The Problem of Progress vs Process

Last night I got a bit frustrated trying to optimize my system for using Anki to start attacking sentences using one deck. Anki is relatively technical to use, but not impossible to setup. As I fiddled more and more with different Anki decks with different content, I began to get more and more edgy with myself because I felt i couldn’t “understand everything” and began to wonder if I would be using the “best Anki deck possible” and so on. long story short, I ended up downloading a bunch of different decks that people had modified to make certain things easier, but made the contents of each deck drastically different. (note these were all Anki decks for the Core2000 Japanese learning system)

Everyone is saying that a person needs to hit at least 1000 sentences of Japanese  reading comprehension to gain a relative comfort operating mostly monolingual without the need for reference materials. This I completely understand, but then got frustrated because I had no idea where to get 1000 sentences from. I searched blog after blog, and it seems that some people would sit down and enter 30-50 sentences a day in their anki from ‘somewhere’ and eventually get up to 1000 sentences. I had no idea ‘where’ I could get ‘ good sentences’ sentences that I felt could show me measurable progress (in terms of structurally learning new verbs, nouns and expressions). So for a long time I didn’t know what was going on, until I started hanging around the RVTK (Reviewing the Kanji) forums where people posted questions on this very topic.

Then it seemed I found a solution. (This also has to do with Transitioning from Heisig to reading, which I have made some simple vidoes about. )

So everyone either did Kanji Chains, Kanji Odyessy 2001 or Smart.Fm’s Core 2000 Japanese program as a way to get their sentence weight up. But then I also realized that most people through their own devices started fiddling with the system that already existed, making “better decks” with stuff like “optimal learning environments” and what have you. For me I just got confused, because I seemed to prefer the original style with pictures and audio that could help me make a stronger word/meaning association.

BUT I realized that in getting too concerned with “which deck is the best deck” and all this stuff, I was getting caught up completely in Process. By process I simply mean I was spending so much time researching what people were doing with their decks, how people were tweaking the decks to get the “best results” and all this stuff, that I because way more interested in finding the “perfect system” than using a system that already exists. I mean there is nothing really wrong with this becuase people want to work faster and better right? Well for someone like me, I started becoming frustrated because I wanted the “ultimate” approach that I liked.

But after last night I just said that it’s easier for me to just pick a system, do it to completion and then move on. Because if I obsess over percentages and anki stats that people post and the supposed “retention level you will have after completing said course” then I won’t be thinking of my progress but only the process. 

Because my current progress isn’t so bad. I haven’t been serious about Japanese study for a long time, I was lucky to live in Japan and maintain a good level of immersion without studying. but where am I? My Japanese comprehension is “okay” but I haven’t been doing loads of immersion or watching anime, or all the cool things that everyone “needs” to do. I just finished the 2,042 Kanji beast that was the Heisig method, so why am I getting frustrated with myself only three days later?

Again, I am too concerned with process vs progress.

This is actually the worst aspect of my student behavior, and I even started reading up some of Stephen Krashen’s book on second language acquisition to try and understand more things about why I have such a bizarre and stressful reaction to certain ways of learning. Despite the fact that there are all these systems out there, Kanji Odyessy, Core 2000 & 6000 and so on, that ALL get you further ahead, what’s my boggle? What’s my deal? I already started the core2000, and I know when I’m finished i’ll be able to read a lot more and say a lot more, which is the point yeah?

In Krashen’s book in chapter one he speaks of something called “lacophonic aphasia” which is a fear to speak for fear of saying the wrong thing. This was DEFINITELY me in Japan, where I would never speak (and be extension fueled this blog since I was learning without speaking,etc)

He also mentions the process behind language acquisition and the things people do with themselves to either hinder or further their progress. Basically I realized again, that it’s a matter of  how much you foucs on the process and then how much you appreciat eyour progress.

hopefully i’ll be able to just relax one day and 100% enjoy learning Japanese without feeling like a loser, or like I am so far behind I will never reach anywhere. All silly, unfounded things.

About marcusbird

Writer, Designer, Filmmaker
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2 Responses to The Problem of Progress vs Process

  1. Paul Nogas says:

    If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend six sharpening my axe. — AbrahamLincoln

    I don’t like the actual numbers Abe uses in his quote, but I think what it comes down to is that it’s just as much a waste to not plan at all as it is to plan too much. (He still needed at least 2 hours to actually chop down the tree).

    If you’re interested in a more nerdy look at it, one of my favorite books talks scientifically about this problem. WARNING: it’s a pretty dry book. “Fooled by Randomness by Nassim-Taleb”- ( There’s research showing that satisficing (trying to optimize for a while, narrowing down your options but eventually throwing a dice when it becomes difficult to narrow down your decisions any further) almost always turns out better than figuring out the 100% best route to take. Even for computer programs.

    I was at the same crossroads when I started. There was, RTK, live mocha, rosetta stone etc… but eventually I just said screw it and decided to only do RTK1 until I was done despite a part of me at the time thinking it was a bad path to take since I would arrive in Japan and not be able to speak or comprehend anything spoken to me.

    When I first got my iPhone here I got anki and downloaded the deck “8555 Japanese Sentences – from the 日本語文法辞典”. It was WAY too much for me then. So I left it, continued to hammer away at, later got into Tae Kim’s. Now I’ve come back and don’t feel as intimidated. Almost every sentence there’s a word or two that I don’t know or have forgotten, but I’m getting through it piece by piece. (Today I just got to my 2555th sentence. only 6000 more to go…(-_-;) )

    So yea, don’t worry too much about the process. As long as you have done enough research to make sure it’s not a bad path, just go for it!

    • marcusbird says:

      I’m very glad you wrote this Paul. I will see if I can read that book when i get some time.

      What you said made perfect sense and for me, what I realized early on is that there are many smart, very passionate people out there who want to optimize their Japanese learning through creating really interesting decks and using certain kinds of sentences and so on. I thought this was a good thing, but then like I said got caught up with the scope of things and the process. Plus there is an excess of data now. If I want I can get 5,000, 10,000 or even 25,000 sentences to read through anki. But that’s WAY too much right away. I did a post just now where I am seeing how many new cards I can “skim” throuhg, i.e stuff i’m reasonably familiar with and won’t forget and I found I did almost 600 cards. So now, thinking about doing my first 2,000 sentences or whatever the number is in the Core2000 program doesn’t seem that crazy. Plus, what was bothering me more than “which deck” to use was the actual format of what was going on. Many of the optimized decks on anki are not setup in the way the original Japnaese study program creators wanted them setup, they are just sentences with no context. So I had to keep downloading and re-using decks and comparing them to see which one’s I liked, (which annoyed me) instead of just gunning through one program.
      I learned this kind of “touch and go” through Pimsleur and Rosetta as well. When I used Rosetta stone in February of this year for a few days, I found it painfully slow, repetitive and boring. Yes, I’d learn a few new words every now and then, but based on how I had been learning before–by listening ot loads of things in native speech–it didn’t work for me so well. Same thing with the Pimsleur lessons. This is a pretty good program, but again the format was 30 minutes breaking down a single conversation (that I almost always fully understood) with a few words from previous lesssons tossed in for good measure. So I realized that I may not personally know every word solidly, but my general understanding was higher than I realized. So with this sentences approach I realize I have to take a step back and relearn some words with the word alone. This is where I was wondering if i was doing the right thing, because I know learning sentences in context helps to remember vocabulary extremely well, and just seeing a word and a picture alone sometimes isn’t enough BUT what i was doing was jumping the gun. What i was doing “felt” too easy, so in some way my brain wanted more challenge, more pain, etc. So i’m said what i will do is complete the Core2000 steps 1, 2, 3 and 4 (3 and 4 are difficult apparently) and then see how I feel after doing those, or if i need to “tweak” my system. But regardless, i’ll learn something anyways yeah!

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