I Meant To Do That

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.”

That’s all.

  7 comments for “I Meant To Do That

  1. Serge
    July 20, 2007 at 13:59

    The way I’m learning German right now was completely influenced by what you said,although the only thing left standing is the SRS, because I don’t really like German music ,nor reading newspapers ,comic books, books etc. even in my native language.
    I do read ,but I prefer to watch TV much more, so listening is for me the best way to repeat what I’ve learnt.
    One day I may even have the courage to take up on Japanese,just gathering the strength there.

  2. Vincent
    December 13, 2008 at 11:08

    I’ve been accepting many things of this site, but there’s one major aspect I, well, personally don’t follow through on. And that, basically, is the extremeness of the immersion suggested on this site. I immerse myself plenty in most ways, I believe, but I don’t really cut out anything from my old life so much. That is, I still do things very much in Dutch (my native language) and English, as well. Maybe that’s because my passion isn’t the Japanese language per se so much as languages in general (and among that, yes, the Japanese language is of course way ahead of any other languages momentarily). I still really enjoy other languages too, including Dutch and English. It might be so that this method will severely slow my learning process (although it really still feels like it’s going very well/fast), but it’s just one thing that I’m not willing to let go of: my other languages. I’m sure when I go to study a fourth language after Japanese, I won’t want to let go of Japanese either, besides Dutch and English.

    So that’s one point at which I’m going my own way. It might be a rather big diversion from what’s being told on this site (after all, the way I do it doesn’t really sound so much like it’s All Japanese All the Time), but I’m still getting a lot from this place. The very idea of focusing more on kanji at first came from here, as well as the improved use of my SRS (I was using a bit, but… not as much as I should have been and am now).

    Anyway, I guess I want to say that I’m glad to have read you, er, say (write) that it’s okay to tinker a bit. Even though you did say not to tinker with the immersion bit. It still made me feel a bit better, even though I already knew theoretically I was doing it the way I wanted to do it. And I really am still immersing.

    Also, I should just get off my chest that I really loved the anecdote with Sean/Shaun in the beginning of this post here. It was the finest piece of writing I’ve yet discovered on this site, in my humble opinion, and I’ve read tens of articles already. By the way.

    • William (Wim)
      September 15, 2015 at 14:49

      Maybe it’s a Dutch thing. I have the same thoughts about this matter as you. I can’t bear to cut myself off from the good things that I enjoy with English and Dutch to some extent (was born in NZ to Dutch immigrants). I value my ‘head space’ and can’t bear to have it filled with TV and radio. BTW, I’m intrigued to learn that Khatzu has a British education background. He’s a well-rounded gentleman. I’m curious to learn how you’ve progressed in the 8 years since you commented.

  3. November 14, 2009 at 06:33

    The only thing I do differently is I watch 1 show that comes on once a week in English as a way of saying good job for making it through the week in Japanese. I guess thats a bad thing to do but I still plan on being immersed the other 99% of the time and still use the SRS so *shrugs*

  4. Ron
    February 23, 2015 at 23:38

    I really like the Sean or is it Shaun guy. I do however have some difficulty accepting the idea that when I mess up then to say, “I meant to do that”. Perhaps at some level the idea of making a mistake or messing up is not the best way of thinking because as you say “all is exploring” and I really do like this idea. I need to get my head around this idea. I am beginning to adopt the SRS on a daily basis and am beginning to see good results. Cheers.

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