How To Learn Hundreds of Grammar Patterns Without Overwhelm

Hey guys!

One of the biggest hurdles to learning a new language obviously is grammar. Grammar in the way I describe it, isn’t just memorizing the grammar pattern, but really the situational context of its usage. This means grammar is essentially a production-based structure when thinking of how to memorize it. That is to say, it isn’t until you try to say something that triggers a pattern, will you work your brain to try and say the correct thing or figure it out. I’ll talk about the theory behind grammar and memorization in more detail later but this is just a quick post, as I’m going slowly through some grammar stuff right now.

The internet has THOUSANDS of lessons, videos and the general internet has TENS OF THOUSANDS of examples, articles and so on. You can spend years reading about one pattern if you like.

In my post on what I call Advanced Bias’    what many folks don’t realize is that ‘examples’ that people give you and explanations can vary wildly. You can get super dense examples that are hard to read, or long winded explanations that aren’t helpful.

When learning a new pattern, I have one mission:

To internalize the meaning as quickly as possible and farm examples that are super easy to understand that allow for dozens (or hundreds of quick repetitions).

So what I’ll do is look for a video to learn about the pattern (if the meaning is not super obvious). In this case, I’m talking about the n4 pattern, ‘GARU’, which describes something emotionally someone is doing.

The first thing I look for is a SHORT video. If I can’t understand the pattern in 2 minutes, 30 minutes is a waste of my time. So I find something very short, as these tend to (1) clearly cover the grammar point (2) provide 2-5 simple examples.

So I found this video nice and short.

Then after I get a sense of the pattern, I list a few sentences for practice. So my time for doing this entire thing is about 3 minutes. (I don’t have to watch the entire video most of the time).

Once I get that, I try and find another (short) video where someone explains it again. This gives me multiple contexts with which to give my brain reference and allow it to extrapolate more meaning. So I went to this video.

 

 

Here its short (again) and I get more example sentences which I can train at this level. The first website I found was loaded with ‘Advanced Bias’, meaning the sentences were pretty advanced usages of this grammar pattern. Eventually i’ll have to learn those, but it completely defeats the purpose if this pattern is heavily embedded in other complex grammar forms.

Once this is done, then i’ll try and have a list of 10-20 sentences and some that I make and then i’ll look at them often and try to say it every now and then.

Since we learn grammar one pattern at a time, it is important to be efficient when trying to cover the ground with hundreds of patterns. Doing things this way allows me to easily go through say 3-5 partners at a time and not feel like my brain is exploding, once I internalize the meaning of the pattern. If a pattern is giving me trouble, I spend more time watching videos on it until I ‘catch it’. Meaning my brain goes ‘aha! that’s what they are saying’. So i’m not saying do not watch longer videos about grammar, i’m saying in my experience, grammar is production-based and highly situational so what you really are memorizing is the pattern, PLUS the situation, so only by internalizing when this should be used does it really lock into your brain. Most patterns don’t require much thought to memorize, just practice. Some are very nuanced, and are expressed with other complex forms which is why as you get to higher levels like n2 and n1 it is important you have mastered the lower concepts that allow for advanced understanding.

Use ‘Anchoring’ To give Color To New Pattern

That said, many of these are not ‘difficult’ and are memorized easily, but at a glance can feel like a giant mountain to climb when you try to think of “when will I ever need to say this?” Grammar is triggered by situations, and we can get creative in these initial moments by using strong connections to start the process.

For example the following two sentences explain the pattern がる(garu) very clearly:

He is always afraid of speaking to girls.

彼はいつも女の子と話すのを怖がっている。

She is always buying expensive things.

彼女はいつも高いものをほしいがります

But ‘he’ and ‘she’ are very vague. What I try to do is make the situation something obvious that we already use with this exact pattern in our native language. So:

Superman is always afraid of Kryptonite. (has a tendency to be)

スパーマンはいつもクリプトナイトを怖がります。

Batman always needs more weapons. (has a tendency to need)

バトマンはもっと武器を欲しがります。

Batman is always angry. (has a tendency to be)

バトマンはいつも怒る狩ります。

This is what I call ‘anchoring’ and can be used with any of the hundreds of thousands of situations in your life and are useful for practice. However I always keep these SUPER simple, because  grammar can always get more and more nuanced and there are so many ways to say certain things. This pattern explain what others are doing mainly in the 3rd person. So off the top of my head:

My sister was always afraid of cold water, He always want new games, John always want a pretty girlfriend, Connor McGregor always wants to win.

妹は冷たい水を怖がる, いつも新しいゲームを欲しがっている。ジョンさんはいつむ綺麗な彼女をほしがっている。

These examples do a few things: They create powerful visuals that connect to the new pattern. I can see my little sister standing at a pool in shivering with fear, afraid to jump in. I can remember a friend talking about the games he always wants and then I can see hundred of images of fighter Connor McGregor talking about wanting to win and be number one. I can see superman on the ground in pain from seeing Kryptonite, Batman in his cave tinkering and making weapons. The point here is that the end goal of all language learning is memorization.

When I was studying German, I did nothing more than use mainly one channel (German with Jenny) because it never took her more than a minute to explain a grammar pattern and the rest of the video was loaded with example sentences. I went through dozens and dozens of patterns like this. So with Japanese which isn’t as close to English as German, sometimes the ‘training’ has to be a little different.

So I make a list of these sentences I practice until I get the ‘feeling’ of the pattern and then train listening to the sentences to get a sense of the overall statement. You brain needs enough data to get the ball rolling and once you feed it often enough, it will figure out the rest. The idea I’ve found is not to spend too much time on a pattern as that is waste. Spend more time (initially) on patterns that are more abstract, but only real world exposure is going to show you how well you understand what is presented to you.

How You Know Its Working

Usually, you know you are in a good place when a new grammar pattern you’ve learn pops up in your immersion. You’ll hear it and maybe not even understand the full sentence (which is fine). It means your RAS (Recticular Activating System) got turned on and the brain is doing its thing.

Trust The Brain

Lastly what I learned is that you must trust the brain. Once you spend a little time with a pattern, move on. Put it in your revision schedule and use it until it sticks. The only important thing is to internalize the situational context. Then keep triggering it until the brain triggers it when you are watching TV, reading anime etc.

The reality is that you didn’t grow up speaking and using hundreds of grammar partners per day. You won’t have the experience of say “Man! He always want to drive slow! (tends to)”, “Yeah, that girl is always afraid of meeting new guys (tends to)”, and so on.

But this isn’t something to worry about, because once you get enough data, you brain allows you to process new information through extrapolation. That’s why a kid when it learns colors and has a question to ask what colors are, can learn new words and make new sentences. “What is that red thing?” — “It’s a fire hydrant”. Now the kid can talk about ‘fire hydrants’ all day? See where I’m going.

This process works at scale, as you go through your partners step by step. I advise going through each level n5, n4, n3 in sequence, because pattenrs build on each other. You’ll encounter more advanced patterns all the time, but the benefit in learning the basic patterns very well is that the essence of how they are used contextually becomes quite repetitive (and predictable) as you encounter new forms that say slightly different things. This kicks your brian into gear and you memorize new patterns even faster (weird I know).

Either way I’m trying my best! Life has been busy but i’m still plodding through. Not as fast as I want but i’m enjoying the journey thus far.

cheers

 

 

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This is probably THE biggest Hurdle in Learning a New Language

 

Hey guys!  Today I’m going to dive into what I call “Advanced Bias” which is probably the most annoying and (potentially) frustrating hurdle in learning things in a new language. But once you are aware of it, you can adjust accordingly and save yourself a TON of stress and psychological drama.

Let me give you a scenario that I just encountered:

In Japanese grammar, the labels from lowest to highest are N5 to N1. I’m currently going through the list of N4 grammar patterns. So what I do, is I obviously see what the reading means and look at a bunch of examples sentences. So i’m using JLPTSensei.com for my reference. So this n4 grammar expression is:

振れる (ゆれる)yureru  to shake

and an example sentence in the list is:

トラックが通るたびにうちが揺れるんです。

every time a truck passes the house, it shakes. 

Simple right? Wrong! Let me show you why:

When I read this sentence, I understood everything except たびに tabi ni, which I looked up.

たびに  whenever, every time.

Now tabi ni, is an N3 grammar pattern ( a level higher that what i’m learning). 

So I say, “okay, let me look at some examples with tabi ni” just to get a sense of it. So i’m looking through the sentences and see this one:

YouTubeを見るたびに、広告が表示されるのはうんざりだ。

I’m sick of adds popping up every time I watch videos on YouTube.

Because I can read the Kanji and Katakana and have an awareness of basic structure, I said… “what’s that at the end?”

うんざりだ (unzari da)

Turns out うんざりだ is an N1 grammar pattern! (highest level of Japanese)

So in reading a ‘basic’ n4 grammar pattern, I’ve already run into an n3 grammar pattern, (one level higher) and also an N1 pattern (the highest level to learn). Many of these sentences also overlap with advanced grammatical patterns jumbled together to teach you “the basics”.

Let’s say I knew VERY LITTLE. Meaning, let’s say I know 1,000 Kanji and maybe 1,000 words and I can’t read that well yet. Trying to ‘study grammar’ like this would send me immediately down a rabbit hole of stress. Everything I encounter, would send me looking at higher and more complex and difficult forms of grammar, the sentences would look chaotic (since I’m learning the basics) and I’d be pulling my hair out and asking myself why I ever decided to do this.

This is an example of what I call Advanced Bias. 

Advanced Bias happens when you explain something very clearly from the standpoint of someone who has : (a) mastered the basics of structure, reading and probably writing (b) overcome the pyschological hurdles involved in grinding out language learning (c) have achieved and advanced command of the language.

For the Advanced learner, these types of sentences are ‘good’ (because they can read them). They explain concepts and say thing are “easy” or “not that difficult” because they are saying it from their advanced standpoint, which is filled with the bias of their achievement. 

By “bias” I do not mean negatively. A bias is something we tend to possess without knowing it. In this context, I say “advanced bias” to mean that most of the study materials people utilize are made by people who are advanced or fluent speakers and are therefore filled with advanced bias.

These represent themselves as highly complex sentences, very bloated examples to explain simple context, and what I call “dramatic overlap” where these “basic sentences” often have very complex grammar, advanced nuances and must require a keen understanding of context to even begin to understand the “example” sentence. This makes a “basic” sentence become quite stressful, which for the Advanced Learner through his or her bias, does not see.

In all my approaches, I look at them from the perspective of an absolute beginner, and try to find all the means necessary to prevent the unusual creation of unnecessary psychological stress. 

Advanced Bias is a very real problem, as it is normalized across almost all language learning, where to give explanations of simple concepts, people must used advanced techniques and examples, not realizing this confuses the absolute beginner even more.

The problem with this bias is that if falls into what i’m going to label the ‘Rabbit Hole Problem’ of language learning, where when learning one thing you often have to learn four or five things just to understand one thing, which is (a) terribly inefficient (b) stressful and (c) adds to the perception that what you are doing is ‘impossible’ as it ‘appears’ to be so much data.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we shouldn’t study sentences and learn new patterns, especially if they are easy to grasp. But for me, I’ve found that often the “baby  steps” become “adult steps” and cause a lot of psychological frustration. It isn’t easy to learn say, the present progressive, the causative forms and the various forms of honorific and casual speech all at once. If your “basic” sentence has all these forms, plus advanced words and grammar patterns, you are doing the new learner a massive disservice. You need to meet them at their level and guide them towards that mastery through a better, incremental form of initial exposure.

This word initial is very important. We must all learn how to process natural language and speech eventually, but what allows us to absorb basic concepts that then allow the brain to extrapolate and assess these patterns in normal speech without it being too intially complex? 

Why This is a Problem

This is a problem because for most learners, they believe that it is their aptitude that will predict their success in language learning. That is to say, they believe it is there inherent mental ability, brain power or skills with ‘language’ as they perceive it. This is obviously, incorrect, as every native speaker (of varying levels of intelligence) all speak their native language fluently, and possess vocabularies with tens of thousands of words. This means that for most learning, the largest hurdle (in my opinion) is perceptual. If you do not believe you can do something, you tend not to do it. Or if you are inspired to do something and then it is presented to you from the perspective of Advanced Bias, your mind will get scared because what you are seeing feels ‘beyond’ you.

This is bad, because Advanced Bias, is everywhere. 

You see, I used to immediately get physically tense and feel very stressed when I looked on a new language. My mind would say ‘I can’t do that’, ‘that’s too difficult’, ‘i’m not like these genius YouTube people’ etc. These are all perceptual statements to myself. They would make me free.

I’ll give you a perfect example. A great resource i’ve found is a channel called Game Gengo, that gives pretty nice explanations for Japanese words and phrases. This is a screen shot where he is explaining the usage for the particle の which is a VERY basic particle that represents possession.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Or this for ので

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The second example is just an incredible example of what i’m saying. This an N5 grammar particle, which is super basic, but look at that monstrous sentence! Now to be fair, this channel uses text from games to illustrate their examples, but i’m telling you no beginner can read this sentence. 

Let me break it down:

只今 (tadaima) is a sort of colloquial expression, like “I’m home!” 

只今より here, より yori is an N2 grammar pattern (second highest level) meaning, “from a specific time”.

緊急職員会議 kinkyuushokuinkaigi is literally three words smashed into one but let’s see what level these words are for this “basic grammar pattern”

緊急 N1  (きんきゅう)kinkyuu  – emergency, urgent

職員 N1(しょくいん)office staff

会議 N4(かいぎ)meeting

行い N1 (おこない)deed, action, conduct

To read this sentence, you literally would need to already know thousands of Japanese words and be able to read 2,136 Kanji and know very high level grammar, far beyond the one you are learning. 

When you look at example sentences with this kind of “bloat” you immediately want to run for the hills. This is not the way to proceed as you’ll always be gasping for air. 

This is the kind of thing that people see that sounds cool in theory, but really acts as entertainment. That person has had success, that person must be really smart, that person has the chops to learn all this. These videos are made from a guy who has spent the better part of a decade (probably a decade) living and working in Japan. I’m not saying his videos have no value, quite the opposite. When I went on this new journey and found his channel, I was quite inspired by it. However, after seeing the “bloat” I said I’d revisit it after I learn all the Jouyou Kanji, and also after I’d familiarized myself with several thousand words. 

The Value of Implicit Understanding

Because of Advanced Bias, a learner who is fluent, will explain things from the perspective of victory. They can elaborate on theories and ideas, but really, the meat and nitty gritty of their breakthroughs could have happened years and years ago and were not specifically documented.

For example, の is sort of like the apostrophe. So “Tom’s car” would be Tom no kuruma. トムさんの車。

There is more to it than this, but if I want to say, red car, blue car

I just say: 青いの車、赤いの車。

The car’s color is red:  車の色は赤いでそ。

We need to get these strong before jumping into such raging water. For example, to use ので、off the top of my head I could say something like:

“Because the car’s color is red, John didn’t buy it.”

車の色は赤いので、ジョンは車を買いなかった。

That’s a more complex sentence, but built on much smaller digestible parts that you can train individually until they become automatic.

Advanced Bias and the True Cost of Learning

To learn anything to an advanced degrees requires far more commitment than one thinks (even beyond what seems like ‘real’ commitment). You need a way to do tens of thousands of repetitions and memorize thousands and thousands of words, situations and expressions until you brain figures it all out.

Working with material that comes from a point of advanced bias can be dangerous and too time consuming (initially). As I said, I found the Game Gengo channel to be very cool and exciting, I just knew that it would be a complete waste of time to try and learn anything he was showing until I could read all the Kanji I was seeing, and had a working familiarity with several thousand words. 

I was not trying to plunk through “feeling it out” for years and years. But my real point of this essay is just to build some awareness, because in the beginning, you want to ensure that you are able to drastically expose yourself to your target words and grammar. 

This means the TPG (Time Per Grammar point) must be low to increase the likelihood of you memorizing if fully. In other words. Do you want to spent an hour ‘learning’ a bloated sentence filled with words you can’t read. Or just hammer the basics until they become easy.

Like “Because I was tired, I didn’t go”. Versus “Because the age of mankind was coming to an end, the violent King met his demise at the hands of his formerly faithful servants”

This is why I talk about data sets that cover the minimums based on research. 5,000 words gives you 98% recognition of all spoken and written text (Nation 1993), 1,000+ hours of listening immersion gets your ear sharp for listening to native speech and you only need about 100 hours to learn all the grammar you need once you have a strong familiarity with hundreds or thousands of words. You want to make sure you effort leads to what you want, versus just being effort. 

I still have quite a ways to go, but am able to navigate this process psychologically very well because I know the minimums I need to hit to get what I want. There is no “hack” that gets you there, or a “hack” to speed up those listening hours. You have to learn one grammar pattern at a time and internalize it through repetition. Many of these are easy to master since most grammar isn’t “complex” really, its just a way to say something like “since”, “due to”, “reasonably”, “things like”, “maybe”, “sometimes”,”apparently”, etc.

So once you have basic structure and words understood, you can put a lot of pressure on grammar and get better results. But looking at people teaching you from a point of advanced bias will hurt you psychologically, because you will also find yourself sometimes thinking that you cannot do with these guys have done (that is something I try my best to avoid). Our minds want to play tricks and tell us we are not good enough, when all we need is time, patience and implementation.

Nothing beats theory except massive practical use of a good idea. Building a monstrously strong  implicit understanding of what you need to learn  helps to avoid the pitfalls of this phenomenon of Advanced Bias.

Basics come before nuance, and nuance comes after a certain amount of exposure and ability to understand what is being spoken. It’s a lot of training and repetitive exposure. I’d say most of the time it isn’t a whole lot of fun (though it isn’t necessarily boring) but its a relatively medium-paced, intestine activity with a predictable ending for those who stick it out.

(To me) there is more value in using の one hundred times versus watching a video explaining it for 20 minutes. After one hundred reps you say it automatically. You also understand it in other context after a while pretty easily. In fact, all grammar tends to be like this, which is why you must psychologically look at what you are doing a certain way so the large data doesn’t overwhelm you.

So presently for me, I don’t have much trouble reading sentences because I can read all 2,136 Kanji. This doesn’t ‘mean I read each one really fast (because I don’t have that super high level of word familiarity yet) BUT what’s great is that I don’t feel the way I felt years ago where I’d see a sentence, see some Kanji I didn’t know then my mind would tell me oh this is impossible and I’d start to get stressed just thinking of the ‘impossibility’ of what i was doing. Now if I’m learning a grammar pattern, I’m far less concerned about the vocabulary (since i’m pushing 2500 words and encounter them often in reading). It’s not about being “super fast” or “super quick” its just about being able to keep going without getting psychologically blocked. I actually started grammar because the vocabulary grind was getting repetitive and I had to switch things up. I wanted to hit 3,000 word then do grammar, but i’ve had delays and realized that I could easily learn a few grammar partners each day without much issue. I personally try to keep my sample sentences as simple as possible in the beginning so I really understand the pattern. Remember, after you hit 5,000 words you will know almost all the ‘hard’ words and verbs anyways, so when I learn them down the road, it’s like Mario eating the mushroom. I just get stronger.

Most of what you see and read will NOT be expository, that is long winded speech. Most of what you encounter in media is quite the same. Conversational patterns tend to stay the same (unless you are watching a Samurai drama) and after a while you will realize you can level up with reading, watching different kinds of films etc. But you need your base.

Don’t let Advanced Bias stop you too early.cheers

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Word Intimacy: The Missing Link?

Going through my “comprehension loop” of sentences with the exact words i’m studying

How do we become a walking dictionary?

Think about yourself presently. As a native speaker of your first language, you maybe know anywhere from 75,000 to 100,000 words which you can recall at will. You don’t need to revise these words each day, you don’t need to use apps and yet, you never forget them. Why?

Word intimacy.

Just like being intimate with a person, you’ve experienced these words in so many scenarios and situations with a range of emotions, smells, sounds and other factors that they are deeply embedded into your mind.

Word intimacy is a concept i’ve often thought about, because to really make gains in language acquisition you need to do so much work the ‘sweet spot’ lies somewhere between madness and genius. Since learning 5,000 words in most languages gives us 98% comprehension of written and spoken text (Nation, 1993), we must find a way for this process to be very efficient, useful and ultimately predictable in what it will provide for us, i.e a robust vocabulary.

In learning a language quickly you are attempting to shortcut the 10-12 years a child normally takes to learn their language to a relatively advanced level. This means far more data to absorb in less time, far more pressure and more types of oxidative stress. Ten years allows for a lot of room to build word intimacy and allow you to be a “walking dictionary”. Doing that in three to six months? Not so simple.

I remember many experiences while reading comics as a child which taught me new words in context. I remember this G.I Joe villain who spoke in very hifalutin speech. That was the first time I saw the word “countenance” (If I can remember correctly, or perhaps it was in literature class). The point is, reading hundreds of books and comics and playing games and what not, builds massive word intimacy. This turns us into a walking dictionary. We do not consciously think about this, it just happens. We encounter our word everywhere. Some places, more than others. If we are reading about fantasy, we’ll read and see very descriptive words about the environment. If we are reading an X-men comic book, depending on the them, we’ll see dialogues on emotion, civil rights, battles and more. We don’t “worry” about “how long this will take” as a child, because… we are a child. This is normal. Only as an adult, do we worry about the perceptual load of what we are trying to learn since there is a truth with intrinsically know:

We cannot shortcut the word acquisition process beyond a certain point due to limitations of time and energy.

If it takes us 8 weeks to get through 5,000 words, which is a herculean task, how do we ensure that we can recall these words from memory?  It cannot just be from seeing them on flash cards, but also hearing them, using them and really seeing them in situations that create strong neural connections in your brain. This is tricky to design, because over 10 years, a child’s natural life forces these things to pop up, whether from school, in movies etc. For a non-native speaker, these interactions must be manufactured to ensure we encounter these words. 

We must create word intimacy consciously.

An app alone does not create this type of intimate context. In fact, an app if used improperly, is quite illusory. You may “feel” that you are memorizing a large amount of data, when in reality, you maybe be in murky territory.

In a previous post I said that true memorization is the recall of what you have studied without reference, not recognition. This is why you are a “walking dictionary” of your native language as you have already memorized tens of thousands of words.

My whole deal with “word intimacy” comes from my success with rapidly memorizing the 2,136 Jouyou Kanji (90 days). I learned it all through writing, using my imagination and sticking to a very specific and consistent revision schedule. The internet is rife with people who are adamantly against learning to write Kanji or learn them individually, when in reality, all Japanese people learn Kanji initially by writing them.  It doesn’t matter if later down they never write them, or just use apps to communicate, the inception of their Kanji ability, is physical, tactile and intimate. 

By “intimate” I mean, we must develop an extreme familiarity with what we are learning. Not just “high exposures” (which are necessary), but “familiarity”, where you see it over and over in a certain type of context. A child will play with letter blocks for months until it masters them all. Then it will work very diligently at small words, then longer ones, until by around age four the child can speak and express itself fluently. You can set your watch to this.

But we as adults do not have the luxury of time these children possess. We can massively shortcut those years. However, in this age of apps and hacks and what have you, I think we forget the power of just sitting down and getting “intimate” with our language.

Remember, there was a time of no computers, where expats would go to foreign countries and Lo and Behold, learn those languages to fluency! This means that there is a basic construct to acquisition, that is not localized to certain kinds of technology. I cannot confirm the data on this, but I don’t think that as technology and access improved around language learning, we suddenly saw a vast bump in language acquisition ability. Those who make gains in language tend to do the same thing, whether it was in the 1970s, 1980s or 2000’s. They put in A LOT OF WORK.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not “anti-app”. I’m just “pro-usefulness”. As I’m doing my vocabulary phase now, i’m using Anki for memorization purposes. Why? Anki provides the clearest route to tracking what i’m doing. It allows me to train “retrievals” by building cards that would take a lot of time to write by hand and I can do hundreds of reps per day, and work with the algorithm. It provides usefulness along certain parameters.

However, Anki does not provide what I call “intimacy”. Anki is robotic, repetitive and endless. You don’t want to get stuck in a situation where you are revising words for the rest of your life. When I used to read my Conan comics over and over and over, relishing the stories images and the language, seeing expressions like “Crom’s blood!” or “By the flames of Arallu!” (terms which i’ve never used personally), these come back to me immediately because of that physical and intimate association with the material.

It was the feel of the comic book pages on my fingers and the smell of the book, it’s the story, the writing and how it all overlaps. This is how we build word intimacy. 

Now, you are obviously saying, “Well we don’t have access too all those tools and materials to do the same thing, etc, etc”.

Yes this is true. My point here is not to say that to replicate that success we need all the same things, far from it. We just need to be more intimate in the process than just playing with an app or mindlessly looking at flashcards. “Intimacy” in this context is not limited to merely analog things like books and comics. You must be doing things that are very “day to day” or “normal” within the context of your learning.

For example, if I walk down the street and see some newspapers. I don’t have any issues understanding the names like “Wall Street Journal”, “Associated Press”, “Jamaica Observer” or “Asahi Shinbun”. We see newspapers all the time. They aren’t frightening or scary. We have an intimate association with them. But this is because they appear in our lives by proxy. We see newspapers everywhere because they are in lots of stores, pharmacies, doctor’s offices, airports, you name it. What we cannot recreate, is that experience because that is relative to living somewhere else. 

So, our intimacy building must be VERY STRATEGIC.

I must emphasize that we are trying to absorb INCREDIBLE amounts of data in a short period of time (4-6 months). Being “intimate” with words, may not mean pouring over Manga (if you cannot read it), or trying to read a Japanese novel (if you can barely read Kanji).

The Rules of Intimacy

One: Create Proximity

Recently in a talk on relationships, it says one of the most important thing about trying to have a relationship is relative to proximity. You cannot be with anyone if you aren’t around anyone (obviously). Likewise, we must be around our words to really get used to them. Proximity with words comes from reading, flash cards, games and what not. However, when we are studying our first 5,000 words. What guarantees do you have that you will often encounter a word like 水道管 suidoukan (water pipe) or a word like 現像 genzou (phenomenon)? The answer is, zero. So even if we are learning our words in a flashcard program, they fall to the wayside if you don’t use them, or hear them (in context preferably). What this means is that we must  create the proximity to these words beyond our flashcards. This is the ‘real work’ that most of us are not told to do.

 

Two: Be Active With The Proximity

Situations in life tend to ‘seal’ the meaning of words in our mind. When my father once called me “recalcitrant”, which means (stubborn under authority) I never forgot it once I looked it up. Proximity and the situation burned that meaning forever into my mind. Our situations don’t need to be that extreme, but we need versions of these activities to make words more sticky, than just seeing them on a flashcard.

So for example, I just made up this sentence:

僕の近所で水道管の作業が始まります。

boku no kinjo de, suidoukan no sag you ga hajimarimasu. 

In my neighbourhood, pipe building operations have started.

Or maybe:

水道管からおかしな騒音が流れる。

suidoukan kara okashi na soon ga nagareru.

Strange noises are coming from the water pipes.

Note: These are VERY basic sentences. I’m studying vocabulary now, so I’m able

to pull words from memory, but in doing so i’m creating contexts for “active proximity”, but below is the easiest method:

 

It’s one thing to make up some sentences like I did ( as examples) but how do we do this at scale? Remember, if you’ve been reading through my posts, the true test of ANY strategy is to see how it works at scale if you are using it to assist with large volumes of data. What i’ve long learned is that we cannot do everything at once. Most people have a focus of 3-4 hour max, and everything else gives diminishing returns. Like I’ve also said, you have a lot of unusual people that have no issues doing 7-8 hours of study per day without fatigue. We are not referring to those outliers.

It is hard to study words, try to remember them, then try to “make up sentences” for thousands of words and so on. The easiest way to get word proximity is to read  because reading can be done a various speeds and it can be done for very long stretches without fatigue. Speaking is a different type of “proximity” based activity, because you need to have certain skills to be able to handle conversation.

That sentence there says: 会社は赤字営業倒産した。

kasha ha aka eigyou tousan shita. 

Basically: “The company went into the red.”

What I’m doing is reading sentences with the word i’m studying every day. Thi means, I must interact with my words each day. I develop a bit of “intimacy” with them. Many are much easier to read because I know the shape relative to the sentence. I don’t say kai…. sha (company). I say kaisha immediately since I know the word. Everyword in this sentence i’m pretty familiar with (except akaji 赤字)but because I’ve read the sentence a few times, when I saw it I just said it.

Three Be Strategic With Proximity based on WHERE YOU ARE

Now I must make a note here. I’m still testing this out because here’s the truth guys and gals. This is very labor intensive so you must be excited by what you are doing. Some people might see this and say “I’d rather read manga”, which is fine, but there is no guarantee you’ll encounter the words you are studying each day. You see, when you don’t have the ability to read well, you need to narrow your proximity to what you know. You must reinforce it to the point where you store it, and then move on.

Remember: the beautiful thing about memorization is that once you memorize a word you move one. So if I memorized 2,500 words, even if I can’t read them super fast, I know them. So I don’t need to “worry” about them. To read most manga and do things you want you will need 3,500 to 5,00 words anyways. But here are some ideas for proximity once you hit certain benchmarks.

1,500 words you should be able to comfortably read children’s stories if that’s your thing.

3,000 words  — a lot of manga should be a breeze, and playing a lot of games shouldn’t trip you up

5,000 words — everything should be easy to handle, including light novels.

So this builds “proximity” relative to reading. but nothing will build measurable proximity to your word list immediately. 

So me reading these sentences might look “boring”, but where the hell am I going to find these words otherwise?  I’m not at an N2 grammar level yet, so I can’t just dive into reading N2 material (which is counter productive), but I CAN read all the Kanji and I do understand about 250+ grammar patterns, so I’m good with thousands of basic sentences (which lead to advanced sentences pretty quickly).

Why I’m Doing This (IMPORTANT)

This process is always initially quite slow. Speed in reading only comes with the frequency of exposure and use. You can’t read words or Kanji quickly without reading them. So even when you know the Kanji readings, it doesn’t automatically mean you’ll be able to see a sentence like this super quick and rattle it off.

私は昨夜不思議な夢を見ました。

watashi wa sakuya fushigi na yume wo mimashita.

Last night I had a strange dream. 

The issue here with speed is based not on ability, but  process of differentiation, so at a glance in the beginning if we don’t know a word shape, you won’t be able to “split up” the words quickly. This makes you pause, because you need thousands of exposures to naturally fall into these reading or speaking rhythms. Looking at the sentence from a perspective of knowing each component well it will look more like this in your mind.

私は昨夜思議を見ました。

昨夜  – last night    思議   – strange, wonder      夢 – dream

Eventually, this is what your brain will do. It will take each word and “color it” and then you’ll be able to read much faster.

These “colors” are not created without….

Word intimacy. 

The more intimate we are, the more obvious the different words are the faster we fall into a natural rhythm. In reality, there is also no way around this. We want to learn thousands of words in record time but it is hard to hold onto them if we aren’t reading a lot or doing at the very least a lot of word intimacy reinforcement.

The problem for most learners (including me) was that doing this sort of reading was incredibly boring (at the time). But as I got deeper into research and understanding proper exposure I realized that sometimes necessity trumps interest. I had learning hundreds or thousands of words I wasn’t really using (or seeing). I used to assume that by using Anki I had “memorized” a word, when in reality, hundreds of these words I didn’t even use, and therefore had trouble recalling when I needed to (which to me, does not fit my current definition of true memorization). The extra work seemed ‘daunting’ but at the time I did not understand word intimacy, which fits into what i’ve labeled the ‘true cost’ of language learning.

The Cool Thing (last part, I promise)

The cool thing about all this is that you don’t need to really ‘force’ this to make gains. After using Anki to train retrieval, reading a few sentences every now and then anchors your word into your brain relative to the meaning of the sentence, making it stay in your memory much longer, in a different context. I had grand plans to read 1,000 sentences a day and blah blah, but that is impossible at my present reading speed without burning out since i’m learning new words each day. I can comfortably do 100-200 without feeling strained, and I’m also learning new grammar and expressions in these sentence as a sort of “proxy training”.

All this stuff leads to the eventual ability to read at length with no issues. I think the danger is trying to swim in the deep end of the pool too early and facing the possibility of drowning. Many advanced learners are notorious for working to master the small components of a skill, then moving on. By spending time reading these words each day while studying them, we create a “comprehension loop” and anchor.

Everything I discuss, I emphasize in so much detail because I am focusing on activities at scale. I’ve been down this road many times, where trying to do certain kinds of activities breaks down when you realize the reinforcement necessary to get true results. Some parts of the journey can be done very quickly (e.g learning 2,136 Kanji in 90 days) and others can also be “relatively quick” (6-12 weeks) but requires a VERY strategic and FOCUSD approach.

I am purposely doing words and not much grammar at this point because as I’ve said (many times) training grammar without knowing vocabulary is generally wasted effort, as you spend too much time breaking down the components of a sentences versus just trying to figure out the meaning (grammar) which is the point of learning Grammar. When learning German, my grammar learning was lightning quick because I never had to worry about vocabulary and I’d only focus 100% on the meaning of the sentence. If I misunderstood sometimes, it was because I didn’t master the absorption of the grammar pattern, but had no issues with the individual words. That means at any given time, my focus was 100% on the pattern, not the component words of the sentence.

Grammar is its own beast, and takes a completely different form of memorization that I call context memorization. So unlike raw words, where you can read and build intimacy through listening and even ‘skimming’ sentence, grammar really requires a sense of situations and proper usage at all times.  Saying ” I like books” versus ” I like things like books” are two completely different things.

本が好きだ。I like books

など買うのが好き。I like things like buying books

This is a different kind of mental practice. Words are solid and visual, grammar is moving and organizational. In the same way we look at words and eventually get a “feel for” the shape of the word and identity it quickly, we will also get a “feel for” the grammar shapes and identify them. But again, this cannot be done all at once.

For vocabulary training, I can read complete sentences and not need to know the exact grammar to get the benefit of the reading. In grammar study I need to know the exact meaning of the sentence relative to the grammar. This means training the grammar patterns several dozen times until it sticks. And remember, to get to an N2 or N2 level requires knowing anywhere from 450-600 grammar patterns! Even multiplying those by say, 20 revisions each equals 9,000 to 12,000 exposures just to learn them properly!

Doing thousands of word exposures and also thousands of grammar exposures is possible but I’ve found, not very efficient when you have a weak vocabulary. It takes too much time to sit and figure out a sentence that you cannot initially read. Once word intimacy is established, the rate of understanding increases exponentially.

Grammar requires active and focused training. You really have to sit and try and produce what you are reading or it won’t stick. These grammar patterns also need to be obviously separate from words you already know. This means if someone is speaking bullet fast Japanese, you can’t mix things up. Which again, goes back to word intimacy.

Grammar are situational chunks of data where you MUST memorize the context. The best way to do this is to hear it a lot or read it a lot, but you gotta make sure you aren’t mixing it up with words you’ve already learned. Now do you see why people get into so much trouble? Imagine trying to learn grammar when you can barely tell the difference between 健康    kenkou (health) and    検討  kentou(consideration).

Practically speaking, it makes life MUCH harder.

I am not saying this is ‘easy’ if you have a massive vocabulary. But the ability to differentiate monstrously improves once you have absorbed certain kinds of information to a high degree (i.e thousands of words). By learning thousands of words (first) while doing hundreds of hours of immersion, your ears become very sharp (and familiar) with the phonetic of the words you are learning and their usage in common situational patterns (even if you don’t know the proper grammar yet). But this upfront work gives you the ability to differentiate between rapidly spoken words. Having this ability saves you a lot of future grief when studying grammar. When you start training your ear to figure out grammar, you can’t really spend a lot of time trying to figure out which words are which. You are listening for grammar, not words. If you can’t differentiate at all, you are lost and you’ll stop. If you have the ability to listen to a sentence and hear everything clearly. That’s step one. If you can hear everything clearly and you know all the words spoken, that’s step two. Then you are ready to analyze what was said to see if you understand it all.

The word intimacy leads to phonetic and situational awareness of thousands of words. By proxy you are also learning phonetic and situational awareness of grammar, which will start to trigger when you train.

If someone blurts out in a TV show i’m watching at bullet speed:

“私が部長代わりに出張に行きます。”

(I’m going on a business trip on behalf of my manager)

I don’t wanna be saying Huh? Who did what now?

I need to know immediately that the expression in red 代わりに kawari ni (subsitute)is not 変わり  kawari (alter, change). From a grammar standpoint, this requires using and reading this pattern many, many, many times. It is a different sort of exercise mentally than just raw vocabulary learning. You have to be able to tell between words you know and grammar and that can only be done by memorizing the contexts, which has its own demands of time and great effort, which I think is best done after a certain level of vocabulary acquisition (say, 3000 words).

Okay! That’s it for now… more on all this madness later. I’m continuing the journey.

Updates on stuff soon

cheers

 

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Why I Wish I Was Told about the ‘Top Down View’ Years Ago

In life, time is everything.

If you’ve read a lot of my articles, you can see that i’m very passionate about my research and implementation of what I speak about and i’ve had enough trial, error, massive failure and now some massive success that fuel my viewpoints. To become unusually good at anything first requires an unusual mindset. No one program, strategy or methodology will make a unmotivated person succeed. In the same vein, no super efficient system will work for an inefficient person. But let’s say you are both motivated and efficient, you still will face unusual challenges because of perceptual psychology and pitfalls you may not expect. Language learning is a giant memorization exercise. This means that unless you are a Savant like Daniel Tammet who can learn a language fluently in a week, you have to give yourself room to understand your unusual natural strengths and human limitations.

The reason there is so much “strategy” around learning language is because of the sheer scale of what you are trying to memorize: Thousands of words, hundreds of grammar patterns and these words and grammar patterns spoken with unfamiliar phonetics at native speed. Depending on your language, you may need to learn a new reading or writing system as well. In the case of Japanese at minimum 2,136 characters to read and navigate regular situations. So we know these things are all required, which is why you can feel that tension before you start the process. Your brain says it is too much, I can’t do this, it feels overwhelming. 

This is a merely psychological response, because you must ask yourself, if I get tense at the thought of learning a new language, is there someone who gets excited in the same situation? The answer obviously, is yes. What has been underpinning ALL of my latest research (and gains) is the full understanding that psychology is about 85% of what one needs to make massive gains in your pursuits. You must be able to see the end (or a part of the end) every time you take action towards the goal. Of course I’ve hit massive organizational hurdles (related to data) and also massive hurdles psychologically (perceptual), but once these are out of the way, meaning: I both understand how to reach my goal and know that I can reach it.

Many of my posts really dive into this concept, so I won’t go into it much further. But once you control that side of things, you get to put the majority of your mental energy into action and execution, versus puzzling out the next move.

Balance and High Activity

What must happen first is you must very technically assess what you need to do over the committed period of your goal. You need to figure out what steps help you to achieve your goal in a time frame you are aiming for. But here’s the problem, the internet is chock full of people and websites all talking about various strategies, word lists, popular kanji, colloquialisms, what to do, what not do, etc etc. You can spend months trying to figure out the ‘best way’ ‘best hack’ ‘top word list’ and so on. Instead of focusing on all these things, I focused on what I called “data sets” that cover EVERYTHING. I do approaches in such  way that one major activity covers several, or dozens of smaller activities.

Let me give you an example: For most languages, a knowledge of 5,000 words gives you access to 98% of the written and spoken text (Nation, 1991). This means if a student had one goal to learn just learned 5,000 words they would set themselves up for monstrous comprehension. This overrides a list of 1,000 words, 2,500 words or 3,000 words. By aiming for 5,000 I’m going to learn these high frequency words anyways. I can understand if someone has six weeks to go to a new country and they need to a ‘hack’ to have some speaking ability but generally, the energy i’d put into mastering 1,000 words that ‘give me quick access’ is an illusion. Its like reading a newspaper full of holes. Even 3,000 words doesn’t give you as much ability as you think. So 5,000 is a data set that covers all the potential words to take you to that first rung of advanced ability. 

By aiming for 5,000 words, I’m not thinking about anything because I know that list covers everything I should need up to my target level of grammatical ability. 

With Japanese, the government says people should know 2,136 Kanji to be able to read the papers, take high level exams and so on. Instead of figuring out the ‘top 100 Kanji to learn first’ or the ‘top 500 Kanji to learn’ I just said learn the 2,136 Kanji, because those cover everything up to the N2 (second highest rung of grammar ability). 

So decided to do these two things, saves me any future time or effort researching “methods”, because I know exactly what they will give me. 2,136 Japanese characters allows me to read quite a bit of Japanese (though 3,000 characters is the real goal) and then 5,000 words gives me access to 98% of the language.

Thirdly, to develop a sharp ear in your target language, you need to aim for a minimum of 1,000 listening hours. This process takes at minimum 4.5 months which means it will take about 6 months to hit this point for most people. At this point everything you are aiming to do significantly overlaps and you begin to experience what I call “comprehension leaps” and “comprehension explosions”.

All of these activities must be individually organized, but at a glance allow for a more stress free mental orientation in terms of the ground you need to cover.

Remember irregardless of ‘strategy’ or ‘hacks’ EVERYONE who has success in a language pursuit must do the same thing, some just do it faster and more efficiently. So take solace knowing that everyone has to pretty much reach the finish line the same way. 

Your mission to be to able to put ALL your effort into the various tasks and do so in a way that allows you to operate for 3-6 months at high activity. Having a “top down view” lets you know what you are doing in month 1, and what you should also be doing in month 5. This helps you to not just relax (since you have a timeline) but also get a sense of where you “should be” relative to your efforts.

These three guidelines (for Japanese), which is Kanji list 2,136, Word list 5,000 and listening time 1,000 hours gives you a charted path to your language level. In this case, this roughly equates to an N2 level of Japanese, which is advanced. I don’t think this process should take more than 6 months.

This Sets up Core Realities

Having this top down view reminds you that if these steps are not achieved, you cannot anticipate the goals you seek. 

It may sound simple, but think about it. Whenever I find myself slacking off a bit, I remind myself that if I don’t aim for these 5,000 words, as challenging as that is, I’m not going to reach that 98% of the language based on research. So every time I don’t add words, don’t revise, or start thinking about ‘strategy’ etc, its meaningless, because the research already shows me what I need to do. I know a huge shift happens at the 3,000 word mark which is what i’m looking forward to hitting now, but aiming for that 5,000 is so big I know it must give me something in return. 

For the Kanji and listening, it is the same. If I don’t know all 2,136 Kanji I can’t read anything, which means I can’t really study vocabulary, which breaks almost everything else down. There are people who emphatically say “don’t learn Kanji learn words” on the internet, which I find interesting because every Japanese person alive has had to learn the Kanji by reading and writing them.

Without 500-1000 hours of listening in my target language, I won’t master the phonetics in my ear, which helps me to then reproduce them in speech and recognize them at speed. These 3 things cover a monstrous portion of the heavy lifting needed to reach an advanced level. Remember, the heavy lifting should always be the work, not thinking about the work.

As a person who has done a lot of research into this, I’ve had to do some heavy lifting in terms of thinking, which is why I share my finding here and why I’m also developing something more comprehensive. Because I have the 3 major goals outline, I was able to easily project forward for my first 6 months of activity.

I’ve developed a way to learn all 2,136 Kanji in 8-10 weeks without too much effort. It took me a month for my first 1,000 or so and I did the rest in 90 days. During this time, I logged about 450 hours of Japanese listening. After another research period, I’m now implementing my vocabulary phase aiming for 5,000 word exposure in 6 weeks.

I know some of you may be asking yourself about Grammar, or speaking (and i’m coming to that), but really understand what i’m saying with these 3 components first.

Without being able to read Kanji, we can’t really train vocabulary. We need 2,136 Kanji to access a large portion of the language. Learning and mastering the Kanji sets up for a very efficient approach to vocabulary memorization as you have no concerns about being able to read the words you are trying to memorize. Listening sharpens your ear and activates the words you are learning. Speech goes from being “blurry nonsense”, to “short logical chains” then “clear speech”. It isn’t about understanding everything you hear, which only happens when you reach a certain word/grammar understanding saturation, but once you can hear everything you set the stage for speaking.

Speaking, Grammar & Energy.

Everything i’ve described so far requires vast amounts of energy. This is why people are constantly looking for hacks, and shortcuts to learn the language in 30 days or 60 days etc. With romance languages, one can learn it to fluency pretty quickly, meaning the ability to construct grammatically complex words and phrases. I was able to reach an advanced level of German in about 4.5 months without much of my current perspective. This is because for Romance languages, there isn’t really much of a barrier to entry learning to read and pronounce the new language. You don’t need more than a week or two to get a hang of a modified alphabet and dive right in in terms of reading new words. This allows you to go “faster” because you don’t have the same barriers. My German project was the research that shifted my belief and understanding of what could be done with Japanese, but it took me around a year to get on it, as language studying is long, extremely intense and you must be devoted to it.

With a language like Japanese, you can’t escape the initial barrier of Japanese characters. There is no way around it, and it adds unavoidable time to your learning journey. I’ve found a way to monstrously shorten it, so you don’t need more than 2 months to get your skin in the game, versus 2-5 years for a lot of people. All this means is that with Japanese, in this world of what is called “Rapid Language Acquisition” you must mentally tell yourself that you are about 2-3 months behind another language due to the Kanji barrier. 

This is why I did so much research into getting past the Kanji hurdle quickly, knowing that once I can master the Kanji quickly, I can handle the other components in good time and not be working of a year or two or three JUST to be able to read new words.

Each Component is Intense

There are people out there, who can work 12-16 hours a day at something every day without fatigue. People like this who study languages tend to have a lot of disposable time, energy and situations that (seem to) not have much personal responsibility. I don’t consider this normal or average, and don’t use these outliers as examples of how to learn quickly. i”ll have my 10 or 12 hour days, but try to keep things in the 2-4 hour range since I have other things I must do with my day.

The thing is, you can’t do everything at once. This is quite possibly the hardest thing to understand as a new learner, because all you want is the end result. You want the speaking ability, you want the reading ability etc. Remember that in trying to learn a language rapidly (3-6 months) you are attempting to shortcut TEN YEARS of staggered learning that children take. Taking a year to get fluent shortens that time span by 90%, 3-6 months puts you in the 94% range. The point is, “fast” depends on how you define it. To me, you can seriously get fluent in a romance language in about 90-120 days (with MONSTROUS effort) and for a language like Japanese (if you can cross the Kanji barrier quickly), you should be able to hit a high point about three to four months after a romance language learning point. Based on my research this mean you can take 2 months to learn the Kanji, and then add 4 months onto that for other components, taking you to six months. 

So what i’ve found is that if you focus ONLY on a component for a period of time and then move on, it is of far more benefit. Once I crossed the 4,500 word mark in German and started listening to podcasts, I found I could speak a lot better (without doing extra grammar practice). When I started doing more grammar practice, I spoke better, despite having not spoken to anyone personally. So I understand that it was actually NOT trying to speak too early that gave me more of an advantage later. 

Remember: Kanji — sets up reading vocabulary — Vocabulary — sets up better listening immersion, reading and grammar — Speaking — trained through grammar and vocabulary .

Since my focus here is not wasting time on excess research and trying to be as efficient as possible, I know that I can only train my speaking effectively if I am able to train grammar properly. Grammar is best trained with a robust vocabulary, because your focus will always be a sentence’s meaning not trying to read and understand the sentence. 

You see, since each component is intense you don’t want to have too much overlap that makes things harder when they can be done advantageously in a sequence (that is not too far apart). I don’t want to be trying to learn tons of grammar and vocabulary at the same time, it gets confusing at scale. Better to learn a few thousands words (giving you tons of grammar by proxy) and then when you read a sentence, the grammar ‘stands out’.

If I can read 98% of sentences I see, I am now focused on the sentence for meaning. This allows me to “train” the grammar, since it is my only focus, not the words around it. This translates into speaking, which is attempting to produce the entire construct from memory, vocally.

So EVERYTHING links to this point and modifications can be made to get to certain points faster (prioritizing speaking for example).

Why I’m Doing It This Way

Simple. Let’s say I learn 3,000 words, go heavily into grammar and speaking, I’ll still have to come back at learn the other 2,000 words to give me more strength in the language. If I only learn 1,000 Kanji (N2 requirement), I’ll still at some point have to learn the remaining 1,136, or remaining 1,936 if you aim for knowing 3,000 characters (what a standard adult knows). If I don’t listen to enough Japanese, I’m gonna have to listen to Japanese at some point to level up what I can hear. So if I listen to 300 hours, i’m gonna have to log those 700 hours at some point to take me to that 1,000.

You see, all 3 components will keep coming back in some shape or form. So you can make quick gains in one and be weak in another, or you can choose to gradually (in a not very long period of time) build a lot more robustness. This isn’t about being a maser of everything, I just really don’t want to have to keep hopping around. This is a path once charted that anyone can map and execute. It just takes some more patience.

A lot of people can spend a very intense month and memorize a lot of basic grammar and words and speak “fluently” while LITERALLY not understanding the language, but just “sounding good”. It is really their next 3-6 months that takes them into a new stratosphere. They still need to hit those 1,000+ hours of listening, learn thousands more words and hundreds of grammar patterns. There is NO shortcut to this type of mastery, except exposure and consistent and intense study until you hit a “saturation point” where you get a very strong feel for what’s going on and everything beings to self-reinforce.

The “top down view” allows us to project when that should happen, so we really keep the flames burning in our engine to go towards that point because once we reach there, we are guaranteed certain results.

For example, I’m in my “vocabulary phase” now. It presently takes all my focus and energy relative to my overall goals. It would be a waste to do what i’m doing now and try to learn grammar AND speaking, particularly when I know that a robust vocabulary makes learning grammar exponentially less difficult. What makes practicing anything hard is how efficient the method is. If I know 500 words and 50 grammar points and I’m trying to explain my feelings, that’s rough territory. If I know 3,000 words, say, 300 grammar points and I’ve have 500 hours of listening under my belt, i’m in a much better position to “train” more effectively. This is why I mention the pitfalls of the “30 day fluency” conundrum. You can’t get exposed (in literal time) to everything you need to learn to process the language based on the hundreds and hundreds of hours of exposure you need to internalize certain patterns. What people really do with this “30 day fluency” is parrot a lot of basic phrases within a very narrow range of words and grammar, that they say is fluent, which is technically not wrong. I can memorize a one minute speech in French with proper pronunciation and say “Here’s how I learned to speak fluent French in 30 days” or some madness, when I know that I wouldn’t be able to understand any French person I met beyond very basic conversation, nor would I be able to process or understand pretty much all French media I attempt to watch in month 1. Your brain just cannot memorize all that data in 30 days (unless you are a Savant of course).

4-6 months is BLINDINGLY FAST to learn a language, so I ignore the “30 day conundrum” and work in sections within a certain time span with predictors that I hit with certain data. This is called “working sectionally”. Doing things sectionally also gives me set time limits for each section I train. Kanji (2,136) 8-12 weeks. Vocabulary (first 5,000 6 weeks), then (speaking and grammar training, 8 weeks). What this means is I have a few months of no speaking, but loads of reading writing and listening training, which sets up the last phase pretty well.

The ‘Top Down View’ makes this clear and direct. So as I press through, I’ll keep updating my progress and views. The complexity of these tasks and the effort required for each component really makes me sympathize with so many who try to undertake this task. It isn’t as much genius as much as genius level focus, time management and task prioritization. Anyone who tries to learn a new language with all their heart and soul is already a hero in my book.

More to come! Cheers

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Developing Super Memory Pt1 Retrievals vs Recognition

まだ早いだな。。

 

 

 

There is an important, probably THE most important distinction to make when looking at the “goal” of memorization. For any goal, we must establish criteria that satisfy the terms of what we are trying to do. What is memorization defined as? Generally, memorization  is possessing the ability to recall your target without reference, quickly (a few seconds) in 1-3 seconds.  Meaning, if i’m trying to remember the word for “by chance”, or “accidentally”, which is 偶然(ぐうぜん)guuzen, the fact that I typed that word from memory immediately means I have it memorized.

The process of remembering the word with no reference is called a retrieval. Meaning, I had to “retrieve” the word from my mind. If I were to see the word, for 偶然 in reading, I’d be looking at what I call the word shape. The goal of learning a new language is really just a very complex approach to memorization of words or word shapes, patterns and phonetics. You work to “retrieve” these words, word shapes and patterns and memorize the mimicking of the pronunciation of the new language. This is all data. But it is a LOT of data, hence the tendency for people to stress over “difficulty”. But really, your brain’s capacity for storage is relatively endless and when we look at our task (relative to our true ability), especially having mastered a language to fluency already (your native tongue) there is no need to focus on limitation in that regard. What you will experience is significant challenge, but know this: everyone who gets the results you want has done the same thing. 

Retrieval Is Everything

Retrieval is the true gauge of where you are. You can trick yourself into thinking you have something “memorized” because you can read it, or after seeing it in print you can “somewhat” recall what it is. This is recognition based, which has obvious benefits, but massive perceptual disadvantages if you use this as your only guage for memorization. Remember you want to be able to eventually produce what you see and read with reasonably ability. This is a retrieval activity. You can speak your native tongue fluently because you have made millions of phonetic retrievals in your life. It took you a few thousand to get the hang of it. Only by training to bring things from memory, do we truly memorize a target word, phrase or construct. So to define memorization as being a full memorization, it is a word, phrase or construct we can both recall & recognize. 

Hold on to this idea of “full memorization”  as we continue throughout this article.

Retrieval and Priority

The brain prioritizes what to memorize by exposure frequency and a certain kind of relative stress. Seeing words over and over in Anki, or trying to read hundreds of sentences per day forces your brain to “retrieve” what you have stored into memory, which will eventually go into long term memory. This means that your process of retrieval must be as frequent and efficient as possible. As i’ve said on this blog before, we don’t have the luxury of a child who has 10-12 years to learn their language in small doses. We must utilize methods to create very high level of exposure to set the stage for memorization, but also do so in a way that we do not get completely overwhelmed or burn out. Let’s look at how this applies to our “approach mechanics” for efficient tasks.

The way I like to look at it, is this:

Can I design what i’m doing in such a way that I can get (a) VERY high exposure rates with (b) as LOW a time per data unit as possible.

By “data unit”I mean, word, phrase, etc. So I want to have VERY high exposure and also VERY low time per item i’m trying to memorize.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This isn’t my typical day, this just happened to be yesterday. For my deck “Master of Vocabulary” I was averaging 9 seconds per card, for almost 900 cards. this means i’ve had 900 retrievals of my target information. Let’s say, I do 900 retrievals, and then read 500 sentences. I’m crossing the 1,000 retrieval mark per day. What i’m doing is pushing the limit of what I train to pull from raw memory each day. But to do these numbers requires unusually efficient approaches. Let’s take a look at why:

Retrieval and Approach Problems

Most people assume you just dive in and start trying to read a sentence with your target word. In the learner’s mind, they think they are just focused on the target word, but all sentences are composed of words we may or may not know. We must have certain rules in place to not limit ourselves. When the brain sees too much data it does not understand, it freezes up. This “brain freeze” is what causes us to stop, which we must avoid. A child learns the English alphabet, then small words, then very simple sentences, then more complex ones. This is a “progressive load”, like a weightlifter adding more weight as he or she goes through a routine. Always remember that your memorization is also progressive. Your brain can handle hundreds of short bits of information, but will freeze if the data is too large (too early).

It’s like giving a baby an X-men comic to read. They’d look at the pictures and lose interest because they can’t understand anything that characters are saying. Think of yourself. Are you trying to read an X-men comic at a baby level of understanding (and approach)? I’ll give you an example of this:

Our target word is 役割(やくわり)yakuwari – role, part someone plays.

Here is an example sentence:

人はちゃんと自分の役割を果たしていたもの。hito wa chanto jibun no yakuwari wo hatashiteita mono.  –  People carried their own weight then.

Just visually, this is very noisy if you can’t read basic Japanese. Secondly, if you don’t know Kanji you can’t read “人” ”自分”、”役割”、”果たして”。Also when looking at sentences, you can’t predict the level of what you are reading. For example the expression:

果たして (はたして)hatashite「as expected, just as one thought] is an N1 grammar pattern (a very advanced pattern). You also need to know the meaning of ちゃんと(earnestly), and how いたもの works in this sentence. 果たす means “to fulfill” so the sentence literally translates to:

人はちゃんと自分の役割を果たしていたもの。The people earnestly all of their roles fulfilled.

So this sentences does NOT use the “果たして”, form, but the “果たす”form of this Kanji.

I picked this word (and sentence randomly) to illustrate a point. Just by trying to learn this ONE WORD, in this ONE sentence, we must learn several other words, and high level grammar (that could be quite confusing).

Now multiply this instance by 4,000 and you can see why people get into monstrous problems and say these things are impossible. I’m showing you this sentence because this is the type of sentence that often a complete beginner will try to learn. Even if you are “advanced” this is a tough sentence to try and process if your goal is word memorization. 

This process fails miserably (at scale) because in trying to read this sentence you are not doing two things: (a) training the retrieval of your target word with speed (b) keeping your time with this target word significantly low to gain value from the exercise.

A person could spend 25 minutes to an hour just breaking down the components of this sentence, for one word! 

Retrieval and Improved Approach

If you are still with me, understand that we must follow these rules blindly. We must set things up so that we can (a) see our target word OFTEN, keeping the frequency high and we must (b) ensure that this process is not clunky and slow. It must be fast to be effective. The good thing, is that this is where things get very cool. A few years ago I exploded my research and understanding of memorization through a website called Vocabulary Labs. It is the first place I really started to get a different sense of how to look at memorization relative to the brain, word segmentation and the idea of retrieval based training. There I saw a brand new format of flashcard, designed to ensure we hit our two targets. I did this while training my German words, and have since adapted it to Japanese.

If i can read 役割 I am technically not “retrieving” it from memory. But you say to yourself? Isn’t the goal to be able to read these words? The answer is yes. BUT what’s to stop me from confusing yakuwari 役割with words like yakusoku  約束(promise), yoyaku 予約 (anticipate) . With enough exposure these are never ‘confusing’, in the same way you don’t confuse the word “promise” with “guarantee” with “assurance”. Only by using these words, or seeing the proper usage a certain number of times do we reach ‘full memorization’. 

Why This is Important

This is important because it sets the stage for what we actually have to do. Not only are we memorizing these words, but we must design a way to use these words. Fortunately, the word “usage” has broad definitions, and i don’t want anyone here to panic. Remember, by “retrieving”, or “recalling” a word from memory, you start to store it into longer and longer term memory. We can retrieve/recall a word a few ways:

  1. we can retrieve the word by reading it alone
  2. we can retrieve by reading a very short sentence
  3. we can retrieve it in a longer contextual sentence
  4. we can retrieve/recall the word by itself (consciously)
  5. we can recognize it in spoken speech

When you are trying to do things at scale, this type of understanding is crucial. You want to figure out what you can do the most, with the most benefit without it becoming unusually stressful because it is so much data. But as we’ve established, you want to keep exposures super high and time per exposure as low as possible. From this list, the quickest things to do are either: read a single word, or read a very short sentence. The latter three all take time you can’t gauge necessarily. Reading a long sentence filled with words and grammar I don’t know can be a serious waste of time. You might “feel like” you are getting somewhere, but you could have spend the 25 minutes from that one sentence doing hundreds of revisions at a few seconds per word. Recongnizing a brand new word in spoken speech is a matter of memorized phonetics, which depending on the speaker, what you are watching and how clear it is, can be noisy or clear as day. Phonetic memorization comes only after several hundred hours of exposure to your target language. This means that trying to recognize a brand new word in speech is a waste of time until  you get a handle on the way the language sounds. You generally know you’ve reached this point when: you can hear everything a person is saying clearly, even if you don’t know what they are saying. 

So only by training these things at high volume in short chunks that allows the brain to process it, do we allow for “elite training”, a way to really put pressure on our goal.

 

Why This is Important Pt.2

We cannot replace time. Most of us do not understand that it is the quality of our revision, not just methodology that really gives the best results. But really you must know that if your method becomes harder and harder and harder at scale, then your stress will exponentially increase, which means the method is going to break you eventually.

It is imperative that you can do an activity with high repetitions that is only as stressful as the effort YOU put in. I know the demands of learning 100-200 words per day (very high) and I also know the demands of 50 per day (not as high) and 25 (very low, almost easy).

Let’s assume you can read 2,136 characters already and want to start diving into learning vocabulary. If you want to try and memorize the word 特徴(personal characteristic, trait). Ask yourself? Do I get more benefit trying to read this word in a long, complicated sentence? Or do I simply get benefit seeing it over and over and over and over? We both know the answer to that. But this means what we ‘see’ must also be efficiently designed

Below explains how to make this process super efficient.

The Secret To Efficient Retrieval/Recall

First we put our target word in a format that forces us to retrieve a part of it from memory. Look at these two potential flashcards:

FRONT   彼の役割  BACK 役割 やくわり his role

FRONT  彼の[role, part to play]   BACK 役割 やくわり

Notice in the second card, I am now forced to remember the second Kanji and its reading. I am forced to “retrieve” that piece. By “retrieving” that piece, I am giving my mind some work to do. By just reading the word, I have no guarantee that I can pull it from memory. I guarantee that I can recognize it, but recognition alone does not equal memorization. 

Notice also how short these sentences are. Here i’m avoiding ‘bloat’. It gives my mind room to very quickly try to retrieve this data. If I can’t remember it, I just set it to return in a minute in Anki and within that minute I could see another 30 words. See where this is going? I also get to use the word  a lot and build repetition, which eventually builds expectancy.

彼の[role, part to play]  his role

僕の役[role, part to play] my role

彼女の役[role, part to play] her role

市民の役[role, part to play] the citizen’s role

I can hit these sentences in rapid succession and train my memorization in seconds. The more I forget (strategic failure) is the more my brain works to retrieve the “piece” it needs to learn. Remember, the brain will be lazy if you make things easy. If you can just read it, the brain isn’t working, which means you probably won’t be able to quickly pull this word from memory in conversation, or if you are doing self-practice.

You: Uh, why is this important again?

Everything is nice when you go through your first 100 words and feel excited that you are “learning a new language”. That ballgame changes when you realize you really need around 5,000 words to make the gains you seek. 100 words is only 2% of this goal. Whatever you do, must work AT SCALE.

Words are not always inherently interesting. Many feel useless, but need to be known. How often do you use the word ‘predicament’? Probably never. But you’ll never forget it. Or the word ‘essential’. I can’t remember the last time i’ve said it out loud, but its necessary to know. Many of the words you learn are like these and there is no way around learning them. There is no “hack” or “shortcut”. You may disagree with this, but look at it this way:

Learning 1000 high frequency words does nothing for your skill level, since you will need to learn about 5,000 anyways to truly have command of your language. Meaning, I see no point in spending months and months with 1000 word vocabulary, when I could develop a much more robust 5000 word vocabulary. The guy who learns 1000 words and speaks ‘fluently’ is deluding himself, as he can barely read anything he sees, can barely understand most of what he hears beyond extreme basics and cannot say that much! He or she may be able to say very basic phrases and words with proper pronunciation, but would be lost otherwise. (Trust me, i’ve been there).

With an efficient approach I can get through the muck of running through hundreds and hundreds of these type of sentences very quickly and “train” the words. Some words you brain remembers easily, others it will keep forgetting and you just have to keep seeing the words and reading them to make them stick.

Training words isn’t always “fun” but unavoidable. This is why I think faster is better. Enjoy a bit of pressure, get saturated, turn it into a kind of fun battle without getting too frustrated. Last night I watched a few minutes of an Anime and saw in the opening sequence a character said something about  精神の戦い seishin no tatakai.

which is basically a ‘war of the mind’. I only learned 精神 maybe two days ago. It is only by learning these words and being exposed can we hear them in speech or retrieve them. 

Remember i’m writing these posts in the midst of everything i’m learning and gaining. I know it will take more time before my brain processes “everything”, but the process is starting.

I’ve written about Brain Power X. Where the brain ‘does its own thing’ once you feed it enough data. I don’t know why 精神 せいしん is a word that my brain immediately picked up instead of others, but that’s just the process. As you keep going the brain will hold on to all the data you prioritize, especially when you start prioritizing retrievals, meaning you make an effort to say certain words and phrases.

But how do we balance it all? Now that we know we have this large task ahead, how do we organize all the data.

That’s in the next post. Developing a Super Memory Pt. 2

 

 

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The True Challenge [New Year Update]

Process is hardly glamorous. Results are

Happy new year everyone. Wanted to post this quickly before the first month of the year is over. Extreme life challenges have made a lot of my research difficult or unusually cumbersome, but I’ve pressed on and been able to properly go into another phase of my research involving vocabulary.

The thing is when you are designing a workflow that involves literally thousands and thousands of data points, the biggest hurdle (as I keep mentioning) is perceptual. There is no way to figure out what works (or doesn’t) until you test at scale. This means you’ll have to grind through a few hundred iterations of whatever you are testing before you find a “rhythm”.

This is important to note because the level of focus and discipline this requires is quite high. In fact, my emphasis over the last several months in the majority of my articles is that the true ‘obstacle’ to most of what one wants tends to be mental. Pretty much every hurdle i’ve face over the last few months are due to high physical stress (health issues), high psychological stress (life issues) and then high mental demand for this project (research and development). Something has to give and I can’t always be 100% on point mentally AND do Herculean feats, the brain and body just can’t handle it.

However this is not a defeatist message. I’ll post more detailed information on my Phase II research, but just like learning the Kanji quickly, there isn’t much to to process itself (it works) it was really just organizing the data and creating a routine that’s designed to massively self-reinforce a little beyond just flashcards. Because I look at this as training, I am not as bothered by the “grunt work” involved in compiling thousands of cards, because the very action of putting cards together is giving me an exposure to the very words i’m memorizing.

In fact, I really understand that so many of these types of processes reveal to you more of who you are, not just what you are trying to learn. Your why has to be extreme to navigate the various things that life can throw at you while trying to learn new information. This is overlooked to a very high degree in pretty much all language learning based correspondence i’ve seen. No one really talks about “real life” and how to balance the extreme psychological demands of language learning relative to that. Sure we need strategies to learn faster and revise better, but we also need intense, workable strategies to keep you going, because some things happened that truly threatened me finishing this project (despite my INCREDIBLE achievements in a short period of time).

Either way, more to come.

cheers

 

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Dealing With Inevitable Stress pt.2

Throwback from my Japan days

The best counter for any ideas that impede on a goal you want is to make your goal more vibrant, visual and exciting in your own mind. You have to be able to taste it on your tongue (regardless of what level you are), you have to be able to get excited and fantasize about the possibility of where you might end up, because this gives you a lot of fuel for the varied and repetitive tasks needed to become advanced in a language. You won’t enjoy all of it, but you can make a lot of it fun, or work knowing that what you are doing is getting your closer to an exciting goal.

What i’m going to talk about here is building this fantasy world in your brain. In the same way memorization drastically improved by building a variety of stimulating connections to what you are remembering, we can think about our overall goal in the same way. Think of your eventual goal like its own little universe, where you have all these things you want to see and do, quests you want to embark on and things you want to find and discover. The goal must not be too basic (no motivation) and it must also not feel like it is absolutely beyond you (futile). You need to project large enough where it feels a little uncomfortable but not scary enough to make you stop. In my last post, I spoke about the inevitable occurrence of stress that happens in a massive project like this and a three step process to start shifting that energy and assess where you are and use that as a means to get out of the funk and get excited again. This breaks down the “excited” part.

Set Your Primary Goal

This is the primary goal. The primary goal is usually set based on where you perceive to be (which is fine) and usually broadens/adjusts as you gain more ability in the language. For me initially I said “what if I can play Zelda: Breath of The Wild” in Japanese? It seemed like good starting point, but it didn’t have enough ‘legs’ for all the demands of the language. Zelda is just one game and i’m not going to spend 6 months of hardcore learning just for one game am I? Remember this is 2021 and I’m in Jamaica. For the foreseeable future I won’t be able to travel anywhere (including Japan) and I didn’t feel like making goals about travel (if i couldn’t do it) or anything involving foreign territories if I couldn’t go there. However, you sort of need to have some goals like this to get strong “legs”, as I’ll show you below.

So questions like: What if I went back to Tokyo speaking fluent Japanese? What if i could comfortably play video games in Japanese? What if I made some Jamaican based vlogs in Japanese? What if I made some music in Japanese (I’m wear a musician’s hat also). These three things alone have dozens of components that can all give me ‘legs’ so to speak that support the overall goal.

To keep this goal super exciting and visual, I can expand a bit on each of these just to stimulate my mind as I’m working through the day to day repetitive tasks. Let’s do the first item: For each item, we can do a  few things

1.  We as a question relative to what we want to do with our language ability once we get it.

What if I went back to Japan/Tokyo speaking fluent Japanese? 

There are so many things to play with here. I could make vlogs around town, “SHOPPING IN HARJUKU 2022!” or try and speak to people on the street in Japanese. How about shooting a music video in Tokyo, with a song I made in Japanese? That would be cool. Who would I meet? Where would I go? What would happen being in the country with the language ability? Bars and cafe’s would change, the friends I already  have there (who are fluent) could introduce me to people and I wouldn’t be lost or awkward. The entire experience would be so different and thrilling. Just typing this sparked dozens of images in my mind. Me talking to people, making vlogs, chit-chatting, comfortable, maybe even i’d try and hit up some big YouTube types in Japan and collab, who knows! A goal like this provides a lot of reasons to finish the goal. I’m not saying i’m planning to go to Tokyo in 2022 (it would be nice, but i’m waiting until Travel becomes a bit more standardized and I don’t need a ten inch Qtip shoved up my nose to just exit the airport). But just this ‘idea’ jut like my fantasy about Germany gave me so much fuel.

2. Now we can play with it visually.

One of the coolest things about the internet is that we can really “travel” elsewhere without having to go there physically. If you haven’t seen ” walking tour videos”, tons of countries have videos where a person is walking through a city or town in Italy, Berlin or Tokyo. Sometimes people narrate in your target language. To me there is no better way to now massively reinforce your mental ideas with the sights and sounds of your target country that you experience. I can take a “virtual walk” through Tokyo and remind myself of what I want to do if I go there in 2022 or 2023. I can take a walk through Berlin and fantasize a bit more about my German and so on. The point it, this makes what you are trying to do feel very real. This is different from watching media and skipping through pictures. Slip on some headphones and spend ten minutes there. Feel the area, look at the people and see yourself doing what they are doing. When I go back to studying words and sentences, I will be doing them fully saturated with these ideas spinning around in my subconscious mind. I know that every word I learn, every second spend listening to my immersion and every grammar pattern I practice is taking me closer to that goal.

3. Active Fantasy in your free time

Now that we’ve asked ourselves these questions and we can now step into our territory “In this case Japan”, we can really work on generating this feeling. As I said in the previous article, for some reason in December 2018, I just had this vision about speaking German and I had this very strong set of visuals that stayed with me for months on end. I ‘felt it’ to such an extent it confused me. I had no plans to go to Germany at the time. I wasn’t dating any German girls (or seeking any), in fact, I hadn’t any intentions to learn any language. But this fantasy feeling kept me going quite a bit (and I didn’t have half of the research I have now ). This goes back to wanting it REALLY, REALLY, REALLY badly. Not so much that it is a source of discomfort, but on of continuous, relaxed excitement. When I was learning German unlike other disastrous attempts to learn French, I was constantly curious. I liked learning new words, making small gains and testing my theories. I was very calm throughout the process and just said to myself “I will get there.” My research let me know what was supposed to happen, and I just had to test it. When I watched German media the fantasies activated themselves. I would see myself in the country, walking around, speaking the language, meeting people, making vlogs etc. I must emphasize that I wasn’t particularly happy during this period (nor was I depressed) but I wasn’t where I am now in terms of my personal perspective on these things. This is why I know it works, because there are some core activities that carried a lot of weight despite some of my research based limitations. They carried me psychologically, which I realized is THE most important aspect of language acquisition second to methodology and strategy.

I’ve lived in Japan before, so for me tapping into that visual arsenal is a different kettle of fish but it doesn’t matter. Nothing beats the imagination. An interesting thing about the brain (as studies have shown ) is that the more you imagine you are good at something, the better you start to get at it. By studying Japanese, the act of imagining you are becoming fluent with your work engages the brain’s secret ability to enhance its own learning and perception of it. 

4. Fantasy and Specificity

By tapping into this, you basically ‘reset’ your stress relative to the goal you want. What you want has to be big, bold and exciting. You can’t just “kinda want to chat to people, or watch some anime with subs on.” For most people, you’ll never handle what I call an “Elite” learning routine with those types of goals. Say you want to “chat to people” versus “interview people about their fashion on the street”.

These goals once you get more specific become measurable. Interviewing people requires knowing how to ask questions and also being comfortable expression your own (and counter ) opinions. Interview people about fashion requires a knowledge of fashion vocabulary, more descriptive adjectives, street slang and so on. The deeper you go into the goal the more exciting it can become. Have these broad goals keeps you curious, which is what is even more valuable than method. If you find yourself having no issue pausing a video to check a word, or trying to say something in your mind and then translating it in an AI to see if you were close, then you are curious which means you aren’t bored and you are active.

Getting specific with your fantasy also reveals the things you actually want to do, versus what you think you want to do. I say this because even though my original goal was to play a game (Zelda) in Japanese, I realized that the idea of playing the game excited me, but what I really like is vibing with people, making videos and so on. My passions over the years have been writing, design and film. I just never thought about these things relative to Japanese. In my mind, as the goal expands I start to see more of how these things can overlap (as my ability increases). So let’s make a hypothetical scenario:

TOKYO 2022

Let’s say I make a goal to go to Tokyo in late or mid 2022. I want to speak fluent Japanese, make vlogs, wild out and resurrect my previous “Jamaican in Japan brand”. This is broad. Let’s make it more narrow: I’ll pick topics of interest I can focus on

A) lifestyle B) fashion C) Scene

A – Places to review: Ginza, Harjuku, Daikanyama, Tokyo Tower, Rickshaw, Robot store, etc.

B – Fashion stores, hip districts, going shopping at a store and vlogging it, collab with afriend/influencer and get it poppin

C -Scene -parties, night life. Journeyman videos similar to what I did when I was in Japan just next level. More language, more flirting with girls, hanging with cool people etc.

BREAKING DOWN A (simply)

  1. Vlog at Harujuku fashion district and chat to ten people asking them about their fashion style (in Japanese). Use trendy language, try and be humorous and really have my pronunciation and comfort at a high level. Sound really pera pera.
  2. Do a street photography vlog and document the process of shooting people in Tokyo.
  3. Message 20 stores, tell them i’m a Jamaican Youtube and musician and ask if I can come to their store and make a video (in Japanese of course)

—- what’s happening here is that my future desire is becoming unusually real. Down to the smells and details. Subconscious triggers are being activated and built. My deep inner self is now ready to work even harder at my goal. But this doesn’t just have to be about Tokyo. Tokyo is a BIG goal, which gives it more “legs” and “something to sink your teeth into”. You want your goal to be big, because the brain LOVES big. The brain loves anything that allows it to imagine more.

—- now when i’m doing my revisions and training I can start putting in elements that help me to get where I want to be. I learn fashion terms and common phrases. I still go after my 5,000 word count but make a lot of the sentences fun or interesting or question oriented. I prepare for my speaking phase and spend a lot of time sharpening what I see in my own mind.

—- this type of active fantasy, you’ve heard about it in so many human stories. Emotion, visuals, smells and sounds, even those you haven’t experienced yet are the core things that drive us to do amazing things. What this does is also help to eradicate a lot of mental blocks and really get you back in gear if you feel like you are falling off the wagon.

Fantasy and Action

Action will take 98% of your time. Fantasy can drop into the little gaps of time. Watch a movie set in Tokyo and see yourself there using the language, or even in your local town chatting to some Japanese people there. By studying this language you are on fire and fantasy are the drops of gasoline you drop into the furnace to give it some kick if the fire starts to cool off. Fantasy allows you to experience being where you want to be, at a stage of advanced ability before you even learn one word. When you start gaining massive momentum (the stage i’m at now) you will feel pressure because you still have a lot fo work, but it is THIS STAGE where the snowball effect begins to happen. 

I’ve charted this with German and its happening in the same manner with Japanese. It takes around the same time as well. Life challenges have made motivation tricky, but again, Fantasy starts to give the “vibes back”, like Austin Powers you find the Mojo.

Once you get that, you’ll be very equipped to deal with the stress that comes, take a breath and keep moving.

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Dealing With Inevitable Stress pt.1

“Is this really worth it?”

Hey guys, definitely need to make a note here. I’ve finally crossed a barrier of what I call “perceptual stress” . This is specifically:

the state where despite all goals achieved thus far, the sheer demands of the language appear to be ‘too much’ for you to learn and your motivation starts to waver. 

Its a challenge i’ve faced before, but understand exactly how to overcome it and am making a note in realtime for these purposes.

Language Acquisition and General Stress

What i’ve learned over time that in life, a lot of stress is just simply that. Stress. It generally has nothing to do with your learning ability or the supposed ‘likelihood of your success’. Sometimes we are stressed because of work, personal problems, family issues and a world of other things that have nothing to do with learning our target language. You see, language acquisition is quite possibly the most intense task one can undertake, even casually. When your general stress is high, often language learning becomes “harder”, because its baseline requirements are high amounts of energy, attention, time, organization and focus. These activities are not necessarily stressful, but have their own levels of ‘stress’ (physical, mental, etc).  So if your general stress level is very high, your routine with language learning can also by proxy get quite high. When your stress gets nuclear, this is when you might start to think everything is “not worth it” and stop, despite all the gains you’ve made. What i’ve done to get past this is below:

Three Steps to Restart Your Brain when Stressed

  1. Take A Breath

I take a breath. I assess my present reality and really gauge my day to day activities, what’s bothering me and how i’m feeling in my spirit. Am I feeling lonely? Bored, isolated or are certain tasks and projects uninspiring and draining? What’s my general outlook? Once I get a sense of that I usually identify how i’m feeling generally, and most of the time whatever is bothering me is either physical (health issues) or life stuff (family, personal). Once I’ve figured out the basic issue I make some simple modifications in my day to day and ensure to plan a few out of the norm activities, call a friend, plan to go somewhere, just anything to break the cycle i’m mentally in.

 

2. Re-assess Your TRUE progress

I go back to my “top down view” and re-asses where I am and remind myself of what I’ve actually done. In this case, sometimes what gets tough for me specifically, is going through grammar patterns. I don’t have any issue perceptually believing I can learn thousands of words, but my mind always struggles with grammar because I know it requires training yourself to not just memorize these patterns on paper, but hear them in speech. Grammar is also very context heavy, so when my brain does the math it starts to try its best to avoid another intense, stressful task. However there are a few things in my mind now that activate when this happens. We can call them “motivation backup systems”. Firstly, I’ve already crossed this barrier with another language (German). I remember being at the exact perceptual hurdle point thinking it was “too much grammar” and my brain started to hurt etc. So I know this isn’t impossible. I remind myself of exactly what the process is, which only has two components, time and consistent effort. This effort doesn’t have to be “extreme”, just consistent. On a subconscious level, I’ve always struggled believing that getting really, really good at Japanese wasn’t something I could do, (obviously I don’t think that now) but a lot of those old feelings can get triggered by high stress.

Put this this way: At minimum for this process I need to learn: 2,136 Kanji, 600+ grammar  patterns (which have their own contexts etc) and a minimum of 5,000 words. Taking each of these as 1 items to story in memory, these are 7,736 items to store in the brain in a short period of time. Short I define as 4.5 to 6 months. As I’ve demonstrated, massive amounts of data can be learned in very short periods (2,136 Kanji in 8-10 weeks) so there isn’t an issue with data, but the perception of the data. I expected this to happen and knew i’d have to mentally navigate the space (as this type of feeling doesn’t last long). So looking at where I really am:

I’ve memorized 2,136 Kanji and I know about 2,000 words. I’ve learned N5 and about 50% of N4 grammar so about 170 patterns. I’ve had a delay because I have to build a database to test  a new method(I think this was worrying me because I feared ‘being to slow’), but generally speaking i’m doing well.

My total goal is: 7,736 data points to memorize. I’m currently at: 4,306. That’s 55% of my overall goal in around 4 months. So even though I’ve hit a major stress point, my progress generally speaking is incredible, particularly because during this time i’ve been dealing with significant health challenges. 

TRUE progress pt. 2

I then took a look at my ability relative to where I was in August. in August whatever I watched was “mostly noise”, I couldn’t read any Kanji and I just knew a handful of grammar expressions and common phrases. Last night before going to sleep I watched an episode on this YouTube channel called “SeikinTV” where these two really interesting guys bought a ton of expensive stuff on Amazon and gave it one of the guy’s mother as a christmas gift. These are native speakers, speaking rapidly, joking around and so on. I followed the episode pretty well and generally knew what was going on and what they were talking about. A lot of words, expressions and phrases were very clear and a lot I could figure out from context. Any words that came on screen I could read. I can’t read these words that quickly (yet) but I didn’t pause the video when words flashed up, but I knew the Kanji and some words I could read quickly, some I couldn’t’. Here’s the thing, I couldn’t do this just a few months ago. I wouldn’t be able to sit and “handle” two native speakers chatting and Joking etc. In the same way I remember watching a German TV series and almost having a panic attack because of my lack of comprehension, I was so shocked when I moved from that state, to being able to understand rapidly spoken speech (which comes from hundreds of hours of listening). The process is the same from language to language. You can set your watch to it. It is very challenging, but doable. It doesn’t take much longer at this point, to study a few thousand words and then experience what I called a “comprehension quantum leap”. Right now i’m at that point where i’m following what people talk about and things feel “2 or 3 steps ahead” (this is a great place to be). Once you start ‘catching up’ as it were, you’ve gone to a new level. The fact that I can sort of “dip into” Japnase Youtube without too much trouble shows where my brain has reached, as least from a phonetic saturation point. It has no issues with the syllables and prosody of speech, I just don’t know that many words yet. But knowing my “TRUE progress” allowed me to take another breath and realize that my efforts were leading somewhere, and that in another 6-8 weeks I’d have such an explosion of ability it would all be worth it.

Once I made this reassessment, I went to my third step, goal revision.

Working through grammar, doing immersion and keeping things together.

3. Revise Your Overall Goal

What really happens during a process like this is that you get challenged not just by the language, but by your spirit. Why do you want this? I’ve found out a few things on my journeys studying five languages with varying success:

you need to REALLY, REALLY, REALLY want it. 

A casual attitude won’t get you to fluency or through the hundreds or thousands of hours of listening you need to do, or all the practice to master hundreds of grammar patterns and so on. The more you want it, the easier the repetitive tasks get. The more you get excited with small wins. The more your leaps begin to excite you for the final destination. My original goal was “to be able to play Zelda: Breath of The Wild” in Japanese, but I quickly realized that goal wasn’t large enough by any stretch of the imagination. Being able to play that game in Japanese would me I definitely had advanced ability, but its just one game. Japanese is a language with literally thousand of applications.

I’ve barely done Youtube for the last 2 years (wasn’t into it) but say I wanted to make videos here in Jamaica speaking Japanese, or German if the vibe hit me. That might be unique and interesting. Imagine reviewing places in Japanese in Jamaica. That’s trippy! Obviously my spoken Japanese would need to be pretty good or at least functional to start that process but more importantly it might be fun. Another one is what if I tried to visit Tokyo (if the world ever opens up again lol) and I could go to Japan, this time armed with fluent Japanese? It would probably be a mind-blowing experience relative to where I was when I lived there previously (with no significant Japanese language ability). There are many other goals that can guide this process, but I’ve found the more vivid and fantastical it becomes, the easier the process is to go through. When I wanted to study German (for my third attempt) I had a huge epiphany. In my article How To do ‘Impossible’ Things in ‘Impossible’ Timeframes I go through what got me really primed to learn German and handle everything psychologically. Instead of just “wanting to learn German” what happened was I had this fantasy (who knows where it came from) about living and being in Germany. I saw myself in Berlin, chatting German, enjoying the countryside and exploring a different side of the language. 2020 came and derailed those plans, but I remember it was so vivid and clear that it guided me through quite a few months of heavy work (until inevitable frustration kicked in). But this core idea, fantasy or dream that is vast, expansive and colorful with many moving parts is one of the best things to guide you. The more you can see it and feel it, the more your process and small wins, growth and steps forward become more real to you and the goal feels closer and closer.

So questions like: What if I went back to Tokyo speaking fluent Japanese? What if i could comfortably play video games in Japanese? What if I made some Jamaican based vlogs in Japanese? What if I made some music in Japanese (I’m wear a musician’s hat also). These three things alone have dozens of components that can all give me ‘legs’ so to speak that support the overall goal.

I’ll break that down in the next article, to build the visual world of the goal:

 

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How To Use Videogames To Gauge Ability

ゼルダの伝説 Zelda no Densetsu (Legend of Zelda)

Today was a pretty exciting day for me for super nerdy reasons. I finally received a copy of Zelda: Breath of the Wild that i’d got at a discount on Black Friday. I’ve mentioned before on this blog that one of my goals for this Japanese project was to be able to play Breath of The Wild in Japanese as one of my “high tier goals”, because doing that means I’d probably need to hit that coveted 5,000 word mark and have an N2 level of grammatical awareness at minimum. I’ve greatly emphasized that what carries you through all the hard work these things take has to be a very large goal. A goal that feels well out of reach, but not impossible. So I didn’t say “Become a simultaneous Japanese translator in 6 months” (lol).

Even though I figured out that playing Zelda is not the ultimate goal, that is to say, I realized that I needed other supplementary goals, I got very excited just ordering the game. I know i’m not at the level where I can play the game “smoothly” yet but it still excited me. The game is now a token of sorts, reminding me of what I’m aiming for.

You see the last two weeks have been quite challenging, not because of any personal problems or life stuff really (though they are there), but just the constant demand of a large goal like this eventually can wear down on you. It doesn’t matter how much progress i’ve made, how many words i’m studying, or if my Japanese is improving. You need a way at some point to really ENJOY what you are doing, and find ways to constantly measure rewards.

In this article I talk at length about these types of goals and their importance because you can’t escape the weight of what’s waiting for you. You see, even though I learned all 2,136 Jouyou Kanji and I’m starting the process of learning words, just looking at my list of 5,000 high frequency words day after day sometimes makes me feel a bit stressed out. I know I can do it, I know I have the methodology, but the sheer demand of the work (after a few months of really grinding out the Kanji) is challenging. My mind is saying to me “Do you really want this?” It is this feeling that made me make sure to get Breath of The Wild when I saw it on sale on Amazon. It makes ZERO sense to commit to mastering the Kanji and having anything derail that momentum.

I’ve been here before with other endeavors and this is where the pressure can lead you to stop. It feels like “too much”, there are “too many words”, “how will I learn it all” and so on. But remember. Just three months ago, I said “How can I learn all 2,136 fully memorized? A task that takes a dedicated learner 2-5 years?” Impossible is what I eat for breakfast. (Okay I don’t really say that lol). These questions do no represent doubt to me, (at least not anymore). It is an inevitable call from the body for a little bit of respite. I’ve found that you can’t just go hardcore 24 hours a day (which I ensure NOT to do), but even a very well-balanced schedule and hitting high goals fast requires a little time to blow off steam before another super hardcore endeavor.

I realized I was stuck in a research and implementation loop, but I wasn’t really “enjoying” or “using” my Japanese yet. To give you an idea of what i’m doing, I’m presently, creating what I call a series of “comprehension loops” that allow me to super revise all my target words (per 100) up to the list of 5,000 i’m studying. This takes a lot of energy and is taking far more time and energy than I had anticipated. I really wanted to just dive into my words and hit that next level, but the only way to really test my theory (as I did with the Kanji learning) is to do the research properly. (Note: it’s already working, its just a LOT of data to go through).

The Video Game Gauge

When I studied German, my turning point for getting very comfortable with reading general text (game menus, articles, tweets) was when I crossed the 3,000 word mark. I’m probably at the 2,000 mark now with Japanese, but I haven’t started training these words yet (more on that later), so I know that if I try and play games, I’ll get stuck too often to get value from sitting and translating what i’m reading. Meaning, I can read a lot of what i’m seeing, even understand a good bit of it, but the ratio of words I don’t know or are familiar with to those I don’t is too currently high to fully enjoy the process.

When I decided to play some video games in German, I knew about 4,500 words, which was enough to stay in a comfortable 85-90% comprehension range. I didn’t know everything, because games use weird speech and often make characters say things in a funny way, or use unusually expressive and flowery words to describe places and things. So I know already that you need to be able to “navigate” to “enjoy”. Because I’m doing research, it isn’t always that much fun. To “Switch things up” as a test I set my Nintendo Switch Lite’s system language to Japanese to play some Breath of the Wild in Japanese to really get a sense of where I am.

The home menu read “press A to continue”

After passing the home screen when the game popped up I saw that it read:

ゼルダの伝説 (zeruda no densetsu) – Legend of Zelda

I thought it was pretty cool reading that. I didn’t know what “legend” (伝説)was in Japanese (hadn’t learned it yet), but its very cool to be able to read the word with no issues. Obviously in this case, “ZERUDA NO DENSETSU” would obviously mean legend. So I played the game a bit and saw that the characters were really small near impossible to read. This was a concern of mine (because reading English in games on Nintendo Switch Lite can be a nightmare I couldn’t even begin to fathom the drama that Japanese games would bring) and I saw on the internet there was a “zoom mode”.

So I jumped into the system menu (still in Japanese) and started looking for the zoom mode. The menus are the same from language to language, so I went down to the bottom, seeing “本体” which is hontai, ‘body of a machine’ aka ‘system’ and there saw gamennozumu  画面のズーム ”screen zoom” and enabled the mode.

Then the light bulb went off. I was reminded me that what i was doing was working. It reminded me that the effort was leading somewhere, and that sometimes when we are stuck in the learning phase, we can stray a bit from that mentally. I was reminded that 90 days ago, I could do none of this! 

Despite getting drained a bit by doing “research” and “going off the path a bit”, true innovation is always challenging, but you need a way to see where you are relative to where you were. The huge side benefit of spending  2 hours a day making little essays (as part of my current research) creates an astonishing ease and familiarity with written Japanese. I used to get very tense when I saw Japanese words and menus, because again, I thought “this is impossible”, but when you can easily read through them, or read the words (even if you don’t know them) you have a very powerful psychological advantage. You “see” where you are going and you “see” what your efforts (and future efforts) will give you once you continue. I hadn’t set my Switch to Japanese this entire time (I hadn’t really been playing it either way) and I had no issues reading the menu items. My main concern was that because I have a Nintendo Switch Lite, I’d struggle with reading the characters.

I played through some of the game, and didn’t really have a ton of issues reading through some stuff, but I was stuck at lots of words I didn’t know (which I predicted). My mission isn’t to slog through Zelda with a dictionary in my hand inch by inch. I want to be able to start figuring out words in context and enjoy both the game and the learning. So I know that’s probably another five to six weeks away, but its still a pretty cool feeling. As soon as I started playing the game, I just said to myself you are encountered words and grammar patterns you’ve never seen or read before, so you can’t expect to know them.

I can slowly read the words i’m seeing, but i’d still have to look them up. So it is obviously AWESOME that I can read the words, but I knew from day one that learning to read the words was the first step to training vocabulary. Playing through this video game at my current word level would not serve me. My time would be better spend training thousands of words and coming back with a bit more vocabulary muscle. In other words, if I was to spend 2 hours playing Zelda and learn maybe 30 random words, these would be words that I wouldn’t be able to know if they are antiquated (rarely used), or common (high frequency). This means that net benefit of this activity at this level has a lower value.  There is no value (for me at this stage) spending 2 hours learning words that relate to Fantasy and beasts and lore when those 2 hours could be spent exposing myself to 100 high frequency words in a list i’m working through, words that take me bit by bit to that 5,000 word exposure mark, which results in 98% comprehension of all written and spoken text (Nation, 1991).

You might think i’m being nitpicky, saying “just play the game! enjoy yourself!” In reality, I’m not being picky at all. Playing a game like Zelda in Japanese is NOT EASY or FUN if you have difficulty progressing through the game. Remember that for me, Zelda is one of my end goals. I set the parameters. I set the bar pretty high. I said “To play this game, I’ll probably need N2 grammatical awareness at minimum.” How do I know this? I made a rough guessitmation based on normal data:

I know that an N2 level Japanese requires the following:

A knowledge of around 6,000 words, 500 grammar points and 1,000 Kanji. At the time of this writing, I’m familiar with about 2,000 words, know 2,136 Kanji, 200+ grammar patterns and I’ve had about 500+ hours of listening immersion with native material. At an N2 level, it would be a bit impossible for me not to be able to play this game comfortably. Aiming this “high” also sets up by proxy, the potential for sharp conversational skills, advanced reading ability and so on.

You might ask, well why not just aim for N1 level then?

Why not N1?  and Final Thoughts

I’m not studying here to take an exam, which is a completely different process and approach. As well know there are people who pass these high level exams that can’t even speak Japanese properly (or at the N1) level. My approach is based on data sets, and I just used these levels to be able to guage where I will “most likely be” ability wise within a certain time frame. My personal timeline was to see where I could reach in 4.5-6 months (with time for research in between). Based on the numbers I said N2 looked doable. N1 requires a knowledge of around 10,000 words and another 200 grammar points, so I just set N2 as the primary gauge. Also, depending on how you study, there are aspects of these “tests” that you may already possess. For example, I know 2,136 Kanji, which is an N1 requirement. After learning 5,000 words and all the grammar patterns I might actually be closer to ‘N1’, than ‘N2’. To me it doesn’t really matter, because its just data. My approach is looking at this like ‘training, and it is a LOT of data to train.

In this process we have to work on memorization, production and recognition in such a way that it all coalesces into our advanced comprehension of the language. This only comes from exposure and efficient methodologies. Research has shown me that once you are familiar with thousands of words, the grammar part kind of starts to organize itself and takes MUCH less time to learn. So aiming for N1 is possible but just looking at the data and what it requires, i’ll have to see. What’s interesting about grammar that i’ve learned is that it isn’t usually ‘hard’ in the sense that most of the time it is just a work placed somewhere to convey something else. Sometimes you have to do certain conjugations and what not, but these partners mirror over time and become easy to add to new data. Mastering things incrementally setups up faster mastery at higher levels. If you really lock down N3 and N2, N1 isn’t going to be impossible, it will just take time and practice. Eventually I’ll write a post about ‘N1 level’ and what it really represents. But for this last part of the post, Let me remind you:

I learned 2,136 Kanji in 90 days and am now preparing to expose myself to 5,000 words (with some new methods) in 6 weeks. During this 6 weeks I also will be working to expose myself to around an N2 level of grammar by embedding the grammar in my study materials. This means the overall process to N2 (excluding research time) is about 4.5 months. Giving a little leeway of 1.5 months for incidental stuff (life) a 6 months stretch to super ability isn’t too far away.

There is no massive shortcut to these first 5,000 words. There is no real shortcut to N2 or N1. I’m creating a system to train everything I encounter, but I can’t ‘shortcut it’ or ‘hack it’ because its just tons and tons of data i’ve never seen. It is TIRING and also exciting and a true test of mental grit and ability. You need to want this, badly. You have to wake up wanting it, wanting those new words, wanting that recognition. You have to want it like water. 

Okay that’s it for today! Cheers

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Vocabulary Phase Notes: Revision Transfer

One of my word lists

 

Okay so I’m presently tightening up my research around vocabulary acquisition for my phase II push. This phase will set me up for reading, advanced listening comprehension and also it will slowly trickle in grammar (of my choosing) that i’ll do gradually up to a N2 level for a data set of 5,000 words over 6-8 weeks.

In my initial research before memorizing the 2,136 Kanji needed to really start this journey, I knew that I would have to “transfer” the momentum of my activities into a new framework in phases. Phase I I call the Mastering Kanji phase and Phase II is the Vocabulary phase.

To get the sort of results I have in such a short time requires not just efficient methods, but quite a lot of revision. Each day while doing my memorization activities, I ensured to  wrote 1,000+ Kanji from my lists as a part of my revision activities. I did this every day for quite some time(months). Since my goal was ‘mastery’ of the Kanji, I knew putting in this type of work was necessary. I also knew that this work was only for phase I, and designed to complement phase II. So it was important for me to understand psychologically that the hard work and rockstar revision was only leading me to Phase II, and it is Phase II that would really start to activate the language. 

So I said to myself “How do I keep the 2,136 Kanji ‘fresh’ while starting to learn word compounds?”

Firstly, learning words at a good pace 100-200 per day will ensure you’ll encounter a lot of your Kanji. Since all the words are composed of all these Kanji, studying the words means you will encounter your target Kanji. But, since it takes time to learn words and memorizing them, there is no guarantee which Kanji you will see and when relative to the lists you are studying with. 

A good example is, if i’m learning English as a second language and I have a dictionary in my hand. I know the dictionary has the words “catharsis”, “epiphany”, “conundrum” and “replicate” somewhere in its pages. But when will I hear these words, see these words, or even read these words? The answer is you don’t know. Only by creating the encounters for these words can be ensure we keep them fresh in our mind. 

You see, we aren’t just working with methods here, we want to make sure we don’t get psychologically overwhelmed by questioning reaching our eventual goal. In my experience thus far, I’ve found that looking on what I’m doing with a little math in mind, let’s me know where I will most likely end up.

The internet is filled with all sorts of ‘hacks’ and ‘how tos’ and ‘learn these verbs first’ or ‘learn this 100 words’ or learn this ‘1000 words’ etc. Let’s called each of these things ‘data sets’. All these data sets can take weeks or months to learn and master and there is no guarantee what this small data set will give you in return. But based on true research generally if we know 5000 words in our target language we will be able to process and understand 98% of all spoken and written words (Nation, 1990.) If we know 3000 words, we will have a similar ability, but more in the 85-90% region of recognition and understanding.

This means that at minimum we must know around 3,000 words just to navigate the language properly. Don’t worry if this seems like a ‘lot’, because here’s the cool thing. This data sets covers ALL the verb, adjectives and general words you’d learn in smaller lists or data sets. Learning all of them systematically solves the problem of what to approach and when. You know learning these give you 85-90% recognition of all written and spoken text and 5,000 gives you access to 98%. Therefore, you don’t really need another goal. I am not saying this is easy, but the end result is predictable. For example, when learning German and passing the 3,000 word study mark, I was quite surprised at how easy sentences became to read, since the majority of all sentences are vocabulary words, not grammar. Knowing this ‘minimum’ also saves you a lot of drama mentally. A dedicated student can work on 100-200 words a day and hit the first 3,000 in a month, and 5,000 in 6 weeks with a max of 8 weeks (with methods i’ll go into in another post). So how does this all tie into revision transfer? We will see below.

The Limits of Revision

As I’ve said before, Japanese children, or children in any country learning their native language, have the luxury of a long, staggered period of acquisition. Japanese children take about a decade to learn over 1,000 Kanji, spending all that time fully immersed in their language. Kids have the advantage of time. We do not. When we attempt to circumvent time, we require a more active form of revision. A young Japanese child might see 商品屋 on a building and be unable to write the Kanji, but know it means “goods store”. Or they’ll see 図書館 and know its ‘library’ without being familiar with the Kanji. In their lives, they’ll have thousands of references to these words in film, books, conversations, movies and other interactions. We can’t do the same thing, which presents a specific situation relative to our methodology. The shorter the timeframe you attempt to do this, the steeper the requirements of your revision. To some writing 1,000 Kanji per day might seem ‘extreme’ but how else can I shorten 10 years of familiarity with words and characters I’ve never seen. This also means, when moving into Phase II, the vocabulary phase, it will require a very rigid form of revision to ensure that we prioritize the acquisition of all this information. As i’ve said time and again, we are strategically navigating the mind and allowing the brain to prioritize our new tasks and accept this new information in a way that is just below stressful (that ensure we are consistent) but not too simple, so the brain doesn’t prioritize it. Once I truly understood this. I mean truly understood this, things became very clear.

TRUTH A

I cannot expect amazing results without very consistent and disciplined revision of a certain nature. 

I also realized:

TRUTH B

I must be aware of the complete data set i’m attempting to learn and create a way of systematically encountering calculable portions of the data on a daily basis so I can track my progress.

I feel that about 80% of this entire journey is psychological, and it is core rules like this that allow me to consistently to the receptive tasks needed to really “pressure my studying” or really work at it. To properly memorize 2,136 Kanji requires them to be seen and used a lot. This might seem obvious and in a way it is. But how do we calculate a time to memorization for such a large data set? This is what the internet generally cannot tell you. People will say it “takes a long time”, or “it might take a year up to three years” just to memorize the Kanji. This is where my research gave me perspective, because I know it can be done in 8-12 weeks, not years. The ‘Two Truths’ came into play before I started my journey.

TRUTH A – just ‘looking at Kanji flashcards’ was not being ‘familiar’ with them. I didn’t just want to recognize them and ‘maybe’ remember them. I committed to writing a certain number daily (during the memorization phase). From a program called Glossika, the found describe retrieving a sentence from memory as a ‘rep’. For my studies I use the same terminology, though I call what I do a ‘retrieval’, versus a ‘rep’. I consider any retrieval of data from the memory consciously as a repetition. Based Glossika, they said when a person does 25,000 repetitions from memory of speaking they have basic fluency, 50,000 is relative fluency and 100,000 is mastery. I thought these were good gauges and said for my Kanji journey, writing 1,000 Kanji per day was the equivalent of 1,000 ‘retrievals’ from memory. Spending a dedicated amount of time each day retrieving the Kanji from memory with only a trigger word to activate it cannot have a lack of benefit. To that end, I aimed for 100,000 reps as a base to see how things would play out.

TRUTH B – Doing large numbers of reps allowed me to know that I was constantly being saturated with large portions of my data set at a time, or it let me know that I was massively reinforced the data set I had presently learned. I’ll show both examples. Let’s say I’ve learned 500 Kanji out of my 2,136 data set. Working at 35 Kanji per day memorized using what I called the TPK (Time Per Kanji) constant, this takes about an hour and a half. A part of the method involves writing the Kanji 20-35 times after locking down the story. This means a large portion of your ‘daily 1,000’ are mutiple retrievals of the same Kanji. So on the low end that’s 700 Kanji. This means in my revision, I’d write 300 of my most recently learned Kanji (or all 500 if I’m feeling limber). That means for that day i’d revise 60% of all the Kanji I presently know, and that process will repeat itself over and over and over. I’ll constantly be engaging with Kanji and be constantly aware of my data set as it grows in size gradually. 

There were days I didn’t study any Kanji and still did my 1,000 retrievals. This meant that like the example before, say I’d studied 1,000 Kanji exactly, I would have re-exposed myself (and retrieved from memory) all 1,000 Kanji I know, which is 100% of my data set, revised in one day. Multiply this type of activity by 60-90 days and you get literally tens of thousands of reinforcements, revisions and points of mastery. The familiarity you build will become extreme just as a child gets a high familiarity over time. What we are doing is shortcutting the time, so our revision must be very high for a certain period which takes a lot of discipline, but doesn’t require as much time as one thinks.

How This All Ties Up

Now that w’eve gone through that information, it’s pretty simple how it all adds up. The momentum we’ve built by becoming “so familiar” with these Kanji do wonders for our mind psychologically. Look at the image below, which is part of what i’m research and testing as training for Phase II.

 

I couldn’t read this stuff 90 days ago and now I have no issues reading this as part of my phase II. In fact, looking at anything like this (even in the beginning) was bit stressful, but since: I knew that knowing all 2,136 Kanji would eventually make stuff like this a non-issue, I did no reading at all until i’d finished my Kanji as it would be counter productive anyway. I save myself the psychological trouble of worrying about this ability, because I knew my work would get me there. 

So much of our stress is perceptual and in these types of “elite learning strategies” we must also have “elite psychological profiles” to really ignore certain impulses and focus on building core skills. I said to myself I probably won’t be reading anything at speed for 4.5 months at minimum, and i’m fine with that, because once I reach that point, I’ll have no issues. Think of the flip side, where from ‘day one’ i’d be struggling to read with zero knowledge of Kanji, not organization or discipline and i’d eventually burn out. If you think i’m just  weird person for context, remember that I tried over ten years ago to do this and was unsuccessful. I know exactly how it feels to beat yourself up so much psychologically the journey isn’t worth it. Japanese has a barrier of entry regarding the language where we must learn to read it first, THEN implement other strategies. If I was doing this type of hardcore strategy now with French, I believe I could get extreme results in as little as 8 weeks now that I understand what you really need to do each day. But back to Japanese. For me to now transfer this momentum, its going to be a mix of similar actions. High reps done as efficiently as possible in a data set that I stay saturated in. I’m aiming for 5,000 words from a well organized data set already compiled by Kanshudo.com. Those 5,000 words are probably the best 5,000 words you can learn because the smart f0lks over there used lots of programming wizardry to create that data set based on real life data. So there’s no doubt if i’ll encounter these words, just when. But i’ve also taken care of that problem, which is what i’m currently compiling, which takes some time. But i’ve already been “semi-training” some words and I’m having excellent results with what i’m doing. I’m transitioning rapidly from “straight Kanji” to “reading Kanji” in sentences but more importantly, getting used to hearing these new words in speech and reading while using another technique to practice what we know as “retrievals”. I’m still doing some research because if I’m really to master this, I can’t rush it. So my research looks like it will take about 25-30 days to compile some data I need and then i’ll do my push.

Good times ahead, and more to come! Cheers

 

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