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 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:


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:


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 an 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.”


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 degree 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

About marcusbird

Writer, Designer, Filmmaker
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