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Don’t You Think It’s Time You Grew Some Eggs and Turned Your OS Japanese?

You wouldn’t believe how many gaijin I know in Japan who are convinced — absolutely convinced — that turning on Japanese TV or changing their gadget interfaces to Japanese will not help. Most have never tried. Some did try for a couple of weeks.

My question is: why are they so sure? Where does that certainty come from? They don’t know how to learn Japanese (because they want to know it but they still don’t), but they do know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, what will and will not work?

And then you get the ones who tried it for a couple of weeks but gave up because of one of these four or five reasons I am about to systematically destroy:

1) “It didn’t work”.

Oh, I’m sorry, Mr. Two-Week Wonder. I’m sorry that your two weeks of immersion didn’t give you results comparable to a toddler’s five unbroken years (260 weeks) and counting, a teenager’s ten years (520 weeks) and counting, or an adult’s twenty (1040 weeks) and counting. A lifetime of immersion plus ongoing daily maintenance, and you couldn’t make up 260 weeks in 2. Is there a condolence book I can sign?

2) “I couldn’t understand anything”.

THAT’S THE POINT! If you could understand it all, there’d be no point. The point is you don’t know the language; you’re not “used to it” yet, lexically or — and this is effen important and you know it’s effen important in English but your second-order thinking module hasn’t allowed you to realize that it’s important in Japanese as well — prosodically. So you throw yourself in and you swim. Your brain is an action hero like that. She (your brain’s a chick today)’s like Salt and Chiwetel Ejiofor is not flying in to save her. No helicopter. No extraction. Just you (her) and Japanese. If you give her no way out, she’ll find a way through. Because your brain is an invincible Russian sleeper agent.

3) “I just memorized everything anyway”.

Good. Now let the exposure do it’s slow-hunch work. Over time, you will get used to and/or curious about what all that Japanese actually size. Over time, you will pick things up. And the things you pick up from interfaces you DO understand and DO have memorized will eventually serve you very well in new and unfamiliar situations where you HAVEN’T had the chance to memorize. That’s the true point of memorization — it’s not to give you power of the known (that’s the exam/ludic fallacy at work), but to give you power over the unknown. When you’re alone, unarmed, dictionaryless and friendless, your only “weapon” is your body and the Japanese it has memorized. But if you’ve Bruce Lee-buffed up your memory, you’ll do fine.

Don’t denigrate memory. I get this all the time. “But I’ve memorized the SRS card”. GOOD. Warp it out into the future when it’s more of a challenge again. You see, Grasshopper, you’re SUPPOSED to have chunks of Japanese memorized whole and effortlessly in your head. That’s almost the point of the game. THAT’S HOW THE WHOLE FAR KING SYSTEM WORKS. You then take those chunks and mix and match them, old wine in new bottles, presto, and we call that creativity and originality. It is how the entire human learning system works.

I mean, have you read NOTHING on chess research? What, you think we (chess masters)’re crunching numbers and running through a kajillion probabilities and probabilities like Deep Blue? NO! WRONG! All we do is pattern-matching and massive parallelism. That is our thing. That’s how organic intelligence functions. That’s how an electrochemical “computer” that runs on sugar water works. The kind of endless “inference from first principles” you’re hoping for is brutally time- and energy-inefficient (it would take a lot more than sugar water to power such a machine working at useful speed); indeed, even electronic computers do lazy things like use lookup tables and stuff.

In programming, frequently used variables are hardcoded, not calculated anew from scratch. Now, hardcoding is considered bad style in many contexts and can lead to opacity and magic numberism. No matter, because your human computer that is not a computer is ALL ABOUT the hardcoding. But here’s the clever part — unlike an electronic computer, which produces concrete results from abstract commands, you run the opposite way: a critical mass of concrete knowledge allows you to form abstractions.

And in order to get to this critical mass, you need to have the language hardcoded in your head. If you ever want to converse at anything approaching human speed and not be Windows 3.1 hourglassing people every time it’s your turn to say something. You don’t need to know conjugations, you need whole nutrients…you just need the whole phrase already there, plonk, in your head. SRS — MCDs — will give you that superpower effortlessly.

We’ve been getting it wrong all this time. We’ve been trying to teach and treat human beings like machines — steam engines, cars, computers — all this time, and we have been wrong. Every age has its mechanical metaphor for humanity, and every age gets it wrong because the metaphor, while useful, breaks down at key points. Case in point: the entire education system and everything that imitates it.

Let me repeat myself: you. Human. Orga not Mecha. You. Are all about hardcoding. Initially. You start with no principles, only facts. And like magic, you turn these facts into patterns and rules. No one but an idiot attempts to teach young Timmy about vowel shifts and gerunds; you don’t even tell him about parts of speech until he can already, well, do speech. Really darn well. And the rules you teach him are just icing, a decoration on his already-tasty cake. Unfortunately, there are many well-meaning, intelligent idiots in the world. “Dumb smart people”, as Will Smith might say if this were a scene in “I, Robot”.

And because of these dumb smarties, suddenly, when it comes to “foreign” languages, suddenly humans aren’t humans any more; suddenly we’re freaking Turing machines with ticker tape and no feelings and no preferences. And you feed us rules. No cake. All icing. The cake is made of icing. And you wonder why people get sick of “foreign” languages, only to run away and complain about it in a “native” language. They’re not sick of languages, they’re just sick of being bored and confused.

Well, nein to that, people. Nyet to that shet.

You don’t need a breakdown of what the words are, what the parts are. Don’t get me wrong, there are glorious exceptions — component analysis works well with kanji, for example. But not with with other things. You just need to hear and see and know the right way of saying things — the native consensus. And you imitate and internalize (memorize) that, mix and match, badabing, you’re a language genius; you’re so talented; please translate for me.

4) “Learning by osmosis doesn’t work”.

Yes. Yes, of course. Which is why you’ve unconsciously adopted the speech patterns, mannerisms, cadence and vocabulary of the people you live and work with. No, osmosis doesn’t work. Not alone. But it works like crazy. You’ve just got to leave it alone and stop fiddling. That’s why it’s osmosis — by definition, you don’t meddle, you let it happen.

Conscious learning is the spark, but osmosis is the fire. You need frequent sparks to keep the fire alive and help it along, but not long ones.

You thought I’d forgotten the fourth reason, dintcha? Nope. Got it. I ramble with purpose, son 😀 .

5) “Nobody has patience like you, Khatz”.

Violent animal mating you. Are you kidding me? I can’t even wait in line for a burrito. I’ll go home and have a chapati instead. I don’t go to restaurants on weekends, holidays or at lunchtime; that’s how impatient I am. It’s not about patience. It’s about leaving things alone. Set and forget.

  18 comments for “Don’t You Think It’s Time You Grew Some Eggs and Turned Your OS Japanese?

  1. Sleepy
    February 11, 2014 at 19:26

    Sure, I have some patience. But If I’m bored, my eyes WILL shift away and I’ll do something else. My brother thinks I have alot of patience because I’ve done this for about 9 months now.

    Most of the time, I’ve had ALOT of fun too. I simply never figured out what I will do with “fluency”.

    Also, people want to see the Japanese I know but I never find an appropriate time to show them and they wouldn’t understand if I told them anyways.

    I’ve even seen a few people on Youtube outright say that learning a language other than the one you’re born with is VERY racist. But because of the Internet and most people’s desire to be credible, most of us Americans will have no capacity to read and little power to either learn another language OR improve upon our own English.

  2. Amir
    February 12, 2014 at 03:28

    Yes Khatz, go purge these non-believers! PURGE THEEEEMMMM!! MUAHAHAHAHAAHAH No but seriously, change the OS kids. It works.

  3. Anonymous
    February 12, 2014 at 03:54

    The one thing that I’m self conscious about (and I speak from analogous experience) is that I’ll learn incorrectly. I’m not sure how to explain it too well, but essentially, I’d learn these words as functions rather than as words, if that makes any sense. Like, when I was playing Tear Ring Saga in the original Japanese (that was the analogous experience), I learned 攻撃 (or whatever it was) as “this is the make dudes dead button”, completely skipping past learning it as a word. (Maybe it’s a bit strange that I’m using a word I remember as an example, but that’s how memory works.) I feel like something very similar would happen with the OS switch. Maybe that’s what you’re talking about with memorization, but I’m not entirely sure.

  4. Jeremy
    February 12, 2014 at 05:11

    Learning 攻撃 as “this is the make dudes dead button” is perfectly fine. I mean, that’s what it does, no? But what happens when you’re watching a movie and you hear some soldiers planning a ”奇襲攻撃?” Think about the words you know in English, they’re stored more as feelings, and every time you hear/see a word in a new context, you’ve just added another layer to that feeling. Dictionary lookups and SRS are all about helping you better establish that “feeling.” The more you see a word in more and more contexts, the stronger this feeling gets. Once you’ve gotten down the “attack” feeling for 攻撃, your brain’s not going to have much issue seeing it used similarly to “criticize” later on.

    When’s the last time you sat down and learned a word “as a word” anyways? Words only exist because of their function.

    • Anonymous
      February 12, 2014 at 08:45

      That’s the thing, though: the way I learned 攻撃 didn’t prepare me to use it in any other context. Like, if I saw the word in any other context, I would have no idea what it means; I’d learned it wrong and made it irrelevant. Same thing happens with a lot of contextual learning I’ve done elsewhere: it feels less like I’m learning the words (or even taking a step toward learning the words) and more like I’m skipping past them entirely.

      I’m not entirely sure what learning a word as a word means, but I know that there are right and wrong ways to learn a word (mostly because I seem to encounter the wrong ones).

      • Livonor
        February 12, 2014 at 09:22

        That’s no big deal, learning word forms, even if you don’t have any insight about their meanings counts, and by “word forms” I mean actually knowing that those words exist, once you know the form of the word you can spot it, and pay attention to it. And eventually figure it out, get a gradual understand of it from a superficial guess, or look it up.

        Or do you think that when you was learning English you instantly knew every meaning of every word in the first time you found them? 🙂

        Btw, many words in your native language stay in this state forever, like “exfoliate”, the only thing I know about that word is that it have something do to with cosmetics.

      • Jeremy
        February 14, 2014 at 05:38

        If you’re using (reading and listening/hearing) Japanese every day, you’re going to see it in other contexts. That’s the point of immersion. Connecting 攻撃 with “make them dead button” was the first step (and that’s really an oversimplification. There’s already more context in your game than you seem to think. I haven’t played that specific game, but I’m going to assume the characters you control aren’t just outright killing enemies everytime you press the button. They’re attacking. Enemies probably have the chance to dodge, too. You can dodge an attack, but it’s pretty hard to dodge a “make them dead” I’d assume.) It’s the beginning of the “fuzzies” for that word. That sense that you kinda sorta know that word, but you’re not quite there yet.
        Let’s look at some of the example sentences I found on Weblio 辞書’s 英語例文.

        敵を攻撃する. – attack the enemy
        攻撃を始める. – launch an attack
        攻撃を続ける. – keep up an attack
        攻撃されやすい地点. – a vulnerable point
        攻撃または批難から守る – defend against attack or criticism

        Now, imagine you’re reading a manga or playing a game and a bunch of characters are gathered around a table planning a big mission/raid/etc. and one of them talks about a “攻撃されやすい地点.” Now, in this hypothetical example, you already know that “されやすい” means “easy to do” and “地点” means “point” or “site.” And you already have that fuzzy feeling for “攻撃” from before so you can now combine all your knowledge (and this is a mostly subconscious and monolingual process) and you’re going to understand that sentence completely. Even if you wouldn’t know exactly how to translate it in English. Understanding that one sentence in that one context is the next step in understanding those words the next time they pop up.

        Words exist as words. Assuming they’re words you see/use on a regular basis, they can’t be irrelevant. It’s impossible to learn them incorrectly. How do you skip words (not counting skimming here) when reading? Words can’t be thrown away, because they are there. You’re going to hear and see 攻撃 literally thousands more times in your life.

        Anyways, tl;dr version: Don’t worry about it. There is no “wrong” method to language learning. Some methods are faster, but there is no bad way to learn a language unless you’re just pretending to learn one (taking a class twice a week and doing absolutely nothing else, for example). I know that’s hard to do. I used to fret and worry all the time. I was constantly digging around on language learning blogs and websites always trying to compare methods because I was so afraid I was going to do something “wrong.” I’d make a few SRS cards and then spend hours online comparing them to others’ because I didn’t want to do anything wrong. You know when my Japanese finally started taking off? When I calmed down, left all the blogs alone, and started doing fun stuff in Japanese. Just using a J-J dictionary and Anki for about an hour a day picking out words I saw in manga and online or heard in anime and dramas.

  5. 魔法少女☆かなたん
    February 14, 2014 at 21:27

    So, I was hoping for maybe a link to a guide or something that explains how to change operating system language without spending my scarce money supply on a replacement.

  6. ライトニング
    February 16, 2014 at 04:39

    If you are using Windows Vista or 7, and don’t have the option to change languages, use

    This program really takes away any possible difficulty, and you are using official language packs.

    Just make sure to make a restore point. 😛

  7. February 24, 2014 at 02:09

    Just want to throw this out there, that I changed my OS to Japanese in my first week the RTK phase. This very decision is what, after giving it time to get used to the Japanese OS, that landed me a job a few years later as a bilingual help desk technician. If I hadn’t made the switch, I definitely would not be able to get through all the menus and error messages. My senpai always ask me “hey, could you come read this for me?” or “Hey, I need your kanji skills”, etc. So, my advice is just this: do it and live with the (very) temporary frustration while you gain a profitable skill.

  8. READ ME
    May 5, 2014 at 20:08


    You are a computer guy right… How do you think (modern) google translator learned japanese? with grammar, rules and dictionaries? What are you talking? Are you from 1990?


    it’s a pattern matching machine. it’s not hardcoded.

    GOOGLE TRANSLATOR is PURE 100000000 sentences SRS only without S…. And maybe not much R… Yes it’s bit different but…. 100000000 SENTENCES.

    I am disappointed. I thought computers are your friends.

    maybe in 5 years google also uses mcd. hell, maybe they do it now. MAYBE THEY BOUGHT YOUR MCD KIT AND FEED IT NOW TO BIG COLD STEEL MACHINES

    • 吉本荒野
      May 11, 2014 at 01:42

      10/10 troll

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