The True Challenge [New Year Update]

Process is hardly glamorous. Results are

Happy new year everyone. Wanted to post this quickly before the first month of the year is over. Extreme life challenges have made a lot of my research difficult or unusually cumbersome, but I’ve pressed on and been able to properly go into another phase of my research involving vocabulary.

The thing is when you are designing a workflow that involves literally thousands and thousands of data points, the biggest hurdle (as I keep mentioning) is perceptual. There is no way to figure out what works (or doesn’t) until you test at scale. This means you’ll have to grind through a few hundred iterations of whatever you are testing before you find a “rhythm”.

This is important to note because the level of focus and discipline this requires is quite high. In fact, my emphasis over the last several months in the majority of my articles is that the true ‘obstacle’ to most of what one wants tends to be mental. Pretty much every hurdle i’ve face over the last few months are due to high physical stress (health issues), high psychological stress (life issues) and then high mental demand for this project (research and development). Something has to give and I can’t always be 100% on point mentally AND do Herculean feats, the brain and body just can’t handle it.

However this is not a defeatist message. I’ll post more detailed information on my Phase II research, but just like learning the Kanji quickly, there isn’t much to to process itself (it works) it was really just organizing the data and creating a routine that’s designed to massively self-reinforce a little beyond just flashcards. Because I look at this as training, I am not as bothered by the “grunt work” involved in compiling thousands of cards, because the very action of putting cards together is giving me an exposure to the very words i’m memorizing.

In fact, I really understand that so many of these types of processes reveal to you more of who you are, not just what you are trying to learn. Your why has to be extreme to navigate the various things that life can throw at you while trying to learn new information. This is overlooked to a very high degree in pretty much all language learning based correspondence i’ve seen. No one really talks about “real life” and how to balance the extreme psychological demands of language learning relative to that. Sure we need strategies to learn faster and revise better, but we also need intense, workable strategies to keep you going, because some things happened that truly threatened me finishing this project (despite my INCREDIBLE achievements in a short period of time).

Either way, more to come.

cheers

 

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Dealing With Inevitable Stress pt.2

Throwback from my Japan days

The best counter for any ideas that impede on a goal you want is to make your goal more vibrant, visual and exciting in your own mind. You have to be able to taste it on your tongue (regardless of what level you are), you have to be able to get excited and fantasize about the possibility of where you might end up, because this gives you a lot of fuel for the varied and repetitive tasks needed to become advanced in a language. You won’t enjoy all of it, but you can make a lot of it fun, or work knowing that what you are doing is getting your closer to an exciting goal.

What i’m going to talk about here is building this fantasy world in your brain. In the same way memorization drastically improved by building a variety of stimulating connections to what you are remembering, we can think about our overall goal in the same way. Think of your eventual goal like its own little universe, where you have all these things you want to see and do, quests you want to embark on and things you want to find and discover. The goal must not be too basic (no motivation) and it must also not feel like it is absolutely beyond you (futile). You need to project large enough where it feels a little uncomfortable but not scary enough to make you stop. In my last post, I spoke about the inevitable occurrence of stress that happens in a massive project like this and a three step process to start shifting that energy and assess where you are and use that as a means to get out of the funk and get excited again. This breaks down the “excited” part.

Set Your Primary Goal

This is the primary goal. The primary goal is usually set based on where you perceive to be (which is fine) and usually broadens/adjusts as you gain more ability in the language. For me initially I said “what if I can play Zelda: Breath of The Wild” in Japanese? It seemed like good starting point, but it didn’t have enough ‘legs’ for all the demands of the language. Zelda is just one game and i’m not going to spend 6 months of hardcore learning just for one game am I? Remember this is 2021 and I’m in Jamaica. For the foreseeable future I won’t be able to travel anywhere (including Japan) and I didn’t feel like making goals about travel (if i couldn’t do it) or anything involving foreign territories if I couldn’t go there. However, you sort of need to have some goals like this to get strong “legs”, as I’ll show you below.

So questions like: What if I went back to Tokyo speaking fluent Japanese? What if i could comfortably play video games in Japanese? What if I made some Jamaican based vlogs in Japanese? What if I made some music in Japanese (I’m wear a musician’s hat also). These three things alone have dozens of components that can all give me ‘legs’ so to speak that support the overall goal.

To keep this goal super exciting and visual, I can expand a bit on each of these just to stimulate my mind as I’m working through the day to day repetitive tasks. Let’s do the first item: For each item, we can do a  few things

1.  We as a question relative to what we want to do with our language ability once we get it.

What if I went back to Japan/Tokyo speaking fluent Japanese? 

There are so many things to play with here. I could make vlogs around town, “SHOPPING IN HARJUKU 2022!” or try and speak to people on the street in Japanese. How about shooting a music video in Tokyo, with a song I made in Japanese? That would be cool. Who would I meet? Where would I go? What would happen being in the country with the language ability? Bars and cafe’s would change, the friends I already  have there (who are fluent) could introduce me to people and I wouldn’t be lost or awkward. The entire experience would be so different and thrilling. Just typing this sparked dozens of images in my mind. Me talking to people, making vlogs, chit-chatting, comfortable, maybe even i’d try and hit up some big YouTube types in Japan and collab, who knows! A goal like this provides a lot of reasons to finish the goal. I’m not saying i’m planning to go to Tokyo in 2022 (it would be nice, but i’m waiting until Travel becomes a bit more standardized and I don’t need a ten inch Qtip shoved up my nose to just exit the airport). But just this ‘idea’ jut like my fantasy about Germany gave me so much fuel.

2. Now we can play with it visually.

One of the coolest things about the internet is that we can really “travel” elsewhere without having to go there physically. If you haven’t seen ” walking tour videos”, tons of countries have videos where a person is walking through a city or town in Italy, Berlin or Tokyo. Sometimes people narrate in your target language. To me there is no better way to now massively reinforce your mental ideas with the sights and sounds of your target country that you experience. I can take a “virtual walk” through Tokyo and remind myself of what I want to do if I go there in 2022 or 2023. I can take a walk through Berlin and fantasize a bit more about my German and so on. The point it, this makes what you are trying to do feel very real. This is different from watching media and skipping through pictures. Slip on some headphones and spend ten minutes there. Feel the area, look at the people and see yourself doing what they are doing. When I go back to studying words and sentences, I will be doing them fully saturated with these ideas spinning around in my subconscious mind. I know that every word I learn, every second spend listening to my immersion and every grammar pattern I practice is taking me closer to that goal.

3. Active Fantasy in your free time

Now that we’ve asked ourselves these questions and we can now step into our territory “In this case Japan”, we can really work on generating this feeling. As I said in the previous article, for some reason in December 2018, I just had this vision about speaking German and I had this very strong set of visuals that stayed with me for months on end. I ‘felt it’ to such an extent it confused me. I had no plans to go to Germany at the time. I wasn’t dating any German girls (or seeking any), in fact, I hadn’t any intentions to learn any language. But this fantasy feeling kept me going quite a bit (and I didn’t have half of the research I have now ). This goes back to wanting it REALLY, REALLY, REALLY badly. Not so much that it is a source of discomfort, but on of continuous, relaxed excitement. When I was learning German unlike other disastrous attempts to learn French, I was constantly curious. I liked learning new words, making small gains and testing my theories. I was very calm throughout the process and just said to myself “I will get there.” My research let me know what was supposed to happen, and I just had to test it. When I watched German media the fantasies activated themselves. I would see myself in the country, walking around, speaking the language, meeting people, making vlogs etc. I must emphasize that I wasn’t particularly happy during this period (nor was I depressed) but I wasn’t where I am now in terms of my personal perspective on these things. This is why I know it works, because there are some core activities that carried a lot of weight despite some of my research based limitations. They carried me psychologically, which I realized is THE most important aspect of language acquisition second to methodology and strategy.

I’ve lived in Japan before, so for me tapping into that visual arsenal is a different kettle of fish but it doesn’t matter. Nothing beats the imagination. An interesting thing about the brain (as studies have shown ) is that the more you imagine you are good at something, the better you start to get at it. By studying Japanese, the act of imagining you are becoming fluent with your work engages the brain’s secret ability to enhance its own learning and perception of it. 

4. Fantasy and Specificity

By tapping into this, you basically ‘reset’ your stress relative to the goal you want. What you want has to be big, bold and exciting. You can’t just “kinda want to chat to people, or watch some anime with subs on.” For most people, you’ll never handle what I call an “Elite” learning routine with those types of goals. Say you want to “chat to people” versus “interview people about their fashion on the street”.

These goals once you get more specific become measurable. Interviewing people requires knowing how to ask questions and also being comfortable expression your own (and counter ) opinions. Interview people about fashion requires a knowledge of fashion vocabulary, more descriptive adjectives, street slang and so on. The deeper you go into the goal the more exciting it can become. Have these broad goals keeps you curious, which is what is even more valuable than method. If you find yourself having no issue pausing a video to check a word, or trying to say something in your mind and then translating it in an AI to see if you were close, then you are curious which means you aren’t bored and you are active.

Getting specific with your fantasy also reveals the things you actually want to do, versus what you think you want to do. I say this because even though my original goal was to play a game (Zelda) in Japanese, I realized that the idea of playing the game excited me, but what I really like is vibing with people, making videos and so on. My passions over the years have been writing, design and film. I just never thought about these things relative to Japanese. In my mind, as the goal expands I start to see more of how these things can overlap (as my ability increases). So let’s make a hypothetical scenario:

TOKYO 2022

Let’s say I make a goal to go to Tokyo in late or mid 2022. I want to speak fluent Japanese, make vlogs, wild out and resurrect my previous “Jamaican in Japan brand”. This is broad. Let’s make it more narrow: I’ll pick topics of interest I can focus on

A) lifestyle B) fashion C) Scene

A – Places to review: Ginza, Harjuku, Daikanyama, Tokyo Tower, Rickshaw, Robot store, etc.

B – Fashion stores, hip districts, going shopping at a store and vlogging it, collab with afriend/influencer and get it poppin

C -Scene -parties, night life. Journeyman videos similar to what I did when I was in Japan just next level. More language, more flirting with girls, hanging with cool people etc.

BREAKING DOWN A (simply)

  1. Vlog at Harujuku fashion district and chat to ten people asking them about their fashion style (in Japanese). Use trendy language, try and be humorous and really have my pronunciation and comfort at a high level. Sound really pera pera.
  2. Do a street photography vlog and document the process of shooting people in Tokyo.
  3. Message 20 stores, tell them i’m a Jamaican Youtube and musician and ask if I can come to their store and make a video (in Japanese of course)

—- what’s happening here is that my future desire is becoming unusually real. Down to the smells and details. Subconscious triggers are being activated and built. My deep inner self is now ready to work even harder at my goal. But this doesn’t just have to be about Tokyo. Tokyo is a BIG goal, which gives it more “legs” and “something to sink your teeth into”. You want your goal to be big, because the brain LOVES big. The brain loves anything that allows it to imagine more.

—- now when i’m doing my revisions and training I can start putting in elements that help me to get where I want to be. I learn fashion terms and common phrases. I still go after my 5,000 word count but make a lot of the sentences fun or interesting or question oriented. I prepare for my speaking phase and spend a lot of time sharpening what I see in my own mind.

—- this type of active fantasy, you’ve heard about it in so many human stories. Emotion, visuals, smells and sounds, even those you haven’t experienced yet are the core things that drive us to do amazing things. What this does is also help to eradicate a lot of mental blocks and really get you back in gear if you feel like you are falling off the wagon.

Fantasy and Action

Action will take 98% of your time. Fantasy can drop into the little gaps of time. Watch a movie set in Tokyo and see yourself there using the language, or even in your local town chatting to some Japanese people there. By studying this language you are on fire and fantasy are the drops of gasoline you drop into the furnace to give it some kick if the fire starts to cool off. Fantasy allows you to experience being where you want to be, at a stage of advanced ability before you even learn one word. When you start gaining massive momentum (the stage i’m at now) you will feel pressure because you still have a lot fo work, but it is THIS STAGE where the snowball effect begins to happen. 

I’ve charted this with German and its happening in the same manner with Japanese. It takes around the same time as well. Life challenges have made motivation tricky, but again, Fantasy starts to give the “vibes back”, like Austin Powers you find the Mojo.

Once you get that, you’ll be very equipped to deal with the stress that comes, take a breath and keep moving.

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Dealing With Inevitable Stress pt.1

“Is this really worth it?”

Hey guys, definitely need to make a note here. I’ve finally crossed a barrier of what I call “perceptual stress” . This is specifically:

the state where despite all goals achieved thus far, the sheer demands of the language appear to be ‘too much’ for you to learn and your motivation starts to waver. 

Its a challenge i’ve faced before, but understand exactly how to overcome it and am making a note in realtime for these purposes.

Language Acquisition and General Stress

What i’ve learned over time that in life, a lot of stress is just simply that. Stress. It generally has nothing to do with your learning ability or the supposed ‘likelihood of your success’. Sometimes we are stressed because of work, personal problems, family issues and a world of other things that have nothing to do with learning our target language. You see, language acquisition is quite possibly the most intense task one can undertake, even casually. When your general stress is high, often language learning becomes “harder”, because its baseline requirements are high amounts of energy, attention, time, organization and focus. These activities are not necessarily stressful, but have their own levels of ‘stress’ (physical, mental, etc).  So if your general stress level is very high, your routine with language learning can also by proxy get quite high. When your stress gets nuclear, this is when you might start to think everything is “not worth it” and stop, despite all the gains you’ve made. What i’ve done to get past this is below:

Three Steps to Restart Your Brain when Stressed

  1. Take A Breath

I take a breath. I assess my present reality and really gauge my day to day activities, what’s bothering me and how i’m feeling in my spirit. Am I feeling lonely? Bored, isolated or are certain tasks and projects uninspiring and draining? What’s my general outlook? Once I get a sense of that I usually identify how i’m feeling generally, and most of the time whatever is bothering me is either physical (health issues) or life stuff (family, personal). Once I’ve figured out the basic issue I make some simple modifications in my day to day and ensure to plan a few out of the norm activities, call a friend, plan to go somewhere, just anything to break the cycle i’m mentally in.

 

2. Re-assess Your TRUE progress

I go back to my “top down view” and re-asses where I am and remind myself of what I’ve actually done. In this case, sometimes what gets tough for me specifically, is going through grammar patterns. I don’t have any issue perceptually believing I can learn thousands of words, but my mind always struggles with grammar because I know it requires training yourself to not just memorize these patterns on paper, but hear them in speech. Grammar is also very context heavy, so when my brain does the math it starts to try its best to avoid another intense, stressful task. However there are a few things in my mind now that activate when this happens. We can call them “motivation backup systems”. Firstly, I’ve already crossed this barrier with another language (German). I remember being at the exact perceptual hurdle point thinking it was “too much grammar” and my brain started to hurt etc. So I know this isn’t impossible. I remind myself of exactly what the process is, which only has two components, time and consistent effort. This effort doesn’t have to be “extreme”, just consistent. On a subconscious level, I’ve always struggled believing that getting really, really good at Japanese wasn’t something I could do, (obviously I don’t think that now) but a lot of those old feelings can get triggered by high stress.

Put this this way: At minimum for this process I need to learn: 2,136 Kanji, 600+ grammar  patterns (which have their own contexts etc) and a minimum of 5,000 words. Taking each of these as 1 items to story in memory, these are 7,736 items to store in the brain in a short period of time. Short I define as 4.5 to 6 months. As I’ve demonstrated, massive amounts of data can be learned in very short periods (2,136 Kanji in 8-10 weeks) so there isn’t an issue with data, but the perception of the data. I expected this to happen and knew i’d have to mentally navigate the space (as this type of feeling doesn’t last long). So looking at where I really am:

I’ve memorized 2,136 Kanji and I know about 2,000 words. I’ve learned N5 and about 50% of N4 grammar so about 170 patterns. I’ve had a delay because I have to build a database to test  a new method(I think this was worrying me because I feared ‘being to slow’), but generally speaking i’m doing well.

My total goal is: 7,736 data points to memorize. I’m currently at: 4,306. That’s 55% of my overall goal in around 4 months. So even though I’ve hit a major stress point, my progress generally speaking is incredible, particularly because during this time i’ve been dealing with significant health challenges. 

TRUE progress pt. 2

I then took a look at my ability relative to where I was in August. in August whatever I watched was “mostly noise”, I couldn’t read any Kanji and I just knew a handful of grammar expressions and common phrases. Last night before going to sleep I watched an episode on this YouTube channel called “SeikinTV” where these two really interesting guys bought a ton of expensive stuff on Amazon and gave it one of the guy’s mother as a christmas gift. These are native speakers, speaking rapidly, joking around and so on. I followed the episode pretty well and generally knew what was going on and what they were talking about. A lot of words, expressions and phrases were very clear and a lot I could figure out from context. Any words that came on screen I could read. I can’t read these words that quickly (yet) but I didn’t pause the video when words flashed up, but I knew the Kanji and some words I could read quickly, some I couldn’t’. Here’s the thing, I couldn’t do this just a few months ago. I wouldn’t be able to sit and “handle” two native speakers chatting and Joking etc. In the same way I remember watching a German TV series and almost having a panic attack because of my lack of comprehension, I was so shocked when I moved from that state, to being able to understand rapidly spoken speech (which comes from hundreds of hours of listening). The process is the same from language to language. You can set your watch to it. It is very challenging, but doable. It doesn’t take much longer at this point, to study a few thousand words and then experience what I called a “comprehension quantum leap”. Right now i’m at that point where i’m following what people talk about and things feel “2 or 3 steps ahead” (this is a great place to be). Once you start ‘catching up’ as it were, you’ve gone to a new level. The fact that I can sort of “dip into” Japnase Youtube without too much trouble shows where my brain has reached, as least from a phonetic saturation point. It has no issues with the syllables and prosody of speech, I just don’t know that many words yet. But knowing my “TRUE progress” allowed me to take another breath and realize that my efforts were leading somewhere, and that in another 6-8 weeks I’d have such an explosion of ability it would all be worth it.

Once I made this reassessment, I went to my third step, goal revision.

Working through grammar, doing immersion and keeping things together.

3. Revise Your Overall Goal

What really happens during a process like this is that you get challenged not just by the language, but by your spirit. Why do you want this? I’ve found out a few things on my journeys studying five languages with varying success:

you need to REALLY, REALLY, REALLY want it. 

A casual attitude won’t get you to fluency or through the hundreds or thousands of hours of listening you need to do, or all the practice to master hundreds of grammar patterns and so on. The more you want it, the easier the repetitive tasks get. The more you get excited with small wins. The more your leaps begin to excite you for the final destination. My original goal was “to be able to play Zelda: Breath of The Wild” in Japanese, but I quickly realized that goal wasn’t large enough by any stretch of the imagination. Being able to play that game in Japanese would me I definitely had advanced ability, but its just one game. Japanese is a language with literally thousand of applications.

I’ve barely done Youtube for the last 2 years (wasn’t into it) but say I wanted to make videos here in Jamaica speaking Japanese, or German if the vibe hit me. That might be unique and interesting. Imagine reviewing places in Japanese in Jamaica. That’s trippy! Obviously my spoken Japanese would need to be pretty good or at least functional to start that process but more importantly it might be fun. Another one is what if I tried to visit Tokyo (if the world ever opens up again lol) and I could go to Japan, this time armed with fluent Japanese? It would probably be a mind-blowing experience relative to where I was when I lived there previously (with no significant Japanese language ability). There are many other goals that can guide this process, but I’ve found the more vivid and fantastical it becomes, the easier the process is to go through. When I wanted to study German (for my third attempt) I had a huge epiphany. In my article How To do ‘Impossible’ Things in ‘Impossible’ Timeframes I go through what got me really primed to learn German and handle everything psychologically. Instead of just “wanting to learn German” what happened was I had this fantasy (who knows where it came from) about living and being in Germany. I saw myself in Berlin, chatting German, enjoying the countryside and exploring a different side of the language. 2020 came and derailed those plans, but I remember it was so vivid and clear that it guided me through quite a few months of heavy work (until inevitable frustration kicked in). But this core idea, fantasy or dream that is vast, expansive and colorful with many moving parts is one of the best things to guide you. The more you can see it and feel it, the more your process and small wins, growth and steps forward become more real to you and the goal feels closer and closer.

So questions like: What if I went back to Tokyo speaking fluent Japanese? What if i could comfortably play video games in Japanese? What if I made some Jamaican based vlogs in Japanese? What if I made some music in Japanese (I’m wear a musician’s hat also). These three things alone have dozens of components that can all give me ‘legs’ so to speak that support the overall goal.

I’ll break that down in the next article, to build the visual world of the goal:

 

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How To Use Videogames To Gauge Ability

ゼルダの伝説 Zelda no Densetsu (Legend of Zelda)

Today was a pretty exciting day for me for super nerdy reasons. I finally received a copy of Zelda: Breath of the Wild that i’d got at a discount on Black Friday. I’ve mentioned before on this blog that one of my goals for this Japanese project was to be able to play Breath of The Wild in Japanese as one of my “high tier goals”, because doing that means I’d probably need to hit that coveted 5,000 word mark and have an N2 level of grammatical awareness at minimum. I’ve greatly emphasized that what carries you through all the hard work these things take has to be a very large goal. A goal that feels well out of reach, but not impossible. So I didn’t say “Become a simultaneous Japanese translator in 6 months” (lol).

Even though I figured out that playing Zelda is not the ultimate goal, that is to say, I realized that I needed other supplementary goals, I got very excited just ordering the game. I know i’m not at the level where I can play the game “smoothly” yet but it still excited me. The game is now a token of sorts, reminding me of what I’m aiming for.

You see the last two weeks have been quite challenging, not because of any personal problems or life stuff really (though they are there), but just the constant demand of a large goal like this eventually can wear down on you. It doesn’t matter how much progress i’ve made, how many words i’m studying, or if my Japanese is improving. You need a way at some point to really ENJOY what you are doing, and find ways to constantly measure rewards.

In this article I talk at length about these types of goals and their importance because you can’t escape the weight of what’s waiting for you. You see, even though I learned all 2,136 Jouyou Kanji and I’m starting the process of learning words, just looking at my list of 5,000 high frequency words day after day sometimes makes me feel a bit stressed out. I know I can do it, I know I have the methodology, but the sheer demand of the work (after a few months of really grinding out the Kanji) is challenging. My mind is saying to me “Do you really want this?” It is this feeling that made me make sure to get Breath of The Wild when I saw it on sale on Amazon. It makes ZERO sense to commit to mastering the Kanji and having anything derail that momentum.

I’ve been here before with other endeavors and this is where the pressure can lead you to stop. It feels like “too much”, there are “too many words”, “how will I learn it all” and so on. But remember. Just three months ago, I said “How can I learn all 2,136 fully memorized? A task that takes a dedicated learner 2-5 years?” Impossible is what I eat for breakfast. (Okay I don’t really say that lol). These questions do no represent doubt to me, (at least not anymore). It is an inevitable call from the body for a little bit of respite. I’ve found that you can’t just go hardcore 24 hours a day (which I ensure NOT to do), but even a very well-balanced schedule and hitting high goals fast requires a little time to blow off steam before another super hardcore endeavor.

I realized I was stuck in a research and implementation loop, but I wasn’t really “enjoying” or “using” my Japanese yet. To give you an idea of what i’m doing, I’m presently, creating what I call a series of “comprehension loops” that allow me to super revise all my target words (per 100) up to the list of 5,000 i’m studying. This takes a lot of energy and is taking far more time and energy than I had anticipated. I really wanted to just dive into my words and hit that next level, but the only way to really test my theory (as I did with the Kanji learning) is to do the research properly. (Note: it’s already working, its just a LOT of data to go through).

The Video Game Gauge

When I studied German, my turning point for getting very comfortable with reading general text (game menus, articles, tweets) was when I crossed the 3,000 word mark. I’m probably at the 2,000 mark now with Japanese, but I haven’t started training these words yet (more on that later), so I know that if I try and play games, I’ll get stuck too often to get value from sitting and translating what i’m reading. Meaning, I can read a lot of what i’m seeing, even understand a good bit of it, but the ratio of words I don’t know or are familiar with to those I don’t is too currently high to fully enjoy the process.

When I decided to play some video games in German, I knew about 4,500 words, which was enough to stay in a comfortable 85-90% comprehension range. I didn’t know everything, because games use weird speech and often make characters say things in a funny way, or use unusually expressive and flowery words to describe places and things. So I know already that you need to be able to “navigate” to “enjoy”. Because I’m doing research, it isn’t always that much fun. To “Switch things up” as a test I set my Nintendo Switch Lite’s system language to Japanese to play some Breath of the Wild in Japanese to really get a sense of where I am.

The home menu read “press A to continue”

After passing the home screen when the game popped up I saw that it read:

ゼルダの伝説 (zeruda no densetsu) – Legend of Zelda

I thought it was pretty cool reading that. I didn’t know what “legend” (伝説)was in Japanese (hadn’t learned it yet), but its very cool to be able to read the word with no issues. Obviously in this case, “ZERUDA NO DENSETSU” would obviously mean legend. So I played the game a bit and saw that the characters were really small near impossible to read. This was a concern of mine (because reading English in games on Nintendo Switch Lite can be a nightmare I couldn’t even begin to fathom the drama that Japanese games would bring) and I saw on the internet there was a “zoom mode”.

So I jumped into the system menu (still in Japanese) and started looking for the zoom mode. The menus are the same from language to language, so I went down to the bottom, seeing “本体” which is hontai, ‘body of a machine’ aka ‘system’ and there saw gamennozumu  画面のズーム ”screen zoom” and enabled the mode.

Then the light bulb went off. I was reminded me that what i was doing was working. It reminded me that the effort was leading somewhere, and that sometimes when we are stuck in the learning phase, we can stray a bit from that mentally. I was reminded that 90 days ago, I could do none of this! 

Despite getting drained a bit by doing “research” and “going off the path a bit”, true innovation is always challenging, but you need a way to see where you are relative to where you were. The huge side benefit of spending  2 hours a day making little essays (as part of my current research) creates an astonishing ease and familiarity with written Japanese. I used to get very tense when I saw Japanese words and menus, because again, I thought “this is impossible”, but when you can easily read through them, or read the words (even if you don’t know them) you have a very powerful psychological advantage. You “see” where you are going and you “see” what your efforts (and future efforts) will give you once you continue. I hadn’t set my Switch to Japanese this entire time (I hadn’t really been playing it either way) and I had no issues reading the menu items. My main concern was that because I have a Nintendo Switch Lite, I’d struggle with reading the characters.

I played through some of the game, and didn’t really have a ton of issues reading through some stuff, but I was stuck at lots of words I didn’t know (which I predicted). My mission isn’t to slog through Zelda with a dictionary in my hand inch by inch. I want to be able to start figuring out words in context and enjoy both the game and the learning. So I know that’s probably another five to six weeks away, but its still a pretty cool feeling. As soon as I started playing the game, I just said to myself you are encountered words and grammar patterns you’ve never seen or read before, so you can’t expect to know them.

I can slowly read the words i’m seeing, but i’d still have to look them up. So it is obviously AWESOME that I can read the words, but I knew from day one that learning to read the words was the first step to training vocabulary. Playing through this video game at my current word level would not serve me. My time would be better spend training thousands of words and coming back with a bit more vocabulary muscle. In other words, if I was to spend 2 hours playing Zelda and learn maybe 30 random words, these would be words that I wouldn’t be able to know if they are antiquated (rarely used), or common (high frequency). This means that net benefit of this activity at this level has a lower value.  There is no value (for me at this stage) spending 2 hours learning words that relate to Fantasy and beasts and lore when those 2 hours could be spent exposing myself to 100 high frequency words in a list i’m working through, words that take me bit by bit to that 5,000 word exposure mark, which results in 98% comprehension of all written and spoken text (Nation, 1991).

You might think i’m being nitpicky, saying “just play the game! enjoy yourself!” In reality, I’m not being picky at all. Playing a game like Zelda in Japanese is NOT EASY or FUN if you have difficulty progressing through the game. Remember that for me, Zelda is one of my end goals. I set the parameters. I set the bar pretty high. I said “To play this game, I’ll probably need N2 grammatical awareness at minimum.” How do I know this? I made a rough guessitmation based on normal data:

I know that an N2 level Japanese requires the following:

A knowledge of around 6,000 words, 500 grammar points and 1,000 Kanji. At the time of this writing, I’m familiar with about 2,000 words, know 2,136 Kanji, 200+ grammar patterns and I’ve had about 500+ hours of listening immersion with native material. At an N2 level, it would be a bit impossible for me not to be able to play this game comfortably. Aiming this “high” also sets up by proxy, the potential for sharp conversational skills, advanced reading ability and so on.

You might ask, well why not just aim for N1 level then?

Why not N1?  and Final Thoughts

I’m not studying here to take an exam, which is a completely different process and approach. As well know there are people who pass these high level exams that can’t even speak Japanese properly (or at the N1) level. My approach is based on data sets, and I just used these levels to be able to guage where I will “most likely be” ability wise within a certain time frame. My personal timeline was to see where I could reach in 4.5-6 months (with time for research in between). Based on the numbers I said N2 looked doable. N1 requires a knowledge of around 10,000 words and another 200 grammar points, so I just set N2 as the primary gauge. Also, depending on how you study, there are aspects of these “tests” that you may already possess. For example, I know 2,136 Kanji, which is an N1 requirement. After learning 5,000 words and all the grammar patterns I might actually be closer to ‘N1’, than ‘N2’. To me it doesn’t really matter, because its just data. My approach is looking at this like ‘training, and it is a LOT of data to train.

In this process we have to work on memorization, production and recognition in such a way that it all coalesces into our advanced comprehension of the language. This only comes from exposure and efficient methodologies. Research has shown me that once you are familiar with thousands of words, the grammar part kind of starts to organize itself and takes MUCH less time to learn. So aiming for N1 is possible but just looking at the data and what it requires, i’ll have to see. What’s interesting about grammar that i’ve learned is that it isn’t usually ‘hard’ in the sense that most of the time it is just a work placed somewhere to convey something else. Sometimes you have to do certain conjugations and what not, but these partners mirror over time and become easy to add to new data. Mastering things incrementally setups up faster mastery at higher levels. If you really lock down N3 and N2, N1 isn’t going to be impossible, it will just take time and practice. Eventually I’ll write a post about ‘N1 level’ and what it really represents. But for this last part of the post, Let me remind you:

I learned 2,136 Kanji in 90 days and am now preparing to expose myself to 5,000 words (with some new methods) in 6 weeks. During this 6 weeks I also will be working to expose myself to around an N2 level of grammar by embedding the grammar in my study materials. This means the overall process to N2 (excluding research time) is about 4.5 months. Giving a little leeway of 1.5 months for incidental stuff (life) a 6 months stretch to super ability isn’t too far away.

There is no massive shortcut to these first 5,000 words. There is no real shortcut to N2 or N1. I’m creating a system to train everything I encounter, but I can’t ‘shortcut it’ or ‘hack it’ because its just tons and tons of data i’ve never seen. It is TIRING and also exciting and a true test of mental grit and ability. You need to want this, badly. You have to wake up wanting it, wanting those new words, wanting that recognition. You have to want it like water. 

Okay that’s it for today! Cheers

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Vocabulary Phase Notes: Revision Transfer

One of my word lists

 

Okay so I’m presently tightening up my research around vocabulary acquisition for my phase II push. This phase will set me up for reading, advanced listening comprehension and also it will slowly trickle in grammar (of my choosing) that i’ll do gradually up to a N2 level for a data set of 5,000 words over 6-8 weeks.

In my initial research before memorizing the 2,136 Kanji needed to really start this journey, I knew that I would have to “transfer” the momentum of my activities into a new framework in phases. Phase I I call the Mastering Kanji phase and Phase II is the Vocabulary phase.

To get the sort of results I have in such a short time requires not just efficient methods, but quite a lot of revision. Each day while doing my memorization activities, I ensured to  wrote 1,000+ Kanji from my lists as a part of my revision activities. I did this every day for quite some time(months). Since my goal was ‘mastery’ of the Kanji, I knew putting in this type of work was necessary. I also knew that this work was only for phase I, and designed to complement phase II. So it was important for me to understand psychologically that the hard work and rockstar revision was only leading me to Phase II, and it is Phase II that would really start to activate the language. 

So I said to myself “How do I keep the 2,136 Kanji ‘fresh’ while starting to learn word compounds?”

Firstly, learning words at a good pace 100-200 per day will ensure you’ll encounter a lot of your Kanji. Since all the words are composed of all these Kanji, studying the words means you will encounter your target Kanji. But, since it takes time to learn words and memorizing them, there is no guarantee which Kanji you will see and when relative to the lists you are studying with. 

A good example is, if i’m learning English as a second language and I have a dictionary in my hand. I know the dictionary has the words “catharsis”, “epiphany”, “conundrum” and “replicate” somewhere in its pages. But when will I hear these words, see these words, or even read these words? The answer is you don’t know. Only by creating the encounters for these words can be ensure we keep them fresh in our mind. 

You see, we aren’t just working with methods here, we want to make sure we don’t get psychologically overwhelmed by questioning reaching our eventual goal. In my experience thus far, I’ve found that looking on what I’m doing with a little math in mind, let’s me know where I will most likely end up.

The internet is filled with all sorts of ‘hacks’ and ‘how tos’ and ‘learn these verbs first’ or ‘learn this 100 words’ or learn this ‘1000 words’ etc. Let’s called each of these things ‘data sets’. All these data sets can take weeks or months to learn and master and there is no guarantee what this small data set will give you in return. But based on true research generally if we know 5000 words in our target language we will be able to process and understand 98% of all spoken and written words (Nation, 1990.) If we know 3000 words, we will have a similar ability, but more in the 85-90% region of recognition and understanding.

This means that at minimum we must know around 3,000 words just to navigate the language properly. Don’t worry if this seems like a ‘lot’, because here’s the cool thing. This data sets covers ALL the verb, adjectives and general words you’d learn in smaller lists or data sets. Learning all of them systematically solves the problem of what to approach and when. You know learning these give you 85-90% recognition of all written and spoken text and 5,000 gives you access to 98%. Therefore, you don’t really need another goal. I am not saying this is easy, but the end result is predictable. For example, when learning German and passing the 3,000 word study mark, I was quite surprised at how easy sentences became to read, since the majority of all sentences are vocabulary words, not grammar. Knowing this ‘minimum’ also saves you a lot of drama mentally. A dedicated student can work on 100-200 words a day and hit the first 3,000 in a month, and 5,000 in 6 weeks with a max of 8 weeks (with methods i’ll go into in another post). So how does this all tie into revision transfer? We will see below.

The Limits of Revision

As I’ve said before, Japanese children, or children in any country learning their native language, have the luxury of a long, staggered period of acquisition. Japanese children take about a decade to learn over 1,000 Kanji, spending all that time fully immersed in their language. Kids have the advantage of time. We do not. When we attempt to circumvent time, we require a more active form of revision. A young Japanese child might see 商品屋 on a building and be unable to write the Kanji, but know it means “goods store”. Or they’ll see 図書館 and know its ‘library’ without being familiar with the Kanji. In their lives, they’ll have thousands of references to these words in film, books, conversations, movies and other interactions. We can’t do the same thing, which presents a specific situation relative to our methodology. The shorter the timeframe you attempt to do this, the steeper the requirements of your revision. To some writing 1,000 Kanji per day might seem ‘extreme’ but how else can I shorten 10 years of familiarity with words and characters I’ve never seen. This also means, when moving into Phase II, the vocabulary phase, it will require a very rigid form of revision to ensure that we prioritize the acquisition of all this information. As i’ve said time and again, we are strategically navigating the mind and allowing the brain to prioritize our new tasks and accept this new information in a way that is just below stressful (that ensure we are consistent) but not too simple, so the brain doesn’t prioritize it. Once I truly understood this. I mean truly understood this, things became very clear.

TRUTH A

I cannot expect amazing results without very consistent and disciplined revision of a certain nature. 

I also realized:

TRUTH B

I must be aware of the complete data set i’m attempting to learn and create a way of systematically encountering calculable portions of the data on a daily basis so I can track my progress.

I feel that about 80% of this entire journey is psychological, and it is core rules like this that allow me to consistently to the receptive tasks needed to really “pressure my studying” or really work at it. To properly memorize 2,136 Kanji requires them to be seen and used a lot. This might seem obvious and in a way it is. But how do we calculate a time to memorization for such a large data set? This is what the internet generally cannot tell you. People will say it “takes a long time”, or “it might take a year up to three years” just to memorize the Kanji. This is where my research gave me perspective, because I know it can be done in 8-12 weeks, not years. The ‘Two Truths’ came into play before I started my journey.

TRUTH A – just ‘looking at Kanji flashcards’ was not being ‘familiar’ with them. I didn’t just want to recognize them and ‘maybe’ remember them. I committed to writing a certain number daily (during the memorization phase). From a program called Glossika, the found describe retrieving a sentence from memory as a ‘rep’. For my studies I use the same terminology, though I call what I do a ‘retrieval’, versus a ‘rep’. I consider any retrieval of data from the memory consciously as a repetition. Based Glossika, they said when a person does 25,000 repetitions from memory of speaking they have basic fluency, 50,000 is relative fluency and 100,000 is mastery. I thought these were good gauges and said for my Kanji journey, writing 1,000 Kanji per day was the equivalent of 1,000 ‘retrievals’ from memory. Spending a dedicated amount of time each day retrieving the Kanji from memory with only a trigger word to activate it cannot have a lack of benefit. To that end, I aimed for 100,000 reps as a base to see how things would play out.

TRUTH B – Doing large numbers of reps allowed me to know that I was constantly being saturated with large portions of my data set at a time, or it let me know that I was massively reinforced the data set I had presently learned. I’ll show both examples. Let’s say I’ve learned 500 Kanji out of my 2,136 data set. Working at 35 Kanji per day memorized using what I called the TPK (Time Per Kanji) constant, this takes about an hour and a half. A part of the method involves writing the Kanji 20-35 times after locking down the story. This means a large portion of your ‘daily 1,000’ are mutiple retrievals of the same Kanji. So on the low end that’s 700 Kanji. This means in my revision, I’d write 300 of my most recently learned Kanji (or all 500 if I’m feeling limber). That means for that day i’d revise 60% of all the Kanji I presently know, and that process will repeat itself over and over and over. I’ll constantly be engaging with Kanji and be constantly aware of my data set as it grows in size gradually. 

There were days I didn’t study any Kanji and still did my 1,000 retrievals. This meant that like the example before, say I’d studied 1,000 Kanji exactly, I would have re-exposed myself (and retrieved from memory) all 1,000 Kanji I know, which is 100% of my data set, revised in one day. Multiply this type of activity by 60-90 days and you get literally tens of thousands of reinforcements, revisions and points of mastery. The familiarity you build will become extreme just as a child gets a high familiarity over time. What we are doing is shortcutting the time, so our revision must be very high for a certain period which takes a lot of discipline, but doesn’t require as much time as one thinks.

How This All Ties Up

Now that w’eve gone through that information, it’s pretty simple how it all adds up. The momentum we’ve built by becoming “so familiar” with these Kanji do wonders for our mind psychologically. Look at the image below, which is part of what i’m research and testing as training for Phase II.

 

I couldn’t read this stuff 90 days ago and now I have no issues reading this as part of my phase II. In fact, looking at anything like this (even in the beginning) was bit stressful, but since: I knew that knowing all 2,136 Kanji would eventually make stuff like this a non-issue, I did no reading at all until i’d finished my Kanji as it would be counter productive anyway. I save myself the psychological trouble of worrying about this ability, because I knew my work would get me there. 

So much of our stress is perceptual and in these types of “elite learning strategies” we must also have “elite psychological profiles” to really ignore certain impulses and focus on building core skills. I said to myself I probably won’t be reading anything at speed for 4.5 months at minimum, and i’m fine with that, because once I reach that point, I’ll have no issues. Think of the flip side, where from ‘day one’ i’d be struggling to read with zero knowledge of Kanji, not organization or discipline and i’d eventually burn out. If you think i’m just  weird person for context, remember that I tried over ten years ago to do this and was unsuccessful. I know exactly how it feels to beat yourself up so much psychologically the journey isn’t worth it. Japanese has a barrier of entry regarding the language where we must learn to read it first, THEN implement other strategies. If I was doing this type of hardcore strategy now with French, I believe I could get extreme results in as little as 8 weeks now that I understand what you really need to do each day. But back to Japanese. For me to now transfer this momentum, its going to be a mix of similar actions. High reps done as efficiently as possible in a data set that I stay saturated in. I’m aiming for 5,000 words from a well organized data set already compiled by Kanshudo.com. Those 5,000 words are probably the best 5,000 words you can learn because the smart f0lks over there used lots of programming wizardry to create that data set based on real life data. So there’s no doubt if i’ll encounter these words, just when. But i’ve also taken care of that problem, which is what i’m currently compiling, which takes some time. But i’ve already been “semi-training” some words and I’m having excellent results with what i’m doing. I’m transitioning rapidly from “straight Kanji” to “reading Kanji” in sentences but more importantly, getting used to hearing these new words in speech and reading while using another technique to practice what we know as “retrievals”. I’m still doing some research because if I’m really to master this, I can’t rush it. So my research looks like it will take about 25-30 days to compile some data I need and then i’ll do my push.

Good times ahead, and more to come! Cheers

 

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Trust Your Brain pt.2 – Lag Time Is Perceptual

Illustration of perceptual ‘Lag Time’

In part one of this Trust Your Brain series of articles I spoke about how data organizes over time in a specific way with a specific type of exposure, and that your brain automatically starts to process and organize this data on its own with the right inputs. Now i’m going to expand on a concept that can also affect a language learner, that they can mentally prepare for as they take on large tasks.

The expression “lag”, comes from the word “lag” as in “to lag behind”, “to be slow” etc. It was made popular particularly in the 90s, when the Internet was pretty slow, and “lag” (slowdowns due a lack of bandwidth) was the norm for everyone using the Internet or playing games online. Lag is the difference in time between what you are supposed to be seeing/experiencing and what you are actually experiencing. 

In video game terms this is called “Latency”. For example, if I was playing say, Super Mario and I press the A button to jump, if Mario jumps two seconds after I press a, then the game has really bag “latency”. This overall bad latency while make the game “laggy” and unplayable.

We don’t want to perceive our actions in the same way. You see, when we start to make serious gains in our language studies, because fo the sheer amount of data we are memorizing and absorbing, there is going to be some natural lag time between where we are and where we want to be, even after making massive gains. 

Here is an example. I knew that after learning all 2,136 of the Jouyou Kanji, which is no small feat, I would still not be able to read Japanese text fluidly. This is because there is a different between recognizing the Kanji and being able to read them individually, versus reading complete sentences at a comfortable speed. I will remind you that it took many, many, many hours of intense study, revision and discipline to learn these Kanji. It would be easy to delude myself and think I can “read Kanji” or “I know the Kanji now i’ve made it!” when that isn’t the case.

Once I’ve learned all these Kanji, my next task is to get thousands and thousands of exposures to words and short sentences to build familiarity with reading. This process doesn’t need to take very long to bear great fruit, but the absolute danger is to not know this hurdle awaits you. 

Lag and Perception

You see, in our minds like you see in the diagram, we might believe that after completing the process of learning the Kanji, we can now read Kanji and dive into playing games and reading manga. Technically you can, but you’d be moving extremely slow because you don’t know words yet. The gap between what you ‘think you know’ and ‘what you actually know’ has the potential to completely derail you. This has happened to me before, where I overestimated what i’d be able to do after completing a very large task. In my mind the scale of the first task was supposed to equate to significant ability upon completion. 

Here’s the trick. the large task actually gives you significant ability, but there is a ‘lag time’ that exists you must be aware of before your new powers fully manifest. 

Learning 3,000 words in a month does not mean you will have mastered 3,000 words in a month, but after using these words for another month you’ll be shocked at how everything changes. Some people expect 8 weeks of results in 4 weeks and often stop, feeling they have “failed” when they just didn’t give the data enough time to process.

Think like a programmer being told to fix Mario’s jump time in our previous example. We want to press the A button and Mario jumps instantly. We want the latency to be zero.

In the same way, we want to have zero latency with our reading and speaking. We want to think of something and say it, or see a word and read it very quickly. This process only happens with practice and exposure. Since we are working with thousands of words, there is a lag time that you cannot change until your exposures get very high. Thankfully, this process doesn’t take long.

Trust Your Brain, Again

Because of this “lag time” it may seem that after climbing a giant mountain, you are right at the foot of an even taller mountain. In actuality you are not. You need to trust your brain and see yourself operating with far less ‘lag time’ because it has the ability to do so, with the right number of exposures. Because I’m already aware of this lag time (usually two to three weeks), I prepared myself mentally. I knew when I finished spending months learning 2,136 Kanji that afterwards I wouldn’t immediately be able to read at speed. I would however, be able to ready anything I see, albeit slowly (initially). I also knew that I can easily expose myself to a thousand (or more) exposures per day to words and short sentences, which rapidly builds my reading ability. The “lag time” decreases significantly, and our “latency” begins to approach zero. Eventually you’ll be able to blast through sentences like a bad 80’s action movie.

Patience is King

Even for those learners trying to go “quickly” in their journey, you must be incredibly, incredibly patient. Most of what you do will not show real results for about 90 days depending on the language you are learning. As I’ve said, our brain needs time to organize the data, process is and then “do its thing” to allow to increased comprehension and language ability. The brain needs this time and exposure and you need to compensate for that in your own mind. Don’t say to yourself “Godammit, I learned all these Kanji and I’m reading so slowly”.

You are reading slowly because you’ve never read Japanese before. There is no one who starts out speaking rapidly, or reading rapidly. It just doesn’t happen. What can happen, is that you take a breather after learning the Kanji, and then go hardcore on learning thousands of words in short, quickly readable sentences, and get excited as you being to say words faster and faster with more exposure. This type of exposure is conscious, and over 2-3 weeks your reading speed will double or triple. If we can expect this, then we are at a great psychological advantage. 

Fun with Lag

What’s better, since we think like champions, the fun part of the process is now that we are aware of this lag time, we can really try and cut down our ‘latency’ by consciously doing as much work as possible. Learning as many words as you can and reviewing them only takes you to the top of the next mountain faster. This idea of “lag” relates to speaking as well, where instead of learning word, which I also call “word shapes” you are learning to produce pre-memorized “sonic patterns” or “sonic shapes”. Your progress is anything and the speed with which you achieve it is limited only by your personal determination. I won’t tell anyone how to use their time, my only advice is to always have operating minimums that keep you consistent. Some people want to study for six hours per day and have issues doing thirty minutes per day. But daily exposure trumps one day of heavy learning, as neurons are built in a compound manner and it is triggering information daily (not just in one sitting) that builds long-term memory. So it is better for a hypothetical person named John to do one hour of revision daily, versus Jack, who does six in one day and takes a three day break. In those four days, John get four hours of quality revision and the benefit of compound memorization. Jack feels excited about his long day of work, but won’t remember most of what he studied on his one productive day because he hasn’t consistently triggered these new memories.

Attacking Lag time and Lag Time Minimum

Lag time exists at all phases of our learning journey. I’ve identified three: Phase I (Kanji acquisition, which allows us to read), Phase II Vocabulary, which sets up speech and reading and Phase III, speaking, which is the final course.I don’t think lag time (in our context) needs to exceed two weeks. So there’s about a two week gap between your ability once you learn certain things and then your comfort with using it (after putting a lot of effort into getting used to the new information).

So this would mean: Learning 2,136 Kanji — two weeks to getting a lot comfortable reading words and sentences with increased speed (of course if you put the time in for exposure)

Speaking – two weeks to start speaking a little faster after getting a robust vocabulary as you get used to many common patterns.

 

So once we understand that this lag time exists (and is normal), we can Trust Our Brain and know that our improved ability will come the brain just needs a period of time to organize the new data and use it faster.

Awareness of this will make moving from phase to phase much smoother and you’ll give yourself space to relax, recharge and put your efforts at a high level into the next phase, until your godlike language powers truly manifest.

 

cheers!

 

 

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Trust Your Brain Pt.1. – Self-Organizing Learning

DCIM100GOPROGOPR1733.JPG

Good morning! It’s been a very positive week for me. I’ve won my first writing award (more on that later) but this was taken a few days before I won the award and got two silver medals for my short story work, plus a merit award for a novel I submitted to the competition. This blog can’t be all about nerdy explorations of language  learning theory can it? Okay, on to the article.

Trust Your Brain

If you are an active reader of this blog, you’ll see that I explore various themes in various ways. Our memory as a construct is not fully understood by neuroscientists even to this day.If we think of our brain like a map, we’ve charted very small regions of it with lots and lots of huge uncharted areas. We know a lot, but we don’t yet know how everything works. In many processes, there are “gaps” in our data or ability to explain certain phenomena. For me personally in my research over the years, I’ve come to understand that by approaching certain tasks relative to what is opitimal for the brain, you can get incredible results.  It is how I was able to research and demonstrate writing all the JouYou Kanji (2,136) from memory with only English keywords as a reference point. By mastering some aspects of these activities, I have come to a very clear understanding that most of what we think isn’t always what ‘works’.

The question i’m posing to you is does our brain have its own secret mechanisms that once understood can be exploited and allow us to make drastic improvements relative to certain goals we want to achieve? I say yes.

What i’ve noticed as I expose myself to very large amounts of data when trying to learn something new, the brain does things on its own that makes this data begin to naturally self-organize itself. It puts the pieces together and usually in a way you are not immediately able to perceive (or quantify). Normally these things would slip by us as we learn and gain new skills, but for me, I wanted to know why these things happen so badly that on each journey into a new language I would take ridiculous amounts of notes. For my German studies, I took over 250 pages of notes (typed up). My goal was to observe what causeS “comprehension leaps”and “breakthroughs”. After a lot of observation I started to see what caused comprehension breakthrough and leaps.

Why Is This Important?

In language learning, the majority of people want to become fluent speakers of a language. In this pursuit, people are willing to spend years of their life trying to reach that coveted goal. The people that do it quickly are often hailed as geniuses, release programs and apps to help others learn languages. I have said on this blog that I fully agree these people are different (as am I). Individuals who can learn a language fluently in 3-6 months tend to be psychologically unusual, insofar as they have little issue with ungodly numbers of hours spent in pursuit of this goal, tend not to have a concept of ‘failure’ or an unperturbed by making mistakes and enjoy doing repetitive tasks thousands and thousands of times until they master them. What makes these people different, is their obsession to succeed in their pursuit with a practiced mastery of sustained effort. This means these individuals, in a variety of ways will reach their goals. However, many of these people cannot completely explain why what they do works. This is where I come in. Each time I tried a new method, course or did my research, I’d hit these “gaps” in explanation. My personal obsession was always to be able to figure out calculate variables behind what I call the TTF Time To Fluency. Real life data has demonstrated it is possible to do this in 3-6 months. But just knowing there were psychologically powerful individuals with endless energy and fearlessness to do anything to learn a language was not enough for me. So as I interacted more and more with these absolutely brilliant people I confirmed my suspicions of them being extremely smart, obsessive and driven people. When I say driven, I mean driven. 

How does this relate to trusting your brain? Don’t worry i’m getting to it, but we have to set up some context.

The area of study relative to learning languages quickly is called R.L.A or Rapid Language Acquisition. Since language learning is essentially a giant memorization exercise, language acquisition (whether rapid or not) is a gradual exercise where we massively store and memorize large amounts of data. Across the four pillars of language (Vocabulary, Grammar, Speaking and Reading) let us assume a few minimums. To speak fluently, or to be able to handle your language at an advanced level usual requires:

500-1000 hours of listening time, a knowledge of 3,000-5,000 words, an awareness of grammar up to a B1, or B2 (second highest) level.

This is A LOT of data to learn in short order. You need to be very strong psychologically to even approach a task like this, as you know you will be spending hundreds of hours in this pursuit. What this means is that for a Rapid Language learner, by exposing themselves to very large amounts of data early on, they are short cutting aspects of our natural learning process.

We all are born with the ability to learn any language on earth. Any of us, placed in any country in our infancy, will speak the native language of whatever country we reside in fluently within four years. You can set your watch to it. Children usually start to speak by about two, and develop a strong command and understanding of language by around age four. Let us call this language learning ability “software”. This software within us, collects data in a certain way over these four years and gradually “self-organizes” the data into what we regard as speech, sentences and expression. Context, situations, socialization and thousands of other factors all add to this data pool, which eventually produces language. This is a process our brain does on auto-pilot, with perfect efficiency for every child that has ever been born. Make a note of this as it will be important shortly.

I’m going to make an equation here to illustrate this simply. Let’s call language exposure the constant E, where represents speaking, reading, context, situations, social cues and all the other factors relative to learning. will represent Time and will be Language.

T(E) = L

So Time multiplied by Exposure equals Language. Pretty straightforward right?

What’s interesting here is that the constant ‘T’ doesn’t need to be fixed as we’ve observed with people who are good at R.L.A. They don’t need more than 3-6 months. Taking the average of this time (4.5) we can come up with another very basic equation for fluency in a very short period of time.

4.5(E) = L.

So it isn’t really Time, but (exposure) and the factors associated with it that are the most important part of this equation. I’ll write another article that focuses more deeply on that constant at another time. In terms of todays’ theme, Trusting Your Brain and Self Organizing data, there is something that happens when you have (the exposure constant) organized properly. It is something the brain does on its own, with great efficiency and predictable results. It is why when I was studying German, at some point I started understanding some things I hadn’t really studied and why I was able to improve my speaking without ever speaking to a native speaker. My brain was doing its thing for one reason:

It had all the right data, fed to it in the right portions in the right order.

Now i’ll explain why I brought up  R.L.A (Rapid Language Acquisition). You see when someone learns a language fluently in 2 years, even a year, it becomes much harder to trace what worked  for them and why it worked. Was it their listening, speaking, or reading that the did efficiently? What did they do to eventually trigger fluency. From our equation as the constant T gets larger, it becomes harder to understand what in (exposure) leads to language ability. Through R.L.A  In a shorter time frame, we are able to trace data far more accurately. It was how I was able to make extremely clear observations about  learning German and understanding what had caused certain leaps in comprehension and more importantly why these things happened. You see the same thing happens over a four year period for a child that happens with a six month period for a RLA learner.

You (a) feed the brain the right amount of data in the right way and order and (b) the brain does its thing and you will naturally gain comprehension.

This is what my entire article is based on. Trust Your Brain is understanding that when you do things in the right order for a certain length of time, the brain does the rest automatically. I am presently at 400+ hours of listening with my Japanese and the same thing is happening that happened with German. After a certain number of hours (mixed with a certain number of hours of exposure to learning words etc) everything you hear starts to get “clearer” and some chains of dialogue are 100% comprehensible. It is not complete comprehension, but light years from understanding nothing only 90 days prior. 

Why is this important? (Part II)

This is incredibly important because in the past, I had no idea when this comprehension would ever happen, and it made all my studies feel like diving deeper and deeper into an endless pool. Knowing that my efforts will trigger certain levels of comprehension (in a predictable window of time) allows me to drastically improve my consistency. Sustained consistency is the hallmark of elite learners. A person who studies “badly” that can keep at it, will always hit their goal, more so than the learner with a “perfect system” and no motivation. 

This means I put my efforts into the research that works, that is, hit 500-1000 hours of listening, expose myself to 3,500-5,000 words and then focus more directly grammar at a certain word saturation point (3,000 usually) I just let the brain do the rest. Trusting my brain allows me to put faith into what my actions will give me, which allows me to keep doing them.

Learning thousands of words requires incredible effort and motivation. Listening to or watching TV shows, movies, podcasts and series in your target language without knowing the language at all requires incredible effort and motivation. Mastering speaking by trying and failing at making constructions thousands of times requires incredible effort and motivation. This is why a child takes a leisurely to gain basic fluency and a full ten to twelve years to reach full grammatical expression. This is also why the average person cannot even fathom learning all this information in 3-6 months.

Our brains are built to self-organize this data over 4-10 years, but can do the same process in 4-6months. 

Your brain can handle this task. Remember, your brain has near unlimited storage capacity. In I found some research stating that our brains do not tire, it is our perception of fatigue that makes us tired (i’ll have to find the exact source, I think it was in a book i read a while back).

So trusting your brain is an amazing component of this process. It allows me to track the incremental gains I make and show me that i’m making improvements. These small wins keep you going. However, these “wins” are much harder to notice if you are going at a slower pace which kills the motivation of many a learner. It is also interesting to note, that I have noticed that many Polyglots (who don’t necessarily try to learn languages quickly) are incredibly patient people. They have no issues spending eight months mastering one part of the language before moving on to anther. This is another psychological super power. I’ve always personally tried to find a middle ground that the average person can manage. We don’t all have disposable time to learn a language in 90 days, and we do not necessarily possess the discipline to very slowly master a part of a  language over eight to twelve months.

What’s cool is that if you were to track the progress of the person doing a twelve month stretch of learning versus four, you’d start to see that its pretty much the same data, albeit absorbed more slowly. You’d still have to learn the 5,000 words, do the 1,000 hours of listening, etc.

That said I have nothing against either style. Personally I’ve always wanted to know how to learn a language quickly in a short time. This is merely relative to convenience and life. We have finite time here on earth. I’d rather learn 2,136 Japanese Kanji in 3 months versus 2-4 years. Learning an advanced level of German in 4.5 months showed me that we can ‘compress time’ and literally bend reality. Why not bend reality especially if you understand the data behind it? Remember, life isn’t binary. It isn’t just language learning and nothing else. People get sick, have stresses, financial demands and other life goals. Pursuing language (the most challenging thing to learn possibly) isn’t a desire for the faint of heart and requires Herculean organization and execution. I know its possible to learn a language quickly, and wanted to get as detailed as possible about the process. Learning to trust my brain relative to this data, has allowed me to accept a truism relative to my efforts. That information learned in a certain way for a certain time, activates the natural brain software, which leads to increased comprehension. The more one focuses on these actions, the brain naturally expands its own parameters and you learn more and more whether conscious or not.

As you increase the data, context and practice its implementation (speech, reading and immersion) your brain learns more and more (by itself) and your abilities increase. But this must be done a certain way. It is not just listening in isolation, or learning thousands of words in isolation. Nor is it just trying to speak with no knowledge of the phonetics of your language. Trust me, with enough effort a person can “blunder through” and be a language superstar, but this (to me) is mostly a psychological advantage, and is not duplicatable. Everything I am describing conceptually the average person can do. You do not need to be a “genius” to execute this, as your brain already can do this. It just needs the data in a certain quantity in a certain way, where it overlaps and creates the parameters for the brain to advance its own ability. 

You will need patience and an advanced psychology. You will need fortitude and a massive goal. You can’t just “want to chat to German girls” or “order food in Spanish”. If you really really want this, you’ll have to change your entire way of being, if only for a few hardcore months. Theory is one thing, but testing it in real life is a whole other ball game. The gains in the beginning are small and exciting, but you don’t start to get serious “ability based gains” for three to four months. I am not one of those types to study for ten hours a day. I’m not presently built like that. I know how to utilize my day to get several hours a day of immersion and several hours of work, but my goal is to finish without burning out. The people who do it in 90 days are champions of consistency, mental fortitude and stamina.

But remember, if it takes 5-10 years for a child to grasp a language. 8 months to fluency or advanced ability is going at warp speed. So 4-6 months is also warp speed. With my current research, My next major experiment will be to test where I can take my French in 8 weeks based on these new metrics, but that’s a test I’ll have to do in 2022 after I see what results I get from Japanese.

Conclusion

We must do every action understanding that the minimum benchmarks for “advanced ability” are  (i.e 3-5,000 words, 500-1000 hours listening time, about 100 hours of grammar study after hitting 3,000 words). We should not ‘expect’ ability beyond these minimums (obviously it is possible, but this is a general guideline i operate within). Once we understand these minimums, we do everything in our power to get here quickly and efficiently, because once these things overlap, the brain kicks in and does its thing. 

By operating in this way and trusting your brain will allow you to develop a very powerful thing, which is expectancy.The majority of learners do not know when to expect changes or growth. They don’t know when they’ll get better and understanding speech, reading or when their own abilities will increase. They know they need to put “effort” into it, but what does “effort” entail? This is where my research has really gone into high detail. “effort”, or the constant E (exposure) which we saw earlier, requires several very careful steps that are quite detailed and have their own energy requirements, that done properly inevitably lead you to advanced comprehension. 

Can you image starting a new language with the knowledge that within 8-10 weeks you will have a guaranteed advanced speaking and comprehensive ability? That’s part of my aim as I keep doing my research with my presently awareness based on my research over the years.

Interesting times ahead! I’ll be posting another article soon.

cheers

 

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How to do ‘Impossible’ Things in ‘Impossible’ Timeframes

 

The video below is of me writing all 2,136 Jouyou Kanji from the approved government list (+100 more) from memory, using only the english keyword for each Kanji to write them.

In July of this year, after a whirlwind period of an extreme 90 days of productivity where I wrote two full novels and taught myself to sing, I gained a very sharp perspective of productivity relative to the use of time and effort. I made this shift after getting a nugget from a book called The One Thing, where it spoke about what you get very good at you spend the majority of your day working on at a minimum of 4 hours per day. This struck a chord with me, having previously done Herculean tasks in short periods of time, but I never “tracked my time”. Having realized that I did these things (with great results but not consistent discipline) I knew that I would be able to set a goal, lock in the time and get things done .

The “impossible” is often “impossible” first in thought. The very nature of impossibility is what leads humans to try and do what is considered ‘unrealistic’ or ‘undoable’. The majority of website and ‘experts’ would probably say that in 1-2 years a person can learn all the Jouyou Kanji, which compared to 10 years for the average Japanese growing child, is quite “fast”. I however, have determined that one does not need more than 8-12 weeks to complete this task, which many would consider ‘impossible’. I made my video timestamps to prove my hypotheses to myself primarily, and to have evidence of what I was doing for general perusal, as I continue my testing.

The idea of “impossible” is first and always conceptual. We all know about Roger Bannister and the 4 minute mile and I won’t bore you with that story. The part of his story that is significant is that he became obsessed with the methodology of the structure of a mile-long race. Its wasn’t really just running “flat out”, you had different phases of the race that you would slow down a bit, speed up and so on. The race had a kind of “physical equation” that Bannister became obsessed with, that ultimately gave him the technique to break the barrier. History has shown that people like Bannister, who obsess over details that may seem minuscule or unimportant to others, are the ones who have significant breakthroughs. I think there are a few steps to attempting the impossible, which I will run through below:

Step 1: Decide To Do The Impossible

“Impossible” in this context, is really something that might seem far beyond you  and your abilities personally. It does not have to be something that is considered impossible by everyone. For example, I looked at the timelines for learning to read and write Kanji, and I knew  it could be done in a fraction of the time it takes a dedicated student to learn. Not months, or years, but weeks. This required a lot of thinking about my research, coming up with a strategy that i’d have to test — within a certain timeline. The “impossible” task here, is hitting at least 1000 with full memorization in the first month, (which means it can be done in the second). Having done that, I had hit an ‘impossible’ goal in what is considered an ‘impossible’ timeline, and I documented my progress. But it was deciding to do it that was my first step.

Step 2: Understand and Master all parameters of Your Goal

In 2013 I decided to write three full novels in one calendar year, which I did in around 8 months. One of these novels, I wrote to completion in 17 days. My book is entitled Naked As The Day, and is set in Japan circa the mid 2000’s. My goal was to write a minimum of 140 pages manuscript length, which would translate to around 275 pages for my paperback novel. There were many things about this process that were optimal: Upon finishing my first novel, entitled Sex, Drugs & Jerk Chicken, the main driver for finishing that book was my second. I was bursting at the seams with the story, ideas and timeline. I was unusually primed to write it but committed to finishing the first novel first. I did not immediately write this novel after finishing the first one. It was after noticing a month or two had passed that I got into gear. I assessed the parameters of my goal:

  1. Readiness

I saturated my mind with Japanese novels, reading five of them in two days. I did this by taking a simple internet tutorial that increases your reading speed by 300%. I read very fast normally, and this increase allowed me to read an entire novel in about an hour and a half tops. I read all these books to saturate my brain with good writing which made it far less likely to “stick” or get stuck as long as my plot and outline were good.

2. Minimum

I stuck to a daily minimum of 10 pages per day. This allowed me to project hitting 140 in two weeks. In this 17 day period, I took two days to sort out some character conflicts (no writing) and then finished the novel. My daily minimum was the measurement by which I knew I’d reach my goal. This is similar to my Kanji strategy, where I calculated a Time Per Kanji number that allowed me to see how long it would take me per day to learn a certain number of Kanji and what time that ultimately translated into.

3. Execution

I set the stage for the execution, ensuring that I would be doing nothing but writing for two weeks. This meant I would have no distractions, interruptions, unnecessarily used energy, etc. For some people this may take quite some time to organize, but I had to set things up in my favor. It’s hard to write ten pages a day if you spend eight or nine of them occupied with other tasks. fortunately, I had the disposable time to do so when I made this goal. I stuck to the timeline and hit it in 17 days. I then spent a week and a half designing the cover, editing the book and releasing it before the end of the calendar year.

 

Step 3: Prime Your Psychology for the end result

When you seek to do something either you have never done or others have never done, it is important that you do not create conflicts for yourself by doing any research relating to anyone else (or their ideas or opinions ) while you test yourself with your task. I had no need to learn “writing hacks”, or go through forums watching people argue about learning Japanese. I knew my research was sound and that my true task was testing it, which would take months of my life. But it was an exciting and stimulating challenge, that i’ve been mentally preparing for over the years. I set these goals with the full knowledge that I could do it. If anyone would stop me, it would be me. This type of confidence usually comes from unusual visualization, or previous successes. For me it was a mix of both. In my previous writing, i’d had a day where I wrote 37 pages of a novella in a day, and another time I stuck to 20 pages a day for five days and knocked out the majority of a scifi manuscript. I also had another period I wrote 110 page novella in about a week. I’d hit these goals randomly and never thought much about them. But when I set my novel goals, I knew I could handle the workload. So all the other factors, plot, story, writing, characters, dialogue and style I’d just have to trust my abilities. But i’m a pretty good writer, so I had no issues there. So I was primed to execute. Likewise with this Japanese project, as I started mapping out my research on occasion I had some doubts. Not doubts about the research, but doubts about the demand of what I was trying to do. I asked myself would this be teachable? Would it be duplicatable? Even after writing six novels it was this Japanese project that took (and is still taking) the most discipline I’ve ever had to use in my life. But this discipline came from a vastly superior personal psychology. The reason for that was my success with German in 2020 after my third attempt at learning the language. I took a vastly different approach, made incredible commitments to my methods, ensured to lower my stress levels as best as I could, worked hard at consistency (though I failed miserably at times) and more importantly, I saw the results, that after 4.5 months I was able to watch German speeches, play video games and listen to Germans speak on a variety of subjects (in German). I even gave up at this point (I got frustrated with myself), a point that most people would think was “fantastic”, and maybe eight months later dove back into it, realized I could listen to podcasts and took my comprehension to another level, which also leveled up my speaking skills, even though I hadn’t spoken to anyone. Mind you, this entire course of study was not done with the level of discipline I have now. When studying German, I took well over 250 pages of notes on all my observations and started to understand on a very deep level a problem i’d identified with every language I’d learned previously, which revolves around what I call  “large data”. As I tested things that didn’t work and those that did, I realized I could see when to “expect” shifts. I started to be able to predict when I’ make gains and what it would take to get there. I redefined the entire process of learning from what i’d known before, redefined my goals and I got fantastically different results.

Let me make something clear. I thought learning German was impossible. When I looked at the funky grammar rules, words that split in two and jumped to the end of the sentence, the pronunciation, native speech etc, I said to myself “if I could learn this, how would I feel about myself?” That was my initial reason, which i would learn wasn’t strong enough. On my third attempt, I had an epiphany, which leads me to step four of doing the Impossible.

Step 4 Set a Monstrous Personal Goal

I’ve spoken quite a bit about German in my essays because it is the only language that I’ve ever studied that I truly reached to an advanced level in a short period of time. It was the first language where I went from literal “noise” to watching movies and playing video games, hearing lyrics in music and listening to speeches in absolute shock that i was understanding what I was seeing. It was the first time I really “trusted” my research 100%, really dug deep, took courses to help me and more research to clarify things I wanted to solidify and it was the first time I didn’t focus on the timeline as much. I wanted a 90 day success story ( but I didn’t have that level of discipline yet) I did however, have the mental fortitude to test my theories for several months, not realizing my gains because I had not taught myself how to measure my progress properly, which is the most dangerous enemy of such a large task. 

In december of 2018, I had this epiphany. Call it a vision. I “felt” Germany in my heart. I have no idea why. I wasn’t seeing any German girls, I’d never really wanted to live there particularly, and I’d been to Germany for five days a decade before and wasn’t feeling nostalgic. Germany literally was calling to me in the wind. It was christmastime and Jamaica was “cool and nice” as we say. Normally, thinking of learning a language would remind me of all my “failures” in trying to learn previous languages. This would make me get tense, impatient and then start heavily judging myself. But this time, I “knew” I could do it. At the time I was doing an awesome hypnotherapy course that helped to unlock some subconscious blocks I had. Once I shifted a lot of my inner dialogue the first thing my mind said was “you can do this”. But it wasn’t a light feeling, it was quite powerful. I could see myself in Germany, living, working, growing and speaking the language. I couldn’t say a word of it when I had that vision, but it gave me the fuel to test everything I would subsequently. At the time I set a goal of traveling to Germany to stay there for a few months arriving ot the country speaking the language fluently. (this plan got derailed in 2020).

I can’t explain how this feeling and the visuals of Europe guided me through the long hours, the repetitive tasks and the inevitable mental pitfalls. My “vision” and my new sense of self helped me to get much better at consistency and discipline. It showed me that my work and consistency would lead to a result, but after 2020 and my plans to travel to Germany got shot I didn’t feel the same passion within myself. Though I had reached such a high level in a language, I didn’t even want to talk about it, in fact I’ve barely been on Youtube since.

But the goal was the fuel. The goal kept me going after the “impossible”. Learning German was what made me know for a fact I could execute this Japanese plan. The different between 2020 and 2021 is that in the first 6 months of 2021, I developed such incredible discipline in terms of writing two novels and learning how to sing I realized 90% of the process was psychological (as I had always suspected) and i’d had such insane results. Psychology is what carries you through the months, the crushing workload and knowing that you won’t start to get rewards for about 3 to 5 months of hard work. After finishing my novel in June, I made  plans to revamp my Japanese learning, because this time I knew I had the discipline, methodology and psychology to execute it. I knew exactly what to do and when, where it would take me and what to expect along the way. All that stood in front of me was truckloads of work, work I had done before so many times without success with inefficient methods, until my third attempt at German. So I set the goal of learning all 2,136 Kanji in 8-12 weeks to then be able to repeat the same methods I used with learning German to get to an advanced level of comprehension.

As I enter what I call “phase II” of this process, which is vocabulary, I had to really sit and think about what I was doing, and ask myself what my major goal was. Gone are the days I’d put in monstrous effort and “give up”. My research is too sound, and I’m too aware of what i’m doing correctly to even entertain thoughts of failure. A core understanding I have is that great success always comes with the right effort, understanding the parameters and executing it relentlessly. 

This psychology is what all successful learners have. One does not need the “perfect” system to do anything, but it is far better to have a very efficient system. My interest has always been in “rapid language acquisition” and it has already been demonstrated that one can master a new language in a very short period of time, anywhere from 3 months to 6 months. So after finishing the 2,136 Kanji, I almost wondered “what was next” even though I already mapped out my next 2 phases. I had to really look at my goal to see if it was big enough. One of my goals is to play Zelda Breath of the Wild in Japanese, but I realized it wasn’t enough. Even though this meant learning a minimum of 5,000 words and clocking in around 750 hours of listening time with a max of 1000 I came to the realize it wasn’t really my complete goal. Not enough to charge me up and push me through everything I’m doing. I already know that once I expose myself to say, 4500 words, Japanese, just like German will start to become extremely comprehensible (75%-90% depending on context) which means i’d be able to play Zelda. But after finishing the Jouyou Kanji I realized that I am not a gamer per se. I own a Nintendo Switch that I barely use and I rarely play games. So why the hell is my main goal to play a game in Japanese? To be fair, I love Zelda games. To be able to play Breath of the Wild, heralded as probably the best Zelda game EVER, in Japanese would be an incredible feeling.

Because I’m not a gamer, I realized that this couldn’t be the only goal, and I had to make some adjustments and add more things. But it was Zelda that set the tone for what i’m doing and I’m still looking forward to that day when I’ll be able to fire up my Switch and handle the game in Japanese. I think that day might be another 8 weeks away based on my estimations, but that’s not too bad based on my timeline of starting in mid July. You see, the good thing about the primary gaol is that the ability to play and understand the game would reflect mastery of the language to a certain extent. It would confirm so much to me. In the same way I played games like Doom and Ni No Kuni in German, there was a comfort and pride in knowing that I’d taken myself to that level of ability through sheer effort. It’s a very nice place to look forward to reaching. So i’ve added a few other cool goals to give me more things to look forward to, things related to speaking, expressing myself, travel possibly and others. Just like my German vision, I’ve created a Japanese vision for myself that allows these tasks, the essay writing and all my research to feel like its feeding something big and fantastic.

So.

In conclusion, doing the Impossible for yourself is something you should attempt often in your life. Going far beyond  your own boundaries and expectations, to open up new doors to opportunities you cannot even see now. All my research (German + Japanese) has now given me a very clear window into another potential methodology that I can’t even test yet, i’m months away from that (because i’m still doing Japanese and still have two phases to finish). But the “impossible” is what makes you wake up in the morning knowing you are trying to do something worthwhile. I’ve spend the entire day doing research today and feel good because I know its all from the culmination of years and years of trial and error. I’ve finally started to answer all the questions that tripped me up when trying to learn Japanese (originally), French, German (originally) and Russian. In fact, my Russian experiment was going amazingly well, I stopped at week five due to health issues and frustration with the state of my life (pyschology). My lack of progress had ZERO to do with method, but language requires so much work that it will consume a large portion of your life. To make this commitment is to commit to changing your entire life for the goal. If you don’t do that, it will become harder and harder to do as you will see it as a chore, a drag, stressful, instead of exciting, inspiring and exhilarating.

My current ability to comfortably read Kanji with the knowledge I can quickly memorize any new Kanji I learn has made me quite relaxed. My knowledge that I can “train words” and expose myself to thousands quickly let’s me look forward to see when these words start “activating” in speech, which makes me look forward to the day, maybe in a month a half, when i”ll be watching some Japanese media and i’ll be shocked that I understand so much, having been able to understand anything only months before. That’s what I like about the impossible.

and you will too.

 

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Watch Me Write all 2,136 Jouyou Kanji (proof of concept)

4 hours and 10 minutes, equates to about four and a half written pages of Kanji

Greetings! The final phase of my research is complete. I wanted to ensure I did a “proof of concept” video within my current timeline. After my first month I memorized 1,009 Kanji but was hit with some bad health issues (extreme fatigue, pain, malaise) for the next several weeks. I did however, maintain a schedule that allowed me to finish the process in 90 days. Just like last time I wanted to make a record of my “actual ability”, meaning, sitting and writing all 2,136 Kanji (plus about 100 more I learned) from memory.

As far as I know, I’ve never seen anyone do this. There are tens of thousands of videos of people explaining how to learn Kanji, or Japanese, but none of people sitting down and writing the entire list (and more). As I move forward, my first video (1,009) in one sitting, and my second video (2,255) in one sitting with serve as proof and evidence of my research as I move into territories like teaching etc. This video if 4:25:00 long and isn’t terribly interesting but serves as a good observational tool for understanding what elite learning practices can deliver with the right structure and organization. A subsequent post will go deeper into my next steps and plans moving forward.

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350 Hours of Listening – (results so far)

the last of my Kanji. The first page is a list of all the Kanji i’d “missed” after rechecking a few times.

Hey guys. So i’m actually finished with my first leg of my Kanji journey, that is, the 2,136 Kanji plus or minus maybe 20 Kanji that I added along the way. Because there are so many Kanji (and individual Kanji) to learn, even after I scanned through my lists several times to see if I missed any, about 50  (yes, fifty!) “slipped through the cracks”, so I’ve memorized those now and will be focusing my efforts solidly on vocabulary acquisition for learned Kanji while slowly acquiring more Kanji to get to a total of 3,000 (which i’ll break down in another post). During this learning process I cannot emphasize to future learners that tracking what you are doing is ridiculously essential. It lets you know where you are, keeps you accountable, and keeps you solidly on the path you’ve chosen to take.

 

Okay, on to today’s topic.

All of today’s post will relate on what I call the Golden Number Theory, which is relative to listening.

Before we get into that theory,  let me remind you of the idea of what we call large data. Learning a language (though often not classified as such) is one, big, giant exercise in memorization. Your goal, it to be able to read, recognize, recall and reproduce hundreds (or thousands) of words, grammar patterns while also memorizing the recognition of these elements in spoken speech (whether live or in media), which I call sonic recognition. 

Sonic Recognition

There is a difference between saying, the single word “Apple” and the sentence “What kind of apple is that?” Due to the nature of phonetics and what is called prosody (the patterns of stress an intonation in a language) words sound different when mixed with other words. Sometimes this difference is stark for a brand new learner of a language. This is why “native speech” is the ultimate test of comprehension, because in addition to varying types of prosody, the speed with which these compressions and intonations happen will be (initially) too fast for your mind to track because you have not yet memorized these sonic shapes, compressions and intonations.

Using the sentence “what kind of apple is that?” When I say it, sounds more like wha kind oh apul is that?” This type of pronunciation is consistent with the compressions and intonations i’ve used my entire life. I am also able to recognize many varieties of these compressions and intonations from other speakers (because our base alphabet is the same). This is why even though Australians sound different from Irish who sound different from Americans who sound different from Jamaicans, we can for the most part all understand one another when speaking with reasonably clarity in English. Sonic recognition is something you must train through listening extensively as it is the only way to learn these shapes in real time. It’s the difference between Jamaicans saying “water” like wata dropping the ‘r’ and Americans saying wahdur dropping the ‘t’. Such phenomena are easy explanations of why many new speakers of a language experience extreme frustration when thrust into speaking, because they are ill-armed to process native speech and unaware of their limitations. Only through high exposure for hundreds of hours, will the brain begin to master the recognition of these phonetics.

So because our task involves large data, we must understand that true mastery requires more work that we think we need to do. But it doesn’t have to be “unusually hard work”. It is more work, in terms of raw time and input that one might assume, but tends to fit within certain parameters for all learners. By comparison, studying words and learning Kanji takes far more effort than passively listening to audio in the beginning. But it also takes quite a bit of effort eventually to actively try and process speech. Not to fear, we have a huge advantage in terms of listening. We are designed to casually listen to things and absorb a large sum of that information subliminally. This means we can get a lot of value from the activity without having to pay direct attention to what we are doing at all times. 

This leads me back to the Golden Number Theory. 

The Golden Number as I see it, is a base number of listening hours that overlaps with study that greatly unlocks your ability to process the language. Notice I didn’t say “shift”, or “increase”. I used “greatly” on purpose. When you hit this number, your shift in comprehension is great, or even extreme like a quantum leap. One situation lead me to this theory initially, when I was learning German.

The German Observation

I was at a point in learning German (in 2019, around the 4.5 month mark) where I said: “this is completely pointless, absolutely impossible, work relegated for mad geniuses and its just TOO MUCH!” I said this to myself after trying TONS of methodolgies to kickstart my listening and overall comprehension after learning 4,500 words over a five week period. After this “frustration point”, about two weeks later, I had a monstrous and (at the time) unexplained leap in my overall comprehension. Out of the blue, I noticed I was able to listen to German teachers speak about learning German, in German, when I could not only two weeks before. I was also able to watch a Tedx type series called Gedankentanken and I was able to watching quite a number of the speeches and follow along with what the presenters were saying when only two weeks before, I couldn’t. I even experienced my first realtime “laugh along moment”, where a speaker said something funny and I laughed at the same time the crowd did. It was mind blowing and I scratched my head asking, “WTF happened?”

In retrospect I believe I’d hit the lower bracket of the Golden Number for listening which I theorize automatically gives you a massive jump in comprehension, by say, 30-50%. Thinking like a visual scene, one goes from “noisy subway” to “a slightly busy street”. Bern Sebastian Kamps, author of Word Brain pretty much confirmed my theory when I happened upon his free ebook recently. Reading his work was like reading my own research (which finally made me feel I wasn’t crazy lol). In terms of listening, he says that 1000 hours of listening is fundamental to advanced command of your target langauge. Many learners say this number is somewhere between 350, 500 and 1000 depending on the language. To add to this statement, what I say relative to research is:

1000 hours of listening is fundamental to advanced command of your target language as you building other foundations through simultaneous progressive overlap in a certain way, manner and time. 

These activities, which are done in this certain way, manner and time period stimulates a factor which I call Brain Power X. 

We all have the ability to learn any language built into us from birth. Brain Power X is the software that does that in a staggered manner over about four years (which is the average time it takes a young child to gain fluency in a language pretty much anywhere on earth). I personally believe that Brain Power X relies on certain types of measurable data, for example, listening. But not just “raw listening”, which is listening without any context, but what I see as “adaptive listening”, which is a lot of listening that is being done while acquiring other data about the language in a specific way. This creates what one can call “progressive overlap” and the pieces start joining together. But what I theorized and observed in realtime, is that not only do I think Brain Power X is real, but you can ‘trigger’ it with data input in the correct way in a predictable period of time. 

What is Brain Power X?

What I see it as, is the brain’s ability to take incredible amounts of data and start to organize it into comprehensible information. I note later in this post that just like German, in Japanese now some parts of grammar (that I have never learned) start to become “understood” without knowing why. I do not mean 100% comprehension. I just mean chunks of conversations you just “get” without knowing what was really said or how to say it yourself. You just understand “what” was said. It is Brain Power X that is the basis for a lot of what i’m doing now, where I am able to predict a certain window of time (with certain activity) that triggers BPX. Once BPX starts activating, certain things start happening. But let me go deeper into my listening so far relative to BPX.

Current Listening Journey

I’ve clocked 350 hours of listening so far, which really should have been 500+ hours, but last month was really testing (i’ve been having health challenges and some days couldn’t muster up the strength for heavy immersion). What’s fascinating to me, is the process at its current stage, feels exactly as it did when I was learning German. This is made all the more familiar since i”m watching similar movies and media (albeit in Japanese) but the way I feel inside is similar because the same things have begun to happen in the same way. I understand far more, things have sharpened and there is this sense of being “two steps behind” where you are almost at the point of comprehension but not fully (a phenomenon which lets you know you are getting damn close to a monstrous breakthrough).

Let’s break down the time by numbers relative to what i’ve observed as ability. This is non-scientific, just based on my personal observations broken up like this.

0-100 hours – basically zero comprehension. Can hear words and some phrases but comprehension is very low and cannot follow all native speech prosody.

100-200 hours – words and patterns become much sharper, words and phrases start to “pop out”, previously watched media becomes more comprehensible when rewatched, the brain gets more comfortable with higher load.

200-300 hours – sentences begin to make sense in very small chunks. Hundreds of common words become obvious (even if their meaning is unknown). Lots of small phrases get memorized. Hundreds of “micro break throughs” “micro recognitions” and “micro sharpening” events start to happen. Speech prosody sharpens more. A good example of this is in Star Trek TNG which i’ve been watching. It didn’t take 300 hours, but I remember when I got very comfortable with the individual voices of the Japanese voice actors. It became easy to distinguish (even if i wasn’t watch directly) the voices of Captain Piccard, Worf, Data and all the other cast. If a new person was on the episode, I would also hear their voice and know it was not a common cast member.

300-400 hours (where I am Presently) – chains of common sentences become fully comprehensible, really fast speech prosody becomes much easier to track (that is, you can hear almost every word of bullet speech, breathy talking, or heavy native prosody). During this phase some grammar ‘self-organizes’ and is comprehensible (without learning the grammar patterns) and a lot of compressions and intonations that you didn’t catch before start get very, very sharp. Previous with German I had reached this stage with a vocabulary of over 4,000 words. I will speak about this stage, German and Japanese below:Let’s talk about this:

When I was learning German, I spent five weeks learning maybe 4,500 words and had what I called a “comprehension explosion”. When I started listening to media at that point, I could hear almost every word that was said. I didn’t understand everything, but i could hear a lot of it quite clearly, when it was previously noise. Soon afterwards (maybe a month), I didn’t have much issue watching TV shows like Dark on Netflix and following along. I watched all 3 seasons in German (with German subs) on Netflix. The current difference with Japanese, is that in order to focus heavily on effectively learning thousands of words, I needed to learn (first) the 2,136 Kanji Jouyou Kanji from the official government list. So i’m currently approaching phase II  the vocabulary phase, but I feel quite similar experience wise relative to my listening ability as I did with German. The main thing that happens first is basic speech becomes near 100% comprehensible. Chit-chat, small talk, those kinds of things become very easy to follow. Funny voices, weird accents start to organize and are a bit easier to follow. The data is adding up and the brian its doing its thing. You see, immersion takes a LOT of discipline and it is important to listen to stuff that you can watch over and over because if you choose the wrong media you will get bored and your brain will do its best to frustrate you and kill your journey. Quite a few times i’ve found it difficult to figure out “what to watch” even if its playing in the background because i’m tired. But one of my rules is that all activity towards the goal benefits it and time wasted figuring what to watch is time wasted NOT watching/listening to something. 

I’m not “sitting and watching” all this media. It plays picture in picture plays in the background, or I rewatch movies I know the lines for by heart. It can be “fun” but because I know i’m aiming for 1000 hours and STILL have thousands of words to learn it is challenging BUUUUUUT…. because of Brain Power X, this ability within all of us. Inputting all this data while learning other things like word, grammar etc, triggers some software in your brain to self-organize. My listening schedule below looks like this:

My choices are based on things that I’ve previously watched that are enjoyable, easy to follow, I know the storylines and have tons of seasons to guarantee repetitive themes, words and contexts.

Star Trek Next Generations (Five seasons watched)

Buttload of Native TV Shows and Game Shows on my iPad

Podcasts (maybe 30 @2 hrs each)

Star Trek Voyagers (Five seasons watched)

Movies: Maybe 20 so far. Total 350 hours. 

So because i’m watching Star Trek, words like “space”,”planet”,”captain”,”subspace”,”engineering”,”ship”,”transport”,”ensign”,”lieutenant”,”sick”,”go”,”fire”,”order”,”enemy”,”peace”,”alien”,”earth”,”message”,”sound”,”reply”,”federation”,”representative” are said almost ten times an episode. there are also hundreds of other common words being said that I have an awareness of, which means, the brain, having stored all this sonic data from hundreds of hours will begin to quickly associated newly learned stuff to what it has already memorized to a degree. This is why a “comprehension explosion” happens and also as I am theorizing, why we can predict this within a certain time span, with a certain type of active overlap.

I was watching Transformers yesterday and this guy said “俺は文明人でわない?” ore wa bunmeijin dewanai? The subtitle said “we aren’t animals are we?”, but I know “animals” is not bunmeijin (文明人) so I looked it up and it was “civilized person”. So he was basically saying, “we’re civilized aren’t we?”. Stuff like this starts to happen constantly and really fast (in fact its been happening far earlier, I just haven’t been completely focused on vocabulary so haven’t had the time to pay attention to all the new words as it would eat into Kanji time). So once I looked up this new word, I have it basically memorized because the context is so strong. In fact, most of the time I can hear them say something different from the subs (which is a good thing). The point is, this is Brain Power X at work. This is when it starts to do its thing, when it gets enough data. Its transforming things like Optimus Prime.

I’ve probably learned without much effort about 1000 words and I probably knew 2-300 before, though not well. Now that my primary focus is going to be vocabulary, I expect a comprehension explosion in about four weeks. About a 30% jump in total comprehension, where I start to get very comfortable with understanding longer and longer sections of what i’m listening to. The reason why I said this is so familiar is because this happened very quickly with German. I didn’t have access to any German films and I was watching tons of bootleg streams, which I had to watch without subtitles. So I was forced to really pay attention and to my surprised with certain films I could follow along very well. But I also raged at content I could barely understand, because I didn’t understand that BPX takes some time. As you start to be able to process the language, it doesn’t mean you are used to all he parameters yet. A person learning English in America for the first time will struggle to understand it, and probably have a heart attack when they try to understand Australians and Irish people. Even though we use the same base phonetics, our prosody varies with territory and the brain must be familiar with these variations to properly recognize it. These variations is just ‘more data’. I am not learning Japanese prosody from Star Trek alone. I spent the better part of my early journey listening only to Japanese podcasts and TV shows before getting stressed and running to VPNvill so I could get more content. This meant my “training” was based on native prosody which actually helps with TV voices and video game voices which are clearer. Jumping between the two gives you a nice range of phonetic variation, so I can hear people make jokes on a game show or talk ridonculously fast with a funky accent, but I am not “lost”. Meaning I can hear what they are saying, and know that as I improve my vocabulary, I will be able to eventually understand them. Being “lost” means by this definition I cannot hear what they are saying (prosody) and I cannot understand what they are communicating (meaning). One step logically follows the other, and by knowing that I can hear every word a native speaker is saying while speaking quite fast, that means one step in the logical chain is solved until I get more ‘data’ (vocabulary) to fill in the gaps. So I see “not understanding” in this context as a fabulous achievement. It is much better than what I call “complete noise” where you are just lost.

Phonetic variation can only be learned through experimental interactions through media (or in real life). A man with a very deep voice will sound different from a woman with a high voice even though they are using the same phonetics. People have different accents, talk at different speeds and so on.

What this means for Japanese

Brain Power X is already kicking in and i haven’t started “hardcore vocabulary” yet. I still have some revising for the Kanji before I start pushing there. Vocabulary study inevitably overlaps with a ton of grammar, so at the same time I learn words I can work through all the sections of n5, n4, n3 and n2 (my goal) over the next 8 weeks. Since everything “feels the same”, the result should be the same. Just like German, the same things are happening in the same way, the same insights, the same observations, the same relative shifts in comprehension and so on. Even when people are speaking goddamn fast it just sounds like someone speaking fast, but I can hear what they are saying, I just don’t know all the words yet.

So lastly, i’m documenting this because this stage is actually very exciting. It means that my brain is starting to get enough data to do its thing. Sure I might have another six weeks of solid work ahead, but once BPX activates, you make just a giant leap its almost as if you can’t remember where you were. I keep emphasizing this because not only does the leap in comprehension happen, but also speaking ability. I found after I was able to understand native speakers far better, without any practice i was able to speak far better as well. It nearly blew my mind. 

This confirmed to me that I had activated “Brain Power X” and I wanted to ensure what I’d learned was not a fluke. Not only is it not a fluke, but repeatable, which means this process can be do with any language, given the right set of circumstances. I’ve actually already realized what’s going to happen as If i’m looking into the future. My mind is so primed that I’m ready to tackle French again, because with my present knowledge I now believe I should be able to take myself to an incredibly advanced level in about 8 weeks tops. I mean incredibly advanced based on all my data and research and certain “hardcore training tactics that trigger BPX”.

I’ll dive more into BPX later as I make more personal gains. But if you can choose a set of activities that guarantee the activation of Brain Power X in a certain time, then you have guaranteed the prediction of either fluency, or a certain ability within a certain time. 

So I can tell you definitively that you can learn 2,136 Kanji in 8-10 weeks and I can show you how. I am also trying to definitively tell you (with hard data) when to expect these shifts in your mind and comprehension explosions. Doing so would allow you to map your own path and know where you are at each stage. Since I believe I can make this work with a romance language in just 8 weeks, then a dedicated learner wouldn’t need more than 2 months to become really advanced in say, French, German or another Romance language. However, this is just a projection it might be closer to 90 days, which is still incredibly short. But this would be a 90 day window of guaranteed ability with duplicatable steps.

If I can help someone to fluency in that predicted window (regardless of where they are) then I would really have achieved what i’ve been puzzling over for a decade. We all have our obsessions and it is interesting that my dots have started to connect in such a way. But theory and implementation on this scale have incredible demands on time and energy, but that makes victory even sweeter! 

Incredible work lies ahead, but I press on!

Welcome to the world of mad scientist Marcus Bird!

cheers

 

 

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