Learning without studying, from noise to understanding

I took a big plunge and feel the momentum of my Japanese progression. See, for the last several months i’ve been learning Japanese passively. Meaning, I haven’t been actively studying, speaking more than normal, practicing, listening to Japanese music or reading Japanese books. In fact, because I was passive I gained a new understanding of language learning in general. See, even though I wasn’t engaged in anything one would call active study of Japanese, living in Japan exposes me to Kanji everyday, some kind of Japanese around me. It’s in the convenience stores, on the food labels, on the vending machines, the TV remote, the road, etc. What i realized is that I was learning a lot without studying.

Yes, without studying.

I started to connect the dots in conversation and I surprised myself by my new ability to put words in order that I couldn’t before. My Japanese is by no means good, but in that moment that I realize that my passive learning was making consistent measurable progress, the power of a proper, active system really settled in my head. See, me learning 1000 Kanji using Heisig, half-listening to a few audios and mostly chatting drunken Japanese had gotten me reasonably far. I barely studied grammar ( I was always too stressed ). I didn’t listen to any Japanese music ( I could never find any I liked ) I didn’t watch Japanese movies ( I was too lazy or too frustrated by not understanding anything I was hearing ). I had excuse after excuse. So I gave up (sort of).

But a few weeks ago, after discovering I was able to “sentence mine” in my mind without having done any study I said.

“Holy Bushi balls Batman! If I was REALLY studying i’d move much faster!”

Which takes me to this blog post. The more I saw that little steps in learning Japanese were taking me further than I anticipated, I realize that I could actually do it. I could learn the language. A few days ago, I tried reading a Japanese magazine, and I could actually follow a few sentences without cursing loudly and frightening people around me. I’ve been reading twitter posts from some Japanese savvy followers and kind of understanding what’s going on. I’ve watched my Independence Day DVD so many times I know certain lines by heart.

I realized that I was getting it. The more I saw that my light exposure to language around me was causing me to learn, the more I wanted to increase my exposure. See, in most systems, particulary AJATT, the old adage is to have as much exposure to Japanese as possible. What’s extremely difficult (which I actually wrote about almost a year ago ) is as an adult, listening to stuff you dont’ understand for hours at a time, day in day out, is extremely frustrating and feels quite pointlesss. Multiply that feeling in video games, movies and cheezy music and you have a regular headache on your hands.

Regardless, as time passed, I got exposed anyway. A few hundred hours here a few there, and eventually I didn’t feel so stressed. I remember actually laughing at a Japanese commercial because I understood it…. and I wasn’t studying AT ALL.

So the more I saw my skill building passively, the more I got comfortable with the idea of pumping it up. A year ago going hardcore was impossible in my mind because I had no reference points. No Kanji really, mostly hiragana, a low vocabulary and loads of stress. Now I know a few hundred words, a thousand kanji and an more comfortable in my environment. So, I turned it up.

I tried playing a few video games in Japanese. I’m not there yet, but I spent a good bit of time learning Kanji from the menus, which was actually fun. I switched my Iphone to Japanese a few days ago, and already I’m learning tons. I also switched my operating system to Japanese to keep the immersive environment going.

I bought a few more Japanese movies (The Matrix and Spiderman respecitvely, for quite cheap I might add …. less than 2 bucks US each ) and have it playing as i’m typing this. All I need is some proper, enjoyable Japanese music, and I will have a blanket immersion system (on top of living in Japan.)

This is a great feeling. I’m reading through Death Note book 1, and even though  I have to stop almost each page and look up a word, I understand enough grammar structure to “sort of”know what’s going on. It also helps that I watched the series a few years back and understand the story. I feel like i”m really invested now… buying Manga, wanting to get cool music, watching movies, and shifting away from too much English during the week. We’ll see what happens over the next few weeks as I hop back on my ANKI bandwagon and start SRSing.


About marcusbird

Writer, Designer, Filmmaker
This entry was posted in AJATT, Heisig Method, learning Japanese, marcus bird, milestone and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Learning without studying, from noise to understanding

  1. Paul Nogas says:

    hey Marcus.

    First off thank you for the helpful and inspiring blog. It has really meant a lot to me. I have decided to start something similar and it can be seen at http://canadianlearningjapanese.blogspot.com/ I have made references to you and some critiques and would greatly appreciate it if you could read them when you have the time. I want to make sure I don’t come across as offensive or arrogant towards you. I’m just trying to state my honest opinion so that we may help other language learners in the future.

    Anyways, I hope you like it and who knows, maybe one day we can meet up in Japan and I can buy you a drink as a thank you.

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