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Ask Dr. Khatz: Sidetracked in Salt Lake, Part 2

Maddie and Khatz go way back to university days when they studied together in the computer science department. Now, as a video game programmer in a major company, it would seem Maddie has it all. There’s one dream, however, that has remained elusively beyond the reach of this avid anime fan, gamer, and cosplay seamstress — the dream of learning Japanese.

In Part 1, Maddie explained how she keeps getting distracted (especially by English TV shows), discouraged, and giving up. Dr. Khatz challenged her assumptions and proposed that learning Japanese just might be a whole lot easier and simpler than she had been led to believe. Their conversation, edited from an IM chat, continues below.

(continued from Part 1)

Khatz: Okay…next order of business. So you want results, but when you can’t get them quickly (in the past, with Japanese, at least) you decided to…throw Japanese out altogether? i.e. to do nothing whatsoever that might bring you closer to the result?

Worded like that…does that make any sense to you? Is it fast or nothing?

Maddie: No, but sometimes, I feel like it’s this giant endeavor.

K: Ok… Is going at 0 speed better than going at 1~3 speed even though you wish you were going at 10 speed? Is 0 better than 1~3?

Cutting people off is underrated

M: I’ve also been struggling a lot these days with what I should be spending my time on. I spend hundreds of hours on my cosplay and similar projects, and most people think it’s retarded.

K: Do you like these people? Are they the ones paying for your cosplay? Are they going to pay you money to do things they DO think are worthwhile? Do they live with you?

M: No, they don’t. But I’ve felt very misunderstood recently…

K: I know exactly what you mean 😀

M: One of the things I get super-frustrated about is that no one would tell me I was “wasting my time” if I was making costumes for the local theater troupe, or if I was making quilts, or any number of things like that… What makes my interests any less valuable than yours?

K: Exactly. Those people are full of crap and unless they pay you money or are VERY good kissers, you don’t have to listen to them.

If they don’t like it, they’d better get used it. I’ve had some of those acquaintances… deleted them faster than spam. “Stop cosplay. Be BIG FOR HER”…ok…bye.

It is not ac-freaking-cceptable Mads. You’re, what, 25? 26 now?

M: 27.

K: 27, ok. (Me too!) You’re 27 years old and people are pulling that high school crap on you?

Personally, I find it inspiring… You’re living the dream in so many ways…you get paid money to make VIDEO GAMES.

Dude, Maddie, I won’t lie. I would hate you for NOT doing those things. Your anime passion infected me…

M: Hehe.

K: So…what it comes down to is your casual acquaintances…suck…and you need better ones who understand what you’re about.

There comes a point where they either shut up and accept you, or they have to go. I don’t know if you’ve reached that point with those peepz, but just know…that is an option maybe, you know, waiting in the wings…

Dude, cutting people off…it helps THEM, too. Now they don’t have to be annoyed by you. You’re doing them a favor…

M: lolz

K: Cutting people off…very underrated.

Don’t intellectualize language-learning

K: Third thing… You’re intellectualizing language-learning. You’ve learned it as a “school subject”… You’ve taken “classes”…

So…most or all of the English you know now, you know from English class, right? And before you went to English class you knew no English, right?

M: Yeah… I see your point.

K: And you keep your English up with textbooks and English class… You review the material, right? So you don’t forget.

Because, how are you going to know English otherwise, Maddie? And you need it for work and stuff…need that English…

A language is not something we compartmentalize. It is practically life itself. It’s like the air, literally like the air. I venture, Maddie, that you have spent as much time away from English as you have away from air.

M: Well, I have traveled, but I never stopped thinking in English.

K: Even when you’ve watched Japanese, there’s been English text down there. And when you came to Japan, you were, yeah, thinking in English…talking in English to Chad and the crew. Your guidebooks were in English. The hotel people spoke English.

I mean THINKING in English, Mads, were you born that way?

M: Probably not.

K: You have made this English thing such a habit, it literally stays in your head even when you get in a plane, go up into the stratosphere, cross an ocean, get away from America…and still…in your head…there can be English.

But that’s besides the point… A language is more like a sport, Mads. One of my neighbors here, Eisuke, he says it’s like a conditioned reflex. When you really know a language, you don’t intellectualize it. You intellectualize THROUGH it, but when you speak, you speak that way because that is the way.

When you turn on Hulu, you’re not like “it’s time for me English practice”. You’re just watching TV with so-called “first” and “native” languages. You don’t even TALK about the language. It’s like it’s not there because it’s everywhere.

Yet every phone call you make, every TV show you watch, thought you think, every person who makes fun of your cosplay, every person who is nice about your cosplay,every  sign you see, every song you listen to — all these things are language/English practice: every single one of them.

Everything is in context

K: Now, you said you could read polyester “but only in context” — oh, so you’re supposed to know it OUT OF CONTEXT? When the heck are you going to read about polyester out of context? I’ll tell you when — on a school test.

Quick, Madison, tell me every English word you know. List them right now, every last one.

M: lolz

K: Tell me every single English word you understand…and if you can’t tell me, you must not know/understand them. In real life, EVERYTHING is in context. Everything is in a sub-menu. And that’s how the heck it should be.

Context-flattening is not real. It’s easy to make/grade, but it’s not real.

M: So true.

K: So you’re good at Japanese. You know some Japanese, but you won’t even give yourself the credit because it was IN CONTEXT? Is that fair?

M: Ok, I guess not.

K: Would you tell your (hypothetical) miraculous virgin baby that she was a loser because “you only know how to say that word because you saw it context”? Would you say this to a child? a small child? your child? a lot? And if you did, do you think they would grow up happy and wanting to learn?

So why is it okay to be abusive to you? Because it’s you? Is it okay to slit your wrists and do drugs then? I mean, it’s YOU…it’s your body… And let’s say you made the drugs by yourself at home using legal stuff from Wal-mart. You’re not financing the drug trade so it’s okay, right? I mean, it’s paint thinner…and alcohol…alcohol is legal…so it’s okay, right?

But literally every time you don’t let yourself feel good for small successes like that, you create drugs in your brain and give them to yourself. You might as well slap the baby each time she makes a mistake: “STOP BABBLING!!!” “That was in context, you prissy little know-it-all!”

It’s just mean. And we get away with this because most of it happens in our head and nobody else is watching the little child inside suffering.

I learned Japanese by accident

K: You’re a lot like me, I think, Mads. You are so driven. You want this Japanese so badly that everything smells like failure — too slow… “in context”… (*eye roll* :)) I know because this is how I have often felt about Chinese. You beat and beat and beat yourself, and we pretend it’s “discipline”… But it creates so much pain that you just go watch Hulu (i.e. practice English) instead.

I learnt Japanese by accident, Maddie, while trying (i.e. being mean to myself and creating a struggle) to learn Chinese. I was just fooling around with Japanese. It was just a game. There was no point — it was just an experiment. As the hippies like to say, the journey was the point.

M: I thought you wanted to so you could work for Large Japanese Corporation?

K: No… I wanted to work at Large Japanese Corporation so I could get paid to keep playing with Japanese. I knew if I went to, say, an American company, I’d have to do English all the time. (I also loved Large Japanese Corporation products, having grown up with them.) But Large Japanese Corporation was literally a ploy to get paid to keep messing around with/in Japanese.

And it worked. They did all my paperwork. Flew me over, twice. Paid to ship my stuff from the US — boxes and boxes and boxes. Did my insurance paperwork. Helped secure my Japanese name. Let me talk, read, write and listen to Japanese ALL DAY LONG.

M: Hehe.

K: And then put money in my bank account every month for my troubles. So yeah, it was the other way around…

A language is NOT a skill, Madz. It is not. You don’t “know” it. You don’t “know” English. You LIVE English. A language is a habit.

So you don’t get good at it. Don’t ask yourself if you’re getting “good” at it. You get USED to it, and you get so used to it that you could literally…fly to the moon, Maddie. You could leave the planet Earth to-day — TO DAY — and there would STILL be English rolling around in your head, you’re so used it.

You don’t speak it right because of those stupid exercises you can’t even remember any more you did in some English class at some high school. You speak it right because you don’t freaking know any other way to speak it. You actually have to THINK about how to suck at English. You would actually have to TRY to suck at English. You would have to make an intellectual effort and heat up your processor…

You dream in English. I mean, can’t you even be unconscious and be rid of this thing? What the heck? 😀 (Funny thing is, though, if you were to truly stop all English for long enough, you would forget it, but it would take decades… | Mr Uwano comes back from the dead to say ‘Good Day’ – Times Online)

You are already a success story

K: So you are still practicing. And you have one marvelously successful language experience: English, the language everyone and their dog wants to learn. You speak perfect General American English. You are a success story — you have a success history — and you are repeating this success even now. Look at us practicing English right here. 😉

M: Ok, so at the end of the day, I do want to do this, but I still live in America. I still have to go to work and do my bills and talk to my family, and this all has to be done in English, so it’s not like I can go and live in an all-Japanese place. I still want to learn more about code and read stuff and actually understand it, etc. etc., but I would like to learn Japanese.

I can easily, or at least relatively easily, switch my background “I live alone, and I don’t like a quiet apartment” stuff to Japanese, and I can even dedicate half an hour or so to learning to read everyday. But is this enough? I know that I won’t learn as fast as some, but I want to learn. I can’t sacrifice my life to this, but it is important to me.

K: Good question. Obviously, the more you give it, the more and faster you get. As you recall, Maddie, yes, I gave everything to Japanese, but I was still a functioning college student. I mean, we talked, we hung out.

Here is what I did… Here is “the secret”, if you will…

(to be continued…)

What is “the secret” (the secret, the secret…) of which Dr. Khatz speaks? Find out next week in the third and final installment!

  21 comments for “Ask Dr. Khatz: Sidetracked in Salt Lake, Part 2

  1. SammyB
    May 19, 2010 at 11:49

    Nice post… but huh? Sometimes we can comment and sometimes we can’t? o_O

    Bit confused here…

  2. フランク様
    May 19, 2010 at 16:47

    dude the baby babbling thing was hilarious lmao!! seriously that was the funniest thing I heard (read) today! ^^

  3. Sandra
    May 19, 2010 at 23:21

    I can’t wait a week for the conclusion! I want the Secret… NOW!!! è_é
    Thank you for your ispiring blog 😀 (I’m still at kanji 234 in Heisig’s RTK U_U )
    Sandra from Italy

  4. May 20, 2010 at 05:42

    Sandra, Grats! keep up the work!

    Vivian (my baby daughter) gets lots of Japanese around her and I wonder which language she will try and speak first, English or Japanese. Though I think English simply because her Dad doesn’t speak Japanese hardly, though he responds to the Japanese I speak to him in.

    I make him take it lol, and he already knows stuff just from me repeating it without giving English translations. So I guess if anything, she’ll at least understand a majority if she doesn’t speak it.

    Also reading children books to her at this time is nice. She doesn’t know English from Japanese, and I can get away with my horribleness and slow reading to boot! hahaha! She is happy I think just hearing me talk to her. Win Win!

  5. Mimi
    May 20, 2010 at 12:03

    @Rochella, my niece is growing up in a house where her father speaks both English and Portuguese but the mother speaks only English, so I thought I’d share how things have worked out for her: When she first started talking, she would mix English and Portuguese words together. After a few months, she stopped speaking any Portuguese and only uses English. However, she can still understand all the Portuguese her father speaks to her.

    Your daughter may be similar. Or not. Wait and see, I suppose. If you can get her to speak Japanese and actively use it, that would be pretty awesome.

  6. igor
    May 21, 2010 at 01:00

    Very good. I wonder if Maddie got sick of you soapboxing in her face the whole time lol…jk.

  7. May 21, 2010 at 23:10

    OMG cliffhanger!!! I feel some what like Maddie (at least in the very beginning when I knew 0 Japanese) but I’ve been doing a whole lot better with my immersion. My motivation is still there everyday when I wake up and go to sleep. I even sleep with Japanese audio children stories on and wake up with it still playing. I have dreamed of japanese words and songs that I’ve listened to (even Jdrama shows). It may not be the exact Japanese words though but I get some here and there. I started studying this past January and now I know about 100+ Kanji (just meanings while 20 in pronunciations) and I’m a whole lot better in reading Hiragana. Still need work with Katakana but with this site I tell you, it changed me and I’m sure you get a lot of people telling you that. What you write is the truth. It has helped me get to where I am going now. To me your like a celebrity :-). どうもありがとうございます

  8. May 21, 2010 at 23:19

    btw I stalk your tweets like crazy 😉

  9. zaynah
    May 22, 2010 at 01:07

    A week seems like torture to wait! – -‘ I’m so glad I found this sight,it’s like the answer to my language learning prayers!

  10. UnholyBurger
    May 22, 2010 at 08:36

    Im liking this series, thanks a lot Khatz. You always seem to post the right thing at the right time for me 🙂

  11. アメド
    May 22, 2010 at 15:01

    Interesting, do want to know what happens next. But recently I was thinking of myself what ways can I do to improve japanese, but the answer was in front of me, kick the immersion factor up a notch by not watching anything in English(if possible) and making my computer Japanese,browser Japanese, youtube,etc anything I use. And use more monolingual sources, to adjust my brain into japanese.

  12. Flo
    May 22, 2010 at 23:56

    I have a question, if you don’t mind.
    In AJATT, you advise us to avoid any english. I’ve already finished Heisig for a while, and I’m in the immersion phase (I try to do everything in japanese). But when I review Heisig with the SRS, obviously the reviewing process involves english (because we have to find the kanji from the english key-word).

    So I was wondering how you guys (AJATTers or Khatz) deal with it: do you still review Heisig every day despite the use of english that it involves?
    Or do you use SRS just for reviewing sentences?
    I really want to know your thoughts about that, please.

  13. David
    May 23, 2010 at 12:11

    dude khatz you just articulated my urge to get a job at some kind of japanese speaking restaurant/store in my area. im 18 and my parents keep making me apply for jobs and i literally dread the thought of being away from japanese for X hours a day. and then when i tell people that i want to work at a japanese place they always say “your not asian, your white” or something(including my gf). i got some serious cutting off to do…

  14. Drewskie
    May 23, 2010 at 14:28

    I always wondered the same thing, Flo. Gotta do those reps though, so just keep some Japanese audio going while you do them and call it even. 😉

  15. Flo
    May 24, 2010 at 06:03

    Thank you for your answer, Drewskie. I’m happy to see that I’m not the only one to wonder about this.
    If anyone else has a different opinion about this, please share.

  16. Dale
    May 25, 2010 at 06:27

    I love cosplay those people are just so talented with costume design

    Looking forward to the next installment

  17. May 25, 2010 at 07:10

    Great post and finally someone who can put it straightup and plain to read.

  18. Colby
    May 25, 2010 at 15:10

    I still review my Kanji. My card setup: On the front, English keyword and a word or phrase in japanese that uses the Kanji, but with the Kanji not showing. On the back is the Kanji, and the story associated with it. And I rarely have to read the story. So there’s not that much english involved 🙂

  19. Flo
    May 26, 2010 at 00:07

    I like the idea to put on the front a word or phrase (and why not a sentence?) in japanese that uses the kanji (without it)… I think I will try it. Thank you for the answer Colby.

  20. Ayana
    June 4, 2010 at 06:04

    where’s the 3rd installment!?? 🙂
    impatiently waiting…I mean patient. really I do (or not)

  21. Sarah
    September 23, 2010 at 20:28

    ” You have made this English thing such a habit, it literally stays in your head even when you get in a plane, go up into the stratosphere, cross an ocean, get away from America…and still…in your head…there can be English.”

    ^^ You know what, I’m super confident that following (or rather, adapting) your method would work because I really believe in what you were saying~ I’m Malaysian and my first language was Malay but currently, my primary language is English because I made it that way. When I was a kid, like 7 or 8, I only spoke Malay..then my parents got worried that I couldn’t speak English (its considered a disadvantage) so at one point they only answered my questions if I spoke in English. :p Quite severe, no? Haha. Then I got dorky and got into The Beatles and I watched their movies and documentaries everyday without fail, even though I didn’t understand it. Immersion is really important! But in the case of learning Japanese, its harder because the first Step is Kanji…..

    I was totally doubting this method, but after reading this post, I was reminded of what I did previously, so hopefully it’ll work this time too! 🙂 Learning Japanese by watching Arashi tv shows? Haha…i’ll let you know if it works~

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