The Black Hole of Self-study


There is a phenomenon with black holes call the “event horizon” which is the outermost area of a black hole that absorbs light and bends matter and even time. Say you were in a ship approaching this event horizon, you would not be able to turn back and would be sucked into the hole. I’m using this image as a metaphor for self-study, which is also why I wrote my post of “Falling off the wagon” recently.

I’ve definitely been existing in mostly a black hole state of self-learning. I’ve also called this a “vacuum” which I guess also accurately describes the dilemma of dehumanizing aspects of language learning. As much progress as i’ve made, i’ve slowly been losing motivation and what’s worse, i’m not even feeling bad about it. I think I’m approaching the event horizon of self-study and about to get sucked in forever.

So i’ll have to make some tough decisions soon, ways to actively start speaking Japanese and having fun with reading before I kind of close off. This is the difference between me being in Japan and me not being there. Even though living outside Japan i’ve learned to read WAAAAY more than when I was there, at least on Friday I might pop into a club, or need to find a game at book off or i might have to chat to a Japanese person on the street. In sunny old Jamaica, Japanese people are scarce. I don’t want to get stuck in the black hole where i’m doing SRS reps each day, reading tons of manga and so on in complete isolation.

I believe this might happen to a lot of people who are inspired and fueled by the idea of “learning Japanese alone”. It gets even worse when you learn about complex systems to accelerate your learning that involve loads of time with yourself. At some point, every single person will need to amp up their speaking, or forever be locked into that “mid-state” where you can own reading subtitles, or scan through manga and web pages without much problem, but have issues saying stuff like.

“I don’t usually get this drunk.”

This is the snag with my current black hole. I might know how to say “construction” or “car driver” but I might not accurately be able to say “the car couldn’t pass the construction site because there was a lot of traffic.”

I mean looking at this now, I could maybe say…

“because of many cars in front of the construction site, I couldn’t move.”


I am sure this is incorrect, and it doesn’t matter. I’m finding that attempting these basic constructions requires SRS like practice. Use the construction regularly in speech and it is not difficult to reuse it later on, but if you aren’t using it… well you get the idea.

These scenarios mostly emerge in conversations, where you are forced to learn a pattern, or use a pattern and then reinforce it. I am definitely building reading ability, but not speech-pattern building practice, which I find actually reinforces reading a little better.

What’s worse is that speaking I find, is what really reinforces Japanese for me in specifics ways of context. Reproducing the speech in your head is probably the most fulfilling aspect of any language learning experience.  I remember when I figured out how to use “と思う” (I think ) properly. I used it in speech a few times and realized it was very hard for me to not get it properly if I’m typing. But the reverse was the opposite. If I see a grammatical pattern on paper, I don’t usually remember it, even if i’ve seen it a ton of times. That auditory mind-body connection needs to be activated, which alas, cannot be done within the depths of the black-hole.

Now funny enough, the black-hole isn’t all bad, because for serious self-study you will spend loads of time alone but some key things that can make you accelerate even faster will require a leap into another world, the world of people. I frightened a local sushi chef ( who was incidentally leaving a club I was leaving) by barking at him in Japanese. If you thought he was surprised you should have seen the onlookers watch me chat rapidly (and loudly) in Japenese. A little tipsy and raging with liquid confidence, I gave him a quick rundown on me leaving Japan, having visited his restaurant earlier that night and so on.

But just that little encounter made me feel like I was doing something, that my language learning efforts were worth it. If I was doing this everyday, I would be seriously swagging in japanese right now.

Of course a question you might ask is why didn’t I do this when I was in Japan? I’m sure in the deluge of stream of consciousness posts that make their home in this site, I explained a bit of the “expat plight” that afflicts those who choose to live in a new country. Plus, I didn’t even begin to really “believe” I could learn Japanese until late September 2010 (which I just realize is a year ago now!)  Either way, I didn’t have a plan or agenda in Japan, I was just living there. I didn’t study vocab, rarely did anything to the level i am doing now for many, many reasons. My serious approach to learning Japanese kicked in about June this year, when I decide to finish Heisig and start learning vocab. Everything up to that point was listening immersion and survival Japanese (which naturally gave me a very good associative base to build on) but the “real active” study or whatever I’m doing is really just from the last three or so months. So my progress still baffles and amazes me.

So, now that I am somewhat interested in maintaining and growing in Japanese, I have to leave the black hole. The confines of my self-study must expand and push me beyond the event horizon, into new territory.

So whatever it takes, I’ll have to start speaking a lot, so I can start swagging a lot… in Japanese.


About marcusbird

Writer, Designer, Filmmaker
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2 Responses to The Black Hole of Self-study

  1. Eric West says:

    A good place to meet Japanese people: twitter. What I’ve done is fill my twitter feed with far more Japanese speakers than English speakers. This makes it hard for me to simply gloss over all the Japanese and go straight to the English. It’s such a comfortable, non-threatening environment, it’s easy to motivate yourself to start using Japanese too. And because, unlike trying to journal in Japanese (like on Lang-8), you only have 140 characters to come up with, I never end up sitting there unable to think of anything to write about. Then, when people reply to you in Japanese, you kind of HAVE to answer them, or else be rude, so you can end up using quite a bit of Japanese this way. This is how I, a very introverted type person in public, have been able to ease myself into socializing in Japanese.

  2. marcusbird says:

    Awesome! It’s a little bizarre that i haven’t thought about twitter in a while. I realized that when I started contacting lots of Japanese people on twitter, was when I could barely read it and got pretty discouraged. Will see who I can add on twitter that will like to chat to me hehe

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