I wrote a very long post about my lackluster studying habits which I never posted. I might at some point, to show the contrast in my thinking at times… but I had a recent semi-revelation as it relates to my Japanese study., and what’s called “Learning DNA”. I like Wine Library creator and social media guru Gary Vaynerchuck’s direct, no BS way of talking about things and one of his terms “DNA” as in “What’s your DNA?” has stuck with me recently, and I thought it was a fitting title for this post. You see, learning a language is a very non-linear yet linear process.
As contradicting as that sounds, it means that everyone takes the same straight path to learn a new language, but its quit e non-linear in approaches and methods. Call it a paradox. Somewhere in this “non-linear” space, comes individuals…. and each individual has a certain perception of himself, his abilities, and some of this is learned behaviour, and some of this is built in; DNA.
You know how some people are way more academically curious than others? They don’t listen to “that’s too hard” or “I could never do that”. They just approach things differently because of their DNA? I figure many polygots, including the creator of the AJATT system, are those people with unusual DNA. People that can sit in front of TV playing unintelligible gibberish in a foreign language and still be motivated. People that would put ungodly hours into learning a language in a way that many would call obsessive. But I don’t think its obsession, I definitely think its DNA, and DNA plays a massive role in your approach to a language, but more importantly, your frustration with learning it.
I say this because I know I have that DNA. I call it “beastly DNA”. Basically I think there are people that don’t care about limits, because they never set any for themselves. They focus on the outcome, and the thrill of the chase is the goal they measure against themselves.
For example, I had this idea to write my first novel by the time I was 20. I never hit that goal, but I definitely wrote a novel by the time I was twenty three, and what’s weirder, I had a massive self-imposed challenge I made.
How many pages could I write in a day? I reasoned the more pages I wrote, the faster I would be done. Over a five day period, I wrote one hundred and twenty pages of a manuscript I was working on. At the time, this was just me “beasting it” as I called it, but I didn’t realize that to even do that, was just a part of my DNA. Writing a solid twenty pages a day isn’t impossible, but 99.9% of people don’t, its not in their DNA.
As it relates to learning, this feels similar. Meaning, if I am the sort of person who’s writing DNA can push me to those sorts of “ridiculous goals” then naturally I can’t sympathize too much with a person who is struggling with their first chapter for months. It just won’t equate for me and my DNA.
So, back to learning. In the same way my DNA allows me to put in an unusual amount of time and effort into doing things, it also gave me a bizarre perspective on time. I started pumping out projects quickly and learning things rapidly, and I realized that input definitely equates to output. In this way I was able to learn, Final Cut Pro, Adobe Illustrator, write a screenplay and do a few other things in just a few months.
The reason why I mention frustration is that everyone’s DNA doesn’t line up the same way as it relates to a sense of goal achievement. Sure, I did write 120 pages in a few days, but I didn’t have oodles of adoring fans sending accolades my way. I didn’t even have anyone to celebrate with. I was alone in a chilly aparment somewhere in Maryland at the time. So my “feat” would not feel like one for a very long time, until I saw how much time other writers spent on shorter manuscripts. For my Japanese learning experience, what ended up happening was that I set unusually high goals for myself that I couldn’t maintain in my present environment.
Basically, I was willing to beast it, to do the massive SRSsing and the Heisig and everything as quickly as possible to escalate learning and immersion time on a rapid scale. In fact, I did this… but only in short bursts. I’ve already mentioned in my motivation hurdles that culture shock affected me quite badly during my first few months in Japan, effectively nullifying any real desire for me to study or learn the language. I’ve said that most of my learning was passive, through listening. Every and then I hopped back on the wagon, excited when I made a new observation, or saw my Japanese speaking comprehension increase even when I wasn’t studying. But still, I kept falling off, because I my mind I had all the systems processing.
Do X amount of SRS per day.
Do X number of Heisig to finish by X date.
Listen to X hours of Japanese music each week.
Watch X hours of Japanese media each week.
Speak and write for X hours.
The numbers kept adding and adding, and getting worse as I was more lackluster. So in effect, my own potentiality was reversing on me. Because I knew all the things to do and I wasn’t doing them, it had a powerful feedback effect, and I felt very bad.
Then, recently, I did something I haven’t done in a long time. I just completely forgot about goals, beasting it, and just focused on enjoying the studies.
I don:t even call it studying, that has too many past memories tied in. I just think I’m Higgin’ it, or maybe S-ing it, if I choose to do SRS (which I haven’t done in weeks by the way).
I realized that I wasn’t doing anything that I wanted to with the systems because I was 100% not enjoying it. I was also not enjoying knowing where I could have been if I kept it up, because I know the stuff works.
So back to DNA.
I think this why some people will spend so much time flaming Kanji Gold, or flaming AJATT, or kicking Smart.fm in the balls. Everyone has different DNA, and everyone can find their steam using different methods.
That said, with my sort of crazy Doc-from-back-in-the-future type work ethic (effectively no sleep and too much soda) I realized that my learning DNA was battling with my environment.
You see, it wasn’t my ultimate goal to learn Japanese, I just “knew I could” because of the systems. In the same way I rapidly learned the basics of some programming languages, how to prepare speeches or documents, I saw language in the same way. But I knew that If learning Japanese was an ultimate goal of mine, I would have been at a level I can’t even dream of right now.
So, I recently shedded a bunch of guilt, accepted my DNA, but instead of going gung-ho and diving into SRS-ing and studying TV movie scripts, I’m taking a totally different approach.
I’m not beasting at all. Mainly because I don’t usually have that much time to, and secondly because I can’t deal with the stress. I think some of the real “prodigies” are people who have the singular goal of mastering the language.
When I say singular this is crazy important. If I came to Japan only to learn Japanese, if it excited and inspired me, then I would already be speaking at a high level and would have finished Heisig months ago.
Now that I took a step back and saw the nature of my learning DNA, I’m seeing a few cool things.
One, I haven’t done so bad. I mean, even though I haven’t been using regular systems, I feel generally comfortable reading Japanese. I’m just not freaking out anymore when I can’t recognize a Kanji I don’t know, or I can’t completely place a Kanji I’ve studied before.
Two, I recently spoke in Japanese on a phone call for over an hour. This surprised me incredibly because I hadn’t spoken any Japanese at length, with anyone in probably THREE MONTHS.
Thirdly my DNA had me being very obsessive about deadlines at dates, which is why I was able to pull of that 120 pages in five days crazy marathon, but which is also why I feel so bad if I don’t achieve smaller, more palatable goals, I feel like stopping.
So I think, if you know your DNA and you are lucky to have a happy appreciation for learning without stress, then you are in a good place. If you are gung-ho and keep restarting and not knowing why, maybe you are setting the bar higher than the goodness you have inside you.
I know I was.
Okay, I’m gonna start doing some old school Heisig. Writing the Kanji once or twice, no SRS, just heading to the finish line.