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Ask Dr. Khatz: Sidetracked in Salt Lake, Part 3

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 the problem: she keeps getting distracted (especially by English TV shows), discouraged, and giving up. In Part 2, Dr. Khatz encouraged her to view language as a habit instead of a skill or intellectual pursuit and give herself credit for learning things in context. In this last installment, Dr Khatz reveals “the secret” of how he managed to learn Japanese on his own while still functioning as a busy college student in the U.S.

(continued from Part 2)

Maddie: 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.

Khatz: 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…

The Secret (The Secret, The Secret…)

K: I removed any and all English that was not necessary — not necessary to my livelihood, safety or a basic minimum maintenance level for key relationships. For example: when I would talk to Momoko’s dad, I often didn’t take off both earphones (just one side).

To some that’s going a bit far, but I wanted Japanese, and I wasn’t going to make excuses. I was going to give myself, as far as possible, everything that a native speaker gets — a so-called native speaker, that is (this term is very flawed).

So, yes. My college classes were in English…but my home/bedroom needn’t be. My college assignments were in English…but why does my iPod have to have English on it? The university webpage was in English…but does my Gmail have to be?

And people say: “But what if I don’t understand?”
I’m like, “I’m a [simulated] native… If I don’t understand, then I LEARN TO UNDERSTAND, and I don’t get to do this stuff until I do.”

Sounds strict, but, like I said, I had a very playful, experimental attitude. It only comes out [sounding] strict to make me seem “good” and “disciplined”, but you know me, Maddie…

You know me… YOU’ve been to my house here… We went to school together… We took classes together… We TA-ed together in the Computer Science Building… You saw my desk area… You know I’m just a…scruffy little kid who thinks the world is his bedroom…

M: Hehe.

K: Oh yeah, I changed my OS to Japanese Windows XP well before I was “ready” because I felt (and the action proved it):
We don’t learn the language in order to be exposed to it.
We learn the language BECAUSE we are exposed to it.

M: Ok.

Touch the language

K: Now, if all that seems hard to do, one simple hack is this: increase the FREQUENCY with which you are exposed to Japanese. Focus on just touching Japanese — coming into contact with it — even if it’s, like, have a batch file that plays a Japanese song or opens a Japanese YouTube video once an hour, every hour. Something, anything — touch the language.

Seems silly, sure, but think of all the years of starting and stopping and classes and giving up and teachers leaving and books bought but unopened and hating yourself and blaming yourself and doing hulu [watching anime but only with English subtitles] instead. How intelligent was that? How efficient was that? At least you’re having fun, with YouTube…those Japanese commercials and game shows are hilarious.

M: Ok, it’s good to know that just trying a little is still trying and worth it.

K: Everything is worth it, everything counts. None of this “it was in context” nonsense. 😛

M: And I can at the very least choose 5 shows that I like on hulu, watch those, and then the rest of the time, just watch, or listen to anime. That in itself could be huge — you don’t want to know the number of hours I’ve listened to shows I don’t even like…

K: Exactly. AND you could, if you want, watch those shows IN JAPANESE. What now, woman? I mean, it’s not essential, and you get to watch them anyway, right? So why not. 😛

Get a solid grounding in PLAY!

K: Some people say, “What about the serious stuff?”
…What, like the Japanese tax code? Gimme a break!
(1) Play IS serious stuff.
(2) Play is serious stuff.
(3) Native kids always play, play, play, play first.
(4) Serious stuff will handle itself once you have a solid foundation in PLAY!

The playing around part is fundamental.

Think of how you can game and even use a computer. It’s all because you played around with these things. Same thing with speaking English — it’s ALL play.

Think of the people you know who can’t game or speak English or use a computer. It’s because they never tried to PLAY at it, always trying to be serious…

M: Ok, I feel more heartened.

K: Stepping off soapbox…

Kay, I’m back to normal now, I think. So yeah…no pressure…no techniques, Madz. Japanese isn’t something you “go do”. It’s just part of who you are.

Get a solid grounding in play. Play first. Fun first. 😀

Whatever I can do for you or get for you here, let me know.

M: Thanks muchly!

*The End!*

  8 comments for “Ask Dr. Khatz: Sidetracked in Salt Lake, Part 3

  1. Ayana
    June 11, 2010 at 04:07

    I love it…this is my favorite series that you’ve posted. It reassures me that the method(s) (cus I sure change it up everyday lol) I’m doing is OK. I still occasionally open a book and study the grammar but everyday I listen to Japanese music (and print out the kanji lyrics which is great for me to remember some kanji!) and have shows/movies playing in the background. Sometimes I wish I was exposed to it more at work but its a tad bit too busy for me. Then again I shouldn’t make an excuse. I’ll start posting lil notes around my desk with kanji or something. Anyway, ブログエントリーはいいです! ^_^

  2. Shea
    June 11, 2010 at 09:40

    Read this right before I was about to watch “Rome” in Japanese 🙂

  3. Radek
    June 12, 2010 at 07:18

    Hi AJATT community!

    I’ve got a question for y’all – recently (1 year ago) I’ve started learning Spanish and since I’m getting better in it (or at least I hope so) every day I’ve noticed a funny thing – I’m loosing my ability to write proper English words! I’m mean, my spelling is horrible and I’m even starting to change the ending of some verbs like in Spanish.

    Can anyone think of a cure for this?

    (English is my 2nd language, but still, I would like to write it in a proper way.)

  4. June 13, 2010 at 17:16

    Good evening Khatzumoto-sama. I have been reading this site for a month or soo and my japanese has benefitted imensly. The SRS i use is smart.fm which has premade flashcards. Is this in any way inferior to making up your own sentences and putting them into mnemosyne or the like?

    smart.fm/goals/19053

  5. kk
    June 22, 2010 at 04:25

    Einar-
    Maybe two detractors from using premade flashcards. 1) you lose some control over what’s in the deck. I.e., it makes it more difficult to add fun stuff pertinent to your own interests. 2) you lose the initial review time involved with entering a new card into the deck.

    The largest benefit is that you can do more reps, since you don’t have to worry about the other stuff. So, as long as you can maintain interest and are having fun with the material, I’d say go for it.

    I use both premade and self-made. Often I find that in the time it took me to enter a new card, I remember the material, and then quickly get bored with the card. So, in many cases, I enjoy the premade cards better.

  6. June 22, 2010 at 08:50

    This blog has been very influential for me in progressing in mandarin. Yup. the Characters!
    Thank you, thank you (skip to the end)

    I’m a multilingual Frenchie (speak all the usual European suspects + Hindi & Punjabi) but Mandarin Chinese kept kicking my a….$$. I could sound really good and communicate OK, but could never truly get to the other side (which I have done with several other languages).
    I was illiterate and didn’t understand the implications. I had found your blog and had even started to do the 10,000 sentences in pinyin, and then….. I …. stopped.

    I.. listened… to you and I started doing James Heisig’s “Remembering the Hanzi”. I broke 1000 very quickly and I am going at it full tilt boogie till I hit 3000.
    It really is starting to make the language come together for me (since I know a lot of Mandarin already, and have the tonal system and phonetics down). I can’t wait to start reading on the internet books, movies etc. (gettin’close!!)
    When I hear words I already know, the character is now popping up and the understanding is somehow different.

    Steve kaufman’s lingq’s (recordings with texts) also kick major butt to help develop comprehension. I often slow the recordings down 15%-30% using Audacity freeware. That helps a friggin lot (tempo but not pitch).

    So this is a wordy thank you thank you thank you post. Keep up the amazing work.
    Sucking a little less is an admirable concept.
    All in funn.
    JPS

  7. August 8, 2011 at 09:19

    Dr. Khatz: Professional language therapist. The complete series now dubbed to Japanese! Get it while it’s hot! xD

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