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Are you learning Japanese the wrong way?

This entry is part 7 of 14 in the series Best of AJATT+ Forum
learning Japanese wrong

This is how I've been learning Japanese. What about it?

Hey, it’s part something-or-other of the Best of AJATT+ Forum series.

Today’s post comes from アンソニー, who comes to us with a confession. He learned Japanese the wrong way.

Through out the last three years of my Japanese project I…

watched 100 episodes of One Piece subbed in English,
spent way too much time thinking and worrying, and not enough doing,
spent too much time studying Japanese per day,
spent too little time studying Japanese per day,
saw the glass as half empty and thought pessimistically,
did things in Japanese that were too boring,
attended a Japanese class in college,
ditched Japanese class in college,
occasionally listened to English music or watched a movie in English,
spoke English to my Japanese friends,
allowed them to speak English to me,
I even read an entire manga series in English once,
DUDE, I’m not kidding, I read the entire series of Death Note in English, while doing All Japanese All the Time,
gave up studying Japanese,
spent to much time reading English,
probably read more English than Japanese the past few years,
tried to speak Japanese before I was ready (without enough input first),
held myself back from speaking by making the excuse “I’m not ready yet”,
contradicted myself countless times,
took too seriously,
did things in English when I knew darn well I could have done them in Japanese,
am writing this post when I SHOULD be doing my reps,
and used a bilingual dictionary (and still use sometimes).

That’s quite a list.

But アンソニー isn’t coming to beg forgiveness. He has an epiphany to share.

Despite the many mistakes and ‘wrong’ attitudes of learning Japanese I used, I can now…

hang out with my Japanese friends and function pretty well using only Japanese,
use only Japanese with my girlfriend,
watch anime, movies, television in Japanese with no English subs, and understand anywhere between 60 – 90 % of the dialogue, depending on the material,
use a monolingual dictionary, no prob,
I don’t use English subs anymore!

my girlfriend, who was born and raised in Japan, sometimes asks me how to write a word in Kanji,
easily use a Japanese operating system on my computer (I’ve been using one since day one of this project),
read and produce 2268 kanjis from memory,
read manga and comprehend enough to follow the plot without a dictionary,
sometimes read complicated wiki entries and science articles in Japanese, with the occasional aid of Rikaichan,
listen to children’s podcasts like Fantajikan, and follow the story around 80% upon first hearing,
understand adult level comedy podcasts, like Junk Podcasts and get the gist of what they’re talking about,
I just watched 茶の味, no subs, and followed it and the dialogue pretty easy,
I learned a ship ton of time management skills, goal attainment attitudes, and mindsets to increase productivity,

I can sing many Japanese songs word for word,
I have around 5000 MCDS and sentence cards in my srs, not including my RTK deck,
I just recently went to Japan on vacation, first time ever setting foot in the country, and I was able to use only Japanese with virtually every interaction while I was there!
When my Japanese friend asks me if I know what チンカス means in attempt to mess with me, I’m all “yeah, what about it?” with a straight face,
I can shadow native speakers on podcasts effortlessly,
I’ve improved in many other ways I’m not thinking of right now.

Had アンソニー held himself to a standard of perfection, he would have given up.

But his goal is not to learn Japanese perfectly. His goal is to learn Japanese.

And to do that, he knows he needs to move forward. If he finds that he’s stopped moving, he doesn’t say to himself, “gee, I’m not very good at moving forward. I should just stop trying to move.” Instead… he just starts moving again. And again. And again. All his sprints and spurts add up, bringing him to the awesomeness he is today.

Or, as アンソニー puts it:

Stuff just works out with acceptance and time. 🙂


Are you learning Japanese the wrong way? Don’t sweat it. Just keep moving.

Original post.



Series Navigation<< Learning Japanese = Playing a Video Game, Part 2Deletions >>

  16 comments for “Are you learning Japanese the wrong way?

  1. KimiOTabemasuYo
    January 8, 2012 at 09:16

    I really find this website helpful because of, among other things, posts like these. I am quite new to learning Japanese, and I haven’t even watched anime or read manga regularly, so I’m starting completely from scratch. After studying for perhaps one month now, I’ve gone through 5 chapters of the Genki I book and I’m at almost 600 漢字 in RTK.
    It would be wise to first mention that I want to move to Japan in the future and become as proficient in the language as possible, and come close to the famed native fluency.
    Recently, I’ve read some comments about people who think that “If you really want to become fluent and have a native-like thought map, you should at least use the Kumon books for kanji, it gives superior literal fluency…”. Being, as I said, at almost 600 漢字 in RTK, I of course started freaking out and wondering if I made the wrong decision in getting RTK, taking into account what I wrote about my long-term goals earlier in this post (I even didn’t study from RTK for a day or two)…
    However, I tend to agree with what アンソニー concludes with, and I think that RTK will definitely pay off, even if some people do not think highly of it and its mnemonics.
    Thanks for reading, and thanks for the site and your work, Khatzumoto様!

  2. ライトニング
    January 8, 2012 at 11:43

    Very nice post. I can’t stress how important just going forward is and not giving up.
    There were times in the past when I went all 絶望 and felt bad, felt burnout on Kanji, and ended up taking few days break from Kanji. But then I realized, Doing a bad job is better than doing no job at all, so It doesn’t matter If I could only do a few kanji a day, it’s still better than 0. Luckily I got myself together and plowed through the last 500 kanji during spring break like a total boss. Now I’m at 2500 sentences and just finished reading a wikipedia article on 下痢 and nodded my head to understanding a lot of it 😛 If I would have given up, There is no way i could be where I am now.

  3. Dmitry
    January 8, 2012 at 21:07

    Sometimes the wrong way is also the right way because it’s virtually the only way.  I began learning Japanese for fun a few years ago while I couldn’t really afford to put much effort into it as I was working on my degree 24/7, doing All Mathematics All The Time.  Unfortunately, you can only be immersed into one thing at a time.  Nevertheless I took tiny steps on the side that couldn’t possibly get me distracted too much, I experimented with a lot of different textbooks and materials one at a time, deliberately choosing less efficient but more stable methods that didn’t require more than an hour a day of my relaxed time.  I tried to address one issue at a time that I felt was the most beneficial element. There was a time, 6 months perhaps, when I didn’t do anything Japaneesy except the RTK I reps until I became confident in 常用漢字, and then I moved on to RTK II and spent about 8 months until I was confident in 音読み (it worked but I wouldn’t recommend that to anyone sane), and then about half of my daily time for Japanese went to maintaining that clunky knowledge.  Slow but steady progress kept me motivated, as well as the desire to see for myself how wrong the ‘wrong’ way is, actually.  I wasn’t in touch with actual Japanese much, but I kept mastering its elements through various means.  When I discovered AJATT, it was a tremendous eye-opener and I immediately began trying it out only to discover that it gave me too little control under the circumstances.  I ordered a fair amount of interesting stuff in Japanese, but I couldn’t just take it from the shelf and use it because that would cut into my valuable time doing mathematics.  Then I finally got my long-desired degree last Summer (and maybe fluent in mathematics along with it, I was severely burned out and didn’t care at the time so it’s hard to tell), and that’s when Japanese began to take off.  While I haven’t abandoned my inefficient methods entirely yet, I actually moved to authentic materials and it seems that now I can watch or read or listen to pretty much anything, listening over and over to various segments and picking out words and pieces of grammar as I go along, which feels like the natural, rewarding exponential growth that would lead anyone to fluency in a relatively short period of time even with moderate effort, perhaps a couple of years, instead of a decade of the boring and unnatural (because the brain is a neural network, not a traditional computer) linear growth with a huge risk of dropping out entirely.
    Anyway, while learning languages the AJATT way is a very good idea, I think that it wouldn’t work under some circumstances.  Not giving up and just doing anything that’s doable towards the still excruciatingly distant goal, however, would always work long-term, as circumstances would eventually change and you would be in a much better position because 1) maybe you wouldn’t have had the pot boiling, but you would have kept the fire burning, and 2) you would have made some progress, which may not seem like a lot, but it’s tremendously significant because it was early on.

  4. Nastri
    January 9, 2012 at 05:46

    Are you learning Japanese the wrong way? Don’t sweat it. Just Keep Walking…. Johnie Walker…

    • ライトニング
      January 9, 2012 at 10:28

      Nice. Eventually after all those wrong moves you will realize the right moves to do.

  5. Freddy
    January 10, 2012 at 03:18

    It’s been about a year since I bought some kanji cards and realized that right off the bat I made a mistake, I should have bought hiragana and katakana cards. Not even day one and BOOM already failed, ha ha. Instead of feeling all sheepish and what not, I laughed it off, went back to the store and bought the hiragana / katakana decks. I can definitely relate アンソニー in some ways. During my first year, I would worry constantly about not GETTING IT. Now, I just realize that I don’t get it so I pick up a dictionary or some learning material, study it and GET IT! It’s not going to kill me to not know a word or two or 300 etc. at this point. Accept where you are but also pick out another place you want to be and get there, at your pace. I can already see a difference this year, my 2nd learning Japanese, and the way my attitude is towards learning it. Much more easy going about it, but if anything, I’m much more aware of what I am learning now. Who would have thought that time and effort pay off!!!

  6. Matt
    January 10, 2012 at 11:58

    Definitely can relate.  For me, I’ve been unendingly frustrated by listening skills.  I finished RTK in 3 months with Onyomi and Kunyomi, not a problem.  I went on to get reading down super quickly, and even became decent at writing.

    but then I kept hitting the brick wall of listening.  I could not hear at even 30% of my ability to read and write.  Therefore, I started listening less, finding myself trying to avoid listening to things I thought I wouldn’t understand.  The one thing I needed to do to fix my biggest frustration in the language I neglected.  However,

    I did not stop.   It came in waves.  I would get frustrated and change my listening back to my (low) comfort zone and stay there for awhile, not really making progress.  Then a couple of days later I’d get the courage back up again and turn on something completely new and foreign, get frustrated, go back to my comfort zone, and so on for months.

    I really picked the least efficient route to improving my listening by trying to avoid it.  But I did not stop.  I just kept starting.  AND IT WORKS!!!?!?!?!???!?!!!!!!?!?!?

  7. Chiro-kun
    January 11, 2012 at 02:14

    People should take アンソニー’s advice and listen to ふぁんた時間:

  8. mintyroll
    January 11, 2012 at 13:23

    But can アンソニー read all the names in the credits at the end of a movie! :0
    Just kidding.

  9. January 14, 2012 at 13:38

    I find this very interesting. Great BLOG! We have started a website to use things that you would watch or read regularly via youtube and news articles to help you learn Japanese. It is FREE and we have just started it. Please stop by and check it out and let us know what you think.

    Happy Language Learning! 

  10. Jimmy
    January 15, 2012 at 03:38

    Yup. I agree 100%, great article. Especially the part about not striving for absolute perfection.

    A couple times, I’ve looked at x media (manga, game, book, whatever) and said, “Ok, I’ll go through this and enter everything I don’t know into Anki.

    Yeah, that lasted a couple days. Then I gave up. Never went back to English, but gave up on entering sentences for a while.

    Moral of the story? Slow and steady, slow and steady, slow and steady, not fast and perfectionist. (Although if you can handle fast and steady, more power to you).

  11. January 19, 2012 at 01:46

    I liked the part with the cats…

    • March 27, 2012 at 12:18

      I don’t get it… what are those cats doing wrong? What are they trying to do right? Reproduce??

  12. January 20, 2012 at 19:59

    I used to think there was a right way, or at least a best way . . .
    It’s been about ten years since I started learning Japanese, and I’ve tried lots of methods.  Like tons.  You name it, I probably tried it (including moving to Japan, which is a pretty extreme thing to do just to learn a language, if you think about it).  The programs that were lousy I abandoned quickly, while others I stuck with for years.  (They usually overlapped, since you can study using several different methods at the same time, assuming you’ve got plenty of free time.)  I’ll write more details about those learning adventures on my site, but I’ll share the conclusion right now.
    The bottom line is–similar to what Khatz says–it’s not the method so much as the exposure.  You just have to get a lot of (comprehensible) Japanese input.  As long as you’re learning something everyday, it almost doesn’t matter what you learn or how you learn it.  You just gotta do it.

  13. February 6, 2012 at 23:12










  14. Roger Godinho
    January 28, 2014 at 15:33

    Some very nice advices here. Now, I’m trying to help my girlfriend to learn japanese and I would like to find American TV shows dubbed and subtitles for the same shows.
    (why not go for the Japanese shows? We will get there, but later, when she doesn’t need the subtitles).

    So, anybody there knows some places where I can find both? (dubbed shows AND subtitles)

    Most famous shows in Japan would do, like 24 and Alias. Anybody?

    Thanks anyway!!!

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