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Intermediate Goals, Mini-Dreams

This entry is part 7 of 14 in the series Intermediate Angst

In a lot of AJATT posts I tend to give the impression, unintentionally, that I’m more courageous than I actually am. It’s what you might call a sin of abbreviation; I cut out most of the parts where I made mistakes and took wrong turns, focussing on telling people what worked and what went right. So, the legend is now ossifying, and it just seems like I had this Big Dream to own Japanese and I did Big Research and then made up a Big Plan and took Big Massive Action on it, executing to Big Completion, and then I wrote a Big Site and became a Big Man all in one straight line, looking neither to the left nor the right.

I’d like to believe that story, too, but it’s not how it actually went down.

First of all Big Dreams, Big Goals…these things are scary…hey — let’s start capitalizing all our nouns, like in German…No? OK…No.

Big Dreams are scary. People will laugh at you; they take a long time to achieve; they can even seem impossible. There’s a little voice inside you going “dude, maybe he could do it, but you?”, “maybe you could do it back then, but things are different now, son!”

I am working on Chinese now, laddering through Japanese. I get lots of praise and congratulation on and off the Internet for the Japanese Project and its success. But this praise can kind of go to one’s head. Not in the sense that one becomes arrogant and egotistical — I was already arrogant and egotistical. Rather, one gets a sense of entitlement. One starts to think that it should be one’s right to simply sail through any language or similar endeavor and it should just be a walk in the cake. Also, Basques.

But it’s not like that. I still have to put on my proverbial pants one leg at a time. I still go through one SRS rep at a time. I still learn one sentence at a time. Real physical limits apply; I’m not Dr. Manhattan, walking around with superhuman language powers in a perpetual state of semi-nudity who the heck does he think he is anyway?! And this can be discouraging, because it’s easy to talk on big time scales — months and years — and talk about long-term residents in a country having the “social responsibility” to learn the local language; it’s easy to talk like a Big Man, who’s Seen It All, but ultimately you still execute at the same time scales as Everyone Else and you still don’t really know What Lies Ahead, or even if you do, it’s hard to feel motivated by it when it’s so far away. Like David Allen says, no matter how Big you get, it all still comes down to, what, answer emails, attend meetings and make phone calls…you are still tied to Real Life and simple, “numbnut” tasks. You still live through minutiae.

Long story short: You want to “own” at your target language, you want to be native level, but you also want something to show for it well before the 10,000 hours and sentences are up, right?

Right. And me telling you “just suck it up”, is not helping, right? Right. I know it doesn’t help because I told myself and it didn’t work. Which is why I am suggesting you also use:

Intermediate Goals.

Within your overarching goal of complete command of a language, you want to have little Baby Goals. Larger than the baby steps, but smaller than the Big Goal of Major Ownage.

When I was starting to learn Japanese hardcore, my first goal was just to be able to freely conduct basic daily communication. For that, I primarily used the ideas contained in A. G. Hawke’s “The Quick and Dirty Guide to Learning Languages Fast“, eventually taking them to a positive extreme.

After I got there, my next goal was just to be able to talk with my Japanese friends about whatever I wanted. And also watch comedy shows (I wanted to know what my friends were laughing so hard about) and tell jokes. I got there.

Then my goal was to be able to function as an adult in business/government/specialist situations, just like my Japanese friends. I got there.

And then my goal was to be able to function completely like a native speaker, with no barrier, no difference, no gap between me and whoever I was talking to. To communicate with such razor-sharp precision that everything I said or did not say carried intentional meaning; I wanted to be the puppeteer with Japanese words as my puppets. And now my current goal is an extension of this, mainly focused on speed and writing.

I’ve frequently discussed using ultra-short-term goals on the level of hours, minutes and seconds. And long-term goals on the level of several months and beyond. But it has occurred to me that intermediate/mid-term goals (circa 3 weeks ~ 3 months), which I have basically neglected to discuss, are just as important and useful, in pulling one forward. It has occurred to me that I had used them myself to achieve success, but had forgotten to share the idea here.

So, if the pressure of “10,000” and “Native-Level Fluency” is getting to you, if you’re feeling some “cognitive dissonance” [certain members of my family hate this phrase] from the constant reminder that native-user media gives you that you are Not There Yet, then perhaps you could try setting some intermediate goals. Examples:

  • Set a 1-month goal for number of hours of listening.
  • Set a 1-month goal for number of pages or words or characters read (generally, I find these measures easier to deal with than whole books, since I often switch books before finishing).
  • For 1-3 months, focus your energy on mastering a specific area of your target language, like TV news, or a certain anime, or other topic — whatever interests you.
  • Set a 1-month goal for number of sentences or reps…be careful not to get carried away.

Anything that gives a feeling of achievement and also brings one closer to the Larger Prize of “Major Ownage”. That graph is just kind of a rough guesstimate of what happens. Anyway, feel free to share your own experiences and suggestions…

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  42 comments for “Intermediate Goals, Mini-Dreams

  1. WC
    March 1, 2009 at 21:56

    My goals are a little different. I set my sights on some object I want to deal with and work towards that.

    At first, that object was ‘bloody well anything.’ To that end, I joined a book club. The first book was Yotsuba& and it was very easy. Easy for other people, I mean. It was impossible for me. But knowing that it was easy allowed me to set a goal of reading that book. I struggled through it with a dictionary and was not pleased. So I learned a lot of vocab and a little grammar.

    The other day, I finished reading the 8th volume of that series. I did not use a dictionary for volumes 2-8 and understand 2/3 to 3/4 of what was going on. Massive progress.

    While I was reading those, I bought a -lot- of old Jump and KoroKoroComic magazines. As the KoroKoro are higher than Yotsuba&, but not insane, they are my current target.

    And I have continued with vocab learning this whole time.

    My progress is noticeable (because I’m using what I’m learning) and feels to be faster than I had though possible. That means I have more than enough motivation to keep on going.

    It should also be noted that I don’t just have 1 goal. Right now, I want to read KoroKoro and understand it, then Jump comics, then random mangas that interest me. Japanese Harry Potter book 1 is next. Then I’ve got some light novels I -really- want to read that have furigana. Finally, I have some that don’t have furigana. And then there’s newspapers and video games.

    By then, I expect I’ll have also started to communicate online with native speakers.

    I’ve got my goals loosely mapped for the next couple years and thye’ve been easy to put at points that aren’t too far apart, nor too close together. And they’re fun.

  2. Juz
    March 1, 2009 at 23:36

    Great article, it coincides with the first day of the month. Which to most people is a good goal-settin’ start day. Thanks Khatz.

  3. Harry
    March 2, 2009 at 00:53

    Awesome post. My goal right now is to at least learn 400 Kanji by the end of March. (In one month)

  4. Aaron
    March 2, 2009 at 04:11

    Interesting post, setting goals is a good idea, I think schools should use “assignment completion goal date” or something instead of “deadline,” since i’m one of those people who do things at the last minute. I’d rather study Japanese my own way and school is just something in the way right now. I think I fit more with Khatz’s “just do it” concept. I may have a big goal like complete fluency in Japanese but I’m not the kind of person that looks far into the future and envisions me being completely native level fluent (since big dreams tend to make people do that.) Back to the “just do it”, I just listen, read, watch tv shows do reps from remembering the kanji and the results do eventually show.

    I took a Japanese “intensive” course which combined with studying at home was about 1000 hours (4 hours of class 5 days a week, ~6hours of studying at home, not including weekends). And this class expected a lot (knowing 600+ kanji before coming in and over 1000 by the time the class is over.) But throwing constant compounds at students doesn’t help, and we had a quiz everyday, writing one day, kanji another, vocab another, grammar another, then speaking. With that you don’t have enough time to keep piling on the SRS reps and I only remembered what I needed to, I can say I forgot a lot of the complicated Kanji. One good thing I got from the class was listening, and speaking, and an idea of how much I should be doing Japanese (a lot more hours than that class). I wish I had a point to this, this is just my usual ranting that gets me C’s on papers.

  5. Sebastian V.
    March 2, 2009 at 06:35

    Keeping small goals really helps me on my (somewhat lengthy) way to fluency. However it might also subconsciously limit the material you use for input. For example I started out by playing the 逆転裁判/Phoenix Wright series which deals with court hearings, investigations, police work etc. But when I finally was able to understand most of the corresponding vocabulary, I found myself enjoying manga, movies and even news that deal with similar themes a lot more than the rest, thus spending a lot more time with them then necessary.
    Now I am trying to put in a little variation (somehow starting). It might seem weird if I suddenly start to talk like a でか. 😉

  6. Diego
    March 2, 2009 at 13:25

    Great post Khatz, I totally agree. When I first started Kanji in November of last year, I said to myself that I wanted to go all out and finish by March, of course that didn’t happen. I’m currently at 900 kanji, but this time I’m setting goals that are not as far, like you mentioned. Hopefully I get another 300 kanji by the end of March, I want to get started with sentence mining soon.

  7. Nukemarine
    March 2, 2009 at 14:47

    With a recent change to Anki, it now shows a graph of how many hours and how many reps you did per day. I don’t think it’s too much to request it give an actual number for the graph you picked (say 30 day graph shows how total reps you did off to the side). I do know since this feature was added, I don’t like to slack (valleys) but I don’t like to cram (peaks) either. I like a nice even line.

    Anyway, I’ve been keeping short term study goals. Examples: get to 2500 in RTK3 – done, finish Tae Kim’s Special Expression sentences – in progress, then finish iKnow Core 2000 – to be continued at 1500 words. Study goals are actually pretty easy.

    What I thought of doing even before this article was begin tracking my viewing/reading time. It is so easy to push that off since it’s “fun” and sometimes feels like I can be doing other stuff while it is happening. However, I think that I need non-distracted viewing and reading. I’ll probably put in something like a victory calender. Oh irony “No son, you can’t go play outside, you have 2 hours of “IWGP” that you need to watch.”

    Guess it goes back to the old adage: “That which is measured, improves”. Measure your reps, your time, your completed sentences, your viewing time, your reading amount. Having that shoved in your face to really tell how much you’re soaking up. Time to get started.

  8. Monte Cristo
    March 2, 2009 at 15:30

    @ Harry

    Way to go, man! And it’s an absolutely feasible task. I started with kanji from scratch one month ago and was able to learn 700, while having an 8+hour job and a wife. Good luck and always have fun!

  9. tribalsushi
    March 2, 2009 at 16:49

    Dude, what is it with you and the Basques? Can’t say I know much about them, except for some low-level violent separatism and the whole language isolate thing. But come on — what’ve the Basques done to you??

  10. Shea
    March 2, 2009 at 17:24

    I currently have a few goals myself. Even though I live in Japan, my job REQUIRES me to speak English, but any chance I can get to study, I do. Thus, on lunch breaks, I study writing kanji. At home, I study vocab with iKnow as well as use Anki with the kanji I’ve been writing. I have started buying movies that I love, but don’t have on DVD/Blu-Ray yet and watching them with Japanese dubs (which I was blown away at “The Nightmare Before Christmas” in Japanese, it’s easy to understand and they keep the same tune as the original songs….GREAT!)

    I’ve been in Japan for 6 months, and came with little to no knowledge (ありがとう basically) but now I’ve seen a VAST improvement. I must say that in just 6 months of my Japanese study, I know more Japanese than in my 11 years of Spanish study with Spanish.

    Once I’m fluent (or near fluent in Japanese) my goal is to “re-learn” Spanish, only this time learn it with Japanese guides (much like Khatz is doing with Chinese in a sense) I want to be able to speak both pretty well.

    Short term, mid term, and long term goals are all needed, and all serve their purpose. Great post.

  11. March 3, 2009 at 01:30

    This is so ironic. – I actually started something kind of like this. But this takes it further. See, I was having trouble staying immersed. So I combined a few things. I opened up a Wordpad document, and titled it and dated. And then I started writing out the things I was doing through out the day. This goes back to the TimeSnapper, except that, I feel words ring much louder with me if I read something like “I’m going to go chat in English and come back whenever.” This hasn’t happened yet, but it is something that I’ll be avoiding.

    And example day would be something like :

    1. Watch the rest of the first season of Trick
    2. Remove more English elements from life. (Brainstorming required)
    3. Push the Immersion boulder up at top notch. (In other words, put more effort into the immersion process. This is the key to fluency).
    4. Keep the listening up for as long as possible and every moment possible.
    5. Come straight home, instead of chatting with professor.
    6. Keep doing sentence reps in 10 minute sessions. No need to do them all.
    7. Just do some reading. An hour or more. No need for more than that on Monday.
    8. Keep a positive attitude, and stay immersed.
    9. Aside from class, do not use English.
    10. Find more Japanse stuff to read online. HTML, CSS, etc. seem like good topics.

    With the varying goals like this, it keeps me in. And because of it, I added 20 monolingual sentences with words like 木管楽器 and 委員会, and a little of 総称 (Those that use Sanseido want to learn this word.. it’s used quite a number of times).

    The main motivator in this was the advice to “chill” in the immersion environment and let your curiosity take you the rest of the way. So the effort shifts from sentences and the amount that you have to “how much time can I spend immersed today?” Or, “how many web pages/pages of manga/episodes of Trick can I watch today.” Goals like this are what I’ve found to be the best. Because, since they are part of the bigger goal, and they’re fun and easy goals to accomplish, the result? Lots of fun and learning.

    So, this combines the “lock your machine and write what you’re going to do” with the “make intermediate goals” — only, they’re on the daily level. And, I feel proud when I can mark off most, if not all items on the list.

    And, now, that I’ve seen how effective that is, I’m going to take a step further and make goals like this. Like, “let’s see how many pages of manga I can read in a week.” In effect, I find this is just like Timeboxing larger portions of time for larger tasks that would naturally take longer to do. But, because you’re boxing them in, you’re more likely to finish the task sooner, or, at least be more productive in the mean time than you would have otherwise.

    Thanks for the great article. — If I you think about it.. without these intermediate goals, you’re basically playing an RPG without any save points..

    Take care.

    P.S. — Khatzumoto, I can’t thank you enough for recommending Trick. I absolutely love that show. I just finished the first season yesterday, and I plan on getting the other two seasons, movies, and the special.

  12. (Nivaldo改め)NDN
    March 3, 2009 at 02:16

    「(アニメのタイトル)はご覧のスポンサーの提供で送りします」。This, the only part of the anime that doesn’t get translated by fansubbers. I would freak out everytime I heard this part. Even now I don’t know if the way I wrote it corresponds to what the person says. I must say, it really was a 3-month goal. 😀

  13. NDN
    March 3, 2009 at 02:22

    After listening to it right now, I discovered it was maybe 「(アニメのタイトル)はご覧のスポンサーの提供でお送りします」。 😀

  14. Amelia
    March 3, 2009 at 06:54


    “If I you think about it.. without these intermediate goals, you’re basically playing an RPG without any save points…”

    What a brilliant way to put it. I keep a daily log of some simple things (hours with japanese blaring in my ears, reps), but now instead of seeing this as drudgery I’m going to think of it as my saved game. 🙂

  15. March 3, 2009 at 12:38


    Thanks, I’m glad you like it. ^^ Lucky wording I suppose.

  16. March 3, 2009 at 18:55

    I talked about something similar to this on my blog recently. I call it a “Macro Timebox” (MacTimes?), as opposed to “Micro Timeboxes”(MicTimes?). Micro Timeboxes would be the short spans you spend daily on your language studies, while Macro Timeboxes are relatively longer goals, but with predetermined spans of time.

  17. March 4, 2009 at 15:05

    Setting goals has defiantly helped me, like setting a bunch of small deadlines to make yourself more efficient. Rewarding yourself when that deadline is met is also helpful (no matter how small it maybe).

  18. madmerse
    March 4, 2009 at 16:35

    I haven’t made much progress in the past year after learning my kanji, but lately I started putting money into my hobby buying some comics (and video games soon when I get more money). As it turns out, this gave a big boost to my motivation because I now had something concrete on my hands that is enjoyable and I can use it to measure my progress. It’s easier to set goals: I can read x amount of pages or dig up x sentences in a day. My daily goal is 25 sentences a day, but since I spend a lot of time poring over the dictionaries, I end up looking up 5-6 words for each sentence I input. This usually happens because of referencing definitions and looking up new words that I don’t know.

    I haven’t made a habit of putting in a new card for each definition I look up although that might be nice to do. I find as my vocabulary count gets higher, I have to spend less time looking things up because I find words in the definitions that I already know. It’s a great feeling understanding something new… almost like magic really.

    I’m currently at 642 sentences and 2243 kanji. I will be picking up RTK3 soon for more kanji, and I also pick up new characters from sanseido and infoseek when I look up definitions there. Because of my recent investments and putting in the time to refocus and find new goals, I’ve made quite a bit of progress in the past month or so compared to the last year I spent limping along. I’ve put in 400 sentences and 200 kanji and I feel like I’m getting somewhere again.

    In the future, I’m going to try some more sophisticated techniques for managing my time, but for now I just use to do lists. I’ve also had to learn/relearn how to set goals and stay focused. It still doesn’t feel entirely natural, but I’ve got old habits to break.

  19. Anonymous
    March 5, 2009 at 19:14

    “So, if the pressure of “10,000″ and “Native-Level Fluency” is getting to you, if you’re feeling some “cognitive dissonance”…”

    I have some cognitive dissonance now and then, I think “man, becoming NATIVE level fluent is probably ridiculously hard”, but then I remember I’m thinking that in my third language (English), in which I’m very fluent. Not to brag (too much), but I’ve had English teachers ask me if I have lived in the USA (because that is the only way to become fluent, remember? 😛 ).

    Thinking back at how I did it, it was via All English Most of the Time (tv, movies, music) for a couple years.

  20. March 10, 2009 at 02:05

    Anyone have tip for what your goal should be when using anki (reps, new cards added to the review pile or time/day)?

  21. will
    March 23, 2009 at 22:26

    I started learning Japanese after I was challenged reading this
    but although its been difficult, its well worth the effort to be able to communicate in Japanese

  22. Edna Deary
    August 3, 2009 at 17:18

    Have you heard of this school’s method – – it sounds similar to what’s being discussed here. Do you know if it’s any good?

  23. Mitch
    August 18, 2009 at 16:08

    I like the idea of setting goals. I never really thought about it until I read this page though. I remember when I was younger and skateboarding that’s exactly what I’d do. Things like “I want to ollie off the ground” turned into “I want to kickflip” then into “I want to Kickflip smith that 8 set rail”. I never did that last one, but I could’ve!

    Same thing applies to this. Right now I’m at about 150 kanji after a week. By the time school starts I want to be at 400. And although I don’t quite understand full sentences yet, I’ve started mining things I personally say using the kanji that I’m studying at the moment. Soon I’m going to be getting me a dictionary and volume 1 of Kenichi. Thanks for the advice Khatz. It’s helping a lot!

  24. Ron Wren (hatman900)
    April 4, 2010 at 13:26

    I think this comment is relevant, so here it is.
    I like to use concept maps to display this kind of idea. I never make any though, just imagine ’em. But they’ve got branches that go like: Immersion – Music – Rock – LM.C – Punky Heart – Chorus – Chiisa na tsubasa o hirogete – tsubasa – wing. They’re kinda like that. I think it’s pretty cool. I would’ve typed some of that in Japanese but I’m using my Grandma’s “compy” witch doesn’t have the font support or whatever it’s called. (WAH! I want my reps to be kanji and not blocks… *sniff)

  25. Travis
    February 21, 2011 at 20:43

    The graph in my opinion is rather accurate. I’ve noticed in my learning experience where my output, in particular, will “rubberband”. Rather, my input will exceed my output by a lot, then my output will quickly catch up and it’ll start over (at a higher level of course).

  26. Chagami
    June 10, 2011 at 01:58

    I like this article, but I’m not sure about the last third that mentions one month goals and such.

    I love making intermediate goals and having mini-dreams. Getting to (n)-hundred/thousand Kanji brings out such motivation. But I find that as soon as I put a deadline on these goals, it becomes work and the wheels fall off the cart.

    Japanese shouldn’t be, “Okay, by next month, I’m going to have watched 250 episodes of anime”, it should be, “Time for a marathon of my favourite anime!”

    And what’s even worse is if you get through your month of dutifully watching those 250 episodes, you feel that next month, you have to do the same or better. Inevitably, you won’t do your quota, and you’ll feel like a failure, burned out, and that you don’t have the “will-power” or determination to learn Japanese.

    Mini-Goals = Sense of Achievement
    Mini-Goals + Deadlines = Inevitable Sense of Failure

    • June 10, 2011 at 04:22

      I tend to have the opposite feelings on setting goals. To each their own.

  27. kai
    April 12, 2013 at 03:18

    I agree with this but what about shorter goals. Like daily goals. I find that monthly goals are good, more motivating and less stressful than the long term ones, but I also notice that feeling of being addicted comes from the micro goals. I know there is a post on time-boxing as micro goals but I’m thinking more along the lines of learn how to write one really awsome sentence. Then you’ve created value for yourself, instant achievement, except what’s the point of having it if you don’t use it. So go to the mall and write that sentence on napkins and leave them on tables. Removable graffiti. There, now the value is being used so it actually affirms itself. Then learn another.

    Learn all the words for all the foods to order a single meal from a restaurant, then go to that restaurant and order than meal.

    These are little wins that are wins even outside the contexts of the long term goal, that’s what makes them such victories.

    Another example is in programming. You could either study a bunch of examples of a bunch of concepts, or you could pick one concept and just learn what it means. Then think of a way to use it to improve your life. Then learn how to code it while doing so.

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