguous, learning can be slow, fast, medium paced, efficient or inefficient. Too much has to be specified for one to consider what is “good learning” versus “bad learning”. The word itself is rife with contradictions we do not need.

Training, however immediately sets the tone within its meaning. One does not “learn to run a marathon”, one trains to run a marathon. It is immediately understood that whatever task you train towards will require: (a) extreme dedication (b) significant time and energy (c) a willingness to be adaptive (d) a perception of the end goal quite specifically.

Do we go into “learning something” assuming these four things immediately? No. This is why most people never learn anything. However, everyone knows once you decide to train towards something, there are demands which exist that you must satisfy or you will not achieve your goal. This is intrinsically understood, and people do not undergo training they feel they cannot complete or handle. Language training, memorization training, Kanji training, sets the stage for your mind to prepare for the significant demands (and rewards) that await you, with the knowledge that it will not be easy, but that is always an aspect of training.

This mental approach has allowed me to safely navigate the treacherous waters of high-intensity learning over an extended period of time. Only by considering what I am doing “training” does my mind appreciate the struggle or mental demands of the activity. This is because of a fixed truism that comes with proper training.

The truism is, proper and effective training MUST result in superior ability. 

Training is always a forward-thinking based activity. You train to become faster, stronger, more efficient and able. Training is never perceived as a passive activity. “I’m training in Jujitsu” can never be seen as passive. One does not take blows to the face and have a body filled with bruises casually. Likewise, one does not “train a language” casually. Writing 1,000 repetitions per day is not a “casual” or “passive” activity. Planning to learn 5,000 words and ‘training them’ is also not casual or passive. The territory is marked and the expectations are set. In fact, people know that if they decide to train for a marathon they may fail. They know that despite training for weeks or months, they may not achieve their goal. Their muscles might seize up, they might not run the perfect time, or an injury might happen, but they do it anyway. Training, is something that is done, knowing that it may be difficult, may not provide the exact results one seeks, but has rewards that greatly balance those risks.

Training sets the conditions that make one think of their task relative to two things: Mastery and Reward. Let’s look at Reward first.

Reward

All training is hinged on the reward the training will bring. There is no benefit to running one hundred miles a week and then not running a marathon. There is no benefit to learning thousands of words and not attempting to use them in either reading, speaking, or some other manner. Training is done only with a very specific (and usually high level) goal in mind. This is important to note, because “learning” tends not to be hinged heavily upon a specific outcome. “Learning to paint” is quite different from “Becoming proficient at portraiture in 90 days”. Training is working towards the goal, knowing that excessive failure and adaptation is required for improvement. It sets the stage to both handle and understand the demands of what lies before you. The value of this is immeasurable, because it psychologically prepares you for what blocks 99.99% of individuals that seek to master a task. 

Psychological preparation and awareness allows a mediocre “learner” to surpass a motivated one with a weak psychology, who cannot maintain the consistency of a training schedule. Some types of training do not show results for months. Some for years! Training, effectively is a kind of “madness” because one must imagine their future results in the form of a REWARD at the start of the journey, knowing they will not have that reward/ability for a foreseen period of time. 

With language this doesn’t have to be more than a handful of months, but the activity required is still incredible and demands a solid mind. Reward is the only “carrot” leading you through the long days and the long hours of mental training.

Mastery

Mastery is the decision to become really good at something. To “learn German”, is quite different from “Be proficient at conversations”. One is passive and open-ended, the other sets up a situation where one must master certain concepts to a certain degree, which is linked to a certain amount of time and effort. Mastery lets you know that simple effort will not get you the results you seek. Mastery lets you know that 30 minutes per day does not equate to mastery. Mastery lets you know that it is several hours of work, per day for an extended period of time that creates a high level of achievement. Accepting that you must master aspects of your goal allows you to deal with the inevitable stress and doubt that come from going after a high level task.

Once I nailed down these concepts, my entire process changed and I’ll talk about where I am relative to implementing these concepts psychologically along with efficient methodology to develop a training schedule forcing me to master what Im’ approaching, versus just absorbing it. 

Concepts in Action

I’m presently at about 115,000+ repetitions of writing written Kanji. I see this writing as a form of daily training, where I do a minimum of 1,000 writing repetitions daily. We can call these “reps”.

A rep is defined as writing a Kanji immediately from memory upon seeing the English Keyword. 

This means each day I’m doing a minimum of 1,000 retrievals of various Kanji from my memory (even if these are Kanji I am learning that I write multiple times in a row). I also did this with German (before solidly understanding the concept) where I’d read 1,000 sentences per day and another time when I was doing about 500 active translations of grammar per day (which lead me to conversational ability without speaking to anyone).

After trying the Heisig method a long time ago with mixed results I did not understand how one goes from learning Kanji to complete memorization of the Kanji. I knew there were ways to “transition” and “learn words in context” but these ideas are rather ambiguous because there ar thousands of words and context is not always easily created (or reinforced). Perceptually it set up a mental mountain which seemed unsurpassable. You must have a way of seeing what you want to master frequently, reinforcing it and retrieving it from memory frequently. 

At the time I could not see how this was possible based on the data (thousands of Kanji, thousands of words, hundreds of grammar patterns). Until I understood that training is intersectional.

Training is Intersectional

Language learning is arranged in a modular fashion for a reason. Core concepts need to be learned to a certain degree before other concepts can be mastered. We always want “speed” and nothing is wrong with “speed”, but “mastery” requires that we really understand what we are doing on one level to ensure the next level gives us the greatest benefit. Mastering the recognition of Kanji opens up the entire Japanese language. What I mean to say is, I don’t want to “sort of” recognize a Kanji then go look it up (waste of time) then have to re-learn it because I ‘kind of’ know it. I want to just read words and Kanji without pause because this leads to a better outcome.

Yesterday I was scrolling through Youtube and a Japanese channel that posts tests popped up. It listed a word (in Kanji) and put multiple choice answers that were the possible correct readings.

the Kanji was:

 補給

Which I immediately read as “HOKYUU”. I did not know what this word meant, but this was an N1 vocabulary word, which is the highest level of Japanese. The word means ‘supply’. I give this example to illustrate that normally, I’d look on this word and be stumped. NOT because its an N1 word, but simply because I would not be able to read it. By simply being able to read it, I am already winning. 

As I have mentioned before, it is like a child reading a word like “perspicacity” and asking a parent or sibling what it means. The ability to read is the super power that allows training to be efficient. Now I can either drop this word into a revision list, or encounter it later, but I won’t “stumble” or “stutter”.

Think carefully about this.

Since the largest barrier for entry in Japanese is reading, this means that by mastering reading, you have significantly lightened the load of acquiring the language. By doing this in 8-12 weeks, you save yourself years of time and move faster to acquisition.

N1, N2 vocabulary is described as “hard” because people cannot read them because they do not know the Kanji. The perception of the word is more based on what they do not know. I am confident that presently with 100 Kanji left I can read pretty much any N2 word that is not a verb or adjective (since I haven’t started learning all of those readings yet). This means that I will have no issue “training N2” or “training N3”. I won’t have the reading barrier, which drastically closes the gap between reading and memorization, which drastically closes the gap with recall ability which is our ultimate goal.

INTERSECTIONAL means that you train significantly from level to level. When I decided to do my first 5K, three days a week I woke up at 4 a.m and by 4:30 ran 8 miles per day to build stamina in preparation for the race. But I did not “get up” and do this. I ran almost every day normally (for about 45 minutes) so I already knew I could run eight miles if needs be, but I’d never trained that distance. By running frequently at a certain distance, I was able to know “step up” what I was doing. I moved from module 1 to module 2. I didn’t start at 8 miles. I started at around 2 or 3 per day for months no end. This intersectionality fits logically into all tasks and language training is no different. Being able to read Kanji smoothly and quickly must improve my likelihood of acquisition once I train each section. 

Being able to read the 2,136 Kanji now allows me to really “train vocabulary” in a way I could not if I was trying to memorize the word, reading AND Kanji at the same time. I’d burn out before gaining any real mastery (which happened to me in the past). Getting really good at reading Kanji(in 8-12 weeks), now allows me to relax knowing that I can put maximum effort into my vocabulary phase, without the stress of the Kanji reading barrier. 

I call learning the Kanji phase 1 and vocabulary is phase 2. Each phase is a section and each phase overlaps intersectional. The massive training of one section adds rocket fuel to the next. So my efforts and the level of them will greatly help my next efforts, which will link to phase 3 which is activation/speaking.

Monstrous Repetition

I have noticed that the monstrous practice of repetition i’ve been doing has allowed me to read very dense sentences quite easily, which for 99.99% of Japanese learners is impossible. I already know that it will take 4-6 weeks to expose me to the words I need to know, which will then overlap with immersion and translate into massively enhanced speaking ability. It has taken great patience on my part to not “jump the gun” with vocabulary, because I have found that memorization is much faster and smoother when I can read all that i’m seeing in my anki deck. 

It’s like seeing die Regierung pop up in German on a card. I won’t have to think about any of the letters (already memorized) or the pronunciation which I mastered early on. I only have to focus on one thing, the meaning which I will “train” through exposure or attempting to use it in language, or creating more cards with same word.

Focusing simply on the meaning takes 90% of the mental load off the process. Training is the process of memorization, but being able to read what you see gives your brain the context it needs to both remember it and internalize it. The monstrous repetition has so deeply embedded these Kanji in your brain as you start to reinforce vocabulary it will automatically reinforce all that you have learned. Eventually i”ll talk more about how i’ve doubled down on these strategies, based on my concept of “narrow” to virtually ensure you will master words from your Kanji groups with a certain type of focus.

It’s an interesting journey and I’ll keep writing my thoughts as I finalize things and release the program.

 

 

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The Concept of Strategic Failure (pt.2) Redefining Narrow

My Wednesday Face lol

I’m building a course around learning the Kanji, but I want to make some notes/timestamps on next steps. I understand exactly what to do next to kick things into gear as I will be copying what worked for me with German. Since I’ve spoken at length about Strategic Failure as a concept of forcing your brain to adapt (through failed instances of memorization that force the brain to memorize), what’s also interesting to make a note of is the nature of this strategy relative to what you are trying to achieve.

Strategic Failure or Strategic Training is the practice of setting the conditions that allow you to fail faster and learn more quickly. 

Next Steps (after Kanji)

Many language learners talk about keeping your focused “narrow” in the beginning, because the demand of language is large. This obviously is true, but a big problem with language learning information in general is that it is often falls into three core categories; either it is quite speculative, non-specific or too dense. Speculative information can be agreed or disagreed with and may (or may not) satisfy most audiences with no need to argue too much about the presented topic. Non-specific (general) allows the audience member to decide for themselves what it means and come to their own conclusions. Too dense means that the language explains things in very verbose nomenclature and well cited research but doesn’t really point in a specific and simple direction for someone to start their journey.

My aim is to clearly help others to  navigate past aspects of some of these problems. As I move forward in the next phase of my Japanese I’ll break it down as simply as possible.I will the start with the idea of “narrow learning”, where many successful learners speak about keeping your focus “narrow” (focus on a specific thing you like, e.g scifi, action movies) at the start of your learning journey. But let’s look at this as a concept.

The True Definition of ‘Narrow’

The strongest metric to start measuring one’s language ability is vocabulary. The knowledge of 5000 high frequency words in a target language gives a learner the ability to recognize 98% of written and spoken words (Nation, 1990), and also gives one the ability to figure out the meaning of words in context without looking up new words (Coady et al, 1993, Hirsh & Nation 1992). Therefore, if we could drastically reduce the time for acquiring this data, we can predict fluency or ability to comprehend the language  within a certain timeline. For me this represents the basic requirements of ability for any learner, regardless of whether you like Scifi, J-Dramas, Action movies or just Manga.

But 5,000 words is pretty hefty, so let’s use 3,000 as a base. 3000 (in most romance languages) gives you the ability to recognize about 90% of what you see read and hear, but depending on the language its more or less. Put simply, you need to know 3,000-5,000 words to handle the language at a comfortable level of reading, writing and immersion. 

Since the average native speaker knows tens of thousands of words, by comparison, knowing 3-5,00 words (to me) is considered narrow range of ability. Learning 1,000 common words doesn’t give you access to any of the language really. Everything you read will have gaps, and you’ll be stuck on every sentence and missing tons of word in both speech and reading. In fact “high frequency words” tend to really be best learned at the 3,500+ word number. At that point you’ll really start to find it easier to read things and words you don’t know tend to be “figureoutable” based on the context of the sentence. So there will be no significant results of any kind if we don’t hit the 3-5,000 word mark. Thats’ our narrow band. So this needs to be hit immediately and in a timely fashion. The reality is you can’t focus on anything you like without the ability to process and understand it. I am speaking specifically about vocabulary, not immersive material (which I agree can be narrow relatively speaking, but I find does not have to be but that is another discussion).

Learning Vocabulary teaches tons of Grammar by Proxy 

In learning new vocabulary, regardless of language with apps like Anki, people have easy access to well created word lists with sentence examples. Let us assume that for each word a person learns, they learn an average of 1-3 sentences with common grammar patterns. Learning 3,000 words gives you roughly 3-9,000 sentences of exposure. Add to that your revisions of these words and you now multiply this by a factor of 5-20 (number of times to memorize word) and you’ve now hit 15,000-60,000 sentence exposures. Since each sentence has a variety of grammar, you will have tens of thousands of exposures to common grammar points. 

This means that by the time you hit 3,500 words you will be easily reading most sentences. When you encounter grammar you do not know, it won’t “catch you off guard”, as you have already seen these sentences tens of thousand of times. By the time you hit 5,000 words you may approach viewing common sentences up to 100,000 times. Therefore, once you heavily engage in grammar study after the 3,000 word mark (if you choose that point) you will save yourself quite a bit of stress and actually have already trained thousands of exposures to reading common sentences (which by proxy you will find you are also able to hear and process in the native language if you have been concurrently doing immersion).

How This Fits in Strategic Failure

Since we know that a minimum of 5,000 words gives us roughly 98% of the language, hitting this exposure as quickly as possible guarantees a certain growth ability once reached. I’ve found that it is important that in anything we aim to do, it (a) has a timeline and (b) is trackable. 

The timeline gives you a finite ending point to push towards and the trackability lets you see what you get for your efforts. If I just say “I want to learn Russian in six months” but I don’t track anything, I will have no idea after six months what worked (and why) and worse, what didn’t work (and why). This is wasted time and energy.

Setting the conditions of a robust vocabulary nearly guarantees explosive comprehensive ability and a greater ability to advance in the language. 

By calling the first 3-5,000 words a “narrow” range, I am essentially making that giant hurdle much smaller perceptually. 5,000 words is no easy feat, but it is also not impossible and also does not need to take as long as one thinks. By training these words and strategically working to remember them, you set up all the prime conditions for explosive immersion, reading, recognition and speech proxy.

Speech proxy means your ability to speak will vastly increase (without speaking). It is quite difficult to know 5,000 words and not be able to speak a language, unless you have completely avoided immersion and only read. So if we aim to Strategically Train our first 3-,5000 words, we set up the stage quite strongly for all the other pillars we may focus on individually and not get the same results.

To reiterate something I said in the previous post:

I do not expect massive gains in situations where I have not ensured a lot of constant, strategic failure

Meaning, if i do not know at least 3,000 words I cannot hope to see any gains in my listening comprehension or reading ability because that is the minimum I need to really even go swimming in the language pool. For those who disagree, I’ve been in the situation where I know 1,000 to 1,500 words and i’m totally lost because every other word/expression is unknown to me. I’d like reading a newspaper with holes in it. Sentences don’t make sense and it takes too much effort to keep looking up words/grammar. With my German experiment, after hitting 4,000+ words I found that I could read sentences as a whole and words I didn’t know stuck out clearly, but I wasn’t “lost”. I could “keep moving” with little trouble, which kept me in the language, versus me stopping every second to look up a word I didn’t know. This saves a lot of time and gives you more time to reinforce what you already know, versus learning new material. 

Setting The Conditions

Think of it like this. If i know 1,000 words or if I know 4,000 I will be utilizing the same effort when trying to speak, read or practice listening. The difference is that by learning 4,000, I set myself up to benefit far more from the same effort. The more words I know, is the more time I can spend in the language without looking things up. The more words I know, it the more words will be triggered when I listen to native media (and the faster I will get to processing native speech better). At 1,000 words if i have to pause the video every second i’m wasting time. If i’m looking up words, I’m wasting time. I’m going to fail anyway, I’m going to crash and burn with words, grammar patterns and complex verbal linguistics. I might as well do it with some more body armor on that keeps me in the ring longer.

I am not saying go straight to 4,000 without doing any grammar or other studies, but in terms of war like strategy, vocabulary is king. For me, at a pace of 50 words per day, it takes  8 weeks to hit 3,000 and another 6 to reach 5,000. If this is long, you can go Hercules and do 100 per day, which I did while learning German. At that time I wanted to hit 3,000 as quickly as possible as was committed to only studying vocabulary. This is why I mentioned what happens by proxy. By going after a high number of words, you also start doing a lot of grammar practice by proxy, or seeing sentences with hundreds of common partners (or you can add your own). This isn’t a leisurely activity, it is training. We have to fail at remembering these words to force our brain to prioritize them, and there is no shortcut. 3,000-5,000 gets you “fully” in the game and there is no way around it. But reaching that point accelerates everything else. But it fits into what is called progressive overlap, which means the major goal feeds several minor goals.

Obviously, you can lower the intensity of everything i’ve mentioned and do this work in 6 months if you have the patience. I’ve found that i’d rather push harder in the beginning to force my brian to do what it doesn’t faster. So I probably won’t do 100 words per day, however if my base is 50, i’m guaranteed 1500 per month and 3000 in 8 weeks. But i know 100 is quite doable with the right methods.

Point is, if I “fail strategically forward” with what i’m doing, it puts me in a better place, with the same effort. I get more reward for the same amount of sweating. Now I just have to muster up my energy and mind to get ready for this new leg of the journey. I have about 145 Kanji left and this last leg has been mentally brutal. The Kanji groups are smaller but i’ve been really fatigued on this journey, but consistent! I have shown myself that the true enemy in the mind, and mindset wins each time. I’m posting all these thoughts because these are simple realizations i’ve come to. Everything i’m typing up has worked extremely well  and I’ looking forward to testing it systematically. I’m presently in a “learning/memorizing” phase and I really want to get to “only revision” versus using my memory to learn new Kanji. I want to start hammering away at new words (i’m already at about 1500 by proxy) but I can’t split the focus between Kanji and words presently, so hopefully I’ll wrap up all 145 by next week at my current pace.

Today’s Kanji memorized so far.

 

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The Concept of Strategic Failure

Failure is an extremely loaded word for pretty much all learners. To not complete something, is to fail. Whether it is a life goal, a relationship, or a set of math problems. Failure as a construct links directly to identity, which means that with enough overlapping circumstances relative to this perception, one can “feel” like a failure, or “become” a failure in one’s mind. But the truth is (in my humble opinion anyways) is that failure is the only way to become better at anything. 

But let’s redefine “failure”. Let’s just see failure as an unsuccessful outcome for a wanted goal with a certain amount of data that influenced one’s decision. 

You can only learn from action, and not all actions are successful, so by default the majority of all learning comes from ‘failed’ attempts. It is the only way we improve at walking as babies, learn speech and develop social skills. We make mistakes, we look ridiculous, we fail a test or two, we say the wrong thing, then learn from all these things to ensure more successful behaviors and habits.

I believe these actions are all strategic by nature, because they all force you to adjust, test and redefine your methods to improve and ensure future success. 

No one can 100% predict future success without certain kinds of data, and it is only by “failing” and constantly trying different strategies do we eventually get closer and closer to a point of confidence where we can predict the outcomes of our chosen tasks. This is why, just three months ago, I knew I’d be able to memorize all the Jyouyou Kanji based on my previous attempts. I had enough data, and had “failed strategically” enough to know what not to do, and why it didn’t work. 

Memorization is strategic failure at its best. With most words, phrases and expressions, you remember a chunk of the word, while forgetting the rest. For example, if i’m trying to remember the word:

鯨(くじら)KUJIRA (whale)

I might say “KU” and forget “JIRA”, or I might say “K” if I don’t remember anything beyond that. Both of these are “failed attempts” at retrieving the word. But no one expects to remember a word instantly and it is only stressing the brian through repeated “failures” that the brain prioritizes the memory and solidifies the connection. By using better techniques for memorization, we are doing what is called strategic failure. We want to make the rights kinds of errors, relative to the brain’s normal function ,to lead us closer to our goal faster. 

Trying to remember words, is strategic failure. You brain will fight to remember the final piece of whatever you are trying to remember, until it sticks. Looking at memoization or learning as a form of “strategic failure” changes the entire perception of most of your acitvities.

For example, do you know that the act of walking is the avoidance of falling? Each step you take is from the mastery of balance that eluded you as a child. In a similar vein, driving is mastering the avoidance of collisions. To properly memorize words and all aspects of a language, we must somehow give ourselves hundreds of thousands of instances to ‘fail’ as the brain organizes and prioritizes this information.

Auto-Correction

A fantastic thing happens the more we “fail”. The brain eventually autocorrects. If a young child playing soccer keeps kicking the ball the wrong way, on attempt 1000 he or she will notice the data from all the missed shots has now vastly improved their accuracy and technique after strategically doing the wrong thing long enough. Each attempt incrementally reinforces better and better form, until form becomes good. The brain auto-corrects and improves. It is no different with words, phrases and speaking. After a baby notices that trying to get up from the ground to walk is too difficult (because a baby is physically weak) a baby will “somehow” figure that propping itself on a chair (removing the initial demand of standing up) allows it to practice walking more from an upright position. The brain figures this out automatically. After “failing” many times, it realizes that it is better for a baby to standing in an ambulatory position then fail (as it provides more useful information), versus putting a ton of energy into first getting up, then walking instead of just walking.

What we do in elite learning is set the conditions of failure so that they are most beneficial to us, in far less time. This is it what underpins pretty much all “efficiency hacking” though i daresay it has not been described like this.

Mistakes are NOT Bad, They Guide You

This means that making mistakes are actually quite a good thing. Misreading a Kanji lets you know the next time you see it not to make that error. Mispronouncing a word, or saying a word “close to” what it really is reminds you that you have not 100% mastered the word and need to work on it.

when you are dealing with thousands of Kanji, thousands of words and hundreds of readings, we cannot recreate the natural, slow (and hard to track) nature of information learning that happens from birth to about four years old. We must be far more strategic in our failure (i.e attempts and the information we gain) to get results at lightning speed.

Strategic Failure and Physical Training

A well-known aspect of training is bringing yourself physically to a point of exhaustion (called muscle failure) to eventually make them stronger. You run five miles dozens of times to train for running ten.  Your muscles fail and fatigue, get uses to the strain of your training and improve with diet and rest. You strategically fail the muscles in a way that sets you up for the best results for your targeted event.

So as we dive into learning thousands of words, doing hundreds of hours of immersion and so on, we must be hyper aware of things that fatigue us and ensure that our fatigue is helping us, that it is strategic and useful.

We need to make mistakes in a manner that forces the brain to begin the auto-correct process sooner. Nothing beats this like heavy training, which is part of the True Cost of Language Learning I mentioned in a previous article.

This is why just jumping into a very complex process and putting in hours that aren’t leading you in a specific direction tends to waste energy and ultimately lead to burnout. Just like an elite athlete, it is better to be exhausted after a workout, knowing it is making you stronger, versus being exhausted and none of what you did has helped you make any improvements.

Failure Feedback

As I continue testing all these methods, what i’ve also come to realize is that tracking is THE most important thing when undertaking monster tasks. Only by knowing where you are, can you see if you are close to your goal. Strategic failure also gives you this feedback. If I “think” i’m making gains in my language, and speech is wonky, i can barely remember any words and I can’t understand ten percept of what i listen to after a certain period of study, then my ignorance reveals what I’ve “really” been doing.

What this does for me is simple: I do not expect massive gains in situations where I have not ensured a lot of constant, strategic failure. 

This observation might seem obvious, but the average person tends of have very high expectations of themselves that has no logical connection to their work ethics or methods. Without relative expectations and understanding of certain psychological and structural basics, it is far more likely to do activities that ensure true failure (which is not completing a task).

By understanding this as a fundamental aspect of my work flow: I do not expect massive gains in situations where I have not ensured a lot of constant, strategic failure. 

I cannot “complain” if I am not reaching a certain point, because I will know exactly why. I cannot “worry” about where I will reach in the language because it will be illogical. By “fatiguing the weak points” I ensure they are stronger on a subsequent encounter.

I’ve said on this blog before, it is nearly impossible to put a lot of work into a reasonably efficient process and not make progress. 

If I spend three hours a day consistently practicing conversation with a qualified teacher/partner, it is almost impossible for me not to improve. Three hours of conversation would expose me to hundreds if not thousands of instances for strategic failure daily that pushes me faster and faster to the point of auto-correction and internalization of the correct form of what i’m aiming to do.

Without going too deeply into that line of thinking, this rule: I do not expect massive gains in situations where I have not ensured a lot of constant, strategic failure

Sets up two things fundamentally: Much lower stress (relative to overall g0al) and also a certain type of accountability. I keeps me “aware” but without the pressure that comes from beating myself up.

If I want my listening comprehension to get better and i’m not listening to anything it can’t get better. If I want my Kanji reading to improve and i’m not reading documents, manga or something that forces me to see the Kanji, make errors and auto-correct, there is no way I can improve. 

The dangerous perceptual problem is that after learning how to read Kanji, many learners believe they have the ability to handle the language, when in actuality, they now have the ability to strategically fail at levels that EVENTUALLY GIVE THEM full access to the language in a far more efficient way, in a shorter time window.

For each of the 2,136 Kanji there is an average of 1.8 readings, meaning there are a minimum of 3,844 words associated with learning these Kanji. Based on what i’ve shown, you can learn ALL the 2,136 Kanji in 8-10 weeks, but not all the extra readings.

But ask yourself, is it better to be able to read 2,136 Kanji (giving you access to about 2500 words immediately in 8-10 weeks) OR struggling to learn each and every reading in a non-linear manner that can take an unpredictable amount of time? Years perhaps?

Being able to read all the Kanji allows me to read stories, transcripts and articles. It allows me to make mistakes, and expose myself to thousands of repetitions. It allows me to start the process of “failure” which means the “process of memorization”. My “failures” in reading will all reinforce my brain’s natural “auto-correct” process and my reading ability will drastically improve. What’s cool also, is that this happens quite quickly relative to the work put in.

Looking at it top down:

Stage A

8-10 weeks to learn 2,136 Kanji and 297 readings (by proxy about 1000-1,500 words)

Stage B

next 8-10 weeks working on the first 3,800-5,000 words with sentences, grammar etc.

this means for a very dedicated learner, by Month 4 you will have trained to such an extent that you can comfortably handle quite a bit of the language as you have really trained your brain with tens of thousands of instances that all overlap. You are strategically leading yourself towards mastery by ensuring the conditions of massive failure.

The more mistakes you make, the faster you learn. In fact, the act of failing so often has a reverse effect when things kick in. Your powers of recall will show you that the work you put in has not resulted in your current success and you will feel far more confident (and have no issues continuing what you are doing).

I am not saying any of this is simple at all. Such an undertaking requires massive psychological and physical determination. I write these articles in such detail to emphasize that so much of the ability to be consistent and work around the natural conflicts and stress that arise in life is relative to our psychology, versus our methodology.

When you set things up so that you are guaranteed to get results and understand why and also understand where you will slip, you are far less likely to fall too hard.  This is the true “secret” that many learning masters have. They have a master psychology that has made them quite creative in the face of massive challenges, as the only true block oftentimes is perspective.

The thing is, you can’t experience this kind of strategic failure just sitting down and going through an Anki deck. You can’t experience this type of failure by sitting down and just watching TV and taking notes either. At some point, situations have to be created where you are forced to fail (and thus massively reinforce what you have learned as a base). last example. With my German experiment I trained all the Grammar up to a B2 lower C1 level just going through flashcards set up with sentences I had to translate.

 

 

Each card had one grammar pattern and about 10-15 sentences. I think the total number of these cards was about 1000. I set it up so that with each card I knew I did around 10. So 10 cards equals 100 reps, 100 cards equals 1000 reps. Based on information with the Glossika learning system. They estimate one needs about 30,000-50,000 reps to start gaining the feeling of fluency. So lets say I work my way through a 1000 cards in 2 weeks. That’s 10,000 reps or 20,000 in a months and about 40,000 in 2 months. Of course I battled with certain patterns, messed up some words, forgot often but eventually, you just “remember it” and then your brain extrapolates this with stuff you listen to and your mind gets blown. But you must set the conditions that lead to this point. 

My research shows me that THIS is the most important thing before you start. It to put a lot of energy into ensuring these types of conditions are met before you spend a few months of your life dedicated to such a task.

What This Means for Me Moving Forward

I want to teach what i’ve done and i’ll be working on the course shortly. However, I’m implementing the other phases in the same manner as I did with my successful German experiment.

Let me break it up so this doesn’t go too long. But yeah, Fail fast and fail often. Be strategic and it will bring incredible gains.

 

 

 

 

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The True Cost of Language Acquisition (Pt. 2)

 

The internet loves sexy. Sexy is the end result of any major endeavor. Sexy is the moment when a man who spent thirty years working at building a company sells it for a billion dollars at age 50. Sexy is seeing  a fluent speaker of a language flirt with girls or “surprise” people at restaurants by ordering in the language. This is the appeal of success, when we see the “sexy” of the end result, but the sexy comes at great personal and mental cost. The hundreds or thousands of hours that come with training your mind to acquire large amounts of data and managing the extreme physical demands this puts on your body, mind and life is definitely not sexy.

Sexy can’t drive you, because sexy is way into the future.

My “sexy” system LOL. It takes far too much effort to focus on the sexy. Sure I can sit and fantasize sometimes about the day a language i’m working on will suddenly become “comprehensible”, but I know there is no shortcut to hundreds of hours of listening, learning hundreds of grammar partners and also thousands of words. I don’t care who you are, there is literally NO WAY around the mental and physical requirements for this. Elite learners are elite athletes in the realm of data acquisition. I suffer from fatigue problems which have plagued me for as long as I can remember, so I must be a ninja with both my time and energy to ensure I hit my daily goals as I work towards a new language acquisition. The cost is high when you wake up at 5 A.M to study a new language. The cost is high when you have to memorize and create thousands of stories and organize thousands of bits of data. This cost is always the same and never changes. You can attempt to work through it faster, but the costs never wavers. There is no real “shortcut” to five thousand or ten thousand words. There is no real “shortcut” fifteen hundred listening hours. There is not real “shortcut” to writing and practicing Kanji for over 100,000 repetitions as I have. I can do it faster, I can tweak a few things, but the cost is the same and this more than anything, is what I emphasize you internalize on your journey.

Sexy is the end point. Sexy is reading Japanese manga without references. Sexy is chatting Japanese after your brain gave up battling with you and did its thing that allows you to process the language. Sexy is realizing you can play a game in Japanese and sexy is flexing your skills a bit in situations that you’d normally be petrified to speak int. That is sexy, but just like building a sculpted physical with “Bratt Pitt in Fight Club abs”, you gotta put in the work.

My “sexy” learning system LOL

We are all different but we are all human and there are significant limits on our time and energy, especially as we pursue these types of ventures. As I develop a course around the structure of what I’ve been doing. I will ridiculously emphasize that this is not easy by any means. When I say it is not ‘easy’ i don’t mean relative to methodology. it is not ‘easy’ relative to execution. Your biggest requirement on this journey will not be the perfect Anki deck or flashcard system or the perfect mnemonics. Your biggest requirement will be a greatly enhanced psychology that  supports monstrous discipline and consistency.

The common man cannot wake up at 5 a.m each day (regardless of what is happening in his or her life) to consistently do their revisions, or early morning practice. A common man will find it hard to do the work required to get to the next level because it appears to be “too much”. I agree with the common man, it is “too much” for him because such desire are not common. Learning 2,136 Kanji is not a common goal. Learning thousands of words, writing a book, training to run a marathon or developing a host of other skillsets that requires extreme time and dedication is not a common desire and will not support a common psychology. 

Those who get stuck on fantasizing about the sexy (i.e the end result) will find out very quickly that such thoughts will not sustain your efforts for very long. It’s cool to think about chatting with girls in Japanese until you start watching Japanese media and realize you don’t understand ONE word anyone is saying and that it will be months before you start to really break the surface.  You can relish the thought of playing video games in your target language until you realize you need a minimum of 3,500-5,000 words to navigate daily life. Your psychology must be powerful and significant so that it can support the weight of all the effort you put in. 

I say this from the perspective from someone who definitely had aspects of the psychology, but not all of them. I didn’t understand this “true cost” and 99% of my failures were due to frustration, not understanding what to do and when, being overwhelmed by all the data I needed to learn and then thinking something was wrong with me (cognitive bias).

You see, if you just want to “chat a little German”, or “read a little bit of French”, then this article does not apply to you. Casual learners of a language in my opinion will never gain any true ability in it, because the cost is simply too high with a casual attitude. I’ve spoken on this site before about learning versus mastery and the more you lean towards mastery (as a mindset) the better equipped you are for the inevitable pitfalls (burnout, frustration, lack of belief) that are bound to come. All language learners hit these hurdles, the elite ones hit the hurdle, drop, get back up and jump over the next one. They don’t lay on the ground in a daze and worry about the next hurdle. Their psychology won’t allow them to. They understood the cost of what they were attempting going in, and expected bumps and bruises, a sprain here and there and days of fatigue and stress.

The mastery mindset, in this context, does not relate to what some would call absolute mastery, meaning you try to master everything you encounter. Mastery is relative to your mental approach and belief system towards the goal and the level and quality of actions you take in this regard. One does not “casually” learn 5,000 words of a native language. It also doesn’t matter if you are aiming for 1,000 words or 3,000, it isn’t a “casual activity”. Even if you use an Anki deck, that does not ensure that you will be able to recall these words in speech. You need to learn the words, use them, train them, fail at remembering until you don’t any more. This has to be done thousands and thousand of times. Impossible? No. Doable. Certainly. Does it require ninja like planning and focus? Definitely.

Such journeys are very isolating. On this path you will spend a significant amount of time  alone by yourself, using apps, or flashcards, reading, listening and training your brain. Your world (when you are studying) will be mostly solitude, isolation and working to master and memorize ginormous amounts of data.This does not mean it cannot be fun. Training for an activity of any kind can be made to be extremely fun, but training is training and training is arduous because training must be done consistently and not everyday does one want to wake up and run in the snow, or go to the gym when you feel like crap.

Going into any massive undertaking requires a very explicit knowledge of what to expect. In fact, what i realize is that knowing what to expect is what has allowed me to be so consistent with certain goals i’ve set over the last few years. With this Japanese experiment,  I went into it knowing i’d hit several perceptual pitfalls, suffer potential fatigue and burnout,  get threatened to be derailed by “life stuff”, I knew at some point question what i was attempting to do(it always happens in the face of so much information), I knew that i’d get trigger while doing immersion thinking “I’ll never understand this”. I knew these things because I’d already had these feelings in previous attempts at other languages. I’d already gone through those dark psychological places of self-questioning, feeling like a failure, thinking I didn’t have the ability and I was missing the language gene. I also learned it was all a lie. 

Once I learned that expecting those feelings is quite normal, it became far easier to navigate the territory and be more consistent. I would say to myself several times, “I know I won’t really understand much of the language at a certain level for up to four months, but I know it takes that amount of time for everything to start kicking in and to physically acquire a large portion of the data i need to understand and process the language at a higher level.”

So we see that the “cost” is not just relative to our time or methods. Possibly the largest “true cost” is understanding these roadblocks and how to deal with them psychologically so you don’t get kicked off the train. I say it is possibly the largest costs because this is what makes 99.9% of people stop the process. The success of most major tasks is said to be relative to  80% psychological factors, and 20% activity oriented factors. 

For me, waking up at 5 a.m writing 300+ Kanji, learning 25-35 a day and then doing another 300-500 written repetitions in the evening (while maintaining a daily minimum of 2-3 hours immersion with a high end of 7 hours) requires a very disciplined psychology. Some days I don’t want to listen to anything (which is why I have my minimum), sometimes there is life stress and sometimes I’m in Godmode and i learn 50 Kanji in a day without breaking a sweat, write 2000 reps of Kanji and listening to 10 hours of native material. But each step of the way, I know what I am attempting to do. I know it may seem ludicrous to some and I know it may overwhelm others. I know the time it will take for certain things to kick in and I know that my efforts will “seem” to not be working at certain points (when they actually are). Knowing this information quiets my brain, allows me to keep going and make progress, instead of hopping on Youtube watching videos of people talking about ‘How I learned X language in 2 days’ and feeling like crap.

We must always know the TRUE COST of what we are attempting to do. In the past I didn’t understand this. I thought you could just use some anki decks, listen to a few audio programs and you’d “acquire” the language. I looked for shortcuts (and found them) but learn that shortcuts only serve to shorten the time required to learn the language, but proportionately increases the demand on you mentally and physically relative to what you are trying to achieve. 

Don’t get me wrong. I went hardcore with my studies in the past. I put in hundreds of hours with what I now consider inefficient methodology. I tested everything under the sun to the best of my knowledge and because I didn’t get the results I wanted, at times Itruly believed this goal of language learning was ‘impossible’ until I  understood that it was not how much effort you put in, but how efficient the effort you put in is, and how prepared you are for the demands of this effort. 

We as learners can get discouraged because whenever we cross on major mountains in language learning, it  gives you clear a view of the next mountain which is far away. It will seem that each point has ridiculous demands on time and energy and only takes you me to another point that requires even more ridiculous demands on time and energy.

It was in this journey I realized that people who are proficient at learning multiple languages are fundamentally crazy. Crazy in the sense that knowing what you have to do to get to a certain level in a language and willingly do it over and over requires such discipline, rock solid psychology and self-belief. You can put everything you have mentally and physically into learning a language and not scratch the surface. Or you can put everything you have into a great system and realize it didn’t take you as close to the promised land as you thought.

However, what if you knew each step? What if you knew that you had all these mountains to cross and charted your course specifically? The journey would still be long and challenging, but you’d know where you would end up. Such processes as these require the highest form of intellectual strategy, a military-like perspective on each goal and an elite athlete’s mental fortitude. I will say this: I do not consider language learning to be ‘hard’. In fact, I hate going to websites and the first thing people do it talk about how hard and tough it is (without providing any psychological context for their reader to understand what this means). We already have within us the software to learn languages in a staggered manner as a child.  As adults we pivot and strategize to accelerate this process and with this comes extreme demands which require extreme discipline and mental fortitude, mores than raw methodology. What is ‘hard’ is dealing with the discipline you must develop, to quiet your mind when you ‘want it now’ and you keep looking for ‘shortcuts’ and ‘hacks’ and trying to ‘skip ahead of the line’. There is no skipping. Monstrous gains can be achieved in quite a short time, ‘short’ being 3.5-6 months of intense work.

Whether you go faster or slower is relative to how you percieve time, but ultimately, the biggest cost to you is not being aware of the things that might stop you fully in your tracks.  I’m not an impatient person, because 4-5 months of intense study is a lot of time to me and i’d rather spent 4-5 months taking myself to where I could be in 1 to 1.5 years. Who knows how much time they have left in this world? I for one don’t like to guess, so I’ve always been big on going faster if possible.

In summary, always know the true cost of your task before you go into the undertaking.  Be guided by the previous failures and insights of others and prepare heavily and set everything up to ensure you are as consistent as possible, with the least amount of effort. I cannot describe the feeling that comes when you suddenly realize your comprehension of a language has increased by 300%. All the work and struggle lead to something. But conversely it is a terrible feeling to not experience that, because you underestimated the costs of the journey and got left by the wayside. IT is a constant navigation, but once you have the right map, you are good to go.

Happy trails

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100,000 Kanji writing Reps: My thoughts

Revision Kanji i’ve written as of 10:00 a.m today for the last few days of newly memorized Kanji

Today I’m going to hit 100,000 written repetitions of Japanese Kanji as I head into the homestretch of about 200 Kanji left to wrap up the 2,136 Kanji for the Jouyou list that the government says is the base for most required reading. Like a lot of people i’ve been having many challenges with life, but I wanted to make sure I made an update toady as it is a pretty big milestone.

Where I am Now

This is a long post, so I’m dropping this here first. I’m hovering around 1950+ memorized. What this means is that for all 1950 of these Kanji I can read the Kanji’s Onymi reading (some Kunyomi) and I can write the Kanji from memory based on the Keyword. I can read quite complex chains of Kanji/sentences with few issues. This does not mean I know all the words in a sentence (this will be mastered in the vocabulary phase, which is phase 2) My reading speed presently relative to whatever I’ve been exposed to. Meaning, If I encounter a new word in an example sentence I can read it slowly, but correctly. I have not been reading anything at length  (that’s phase 2) and therefore have no expectations for reading with speed (yet). But I am reading much faster than I did in the beginning. The dots have started to connect themselves. The door has been “opened” as it were, to really put pressure on the other elements. By being able to read almost anything I see I can start to dial in on all the other elements. Okay, on to the post.

The Journey of 100,000 reps

In my last post I spoke about something called “Basic Equivalency”, which is the very binary viewpoint that what you put in is what you get, particularly if you ensure that what you put in is highly efficient and guaranteed to give you a better return on your investment of time and energy.

People will “study” for several hours a day but cannot accurately quantify what this study is, where it is leading them or how it actually impacts their overall progress relative to a certain goal. In writing novels, learning languages and tracking other tasks I’ve always found it unusually important to be as drastic as possible when tracking one’s progress, because only through tracking do you know where you actually are. I’ll be going into why I focused on writing and my results as I continue and to let you understand that I am not doing rote memorization, but what I call “reinforcement”.

You see, the knowledge of where you are is fundamentally important when you have a very large strategy you are implementing with many moving parts. I found that what can become overwhelming with the study of anything complex, is mostly the perception that it is complex, not the actual complexity of the problem. This means that the less complex a large task appears, the more likely you are to  accomplish it. 

Therefore, the more complex you perceive your task to be, the more stress and unwillingness you will have to finish it. 

Note: This does not mean your task is NOT complex, but you must ensure to make it less complex (perceptually) to the point where you are just focused on implementation and understand exactly where your efforts will take you.

In the past when I tried to learn the Kanji, I did a lot of Anki repetitions, ran through James Heisig’s Remembering The Kanji book and generally felt as if I was on the right track, but like most learners I was not. We think that with an application designed to help us memorize things we will “memorize them” and therefore have an easy route to language acquisition. But the nature of the way the brain works and how we actually store data has lead me to believe this perspective of acquisition is a complete illusion, which I will elaborate on later. Remember this: Asian languages are perceived as ‘harder’ to learn because they have a massive barrier of entry. Unlike German, French, Italian and Spanish (where the average native English speaker knows thousands of words by default and need only learn pronunciations to start quickly reading and using the language) Japanese has no similarities to your native language. There is no way around needing to be able to read the language to truly progress in it. You cannot learn words without being able to read them, nor can you really study grammar heavily without being able to read the grammar. People would say otherwise and point to ‘kids’ (I will address that). but for self-directed study that you will be doing in a short period of time I think its better to get this major barrier out of the way so you can progress far more quickly towards focusing on mastery of the language (without focusing on the massive reading limitation). Almost all problems one will have in the future will be relative to one’s ability to read and process the language. Simple question: Is there a downside to being able to read all the Kanji you see? Is it more of less likely that this ability will drastically help you make massive gains in your attempts?

I like posing these types of questions to myself as I did with German. I said to myself, if I can read and recall 4,000+ German words it is more or less likely that my German will improve? I think you know the answer to that one.

Here’s why I focused on writing:

Why 100,000 reps and writing?

The internet is filled with people who talk about methods to learn read and write Japanese. Many even are quite adamant that “writing is useless”, “you learn Kanji from words not Kanji” and all other kinds of stuff that frankly i’ve found makes no sense relative to the true acquisition of reading and writing ability. This argument has never held any weight for me, simply because all Japanese people are required to learn to write Japanese Kanji. 

Since this is an indisputable truism, it means that there must be value in the written process as a part of acquisition. Ignoring this relative to Kanji, I think is a fatal flaw in utilizing certain strategic approaches.

The value of writing is relative to a few factors: mainly it is a kinetic process and your muscle memory directly links to neural networks that you build with your knowledge of Kanji and words. However I am not speaking about Rote memorization, (which is no issue if you are learning at the pace of the average Japanese child).

A quick look at how kids in Japan learn

Japanese children have a very leisurely ride towards Kanji acquisition. Students generally take 10-12 YEARS  to learn the 2000+ Kanji. Take a breath here.

Rough math points this to around 1 Kanji per week, for twelve years. much of this learning is done through rote repetition (writing) and then natural exposure. So it is a nice, leisurely twelve year ride to developing strong reading and writing ability.

As adult learners we do not have the luxury of 12 years, therefore our methods must be highly efficient and effective relative to our use of time. Here’s why writing has been extremely efficient, based on what I know about brain science.

Rote memorization works if you are focusing on one Kanji a time per week for 12 years, because you’d be essentially mastering handfuls of Kanji at a very slow pace over a decade or so. This means that if you drastically shorten this timeline, your ability to differentiate what you learn descreases massively, and your stresss levels go through the roof.

Why This Isn’t Rote.

I learned 1009 Kanji in one month, which means based on our school kid example, I compressed six years of learning time into one month. The method i’m using allows me to memorize the Onyomi readings before learning the Kunyomi so I cannot claim 100% reading ability relative to every iteration of the various readings (but i have learned many of them already and it has not been difficult one the first reading it mastered, but more on that later).

The brain is a fascinating mechanism, once used properly. In learning German, I dove very deep into the acquisition of vocabulary first which changed EVERYTHING, because vocabulary is basically the cellular structure of all language. You can’t do anything without words. Similarly, when it comes to Kanji I came to a similar observation. Romance languages have easy access for a new learner because we are able to read them immediately. The “building blocks” of these languages are the romanic alphabet systems which we have already mastered. When we look at Japanese, it is natural for one to assume the “building blocks” of the language are the Kanji/Hiranga/Katakana, but they would be wrong.

The building blocks are literally first, the primitives which build the Kanji, THEN the Kanji themselves. 

This makes your approach much easier, because if you know all the building blocks, then you can technically write and recognize all the Kanji. This is the basis the powerful work like Remembering the Kanji by James Heisig, where I saw this implementation for the first time.

There are about 200 primitives that build ALL Kanji. So when you think about it, being able to write all 200 primitives means you can write ALL the Kanji that ever existed (even if you do not know them). Additionally, by solidly learning the primitives, you are guaranteed to have no issues writing the Kanji, and more importantly, differentiating similar Kanji over time. 

Heisig’s work, though ground breaking, still felt “jumbled” to me, because it is logical in its approach, but it wasn’t as organized as I’d like it to be. I could learn how to write Kanji but I had no idea how to solidly learn the various readings (or eventually, how to avoid mixing up similar Kanji). This is a problem that happens with very large data sets and Heisig did a fantastic job opening the door to methodologies of acquisition, but it was hard for me to see the “end point” after I was done. What was the approach?

What I’ve Done.

I approach what i’m doing now like physical training that requires different kinds of approaches for different situations. First I will speak about what I call reinforcement. 

like Heisig I cam upon some interesting research by a person named Alyks who proposed using movies as loci for groups of Kanji. At the time I had just struggled through Remembering the Kanji, and was thoroughly stressed, confused and unwilling to restart the entire process.

In recent years, as I’ve done quite a bit of heavy research on memorization, methodology and acquisition, my results with German made me look back on Japanese with new eyes and I understood the value of  movies and characters as loci for entire groups of Kanji. Whereas people normally try to turn every individual Kanji into an independent story, my target group is linked to one primary loci (movie, character) and therefore sits in its own container.

The Problem: If you are attempting to learn quickly, it is extremely hard to learn Kanji via individual stories with your own creative imagination, as there an unusually high potential for extreme confusion, overlapping images in various stories and being unable to properly differentiate nuanced meanings for words like “receive” and “accept” and the high likelihood of eventual burnout, as it requires incredible amounts of creative energy.

Solution: Kanji that lie in their own containers are in their own “universe” replete with its own images and continuity (and previous memories you have) and drastically reduce any potential for confusion. Also the results of your efforts are far more substantial relative to the same mental demands. Each story I create for each Kanji is based around these “movies, series or characters” within the context of that loci. For example, I memorized shuu (しゅう)with the movie ‘Terminator’. Terminator 2 has a lot of a SHOOting that happens. 

So for the 25 or so Kanji for SHUU each story is linked to a scene I create from the movie itself, or something relative to the movie. I’ve watched Terminator 2 more times that I can count, which means the creation of the story (with the primitives) becomes a mostly visual exercise.

Stay with me here, i know this is a long post. When I write these Kanji, with each written repetition called a “rep”, I reinforce this story. I revisit the visuals, I revisit wherever I was at the time, and I revisit kinetically the feeling of the story that I created. This creates what I called “multimodal” memorization, because I am implementing multiple senses as I learn these stories, which virtually guarantees recall. If I was simply looking at Kanji on a screen and trying to figure out which was which, I would have only one context (visual) to work with, which means i’d have to see a Kanji hundreds (perhaps thousands of times) before my brain properly memorized it. Multiply this one Kanji by several thousand and you are presented a massive problem, which I call the “endless revision whirlpool”, where even though you’ve supposedly ‘memorized’ all these Kanji, you must constantly revise them. True memorization equates to 100% recall, without the need to revise. 

Its the reason you can read these sentences without the need to look anything up. You’ve memorized the alphabet and have no issues reading any of what i’m writing. That is the goal.

Each time I learn a Kanji I have around six or seven stimuli associated with the memorization, which link to a pre-existing long-term memory (movie/character/series). So i’m tapping into well-established memory networks deep in long-term memory and adding different contexts. This ensures a certain kind of recall which quickly becomes a long-term memory through massive reinforcement.

Each time I write the Kanji, I make the story stronger and the reading more permanent. I am not writing to recognize the shape of the Kanji, I am writing to reinforce the logical story already in my mind. So you develop: spatial recognition, kinetic impressions, visual contexts from past memories plus the new contexts you’ve created.

Why this is extremely important: many of these systems present very smart ways to approach learning large volumes of data, but tend to give no guidance in how to truly memorize them for practical use in real life. 

Remember: True memorization equates to 100% recall, without the need to revise. 

The end goal of all language learning is recall. No mater how good the system, if I cannot recall what I have studied quickly, then the system has failed me.

Why 100,000 part two

Okay so now that we understand that, it is important to understand what a ‘rep’ is.

Each time you write a Kanji, you are retrieving the story from your mind. You are revisiting whatever you came up with and putting it deeper into long term memory. In fact, after a while with many of the writings, you will forget the story and just know the reading because the brain simply recognizes the Kanji as is. There is no shortcut for practicing these retrievals. This is what rote memorization is, a forced practice of retrieval until you store the word in long term memory. But constantly retrieving a story from your mind (with multiple stimuli attached to it) is like adding gas to a fire, you are simply making the Kanji stronger and stronger with each writing. Also: After the initial learning session (I write the new Kanji 20-35 times) you only need to write the Kanji once per day as part of revising the group. This memorization happens pretty quickly. I wake up early the next day and rewrite my newly learned Kanji and generally I have 100% recall of all the Kanji. Sometimes one or two I might not remember a primitive, or I made a part of the story too vague. But generally, its 100% which is insane.

In the past, this is where I would stop. I would “believe” i’d memorized the Kanji and move on. However, I know it is only through repeated exposure that you ensure long term memorization. The process i’m developing will only take 8-10 weeks. You want to ensure you don’t need to really do much revision beyond your acquisition phase. 

There is learning. Then there is mastery. I’ve found that aiming for mastery sets up a different stage, mentally and psychologically. Initially I set a minimum of 800 reps per day, but eventually landed on 1,000 reps per day since the number is round and didn’t take that much more effort. These reps are a mixture of reps from newly learned Kanji (20-35 individual reps to reinforce the new story) then several hundred revisions of previously learned Kanji. This process takes around 1.5 to 2.5 hours per day I think. To some this might seem extreme, but we must ask ourselves a question. How do we GUARANTEE the likelihood of a certain outcome?

A high level of comfort reading these Kanji (I believe) cannot come from writing 20 per day and skimming through Anki cards. Japanese kids master these Kanji overtime. Mastery only comes from high focused effort maintained consistently. Mastery is also incremental, meaning basic steps are mastered before progressively harder ones. I knew that doing thousands of repetitions guarantees results, and 1,000 per day seemed to be a good number for mastery practice. It is high enough to seem intimidating (initially), but not low enough to feel lazy. I can also track my gains directly by the numbers. Remember, the major barrier of Japanese is reading and there is no way around it. The ‘intensity’ of approach is relative to the outcome one desires.

Final Thoughts

It is VERY IMPORTANT to remember here that what I’m doing is compressing a 12 year learning period into 8-12 weeks. This is lightning fast by any stretch of the imagination. To give you a sort of “top down” view this is how it looks using 10 weeks as standard.

PHASE 1

10 weeks – 2,136 Kanji, 297 readings, 1,000 words (free time).

so for PHASE 2 my focus will be heavily vocabulary based. I will save myself hundreds of hours in revision time because if I can read everything I see, my focus is only on the meaning of the word. This is why a short window is important. You technically do yourself a “disservice” by moving slower. You will constantly hit obstacles that are reading based throughout your journey(which have the potential to discourage you to the point of stopping dead in your tracks). In fact, I daresay that almost every obstacle you face in the start of the journey is vocabulary based. Even with a romance language, if you can’t read what’s in front of you, you can’t use it. In fact, the same things happened for me with German. After I crossed the 3,000 word mark, I could usually read 90% of what was in a sentence, so I was always reading a sentence for the meaning, not individual words. It drastically changes how you are able to absorb the language. You start looking at sentences as entire partners that you master, versus individual bits and pieces you are trying to put together. As you increase this exposure, the patterns start to make sense (based on how the brain works) and your comprehension starts to massively increase on its own. So again, there is no downside to a massive familiarity with the Kanji. 

I want to massively internalize these to such an extent that when I start reading and go into phase 2  I am not stuck in the “revision hole” where I keep having to revise all these Kanji I learned while trying to learn new things. It is better for the words and readings to naturally reinforce themselves as you now aim for thousands of contextual exposures. I have a small anki deck i’ve used to slowly revise new words and I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how easy the words are to read now. It changes the entire game in terms of training memorization. That extra energy to try and remember the shape of the Kanji (that you don’t know) is just a pain.

Where I’ve Been

I think its important to note where i’ve been. I have never had this level of success with Kanji.

None of what I’m doing I consider “magic”. It is extremely strategic and highly focused execution of a strategy that I knew would required tons of energy, godlike patience and a rock solid tracking system. I based a lot of what I was doing on a few years of incremental research and particularly my observations with my breakthrough in German in 2020.  I had to project months ahead and assure myself what I was doing would work out, because I’ve been in situations where I’ve spent hundreds of wasted hours on inefficient methodologies which sucks terribly. In these journeys you must always:

Know where you are going: Timeline, specific goal within that timeline (with leeway for delays and life)

Know what you ‘should’ get: Know the specific gains you are targeting and based the majority of your observations on that metric.

Know your next step: Know how this connects to the next logical step and how it makes that step much more efficient.  – so using this as an example, I know that being able to read all 2,136 Kanji will give me the ability to properly start the process of being able to eventually read ALL media based text, images and the majority of Japanese written material (with the exception of novels). This means that my vocabulary acquisition phase will be much smoother as I will have (a) reading confidence and (b) much more effeciency in recall (c) more time to practice memorizing readings within context versus trying to remember Kanji + reading + meaning. This ability will then lead to — enhanced ability to practice speaking and go towards relative fluency based on the number of hours of listening and vocabulary acquired.

Okay, i’ll see how things proceed. At this point I will start to design the learning program based on all these methods .

peace

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The Cost of Ambition: EQUIVALENCY [ 1500+Kanji update]

The two books I wrote between March 30 2021 and Jun 2nd 2021

We are currently in a bizarre and “noisy” world of media obfuscation, fear and stress. One of the methods I’ve been using to psychologically navigate this space is to put my energies into focusing on problems I can solve, not those that are beyond my control. So what happened to me personally in the last 18months was because of the “noise” I made an extreme shift consciously and this shift turned into an extreme form of productivity. So last year I put a lot of my time and energy into learning German which produced some pretty amazing results, but psychologically I wasn’t “happy” if you get me. I was just “busy”, and pleased to see that my methods worked.

In fact, before starting this revamped Japanese journey, in the previous 90 days I wrote two full novels and learned to sing. Yes, two full books, the second being the longest novel i’ve written to date (i’ve written six) which ended up being 330+ pages long. Today i’m going to write about the “cost” of such productivity, and how it relates to what i’m doing now.

Basic Equivalency

At the start of this year, I wasn’t in the same psychological space, but ended up kickstarting this run of what I call “monster productivity” after making certain decisions. One of my main observations was BASIC EQUIVALENCY.

Essentially, it is a baseline philosophical stance of operation where I am acutely aware that what I put in results in what I get in return. 

This may seem obvious, but for most people this is not a binary philosophy. That means, people “somewhat know” that the results of one’s efforts are reflected by your attention to a task, but most people do not believe that the end result always correlates to effort. Why am I saying this? Because ultimately, it is not effort alone that allows you to have monster productivity. What i’ve found is that it is far more important to be consistent than simply energetic, as high energy is never guaranteed to be constant. The idea of Equivalency is simple: for any task I undertake I don’t focus on the task itself at first. I look at the potential psychological and physical demands on my time, brain and body. I think about these quite clearly. Will I be required to wake up early? Will this have a minimum number of hours per day requirement? Will this eventually become stressful? What is the timeline for this task and what hurdles might I face?

I never used to ask myself these questions and usually just dove into a monster task, the demands of which usually overwhelmed me either perceptually (size of task), physically (physical demands of task), structurally (organization of the data relative to the task) and so on. It was never the “task” itself, but these parts, any of which should they become too overwhelming ,would eventually crash the entire process. Learning to navigate these specific areas is what allowed me to finally master what I call “the finishing formula”.

So what happens now is in my mind there is a program running with a certain message. The message says: this task has X components, which will take X period of time. It will have X demands on time and energy, so you might expect X amount of stress, X amount of fatigue and X amount of mental challenge. The completion of this task will require X amount of patience, X amount of strategy to avoid burnout and X amount of self-monitoring to be consistent. 

This is important to note, because when I was writing the second novel, the last three weeks were almost a mental disaster. I was so mentally fatigued and ready to be “done” with the novel my mind wanted to stop. Each time I opened MS Word I’d start to feel tired, and trying to figure out some final character motivations took more energy that it required in reality. But because I understood equivalency I knew that “any effort towards the final goal” is better than “no effort”. Putting in something will take me a step further. Writing one page will put me closer to the final 350 pages, even if I can only do one per day. Learning five Kanji on  a low energy day still takes me towards the 2,136 I need to learn. Equivalency allows me to give myself space to “do less” but still “do”and understand that the body and mind have their own rhythms and fatigue, stress and disbelief in one’s self is pretty much inevitable in the face of any major challenge and must be expected, not surprising. This allowed me to somewhat ‘ignore’ how terrible I was feeling and do some writing anyways and finish this book. I’m using the same type of techniques with Japanese.

Equivalency and my current Japanese journey

My first month of my Japanese revamp was explosively productive (1009 Kanji memorized in 34 days) however, the toll based on everything i’d done to this point hit me all at once(books, singing etc), and I’ve suffered for it for several weeks. Ambitious projects always bring with them the demands of such ambition.

I was doing too much testing and it was overwhelming. It is very hard to memorize large numbers of Kanji in a day, THEN learn large numbers of new words via ANKI (or otherwise) while doing 5-8 hours of immersion per day. I grossly underestimated the demands on the brain which i’ve put in my notes.

Though it was disappointing I was hit with such bad fatigue while on this journey, I realized that a slight “delay” in what i’m doing doesn’t change the end result and  I cannot blame myself for what my body does on occasion. This process still takes 8-10 weeks, and will for anyone who does not have the mental demands of testing, designing and implementing such a program.

What i’ve found relative to the idea of “equivalency” and “consistency” is that much lower daily numbers consistently relative to certain tasks is better than anything with burnout potential. Meaning, if i’m tired and can only muster up one page a day for three days, I still have three pages, which is better than quitting for three days and having nothing. With Japanese, it is better to learn 5 Kanji a day for three days instead of having to learn those 15 in one sitting, which could be another 15 in a separate sessions, bringing you to 30 in total in the same time period. “Saving up time” to do a thing does not give you any equivalency, as you cannot get back the time that has passed. Using it, to whatever extent, is equivalent to something, which is always better than nothing.

I was trying to do too many words too early (50 per day while doing Kanji) and it became overwhelming. I’ve found that 10-20 are extremely manageable. By my estimation, worrying about “50 per day” has already cost me the memorization of about 800 words, which could have been learned in the same time (with far less stress) at a rate of 10-20 per day. I will make more notes on this, but the problem here is that 10-20 per day might feel “slow” in a sense, but what I’ve found it that is unusually difficult to learn 50 words per day if it is not your entire focus. NOTHING else can really take up much mental room and with my regular life, learning Kanji and immersion, there isn’t that much room for much else and I started to pay for it mentally. My best Kanji days have always been when I (a) start very early (b)  focus on NOTHING but Kanji (i.e literally no distractions) and it is on those days I easily hit 50. Anytime I start looking up words, or doing “other stuff” everything slows to a crawl. So to ensure 50 Kanji days means ignoring everything else. I am certain there are individuals who can do it all in one day everyday unendingly, but I am not one of them, it gets too stressful and I’d rather guide someone on surefire methodologies versus those guaranteed to ensure burnout and frustration.

As a last example.

10-20 words per day has an average of 15 words per day. this equals 450 words per month, by 3 equals 1,350 words. Since the Kanji memorization process shouldn’t take more than 8-10 weeks, if you only did 15 words per day you’d have a very solid 900 word vocabulary. However, by proxy, you are going to learn another 300 or so (it just always happens that way). So that’s 1,200 words (easily) memorized in about 8-10 weeks. Then when you focus heavily on vocabulary, you can push it up to 50 words per day. Now you will be at 1,500 words plus 900  at the end of your next month which equals 2,400 words after 3 months and 3,900 at the 4 month mark. By month 5 you are almost at the coveted 5,000 word mark. There is no “downside” to knowing 3,900 word after 4 months. It will only feel slow insofar as your perception of the acquisition of data in the beginning, in the same way writing a few pages a day feels like you are going nowhere in terms of completing a full novel. But here’s the thing: the time will pass anyway, so give yourself ‘something’ for the time that reaps benefits in the future. 

The four months will pass. If you were trying to learn 2,000 Kanji in 8 weeks and 3,000 words at the same time and crash and burn out after 8 weeks, a person moving at a 40% reduced pace will reach the same place in just a month’s time without the headache and mental strain. There is NO VALUE in mental burnout. Just like a lot of people I want to learn “fast” but I sometimes forget that taking 4 months to reach a high proficiency in a language is basically light speed all things considered. Nothing of any major consequence can come from just 30 days. It’s really around day 90 you will start to see everything add up. 90 days goes in the blink of an eye regardless.

This recent round of near burnout reminded me of my main principle that slipped between the cracks while doing my testing: Patience is your greatest asset in the acquisition of large amounts of data. 

Learning large amount of data takes time. It does not have to take a significant period of time (a few months ) which means you have to reframe what you define as “slow” or “fast”. Learning thousands of words in four months in monstrously fast, however “slow” it might feel in the beginning. You’ll start to really get excited when your vocabulary doubles and then things start kicking into high gear.

So in summary, we must internally understand that what we put in directly results in what we get, but also ensure that we give ourselves minimums to foolproof our final goal. We will strive to do our best each day, but also guarantee that on “bad days” we hit minimums that ensure we still finish. Give yourself “something” each day and it still adds up to the total. I’m presently at 1,530 Kanji fully memorized despite my month of terrible fatigue. I only have 520 or so left, which I know won’t take more than 2 weeks. So now I look forward to achieving on of the greatest goals i’ve ever set out to in my life in about 12 weeks. Anyone following the methods will be able to do it easily in 8-10 guaranteed and I will go into that later.

Okay thats my update. I’m going to see about learning some Kanji now.

Revised Kanji for today 311 of my daily 1000 reps

 

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The True Cost of Language Learning

Kanji revisions thus far for today.

People like sexy because sexy drives reality, but learning anything to a very high degree of skill takes very unsexy actions. Unless you find being nigh obsessed and incredibly disciplined super sexy.

The internet likes the “sexy” of language learning, which is the end result. They like when people surprise people by speaking their native tongue, or ordering fluently in a store or making natives unsure if they are a native speaker or not. This is very nice clickbait and very interesting in terms of a form of basic inspiration. But this does not in anyway demonstrate the true cost of language learning. As much as people attempt to say it requires no special talents or abilities (in a sense this is true) here what it does take:

a) An unusual personality that mixes a delicate blend of raw passion, ridiculous obsession and rock solid discipline that immediately puts you in the 1% of learners.

b) Unusual patience. I say ‘unusual’ because in truly undertaking the tasks required for these undertakings, one must put several hours a day into an activity that you know will not start to show results for several months. Think about it. Can you imagine putting five to six hours a day into an activity that won’t bear fruit until 90 days? That’s not very sexy, and that’s also why most people never finish the journey.

c) A VERY VERY specific Raw desire for the end result that psychologically carries you through the demands and pitfalls of your journey. Some people are “built” for 10 hour days and can study endlessly, but they fall into that 1% I mentioned who are like that naturally. Such habits must be forged in the fires of your own frustration and observations.

The “sexy” is what happens after the endless hours alone in your room doing repetitions of anki or other methods. The “sexy” happens after you spend hundreds of hours listening to native media. The “sexy” happens after you spend hundreds of hours on acquiring words and grammar.

Once your brain overlaps with enough data, the built-in software in your brain ‘does its thing’ and you will start to understand the language at an accelerated rate. Your speech will rapidly improve and the “impossible” begins to occur. Depending on your language of choice, a hardcore learner can achieve these ‘inhuman’ results in 3-6 months. But those are not 3 ‘sexy’ months. They are months of intense mental demand, physical challenge and true self-assessment.

Take for example, the current list of things I presently know are required to gain an advanced level of both understanding and production of my current target language (Japanese).

  1. Minimum vocabulary of 3,500-5,000 useful words.
  2. Minimum listening time of native audio of 500-1000 hours
  3. Minimum Kanji requirement of 2,136 Kanji
  4. Minimum knowledge of 297 readings for the above Kanji.

Each task requires months of intense work. Learning 3,500 words at a rate of 25-50 per day is a little over 3 months. 5,000 puts you at the 4,5 month mark. Getting in 500-1000 hours of listening at a rate of 5-8 per day will not take less than 2-4 months of highly organized activity that requires you to source very high quality audio in your target language that will carry you through (with interesting content) this long journey. I’ve devised a way to learn the Kanji at a rate of 20-50 per day will full memorization, that takes 8-10 weeks, but let’s say 12 at max (3 months). So all these tasks, which individually one could spent the majority of their time on, all lead to the ‘sexy’. 

THIS is what the internet does not tell you necessarily. This is  not sexy. It can be quite fun at times, even fulfilling. But trust me, there are days I’ve woken up at 5 a.m to start praticising my Kanji and absolutely didn’t want to. There are days I am physically exhausted (from life) and don’t feel like doing “immersion”. There are days that even though I’ve learned about 1700 Kanji with fully memorization and recognition (a feat I was unable to do ten years prior to this) I still feel as if what I am doing is “impossible”, because I haven’t even broken the 2,000 word barrier yet. I know it works, I know it will trigger my brain based on science and my own observations, but at the end of the day:

it is not easy by any stretch of the imagination. 

I do not like to use the word “hard” as “hard” has very negative connotations. See it as extremely challenging. You see, if I was to do this process at a much slower pace using the same numbers, it would actually be “easy”. Meaning, if I took 6-8 months to do all of this versus 3.5 or 4, I’d be in the same place. But that process would be much slower and require even more patience. I’d rather see my results in 3 months than 8 months.

So the sexy is good, and the sexy looks nice. But know that all the people having fun on the internet had to go through a lot to get their gains. I have no issue with showing off skills that took so long to learn. That’s the point! But you really have to go into some dank trenches to get those muscles.

Bright Side

The Bright side is, once you know the true cost, you won’ have any issues with the demands and you will be reasonably patient. You’ll just “do what you have to do” because you’ll be able to predict the shift and changes and anticipate breakthroughs. You’ll just have to put more of your efforts into staying the course. So I try to imaging myself right now at around month 4, with about 800 hours of listening locked in, and a working vocabulary of 3,000+ words. What will things be like then? I also think of one of my major goals, which is playing Zelda: Breath of the Wild in Japanese and try to imagine myself comfortably playing the game in another 2 months or so. Will it be comfortable? Who knows.

Because there are limits to our time and energy we cannot do everything. I cannot play games for hours and learn words for hours. I cannot speak for hours and read for hours, nor can I listening to native audio for hours and write kanji for hours. Once you fit into your system, you work in phases until everything starts to overlap, then you move on.

That my friends is what I think is the true cost. That’s my observation for today. Back to the grind.

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BenchMark 1: 182 Hrs listening (pt 1)

 

tracking time

I will eventually write a post on what I call the Golden Number Theory but presently this post is for my records. From my previous experience with German, I believe it is possible to predict what I call a “comprehension explosion” once you’ve learned a certain number of words (3000+) and progressively listened to a certain number of hours of native speech. Interestingly, it appears this excludes the need for “comprehensible input” (as the input becomes progressively comprehensible on its own once your number of learned words gets large). From what i’ve seen, what needs to be “comprehensible” is the context, versus words, grammar and phrases.

Why No Comprehensible Input?

A child born anywhere on planet Earth will learn to speak the language of its people to fluency without fail. This means that our brain has a “biological software” as it were, that allows us, in a predictable and repeatable manner, to acquire a language. The process from this standpoint, is a certain period of listening (as children physically cannot speak until they are about 2), contextual acquisition of words and grammar and then reproduction of speech (ages 2-4). It is usually by age 4 that a child becomes fluent in their target language, and possesses an exposure to several thousand hours to the language and a vocabulary of about 1500 words (without the knowledge of reading or writing). This highlights that the two most important components of this natural process are words and listening time. Meaning, any child, anywhere, with the right amount of listening time and contextual word/grammar acquisition will learn the target language to fluency. As a child ages, this ability lessens as they learn more about ideas involving personal limitations and their brain grows larger and perceives reality differently.

However this means that within all of us, this software still exists and theoretically should work in the same manner. As an adult, one can accelerate aspects of this “natural processing” period, by consciously utilizing a large majority of time listening while progressively adding words. This is important, because I feel that many learners (as I have in the past) think the key is in just listening, which is not correct. A child has the luxury of infancy to blissfuly spend years slowly acquiring the data that will allow it to speak and spending their lives excitedly learning things bit by bit in context.  An adult has no such luxury and cannot reproduce naturally the tens of thousands of interactions that produces contextual learning in a child. We as adults can however use present methodologies to “shortcut” aspects of this multi-year process, compressing it into just months, as many people have demonstrated in various ways.

This means that input in the beginning, does not necessarily have to strictly be “comprehensible” versus “context heavy”. I say this because upon learning a brand new language, a new learner will have the following disadvantages:

  1. a lack of knowledge of all language phonetics and how these chain to make words sentences and phrases.
  2. a lack of time spent recognizing these patterns sonically, in context, or with any frequency for any length of time.
  3. a lack of any and all vocabulary of the target language.
  4. Inability speak the language.
  5. Inability to read the language.

This means that even if I get content with transcripts, if I have no vocabulary to read the transcripts, they are useless to me until I learn the vocabulary. Also as I’m listening to these transcripts I have no experience with the phonetics of the language, so it will be mostly noise. With vocabulary or phonetics, I won’t be able to process what i’m listening to. This means that in the beginning, no matter how good the tools you have are, everything is incomprehensible. 

With this in mind, let’s look at the fact that the level of exposure needed for your brain to start mastering your target language’s phonetics is quite extreme and also your vocabulary requirements. By “extreme” I mean, you need SO MUCH exposure and SO MUCH vocabulary that in the beginning, your efforts are better spent on the high end of acquisition of this data, so you can trigger your brains natural software.

Let me be clear: I am not using the perennially overused example “learn like a child” reading baby stories and trying to enjoy watching silly cartoons. My only comparison with children relative to what i’m researching is relative to the following:

The order of acquisition. 

First acquisition

A child acquires sounds which the brains translates eventually to patterns we call speech, which it eventually is able to process as individual words and phrases.

Second Acquisition

The child then collects these words and phrases and begins to process reality relative to these objects and begins slowly producing these words and phrases as it learns to associate the muscles of the mouth with the production of what it has spend thousands of hours absorbing.

This absorption, at a specific, measurable point (about 2 years for the majority of children) then produces the ability to speak that rapidly accelerates within the next year to two years.

THIS is the research point here: What number of hours relative to vocabulary triggers the child’s ability to now understand more and also speak?

With this in mind, when thinking strategically, what presents the best use of time and resources relative to our natural biological software initially are items 1-3 from our list above.

My best results in any language learning attempt(German) has been when I did the following three things, which might seem counterintuitive.

1. I only studied vocabulary (not grammar) for the first month and a half.

2. I watched a lot of native media (without subs) in context rich media (shows i’d seen before), I wouldn’t call it comprehensible, but stuff I could follow.

3. I studied grammar after my brain started to naturally put things together. 

4. After about 4.5 months I started to just “understand” things I couldn’t grasp just three weeks earlier, which indicated to me I had “triggered” what I call a ‘comprehension explosion’ with a specific overlap of listening time, word acquisition and then grammar learning.

At the time I got these results, I did not understand all the mechanics of what I was attempting, but after several failed attempts at multiple languages, I’d done enough research to know what didn’t work or what was sorely lacking in efficiency.

I came to the realization that no matter how quickly you learn the grammar of a language, to communicate effectively you will need a vocabulary of several thousand words. This varies by language, but generally three to five thousand is the minimum you need to really get a handle on things.

Secondly, I learned that even knowing all these words is worthless if you can’t recognize them in native speech. This only happens after what i’ve dubbed extreme exposure to the language. So what I’ve found is that in the race to speak quickly (which is the bedrock of a lot of Youtube channels) people don’t realize they will hit these massive hurdles at some point. There are shortcuts to speaking fluently (in a certain manner) very quickly, but there is no shortcut for listening time and no shortcut to massive vocabulary acquisition. By “shortcut” I mean, exposing yourself to and attempting to learn 3-5000 words for a dedicated learner can take anywhere from two to four months and this is minus the base requirement for listening that triggers your brain (which my research is pointing to a number around a 1000 listening hours) which  a minimum of 8 hours per day will take a minimum of 125 days. About 24-40% of this also needs to be active watching, which means you’ll have to watch to build conscious context in your mind. The demands of all these things present the “true cost” of language learning.

Sure I can spend 30 days hammering out 10 hours a day practicing to speak ‘fluently’ with a vocabulary of 300 words, or 50 verbs, but I wouldn’t be able to really hold many conversations beyond extremely narrow and basic ones or understand any native media beyond elementary school level. I would “appear” to be fluent, but really have no skills in the language. When I lived in Japan I was in this exact position.  I’ve always had very good pronunciation and I can speak pretty quickly if I need to say something, so I gave off the “illusion” of fluency when I spoke to Japanese people. I could handle a very “narrow band” of conversational situations, but if things got deep I had no speaking ability. I think this “narrow band” phenomenon is a representation of what many rapid learners label as “fluency” or “ability” when its really a pinhole looking into the room that is a language. So when I was in Japan, beyond the basics, I couldn’t get any ‘deeper’ into the language. I also did not possess my present mindset, where I didn’t truly believe I could learn another language as an adult.  Despite epiphanies, seeing folks do it and getting inspired myself, I thought it was really only  special people or geniuses who had the ability to acquire another (or multiple languages). But this is not the case. What these “special people” possess is an incredible fortitude of patience and unbreakable, well disciplined habits that take them through the drag of acquiring massive amounts of data over a staggered period of time. Language learning is the ultimate mental marathon, with one of the most enviable prizes once you reach the finish line, and the finish line does not need to take very long to reach either, with the right strategy, but what many fail to reveal with “strategy” is the absolute mind numbing commitment this takes and the constant careening and obstacle dodging you must learn to do to avoid yourself as your mind and body begin to heavily resist the load of the work you’ve put on yourself.

More on that later.

 

Now that I’ve put that all on paper, let’s look briefly at some basic tasks (that are unavoidable and have minimums of time relative to one’s acquisition goals)

Minimum Words Needed (5-10k)

5,000-10,000 words – irregardless of system used, this is at the minimum a 8-16 week process depending on how many words you are aiming for per day. At ten words per hour this is a minimum of five hours per day, clocking you in at a whopping 280 hours of study for this acquisition. I don’t believe it needs to take this long, but I guarantee the average person does not have the time, raw energy and inclination to go after 100 words a day. I did this with German, but it was all I did for about five weeks. There is no way to do 100 words per day and the revision required while trying to do speaking, reading and writing, there isn’t enough time in the day. So 5,000 words at 50 per day

5000/50 = 100 hundred days or 3.1 months 

while writing this post Star Trek Voyager (with Japanese audio) playing in Picture in Picture

Minimum Listening To trigger the brain

General research points to the golden number of 1000 hours to gain an extremely sharp processing ability in the language. I believe this number can actually be much lower on that spectrum, at around 350-500 hours for a near 100% comprehension (with the acquisition of 3-5,000 words).

With German, I noticed my first “leap” at the 3000 word mark (week 5). Two things happened immediately: I was able to hear almost everything being said in films (that’s when I started watching stuff in German) and when reading cards as I able to figure out new words in context. This was with zero listening time. Over the next three months I doubt I hit more than 250 hours listening time before my first “quantum leap” when I started understanding teachers speaking in German about how to learn German in German, watching movies were pretty okay (even some German ones) and then i was also able to play some video games in German (role playing). So this was after 4.5 months.

So even though my situation might be a bit unusual, let’s say 250 hours put me in a position to start understanding a lot of native speech with about 75-90% comprehension. Even though that was happening , this was in late 2019 (stress) and even though i’d made gains the language STILL felt impossible. I remember trying to listen to a podcast and just giving up. I didn’t listen or touch German for about six months. Oddly, in early 2020 when all the madness began I decided to commit to listening and started listening to a German podcast. To my shock I found that I had no issues following the speakers and ended up listening to around 80 or 90 podcasts over the next 60 days. After this the language “opened” in another way, I could watch interviews, news and stuff that wasn’t too esoteric (meaning using heavy language I wasn’t exposed to). For those 60 days I think I average about 2.5 hours a day, so that’s 150. So let’s call my total for German 400 hours to reach that level (with low motivation to boot).

that’s 40% of the 1000 hour requirement and I was at about 90% of the word requirement at 4,700 words. 

Testing Japanese

The difference with Japanese is the first barrier of entry which is obviously the written language. Without knowing the Kanji, hiragana and katakana you can’t read anything and by proxy cannot really “go after” thousands of words without getting a handle on this first. This is why I devised my current method to learn all the Kanji in 8-10 weeks, while now consciously doing a progressive load of listening and word acquisition.

This requires INCREDIBLE effort, which is why i’m ensuring to document the key components. Just the demand of the Kanji alone has been staggering and I am sure writing this post is an act of pure procrastination.

But i’m on track. I’m at around 1,600 fully memorized so not that many left. Once I wrap the Kanji, I’ll be able to focus heavily on new words. I find that the mental demands of memorizing Kanji and then doing 50 words a day is too much. My true intention is to do 100 words per day to race to 5000 as quickly as possible, which cannot be done while i’m learning the Kanji. So until I finish the Kanji i’ll add probably 10words per day and then jump to 50 then 100.

So the mission is to see if and when a “comprehension explosion happens”. Remember I said my first major one happen with German at the 3000 mark. Based on my anki deck:

I’m at 975 words learned from the deck (based on other words I know I’m assuming my base is around 1,200 total)

This is the only way really to track this type of goal. I have two decks i’ll be working with to aim for my 5K mark over the next two months.

So after 8 weeks this is where I am:

1,600+ Kanji memorized — 1,200 words — 182 hours of listening.

note: I started the “listening phase” a bit late, (didn’t have the epiphany yet). So i’ve been doing listening for 1 month and 9 days, and “intense listening” for just 10 days. By “intense” mean I set things up so I aim for 8-10 hours of listening per day (and usually hit 7.5-8).

I’m so ready to be done with the Kanji so I can focus on word acquisition. This phase is much easier with romance languages because there is no barrier of entry technically, just different phonetic pronunciation. This means that progress can be made much faster (as demonstrated with German).  I think i’ll save my next benchmark post until the 250 mark. Hopefully by them i’m done with the Kanji and can go hardcore with words.

By the way none of this action leaves much room for speaking, reading none of that. In fact this stuff takes so much effort, as i’ve said before, I think chasing the ability to speak too early will cause this reality to backfire on certain learners as the “true cost” reveals itself. In other words, spending a few months in a more disorganized manner to learn how to “speak” versus locking in 1000 hours of listening time and 5,000 words (which guarantees a certain trigger of comprehension explosion) i’ll go into more of this later. Obviously there are people who master the language quickly, but trust me, these people have no life beyond language, to engage in this for 12-15 hours a day you have to be a little bit crazy (which is why some people get crazy results!) but for now i’m just focused on testing the raw science based on my theory. Even writing this post took about an hour, which could have been new words, or thirty new Kanji (get where i’m going with this?)

cheers

 

 

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