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Boredom Kills

And so it came to pass than on June 7, 2011 at 13:45 Japan Standard Time, angel13 said:

I am still in kanji (only about 150 or so in) and I am finding it extremely boring. I just can’t seem to get myself motivated to do it and I don’t want to delete kanji I haven’t memorized yet.

There are like, what, a kajillion (well, 120,000 ) kanji in the world? Dropping one or two…thousand here or there is no big deal. Plus you can always re-add a deleted kanji to your SRS deck later, they’re not going anywhere 😀 .

Boredom and perfectionism kill progress a lot faster than healthy deletion and streamlining. Fear boredom before you fear having a few random (and totally pluggable) holes in your knowledge.

Delete, destroy, skip, fast-forward, throw away, blow off, suspend, postpone anything boring that is in your way. The point is to be making contact with Japanese. That’s it. Everything else is detail. Everything else will take care of itself in due time.

If you want, think of it not as destroying the kanji, but putting it aside until it and you mature to a point that it’s interesting again. Sometimes you’re just not ready for a certain TV show or actor or book or kanji. And then suddenly you’re picking friends based on whether or not they like Stargate SG-1

Boredom will suffocate and kill your Japanese baby, baby. Each boring thing you don’t kick out is like…like a fine cashmere blanket, and you’re piling these on top of the baby in the crib, and eventually she just can’t breathe.

You like that cashmere? You like how it looks? You like seeing it all nice and smooth and pretty and folded?

Do you want a perfect kanji deck so much that you’re willing to risk infanticide?

  37 comments for “Boredom Kills

  1. angel13
    June 8, 2011 at 00:33

    Thanks khatz! I was feeling kind of lazy about not doing any kanji for days (which ended up turning into weeks). It wasn’t all the kanji that I found boring, it was only about 50%. I guess I will just put in the kanji I think are fun and not the ones I find boring. Thanks so much for replying!! I feel a lot better now and think I can actually start learning me some kanji. Again thanks!!!

    • June 12, 2011 at 15:37

      If you find certain Kanji’s boring, why not just suspend the Kanji. Then you can unsuspend when you feel that the Kanji’s are no longer boring! I hope that helps.

      Maybe try time boxing, where you do Kanji for like 3 minutes or however long you think you can take. Then take a break, which is up to you, maybe a 20min break, 1hr. The thing is, no need to rush, take it easy! Watch some japanese dramas, anime, read manga or just listen to music, podcasts^^

  2. Han
    June 8, 2011 at 01:05

    It took me a long time to feel like I could delete anything, but then I figured “what the hell, I don’t even want this word that much. Fuck it.” Since then, I delete the more boring ones, or the ones that just cause me too much bother. Further down the line, when I’ve more associations and experience, I’ll remember it easier.

  3. Guy
    June 8, 2011 at 02:19

    Khatz your methodology is amazing

  4. June 8, 2011 at 04:57

    I completely agree and coincidentally I’ve been finding something happening with me with Spanish lately that proves this point, I’ve been watching quite a bit of Spanish news recently and they talk SO fast that I just can’t keep up, so I’ve just given to simply listening intently and catching what I can: I’m honestly understanding more now than I was just 3 days ago, it’s really amazing how quickly this works (mind you, I’m at a high-intermediate level of Spanish and have been working on it on-and-off for about 4 years now). If I were to sit there and replay those same videos over and over again, pausing every 3.5 seconds to look up a word, I promise you I’d have just given up on them by now.

    Good deal, man, good deal.

    Also, I like how you got infanticide-by-cashmere worked into the article, that was funny.


  5. June 8, 2011 at 05:58

    Khatz, your humor is more addictive than heroine (I wouldn’t know) and it kills babies.

  6. Matt
    June 8, 2011 at 06:20

    Khatz, I agree with your advice, but for those who somehow have either not fully thought all your advice through or read every single column you’ve ever written on slightly contrary advice, too…

    You may need to try things that are not fun from time to time, if only to find a way to make it fun.

    Remember, the /value/ of keeping Japanese fun is it’s utility in keeping you motivated to continue exploring. And the obvious assumption is that as long as you are motivated, you will continue to make progress. However, /especially/ with Kanji, it’s possible to avoid ever learning them, because they don’t seem fun, and because there even exists enough help in Japanese manga, movies, and games, that you could never be ‘forced’ to really learn them.

    Specifically, I have a friend who has been studying Japanese for years now, and blows me out of the water in his natural accent and speaking ability. But after years, he has only learnt around 500 Kanji. He shrugs and says he doesn’t need to know anymore, and all the more power to him. But I look at him and see many other aspiring /literate/ Japanese learners who could fall into his trap. He still has to get help filling out paperwork. He still only reads things with furigana (because those without furigana are not “fun”, since he’ll frequently forget Kanji past his comfortable 500). And that’s fine for him. Great, no complaints.

    Really, my only point is that, in the beginning, /most things don’t look like fun/ if they involve time commitment. It’s not until you’re willing to try that you may find them becoming fun. As long as you remember that you really do want to learn those Kanji, and you don’t ignore contact with them ever, then yes, please have fun and don’t burn yourself out. There’s no imperative to learn them now, or in any specific order. But if you aren’t willing to try to make some ‘unfun’ things fun, you may find yourself creating a bubble inside Japanese, ironically, against the remainder of potentially fun Japanese with a small upfront barrier.

    Just a small caveat that even the great Khatz has iterated in various of his own articles. Clarify if I am wrong, of course 🙂

    • Anne
      June 8, 2011 at 07:01

      Thank you for having written this.
      These were exactly my thoughts when reading this specific entry.
      You can get along really well with a certain level of mediocracy – I know that. But if you avoid doing things that seem not to be fun, you will never be good. Because, actually, what you are doing is being a coward. You know that you need these kanji and you know that you want to know them, but they seem just to be too many and too difficult….

      Actually, I don’t know if you should only do what is fun – I rather think you shouldn’t think about whether it’s fun or not, you just do Japanese naturally, because it is a part of your life, because you can’t think of anything else. Of course, there is much fun to be done in Japanese, but to me Japanese isn’t supposed to be fun, Japanese is a means to reach the fun – to get to know that novel or whatever else it is you are interested in.
      Kanji are a bit special, as you can learn language and writing seperately to a certain degree… still the real fun will be out of reach if you never manage the kanji. The trick with them is, to make them fun, as much as possible. They are a means as well.

      I don’t know if anyone had the same experiences, but with Heisig I went through some motivation gaps – it took me time to get used to it, it took me time to manage each of the steps from ‘whole story’ to ‘keywords only’ – but when I just went on for one lesson more or two, even though I thought I didn’t remember the last few kanji too well, it went quite fine – and the ‘problem’ kanji aren’t problems anymore. For me, it was definitely better to just stick with it.

      • Jonny
        June 8, 2011 at 22:54

        While I do agree with both of you to an extent, Matt and Anne, I think I should point out the fact that that Khatzumoto did not once mention the word “fun” in his article. He was talking about boredom, specifically, the kind that kills motivation and passion. He wasn’t just talking about mild boredom, but extreme boredom. At least, that is what angel13 was talking about, and the article was in response to that.

        I do not believe that the advice “never do anything boring” equates to “only do things that are fun”. That is a very black and white interpretation. There _is_ middle ground between “really boring” and “really fun”, and I image that’s where I’m going to be spending most of my time.

        Also, Khatzumoto didn’t even say “if something is boring, never do it”. He said “if something is boring, wait until you have matured a bit and then try it again”. That is actually very good advice, and I can tell that following that rule has worked in my life. If you aren’t motivated to learn some specific aspect of Japanese (or really anything, for that matter), it’s most likely because you don’t fully understand or appreciate the value that it bring to your life. Either you will gain that understanding in time and you will eventually bite the bullet and develop the skill, or it’s equally possible that your initial assessment was accurate and you simply don’t need to go in that direction. As far as I can tell, there’s nothing you can lose by deferring one thing of value for another thing of value. Sure, if you simply defer every aspect of learning the Japanese language to another time, then your just procrastinating. And if that’s the case, well I’m sure Khatzumoto has written an different article about that…

        • Jonny
          June 8, 2011 at 22:56

          Sigh… this blog really an “edit comment” feature. 🙁

      • Drewskie
        June 9, 2011 at 09:42

        Anne, I think you’re mostly right, but semantically I think there’s still room for “fun” in describing our respective Japanese projects. By most accounts, things we normally hate—work, school, etc. suddenly feel a little fun when we get them in only small doses. Ask everyone how their work week was on Thanksgiving, for instance.

        My point is that “fun” and “work” aren’t mutually exclusive. I would instead differentiate between “should do” and “want to do.” The more “want”s in our life, the better, so it makes sense that we would only do Japanese when we want to. The hard part finding ways to *always* want to do Japanese.

        • Anne
          June 9, 2011 at 20:14

          I didn’t say, I hadn’t fun while reviewing sentences or kanji. Sometimes it’s just one or two horrible kanji that make you want to quit all together. I guess, skipping them is a possibility – and I already did this with vocabulary or sentences – but – and that’s my point: being at 150 kanji in Heisig is merely the beginning. I wouldn’t start skipping at that stage, as the boredom is probably just due to not yet being really accustomed with Heisig-ing.
          You’re quite well able to just memorize a few Kanji without really using that spectacular story-method at all and you will only notice after a while that actually you haven’t really been using the method properly in the beginning. At least that is what happened to me: I just read the stories in the beginning, I knew lots of the kanji there anyway (numbers for example) and only later I really knew what is important in a story (it’s not that is has to be oh-so funny or creative, it just has to be a picture that sticks) Sometimes I would have a great story with hardly any relation to the keyword, so I’d never know the kanji…
          So, instead of skipping too much (it’s probably always okay to skip about 2-5%, but not 50%), I think, you should just go on. So I wouldn’t delete the kanji, I’d rather review them the next day and make up a new story the next day, if my old one sucked.

          • Anne
            June 9, 2011 at 20:35

            Point is: I rather eliminate the boredom by changing the methods and not eliminate the vocabulary or kanji alltogether.

            • angel13
              June 10, 2011 at 13:02

              Actually that made a lot of sense to me. I am really glad that you mentioned to change the way and not skip because it wasn’t the kanji, it was the stories that bored me to death. Also what khatz said about it being ok to skip, it made me feel more relaxed because I realized I was stressing majorly over not doing kanji. I think that I would have seriously have given up. I just wanna say thanks to everyone for your suggestions!!

          • June 12, 2011 at 16:17

            Another thing you can do is kick it to the future for worrying later. Just like Incremental Reading.
            There is a kanji that I’ve remembered by mere skipping it, 蒸 steam that is.
            Someone here said that SRSing kanji is for familiarisation, not memorising per se.

      • Fabian
        December 6, 2012 at 16:24

        I also think fun doesn’t come into this. Look at it this way:

        You want to learn Japanese, so you decide to immerse yourself. Now you have these manga and that copy of Japanese Harry Potter in front of you. And you really want to read them. You’re dying to read them. They’re awesome, you love them!

        But you need to know Kanji to read them.

        This doesn’t mean you don’t read them because it’s too hard. This means you *need* those Kanji, right now, or your life will be ruined because you can’t read those awesome things that are so fun that you’re just about to explode. Learning the Kanji is such a tiny price to pay that the small effort required to do it is pretty much negligible. Just get it done and then be happy forever with your googly-eyed manga people and your Japanese-speaking wizard high school students (Sometimes I still think J.K. Rowling is actually Japanese just because of that setting, the book freakin belongs there!)

  7. Eri
    June 8, 2011 at 08:57

    Oh man, Khatz, whenever I read something about killing my inner Japanese baby you make me feel so guilty! D:
    The only thing is, I have no qualms with deleting, but I’m like, OCD for perfect numbers (according to what I think is perfect) or something. If I delete one card, I have to delete at least five. Currently in one of my sentence decks, I have exactly 2000 cards. I can’t bring myself to delete anything unless I have another sentence right then and there to add to keep my perfect number. I really don’t know if this is a bad thing or not, because then I can make sure if I delete something, I’m always adding something fresh as well… but I rarely have the energy to add new cards these days (being a student sucks. School in general sucks) so I just don’t delete anything either… I think I need professional help gaiz.

    • Connor
      July 21, 2011 at 02:30

      I completely understand. I’m currently in the kanji phase, and I would push myself to do more than 25 a day, but I would have to do 50 because each page in my notebook has exactly 25 lines…. and that’s simply unacceptable… :/

  8. sctld
    June 8, 2011 at 17:50

    If you don’t like it, don’t do it. Maybe you don’t even really like Japanese, but would find French the bee’s knees. If you want to get good a Japanese, you’re going to have to learn to read the Kanji, however, so I might suggest that you add some ‘fun’ to your deck. Switch up the stories to make them more interesting, funny, etc. Add some ‘reward cards’ with a link to a youtube video, instructions to eat an M&M, a racy photograph, or whatever tickles your buttons. These ‘fun’ elements will encourage you to get through the reviews.

  9. Dan
    June 8, 2011 at 22:53

    Thanks for the article Khatz. This site has been a constant source of inspiration and constructive advice throughout my Japanese, and now, French adventures.

    This one resonated with me as I recently nuked my entire Japanese SRS with about 5500 sentences in there. It was becoming a soul destroying, boring drain on my time and will to Japanese. I realised that it is *just* a tool, in the same way that fluency in a language is just a tool for gaining awesomeness through friendships, music, films, books, etc., not an end in itself. Chasing 10K sentences and getting my ‘reps to do’ down to zero as goals stopped making sense because Japanese is already so built into my life (70% of my books are Japanese, I’ve already worked in Japan, eaten JLPT and I now work blissfully as a JP>EN translator) that I now just Input like a native.

    The fact is, as much as I love pouring awesome film quotes into my new Anki, I don’t see myself doing SRS reps for 2/3 languages for the rest of my life. Khatz, or anyone else who’s been doing this for some time, have you grown past the need for your SRS?

  10. EAS
    June 9, 2011 at 00:38

    I feel there are two kinds of boredom — boredom that stops you from studying altogether, and the boredom that comes from studying hard in general. Studying can’t always be fun 24/7, since we (or most of us) are not machines; it’s a natural reaction that comes from studying. And as Khatz describes it, when this boredom piles up and up, it stops productivity altogether, which is obviously bad.

    So while there’s certainly something to be said for putting things off for later if we aren’t motivated to do them now—there are times, I think, when we should really force ourselves to study despite being bored. I tend to procrastinate like crazy on essays (which I find boring to write), and only when the deadline is looming do I actually start them. However, once I do start writing, it’s like pushing a heavy ball down a hill—slow at first, but once I get into it I can really go for a while. It’s getting past that initial starting point that’s the hardest.

    Khatz’s advice is essentially “smart procrastination”—procrastinating only to increase one’s study efficiency later. While that’s good advice, it’s also dangerous, especially for the self-studier who may not have hard-and-fast deadlines to meet. In other words, putting-off-for-later can quickly turn into putting-off-for-good. Recognizing boredom is a good thing, but it’s something we may need to fight more often than simply avoid.

    • Fabian
      December 6, 2012 at 16:34

      This is the wrong attitude to take, I feel. You seem to assume that “boredom” is something you inherently feel for a certain activity/thing. This is not the case, however. It’s a matter of perspective. I for one, for example, found Tae Kim, a grammar guide, to be ridiculously fun and interesting to do and I just plowed through it. It wasn’t a thing I had to do. When given the choice between playing video games, reading manga, or doing Tae Kim, I decided to do Tae Kim to find out about all these awesome things the language can do.

      At the same time, I totally was on Kaz’s side when he said you don’t need a formal grammar. I learned English without any kind of formal grammar. And no, it’s not my native language. I just played video games and started reading and at some point I was just… well, there. I didn’t even speak English, yet I can speak it quite well these days. I’d consider myself to be at or above native level, even (Above native level meaning that I could probably write a novel in it if I set my mind to it. Well, I have written novels, but that was for NaNoWriMo, but I’d say I probably know the language well enough to produce something publishable, though I’d have to work at it more than I want to).

      So I’d say everyone should just keep doing the things they like. I’ve found people who hug their copies of Minna No Nihongo. To me the book looks bulky and boring and I can’t imagine taking a course for two years to get through that one stupid book, but there you go, different strokes for different folks, ain’t it?

  11. Ren
    June 9, 2011 at 06:24

    So, then, we could just skip straight to sentences, then, if kanji bores the crap out of us and makes us never want to touch Japanese again?

    But then, you say that you MUST learn kanji first. So how would that work?


    • Sandwich-San
      June 9, 2011 at 17:37

      You *can* go straight to sentences. If it’s that boring just sentence up, bro. See if that’s any better. Or alternate. Just go, go, go.

      • angel13
        June 10, 2011 at 13:05

        I was also thinking of doing that but I was afraid that it would mess me up because I thought that I had to learn the kanji first before sentences. I know though that sentences seem like they would be really fun.

        • Sandwich-San
          June 10, 2011 at 13:29

          Khatz is not the boss of you. Boredom is the problem. If kanji are boring learn them another way or focus on another aspect of the language.

    • stevie
      June 10, 2011 at 22:14

      Kanji first is basically so you can understand what the heck you’re seeing and go monolingual (a lot) faster, I think. jumping straight into sentences will quickly end up a heck of a burden compared to if you were going in already being familiar with the kanji and what they ‘mean’.

      of course, people HAVE learned Japanese to fluency without ever touching RtK or an SRS… though to be fair, everyone I know personally who has done that is either native to the kanjisphere, or has sloppy kanji skills 🙂 still I’m sure there are exceptions.

      Just play with it… if your immersion environment is tight and you’re having fun in it, you’re pretty much on a collision course with success, but in my experience kanji will take orders of magnitude longer to learn through absorption. Learning them first means every time you see them afterwards will reinforce them, in some small way, in your memory. Makes learning them in their thousands very feasible and a lot easier than most people will have you believe.

    • Eri
      June 11, 2011 at 09:15

      I skipped the Kanji step and I couldn’t be happier. You don’t NEED to learn the Kanji first. And even though I didn’t, my Lang-8 friends are amazed with the amount of Kanji I seem to know. All you have to do is put as much Kanji in the sentences you’re learning as you can.

      And then later, once you’re fluent at other points of Japanese, you can always go back to the Kanji and Heisig if you feel you need to. Some people will say you then have ‘bad habits’ or something, but I doubt it’ll be that hard to fix. Just learn the basics of proper stroke order at the beginning of your Japanese adventure and it should be fine. 🙂

    • Fabian
      December 6, 2012 at 16:37

      I say still learn kanji first. Just do it faster. Plow through them. Rush through them. Decide not to care much about them at all. Go 200-400 a day and shoot for a 5% retention rate. Use mere seconds on the card, just decide in your brain whether or not you can write them. If you can’t on your first attempt, just push them off onto the next day and decide not to care. Brute force a few days and get the stupid thing done in a week. You’ll have finished RTK, still have some idea of the Kanji and it’ll all work out somehow.

  12. Es2Kay
    June 9, 2011 at 07:06

    Find a way to learn kanji that is fun for you, dunno, get (japanese) hookers, write stories on their backs and the kanji on front, they can even give you some bonuses for the right answers..
    anyway, 其の問題は俺にゃ関係ね~よ! figure something out..

  13. stevie
    June 10, 2011 at 22:01

    just a thought, have you guys that are finding getting through RtK1 (or just kanji in general) tried timeboxing? I never had an issue with the kanji but thinking about it, I was timeboxing them all the time – basically I was SRSing them on surusu during my downtime at work. Anything from 15 minute breaks, five seconds between calls (IT support, augh). Once I was in uni and had a lot more free time (aha), I wasn’t timeboxing at all, I was binging, and it was awful, and my kanji moved EXTREMELY slowly, for a year and a half. (Got through RtK1 in about two months… RtK3 took about 18).

    I started timeboxing again lately, (on anki these days, I just set the review session time to two minutes) and I’m flying again… and enjoying it a whole lot.

  14. randomletters
    June 26, 2011 at 12:19

    I’m doubting whether RTK1 will actually have any benefits for me. I’m about 300 Kanji in, and my motivation for RTK (but not Japanese) has almost completely faded. I’m noticing that I almost always make stroke order errors when writing the Kanji, unless I rewrite it 2-6 times (I rarely get it right on the first try). I often skip letters and parts of letters when I write in my native English, I just go back and fill it in again later (I actually used to reverse letters and had quite a lot of trouble learning to write). I don’t think my difficulties with writing English should be an excuse for not learning to write in Japanese properly, but I wonder if there might be a better approach. Perhaps I’m doing something wrong.

  15. WC
    June 28, 2011 at 21:29

    I’m sometimes amazed at how clearly you see things.

    Had I had the ‘skip boring things’ advice years ago, I think my Japanese would be a lot further along today.

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