Early in my time at a stuck-up, British elementary school (we called it “preparatory school”, some people call it “primary school”, the name doesn’t matter), a Canadian kid called Sean (or was it “Shaun”?…freaking variant spellings) transferred into my class.
This kid was hilarious! He knew all kinds of playground games from his school in Canada, he was always happy, his parents walked around naked in the house — just like mine — and he gave the teachers sass without getting in trouble. In class (especially P.E.), whenever we made a mistake, we would hold down our heads, apologize, and maybe die a little inside while thinking what useless, untalented children we were and how we would never amount to anything. But whenever Sean made a mistake, he’d crack that winning smile and say “I meant to do that”. When he got corrected, he’d say “I knew that”.
Looking back, I think I had a man crush on that kid. Nevertheless, my British-educated feathers were still quite ruffled by his behavior: “Those brash, over-confident North Americans, always kicking up a fuss, how long must we wait until God and the Queen sort them out”, I thought.
“I meant to do that”. It sounds like denying responsibility. But actually what you’re saying is that: “life is a work in progress…mistakes happen, and that’s a part of the process I fully expect and accept”.
A lot of people have emailed me, asking me “Hey, Khatzumoto, tell me exactly how you did things, because I don’t want to mess up/I want to get it right/I’ve never been good at anything”.
I appreciate these requests, because they generally show that I haven’t explained something in enough detail on the site (although, sometimes they show that the kid emailing me hasn’t read the website properly, but I digress).
But these requests also trouble me. I developed a specific method/system for learning Japanese. I discuss that system on this website. However, the entire thing didn’t just pop into my head, a blueprint ready for execution. It was the result of lots of trial, error, self-doubt, frustration, and all that good stuff — the classic 10% inspiration to 90% perspiration deal. It’s a good system — I wouldn’t have followed it, nor would I be explaining it to you, if it weren’t. But it’s not, like, distilled from Mother Theresa’s urine, it’s just a system. You can fine-tune it, improve it, (in the extreme, you can even (gasp) reject it altogether), if you choose. In fact, I encourage you to do so. I hate being told what to do; I hate being ordered around, so I’m not here to play commander to you.
Feel free to try different things, even if I don’t agree with you. And if you fail, be like Sean and say “I meant to do that”. Pretend it was just an experiment and that failure was a big possibility. In truth, this isn’t just pretense, it may well be a more accurate worldview than that we are traditionally taught. We always have assumptions and expectations, but almost never do we have 100% statistical certainty, it’s all an experiment to some extent or other.
There are some core things I’d recommend not messing around with — learning kanji systematically, using an SRS, using a monolingual dictionary, building and maintaining an immersion environment, learning sentences/phrases and not isolated individual words — but everything else, go ahead and tinker with, make it fit you.
I know it doesn’t seem that there are that many things to tinker with. I guess the main idea I want you to take away is that, you’re not walking on a tightrope where one misstep will send you tumbling to failure and death. I’m not the teacher telling you “the right way”, I am just telling you “a good way”. You have as much as (if not more than) I did when I started this — drive and curiosity — feel free to use them both; they will take you far. My ego is tickled when you follow my advice, but I also want to see you and other people develop new and better ways of doing things, because ultimately it will be for the good of us all.
Anyway, I think I’m rambling. Let me summarize it: “Believe in yourself. Even to the point of arrogance. Just remember to judge your performance by evidence (results), not by arrogance.”