Diving in and being strategic about not caring

I felt like writing this post today as a general observation i’ve made.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’m currently using all of my accumulated language experiment knowledge to learn French (with pretty good results). This idea of “diving in” is based on that and to an extent Japanese as well. Again, the context I need to speak in, is that, my Japanese blog really kicked off when I made an observation about learning without studying. I detailed that in another the highlighted blog post, so if you get time read it. Like most people I tended to think the idea of learning another language was ridiculously difficult, required certain brain skills and would be nigh impossible.

So now, after all the ins and outs and things i’ve tested. and with Japanese i’ve probably done MOST types of programs out there, from textbooks, to audio programs, etc. I’ve determined what I feel is a pretty efficient method to get your “base” to build from. But this isn’t diving in. is just the process of gauging where you are by placing yourself in a situation where you aren’t sure if you are ready or not. But I’ll illustrate what I want to say by explaining what I did with French last year.

The French Experiment Part One

So last year for about five weeks I went pretty hardcore at French. After four days I joined a French organization, and after a week or so of starting my “system” (which isn’t really a system) I entered an expert/fluent speaker level class. It was a theater class, that had nothing to do with teaching French but acting. This was diving in. So on day one, I sat in the class, and up to that point, I had just finished the foundation course of a program called Michel Thomas and I was blown away by the fact that I could “somewhat” follow what was going on during the class. The teacher was speaking quite rapidly about telling stories and I tried figuring out the relative context by listening, but it took me a few more sessions to really try and talk more.

So over the next month, I saw my French skill increase rapidly because these theater classes forced me to speak A LOT, pretend to be a businessman, an angry father, tell stories and so on. But even so, I wasn’t feeling very happy about certain things, and I kept getting super frustrated with myself and eventually stopped doing the french. But I already gave some info in my last post about trying to balance happiness and language learning. I also posted a video last year of me speaking French after 3 weeks, just to give an idea of how quickly a person can go from zero to whatever level it was I speaking at. I’m going to post it here:

As you can see, I was moving pretty rapidly.

But I didn’t go past five weeks, and after a six month period, whatever French I had learned faded away.

French Experiment Part Two

So after I spent a lot of time trying to figure out ways to feel more positive about my day to day life, I realized that many, many, many of my frustrations were related to unusual ways I look at myself.  I’ve also mentioned that in this blog as well (stuff tends to repeat with us humans) but my approach this time with French was modified.

An aspect of what I am doing now is to merely absorb a very very solid grammatical understanding first. Without doing much immersion, without speaking to anyone. This is how I spend the first week and whatever “immersion” I use is ONLY media I can understand through context (Movies I already know etc).   Then I start doing sentences which teach vocabulary in context. Either way without getting too much into that, this time around being more relaxed and focused made things a lot better. I didn’t feel like i was forcing myself to learn, I felt that I was simply implementing a strategy and having fun.

So this is my second or third week of “restarting” French. On Wednesday this week, I joined a French conversation class at the Alliance here just to have a way to be challenged to speak ( This class is the highest level French class at the Alliance Francaise).

This was my “dive” into a situation I wasn’t sure if I was ready for. But, as of Wednesday, I had been doing my SRS reps for about six days, and I was reading many of the sentences I saw out loud and worked on my accent. I also took extra time to research what I saw as common speech patterns. This time, I was pretty shocked by the results.

The class revolved around speaking about shopping and what a person likes to buy and why. Now, this is the FIRST time I am speaking any French at length since starting what I am doing. Not only could I explain myself reasonably well, I didn’t feel “lost” in the group and I actually felt good about myself. So after doing the preparation in a way that ensures I am super comfortable, I dove into a situation that is going to force me to test myself a few times each week.

I am also attempting to chat more to French people I know in French regularly. Last year, I felt very tense and afraid attempting to speak French (sometimes I am still slightly hesitant) but the major difference between now and then is that i’m not crashing and burning and making progress in a stressful situation. I don’t believe last year I even did that many French sentences, so I kept getting in situations where I didn’t know a grammar pattern or enough vocabulary to breathe. So i will track my progress there to see where I can reach over the next 8 weeks (I want to hopefully gain conversational fluency and an improved ability to understand spoken French)

SO….. what does this have to do with Japanese?

Well everything I have mentioned in the steps I am taking with French are based on good/bad methods I’ve tested in learning Japanese. So one must figure out an active immersion schedule, figure out how to stay relaxed with diet and a calm mind most of the time, and then try not to make leaps before you can hop. What I am seeing now is that I can use all this positive French experiment knowledge to use a better, relaxed and efficient approach to learning Japanese.

So I am not focused on Japanese right now, but I will still outline what i am doing in French and occasionally show how it can mirror with Japanese. But I think i’ve finally found the A to B strategy to gain conversational strength and grammar power reasonably quickly.

Now, a lot of language learning blogs have similar information, but I don’t read many of them. The reason I even started my own is because I guess I am a bit obsessive (sister told me that lol) and I didn’t understand enough of the technical details. I don’t mind motivational speeches and so on, but now I think i’ve found a workable, technical method of lower-stress aspects of language acquisition through my own trials and errors. But almost as a sign, I recently saw a video on

“learn a language in 3 months” with this really upbeat guy (I think he is Chinese I am not sure) but he hit some key points that I’ve been thinking about, one of which is spending much of your first month speaking to SOMEONE. There has to be time you sit down, chat in French and also get solid explanations on stuff you don’t understand so well. I didn’t do this last time with French, and I’ve never really done that with Japanese so, the future looks promising. In a few days I’ll post the current A to B and I am sure it will sound like all the A to Bs out there, but I will try and provide some technical information to accompany it that I observed and why I feel like it works! Anyhoo! Sorry this post was so long!

plus tar/ matta ne

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The Language Wagon and ideas of Happiness

To everyone who has read through this blog, I appreciate the time you have taken to enter my mind somewhat. Those who have “truly” perused this blog must know that I have had significant issues with what I call “motivational hurdles” and i’ve written about it quite a bit. Now, I fell of quite a bit in my Japanese study, even though I was making epic progress doing massive immersion and hardcore Anki sessions. But I lost steam mostly because I wasn’t able to “enjoy” my progress and I couldn’t “enjoy” any of the goals I had set.

What I realized was, in general I wasn’t very happy.

For the longest time, I didn’t realize that this was the major deterrent to my progress. I thought it was the stress of learning the language, some unusual form of perfectionism and a host of other things, but what I didn’t realize is that, feeling “normal” is the key to active and balanced study. I’m used to being “under pressure” and sometimes I feel that a “high pressure” system is actually something beneficial and shows that you are working hard. But most of the people I meet who do well with learning languages aren’t necessarily “gung-ho” but they just seem upbeat, relaxed and have balance in their lives which makes their language study simply one of many things they do.

So again, I learned, to have a balanced life. Do different things, engage your mind in different ways and make your language goal one of several things you are doing. Also I wrote a very long post about giving yourself some props. I wrote this because to a specific fault, I never saw much of what I did as significant. This is not humility necessarily. Humility is when a person knows they have done interesting or positive things and they don’t have to shout it from the rooftops. But sometimes people do things and feel nothing at all; no sense of pride, no excitement, no sense of progress and just… nothing. I wrote that post because I was like that too… for the longest time I was simply “doing” things and not really taking stock of my accomplishments and giving myself some more cool points for the goals I have aimed for and hit.

So, after crashing and burning and stopping my Japanese study for about a year I took stock of a lot of things in my life and started to figure out why I put so much pressure on myself and I eventually learned that I was in a fog of low-vibes. I’ve taken steps to deal with that situation and I can say that i’m much clearer and generally focused and i’m operating on a very low-stress approach to language acquisition. 

What does this mean?

It means instead of me completely freaking out when I don’t understand something, I just research it, or ask someone what it means and then move on. Instead of comparing myself to other people, I simply set my own basic goals. But most of all, I am not locked into a bizarre mental space where I am both the student and the taskmaster, setting over the top expectations for myself that will cause stress. Feeling “normal” is a great thing. This doesn’t mean learning methodologies change or become easier. One still listens to a lot of whichever language one is interested in, one speaks it often and attempts to read it as well. Its just behind it all, there is no pressure, just an active purpose, relatively free of stress.

Late last year, during an unusual burst of positive-vibes, I started to learn French. Constant experimentation with efficient ways to learn Japanese gave me some serious “rapid language acquisition” skills and in only 4 weeks I was able to have reasonable conversational ability in French, and also a strong understanding of upper-intermediate French grammar. I even posted a video on youtube after week three, just to show where I was at the time. Again, I made ridiculous and RAPID progress in a language. That time, I was aiming for fluency in three months, because with my present level of knowledge, I know that is possible (based on how you define fluency).

But again, even though I had made such progress, I fell off. There were many things in my life I wasn’t happy about, and even my crazy progress in French wasn’t enough of a boost to take my mind out of the funk. Maybe one day I’ll write all the grisly details, but the long and short of it is, I took significant steps to ensure that I HAD to feel better about MANY things in my life. Language learning exposed the core of several self-imposed frustrations, and a deep sadness based on things from a long time ago. In a way I am thankful I pushed myself so hard because the more I pushed, the more I exposed things deep inside myself I didn’t like, that weren’t helping me at all.

So now, I am on a path where I am actively shifting my entire view of my existence. Call it a form of self-actualization, call it being more positve or call it trying to experience happiness often. But I am finding this is the numero uno way to approach a new task. So, what does this mean for Japanese?

Well for now I am doing French again simply because I can bounce back faster. I’m in the immersion/Anki sentences phase and it is going reasonably well. Doing all these things with zero pressure helps greatly with retention etc. My plan is to focus on French solidly for about 8-10 weeks (speaking, reading, writing etc) and then rebuild my Japanese.

I will be writing about a new method i’ve found of getting a very strong handle on Japanese grammar to help with speech, based on my French studies. I recently chatted with a few people in Japanese and my skills aren’t terrible, in fact for someone who hasn’t spoken/read Japanese in over a year, it is impressive what I can recall and say. So the technical data behind the methods are nothing without the casual positive approach. You can follow my French progress here:

Jamaican Learning French.

As you can see I was blogging heavily for about a month last year and just completely fell off. I will post occasionally there on observations I make, but for now I am more focused on simply enjoying the process. Look out for Japanese-related posts soon, and thanks again.

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What is Fluency?

I’m writing this post based on reading through various forums where people often ask, “Can I be fluent in Japanese?” to which a myriad of people respond, “That depends on your definition of fluency.”

Whenever I read through these forums, my head tends to hurt, primarily because the opinions always seem to be the same across the board. There are two camps primarily. There are those who believe that unless you sound exactly like a native in your target language, then you are not “fluent”. Then there are those who say that once you can communicate reasonably well in your target language, then you are fluent. I always find that reading through these posts doesn’t expose true ideas behind fluency, but relative to who posts, it is their idea of what fluency is, versus the general definition of fluency.

Most definitions of fluent say something like: “Capable of using a language easily and accurately.”

This is how I see it as well. But in the online forums, people often talk about “native level speech” as the ultimate measure of one’s language learning ability. I don’t really agree with this, for one primary reason.

Whenever I speak to a person who speaks fluent English (who isn’t a native speaker) they will usually understand 99.9% of everything I say with the main exception of only TWO things.

 

1. Dense vocabulary

2. Idiomatic expressions

That’s it.

So a “native” speaker generally is just aware of little esoteric idioms and stylistic patterns of speech that you as a learner may never use. In English, we don’t speak anything like the people in Spartacus, but most of us took a few lessons in reading old English plays, so we are familiar with that sort of 17th century Victorian speech that we do not use. Sure I could sit here and type:

“For those who doth think it pertinent that man should rapaciously attack the pursuit of langauges, I say to thee, do so without a frown upon your countenance, and no murky disposition.”

But who speaks like this? In fact, i’m sure a lot of “native” English speakers can’t even speak like this either, and they are pretty “fluent” aren’t they? Likewise if I was a Japanese kid and I grew up watching old Samurai films (where they speak a certain way) or if I read certain kinds of comic books (with comic book speech patterns) I would have a very good idiomatic understanding of the language across different cultural media-based situations.

So where does the language learner come in, and where does “fluency” become a reality?

I believe that our future speech patterns and knowledge base in a language are initially relative to our interests. So if I like Film, Writing, Art, Music, Anime and Sports. Let’s say when I’m learning Japanese, I focus on these areas which I am learning about grammar, vocabulary and so on. So let’s say in these six areas, I get a sense of a few idiomatic expressions and so on.

After a while this expands and for the most part you can speak freely on almost any topic. I think this is relative fluency. I think that sometimes people get bogged down with what I’m calling “Academic fluency” which basically means you can speak about anything and any topic in Japanese, which is silly.

Can I sit here and go on and on about Thermonuclear dynamics? Can I talk in long discourses about human psychology? Can I even say ten sentences about weather patterns on planet earth? No. Does this mean I am not fluent? Of course not. Does this mean I don’t have a “native level” understanding of English. Of course not! But I could talk all day about films, or about certain kinds of novels, my home country and whatever else I have a heavy interest in. 

The fact is, that in most languages, most of the time, people talk about the same things. This is why study books almost always have the same format:

A. Person in train station, B. Person asking time, C. Person in common social situation ask a question, and on and on and on.

Because the fact is, people do not always sit down and begin speaking about the history of Economics in their country. Nor do people constantly sit and talk about Politics. Most of the time its just social matters, stuff about family and friends, how you feel, the movie you saw recently, something funny that happened over the weekend, something in sports, more funny anecdotes, etc, etc.

Basically for everyone in every language, once you hit a certain vocabulary and grammar points you can technically speak about almost anything. This is why little kids after 4 years can start expressing themselves in a different way from when they were 2 years old. They learn more grammar and they can tell you why they hate one cartoon and love the other. Are 4 year old kids “Natively fluent?” or just “fluent?

In languages our ultimate goal is to be able to express our opinions. For some people this means being able to argue in their target language, for some it is giving soft opinions, for some its just being able to get around.

But at the end of the day after all the speculation and cross discussion, what i’ve observed from people that I consider pretty fluent in Japanese. They just talk WAY more than anybody else, so they get in situations where they have to learn new vocab, new expression patterns and new idioms. In the same way you went to the playground as a child and you heard kids around you saying things you didn’t know and had to learn quickly to adapt, so are adult situations.

You see these people have already developed fluency of expression, now they have fluency of opinion.

So if your exposure to complex speaking situations is frequent, you will be able to speak on complex things better over time, if your exposure to other things is frequent, that is what you’ll adapt to.

So my final view is that, everyone builds a “base” of vocabulary, grammatical knowledge and expressions that allow you to function normally. Then as you enter various situations you add on to this. This is the development of relative fluency. It’s not knowing everything, its being able to navigate everything. By navigation I mean not getting lost in the sea of the language you don’t understand.

So let’s say you don’t know the word in Japanese for “machine”, maybe you can describe a machine. Or you don’t know how to say “entryway”, but you can describe what that is and then get the word from a “native” speaker (or high level speaker) who would know what that is. If you can somewhat describe a feeling, a thought, or at least what you are trying to say and people understand, I feel that is when you have reached some level of fluency. You are able to “navigate”. So fluency of expression and fluency of opinion can stand alone or be mixed, but either way you look at it, when you are there you are there.

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Tablets: Your easiest way to digest Japanese manga (outside Japan)

I know my last post was on the Ipad 3, and I still believe the Ipad 3 with its retina display will be a great tool for consuming manga. I’m going to write a post about “language homeostasis” and how you can create a cool immersion environment with a tablet.

Anyways back to the main post. What tablets are providing for those who are not in Japan with easy access to manga, is a free, fast and hassle-free way to consume manga. You can download almost any major manga series for free on the internet, thanks to droves of people who spend years and years scanning manga titles (in various langauges) then offering them freely on the internet, you can pretty much read any manga you want in only a few minutes.

What this allows for is a way to consistently digest Japanese in easy increments. I wrote a post on the idea of “extensive reading” which basically means a high volume of exposure to Japanese without focusing heavily on 100% comprehension, but relative comprehension of reading material. So for example, when I read my first Slam Dunk manga, I understood most of what was happening as I read it, and I didn’t really bother to worry if I didn’t completely get a specific grammar pattern. The idea is, if you go through a 200 page manga and understand 85% of it, then you read say, 10 more of these mangas (putting you up to 2000 pages of Japanese exposure) then after reading 30 mangas, there will be grammar points, vocabulary and other things that you will see so often they become embedded in your memory. Tablets are a nice segue into that system because of their portability.

So if you take 10 minutes to read some manga daily, or 30 minutes or whatever, you have a very low-risk, low-stress way to consume the manga you like. I received a Kindle Fire as a gift, and I found the 7-inch screen just barely too small to comfortably read Manga for any length of time. So naturally I was quite biased (and a bit annoyed) by this limitation. It drives me a little mad to have to pinch the screen to enlarge boxes I can’t read, because I feel like i’m slowing down.

BUT, then I remembered when I bravely decided to try and read through Death Note book 1 when I was in Japan (epic fail!) and the manga (like 99% of them in Japan) was a small book (a little smaller than the Kindle fire I think) small to the point where my eyes hurt sometimes when I was reading. So in a sense the Kindle fire isn’t “that bad” because I have an option to enlarge if needs be. I think think an Ipad might be better, but I haven’t thoroughly tested how comfortable/convenient that would be. Either way, we are now in a time when the consumption of Japanese material is quite easy, and readily available.

So your tablet, whatever it is, is your super library of Manga. Also, this is to promote “easy Japanese reading” or “lazy Japanese reading”. Japanese can become quite tiresome if you are trying to cross-translate every single expression. Study time is study time, and then casual reading time, is guilt-free reading time.

A valuable thing to note is that high input = output in any language. Sometimes forced input can be stressful, but at the end of the day, input is necessary. So you need

easy input, focused input and casual input.

Focused is like studying, casual would be like reading manga and easy would be listening to Japanese music in the background for example. There is no escaping this, so if you can make aspects of it easier, then the better for you.

So my eyes still hurt when I read on the Kindle Fire, so i’d either need glasses or a bigger screen to feel like i’m not destroying my eyes while reading. But whatever you can do to get ahead, go for it.

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Why the Ipad 3 will help you beast at Japanese

We’ve all seen the teasers for the new Ipad coming out on March 7th. But what does this mean for people who study languages? In particular, Japanese?

1. The Retina display will drastically change reading your consumption.

I said it before on this blog, that i’m not a tablet guy by any means. I saw no real need for it in my day to day life around my phone and my laptop. It didn’t fit any particular need. But once I left Japan, it became glaringly obvious that a tablet is the best possible way for me to consume large volumes of visual Japanese reading material outside Japan. 

Since learning Japanese is a balance of reading, writing, speaking and consuming visual media, it goest without saying that if any of these things has a difficultly factor attached (say limited access to manga, etc) then things get a little harder than they need to. I believe that tablets eventually will be the ultimate companion in creating a self sustaining learning environment. But particularly in the area of high reading consumption, this is where the Ipad 3 will be the king. I haven’t had any desire to buy an Ipad 2 for Japanese reading input because the screen has lackluster resolution and I knew the new Ipad would have a beastly screen. On the kindle fire, the 7 inch screen kills me when I try to read. Very small Japanese characters are murder on the eyes, even if you are reading a real life, dead tree manga book. But with the proper tablet, with a super high resolution display, then reading manga, short stories, Asahi Shinbun and so on, will be easier on the eyes and therefore ease people into reading Japanese more comfortably, and by extension assist with the acquisition of new grammar and vocabulary.

I’m a super technical guy who is very, very, VERY cautious about new tech I purchase if it doesn’t do anything I need. This long rant on the new Ipad should give you an idea of that. There is nothing that makes life easier than “ease of use” and after spending the few months to learn some Kanji and start reading, trust me, consuming massive amounts of Japanese data is better mentally if you aren’t squinting to read.

Can you do this with a present day tablet? Of course. is the resolution for reading manga super crappy? Not really. Will the Ipad 3 have super awesome better resolution? Yes really.

I’m hyping this up because my primary issue with Manga consumption and newspaper consumption on a tablet is relative size. I own both a Kindle Keyboard and a Kindle fire (fire was a gift). I tried reading Manga on the Kindle Keyboard but it was waay too small with slow refresh rates to be feasible but I won’t knock it, it’s for books. The Kindle fire has a decent screen, but atrocious software. It is also again, too small. The first time I got it, I said “okay, now I can really test out extensive reading through Manga because I have a device with portability and a decent display”.  Wrong. After only a few minutes of reading my eyes started to hurt and I was sorely dissappointed.

So me, Mr. technical, knows that he will need a beastly screen to happily consume loads of manga. In fact, the average person who wants an Ipad 3 doesn’t care about any of my issues. But they exist and are relevant, if you are looking for a one-stop sure fire way to consume loads of accessible Japanese visual input. Do some research on “extensive reading” and you’ll soon find that to do extensive reading, you’ll need to organize your reading content in a way that is : comfortable, easily accessible, convenient and low stress. 

A tablet and its mobility allow for that easily (outside of a country with native materials readily available).

So that’s how an Ipad 3 can help you beast even more in Japanese, because you’ll be reading more.

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What does “real” Japanese look like?

One thing you’ll notice very quickly when you look at Japanese in textbooks and then Japanese in manga, on Japanese television or in video games, is that or the most part, that Japanese you are seeing, looks nothing like what you are studying. I find this can create confusion about “real” Japanese and also it might make the study of Japanese seem a bit pointless.

However, I am not going to explain the different kinds of Japanese from formal, to casual, to super formal, that stuff is all over the internet. I’m talking about what bugged me in particular. I’ve been doing some grammar revision lately, and i’m happy to see that studying grammar patterns is a lot easier. Trust me, once you can read a good bit of Kanji, certain things start to self-reinforce. You pay less attention to words and just the sentence. So to “ease back” into doing some Japanese revision, I started going through a Japanese grammar book I had, Genki 2. This book has some pretty cool explanations about how grammar works (in fact i’d recommend everyone have some kind of grammar reference book on hand.)

My issue with Genki was that I didn’t trust the sentences in the book. They were a little too nice, a little too contextually perfect, in other words a little too textbook. So i hopped over to Jim Breen’s site and plugged in some new grammar patterns to see examples of hardcore “real” Japanese sentences, and I was almost blown away by how strange many of these sentences looked. Even some of the regular sentences had little particles at the end and grammar shifts that looked nothing like the textbook examples! (which is why I don’t really use textbooks super religiously).

For people just learning Japanese, this can be quite discouraging and even frustrating. So the sentences on Jim Breen’s site are taken from the Tanaka Corpus, which has literally hundreds of thousands of  Japanese sentences for you to read. So what I do sometimes is just drop in a grammar pattern and see the varieties of sentences that come up.

So I wanted to see “ni atta” (にあった)in use.

so I dropped it in and a bunch of quite varied sentences from easy to complex popped up.

after reading through several of them, I started to get a better sense of “ni atta” across various different contexts. I found this VERY cool, because in a textbook, you generally get one or two example sentences, and then “practice exercises” that relate to those original sentences, or something very close.

True, some of these sentences are quite complex, but that’s the point of learning the language isn’t it? Either way, I remember noticing this in manga quite a bit. These “irregular” sentence patterns with all this “nano?” and “noni” on the end of stuff and i was lost quite often because textbooks don’t explain that stuff very early on.

But as I’ve said somewhere on this blog before, small steps are the best way to go before taking a leap. Right now, for each grammar pattern I’m learning, I find about 20 sentences that I print, examine and try to generally understand. What happens is that with these varied examples, I get the use of the grammar pattern in mixed situations and therefore mixed variations.

My only issue with this is that sometimes the English translations (though possibly accurate) explain the “sense” of the sentence. So it might not come off as a literal translation because if you focus on the exact meaning of the grammar it might be confusing. But if you can read the sentence, pause and then get a general understanding of the sentence, you are 90% there.

This is what I noticed when I was trying out extensive reading. When you consume whole sentences over and over, the implicit meaning is often enough relative to the time you are putting into the effort. So approaching grammar in reading is pretty equal to vocab in someways. If you can maximize the exposure to grammatical patterns in a reasonable context, then you can see them pretty easily later on no?

Because honestly if I see a grammar pattern 100 times in one manga, in context, I will get a better sense of the grammar pattern, then going over 1 sentence 100 times. But i’ve found so far that doing light revision of the grammar patterns and reading is helping a bit with going through more complex sentences.

anyhoo, just another observation but the cardinal rule is, if you aren’t reading Japanese you won’t reinforce it, no matter how much grammar you study…

so until you start reading through Manga, or short stories or whatever know grammar patterns will be great, but you need to see them in context a few thousand times to start solidifying the mental associations… so hopefully I can get back on my manga wagon : P

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Feeling better about Japanese: Give yourself some props

Greetings.

For those of you who’ve really poured through my blog posts, you know only too well how i’ve tried to balance my desire to learn and deconstruct my Japanese learning, while at the same time keep a balanced sense of motivation. Since I started seriously writing about “ideas behind learning Japanese” in late 2010, I’ve started and stopped a few times.  Sometimes it was stress, sometimes it was a lack of vision, other times I had other things on the brain. But always, the desire to learn creeps back into my vision every now and then, and when the desire returns, I tend to gain new insights into a few things. But before I chat about what i’ve been up to, i’ll say something about a video I recently watched.

Tim Ferris is the author of the 4 Hour work week and among being a fanatic about learning and discovering ways to make life awesome, he also speaks multiple languages and has theories on language acquisition that I’ve read about before. But I didn’t realize that Tim Ferris and I share a common behaviour that I didn’t understand very well. He gave a TED speech about “Feeling like the incredible hulk” in terms of setting a goal and achieving it. Essentially he talks about facing a fear by deconstructing it. In his presentation he chats about swimming, language acquisition and mastering Tango. Of course for me, I paid attention to the section on language acquisition. More so than what he said, it was how he was speaking that struck a chord within me.

In a similar way to how Tim Ferris spoke about “deconstructing” things into understandable and efficient pieces, I found that for the longest time,  I have been doing the same thing. When it comes to language acquisition, my largest hurdle has always been how I perceive myself relative to the goal I want to achieve. But when Tim Ferris was speaking, I started to do a backwards analysis of other things I did in the past where I focused massively on efficiency and “deconstructing” the process.

I have always been a person who is very interested in method and approach to goal achievement. When I watched Tim’s video, I realized with a very strong certainty this was a core aspect of who I was, I just …. never saw it as anything meaningful or important. But lately i’ve been working very hard on not just being efficient, but appreciating myself as a person. In fact, i’d say my pursuit of Japanese revealed to me some powerfully negative self-perceptions I had quite deep rooted in my mind, and my “battle with Japanese” was a  lot less a battle with the language but a battle with myself.

While I was watching Tim Ferris’ video (which i will paste below) I started to back track and make a note of anything regarding “efficiency and method” which I had used to create projects or learn new skills. I came up with a list of items.

Just a few things I should give myself more credit for

In 2006 – after reassessing and approach to academics at my University, I was able to have several 4.0 semesters while creating loads of free time because I did something I call “mapping the curriculum” which worked perfectly. (I completely forgot I did this, before I did this, my grades weren’t so hot) I was also able to qualify for a full scholarship that paid my tuition. 

Over a two year period I wrote about five full length novels, (based on a standard novel assessment of 50,000-90,000 words) but what’s interesting is that my approach for writing was pretty mechanical. Three of the projects I wrote didnt’ take more than ten days at a time, because I was working based on word count or page count, after making a rough plot of the project. I stuck to no less than 10 pages per day and i was consistently able to pump out a 100 or 120 page manuscript in about a week and a half. I didn’t realize this “wasn’t normal” because I wasn’t doing these things around any kind of peer group. Plus, I was in school at the time.

I remembered that I was trying to work on getting more writing exposure and I devised something called the “STIP” (Short Story Incubation Project) where I ended up working on about six new stories in a two week period. I contacted people who wrote and read a lot and asked them to read the stories, give evaluations and make their top picks. Out of that batch, one story has been printed in a Tokyo-based literary journal, with another story being printed this month, or next month of this year. I was selected for an author interview and my short story also received a mention in the Japan Times in an article about the publication.

Even with my blogs, I’ve done over 450 blog posts across three of my blogs, with many of the average posts running well over 1500 words, so that amasses to about three full length novels worth of writing online alone.

In 2010 I presented during Tokyo Design week at an event called Pecha Kucha in Roppongi to a large group of creatives. The major significance of this is that in 2009, shortly after arriving in Japan, I could barely use Adobe Illustrator. After realizing that using photoshop is a bad way to do the kinds of designs I wanted to, I felt extremely stuck because I had already spent possibly thousands of hours on other designs I had made in photoshop and I would have to recreate many of these in Illustrator. In less than one year, I ended up getting my skills to a level where I even did some product design revamp for a company in Tokyo. I developed these skills this mostly by spending ungodly hours working on projects of my own across the areas of print, photo modification, t-shirt design, character design and regular hand drawn art. I forgot however, that I hadn’t been doing Adobe Illustrator stuff for very long.

Me presenting at Pecha Kucha in Tokyo

Film production is my focus on my mass communications degree, but I had taken a very circuitous path to finishing school. I studied the essentials of Film production in my last two semesters of school, but even up until I graduated, I had never taken any form of linear or non-linear editing class. In mid-2009 after deciding to start my web series, “Jamaican in Japan”, I developed my editing skills based on my understanding of shots, mood and my own personal touch. The result of creating the web series is that only a year and a half, I was able to go on Jamaica’s largest morning show speaking about my videos and blog. But in a more insane turn of events, I recently produced and broadcasted a TV episode which is a compilation of those original videos I had created in late 2009, when I had just started learning non-linear editing on my own. 

My interview on Smile Jamaica the morning show

In terms of Japanese I hadn’t done much studying during my time in Japan as i’ve said numerous times on this blog. Only after I left Japan, did I seriously work on finishing James Heisig’s Remembering the Kanji. But what was bizarre, was that in an 8-week period last year, I learned more vocabulary and Kanji than I did in my first 2 years in Japan. My process is detailed on this blog, but basically all I did was implement a fixed revision schedule and a learning schedule that consisted of exposure to 100 new words per day using a program called Anki. In about 2 1/2 weeks I had developed the ability to read through about 1000 Japanese sentences and I was also able to read through my first Manga in its entirety in Japanese during that period.

I have since lost steam in that regard, but again I forget that my gains, when examined practically are a mark of a person trying hard but also try to work smart.

What does this mean?

It means that i am not typing these things to puff my chest and say “look at me”. In fact,  I never gave much of these things a passing thought which reveals a key aspect of my entire “self-view”.  After watching Tim Ferris’ presentation, I realized that I’m not just a guy with awkward desires to learn languages and do specific things. That maybe with a few tweaks, I can get the ball rolling in ways i can’t even imagine. I’ve said before that i’ve had issues with balance, seeing “the point” in doing things and now I have created a mantra that describes that I observe about the “Ferris-esque” fellows and the primary difference between them and me, and why they are more consistent:

The people i’ve observed have a consistently cheerful disposition and a guilt-free approach to the steps in actualizing their projects. 

So many of the internet polygots, the founder of AJATT, Tim Ferris and numerous other language learners and achievers have this behavioral pattern. They don’t really “see” all the limitations, and even if they do, they deconstruct the mental association with it to keep going. But here is what’s mind-blowing. I am EXACTLY like that in certain areas, but for some reason I was NOT like that with my initial approach to Japanese! Somewhere along the line, living in Japan, being stressed, experiencing culture shock and so on, I couldn’t maintain a cheerful disposition and have proper balance in studying the language. The more I tried to study and the more tired and stressed I became, the more guilt I felt about not “hitting my goals”. I wrote about this in a previous blog post when I talked about Learning DNA.

This used to frustrate me to no end, because the people who made the most progress in learning Japanese tended to be reasonably balanced and have an “outlook” that allowed them to study in a foreign environment. I’d look on these people, when I was pretty unhappy and stressed and empty of motivation, feeling bad that I didn’t have the energy  to push and study my Japanese. So its clear what I have to do to take my current semi-intermediate level of Japanese to the next level, I have to deconstruct the association of negativity to learn Japanese, and associate positivity to all its current aspects.

Today I hopped randomly on a website that had a large list of grammar points. I’m at the point now where its not so much a matter of vocabulary that makes me stick with Japanese, it’s proper grammar to express myself. I haven’t done any kind of Japanese revision or reading or immersion since December and not only could I read almost all the example sentences, I found that I was not stressed looking at the 100 grammar points, because many of them were very familiar. As “bad” as I often label myself in Japanese, I definitely remember a time when looking on example sentences would make me cringe with fear. Now I just read through the sentence and get a stronger understanding of the grammar because i’m not worried about remembering vocab.

So I guess I have to keep telling myself that i’ve done a lot of things and that I shouldn’t’ give up because of some bizarre idea of who I am.  So its time to deconstruct cheerfulness, happiness and chill out. Like this guy here.

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