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It’s Not Choice, It’s Environment

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series Engineered Inevitability

“The key to strategy… is not to choose a path to victory, but to choose so that all paths lead to a victory.”
— Cavilo, The Vor Game

If you change your environment then, you won’t have to “choose” anything. You can just live. Your environment will essentially make your choices for you.

I never needed to “manage time” and I never needed to “discipline” myself. People who have dealt with me know how I am; I am intensely undisciplined: I sit around unwashed; emails and phone calls to me go unanswered.

I knew all I needed to do was change my environment. And that’s all I really “tried” to do, that’s the only place I made an effort. I am encouraging you to try the same. Not because you “should”, but because it’s the easy way out.

Real men don’t take the easy way out. But I’m not a real man. I’m a pathetic wusspot who thinks sweats can count as formal wear if they’re new 1.

Take the easy way out. Don’t change yourself. Change your environment. Don’t choose Japanese. Choose a Japanese environment. Don’t do Japanese. Only have Japanese to do 2. Don’t try to “win” at Japanese, just make it so that winning at Japanese is the only possible conclusion.

  • Don’t try to read Japanese books. Just only have Japanese books in your house/room/car/bag.
  • Don’t try to watch Japanese TV and movies. Just only have Japanese TV and movies. And then leave them playing.
  • Don’t watch movies. Just leave movies playing with the sound on.
  • Don’t surf more Japanese websites. Just have them always loading and loaded. Make Yahoo Kids your homepage. Use the Surusu URL Shuffler.

Easy, right? Like a speck of dust, it’s nothing, really. It is nothing. It is 無為. But pile up enough dust and you’ll have a mountain.

You don’t learn the language you could, should or want to learn. You learn the language of your bedroom, your kitchen, your living room, your web browser history, and your iPod.

Series Navigation<< It’s Not Time, It’s Choice


  1. So…a chav. Wait, no!
  2. As far as possible, obviously. But you don’t know what’s possible until you try. As Arthur C. Clarke famously opined: “The only way to discover the limits of the possible is to go beyond them into the impossible”. What is actually possible is probably out in the area of what you currently mistakenly assume to be impossible. Don’t make disabling excuses. Make enabling excuses.

  33 comments for “It’s Not Choice, It’s Environment

  1. Eri
    July 28, 2011 at 02:13

    So… Environment>Choice>Time then? I guess… that makes sense? Let me think about that for a while…

  2. July 28, 2011 at 02:16

    Cool gnu.

  3. ライトニング
    July 28, 2011 at 03:07

    Now I can’t stop playing the games on Yahoo Japan kids :)

  4. エムエイー0
    July 28, 2011 at 04:13

    I’ve noticed that I have been forgetting individual Kanji…A lot, or I am just conveniently Seeing many that i forgot. Such as 偽善者、 I forgot what 善 Is, Though i can understand it and read it. I don’t really like How i am forgetting individuals like that。 There are times where I could easily figure out a compound’s meaning because I know the last 2 kanji, but it’s that 1st kanji who’s meaning i forgot and cannot make out the meaning.

    I was wondering If going through RTK again would help、 But is it possible that going through it again will hurt trying to go monolingual?

    I’m Around 1100 sentences, and plan on going mono very soon, but If I am learning english keywords for the Kanji, wouldn’t that hurt it?

    • Eri
      July 28, 2011 at 09:32

      I’d say don’t worry about it, if the Kanji by itself is important, you’ll learn it again with sentences. If it bothers you that much you can look them up (I’d suggest Rikaichan or something like it, because then all you have to do it hover over it and press enter a couple of times and it gives you the individual Kanji with pronunciation and meanings)

    • kalek
      July 28, 2011 at 14:15

      It seems like the more I understand Japanese, the less I even consider English keywords.

      Without the help of the sentences in the Lazy Kanji mod, I actually can’t pull up English keywords for most Kanji I come across these days (I finished RtK1 in December, and went monolingual in late January/early February for reference), but that isn’t stopping me from reading (and understanding) tons of Japanese websites daily, completing most of my SRS reps (that require production before I see the Kanji) correctly, or playing video games.

      IMO, not knowing English keywords exactly isn’t a problem at all, provided you’re gaining on understanding Japanese text in general. Which, um, is the point of this process. Natives don’t have English keywords that they have to come up with to understand Japanese text, and I’m betting they don’t think of the Kanji individually each time they read a compound (who would actually think “outside department school” when they mean “surgery”? seriously – ) — just read and understand. Why should I be any different?

      • Daniel
        July 29, 2011 at 07:24

        I think it’s pretty important to know the individual meanings of each kanji. This is because when your reading something you can more or less figure out the meaning of a word if you know the individual meanings of the kanji it’s composed of. So, say you only know the english meaning for a kanji, you learn a sentence that has the kanji in it, understand the sentence, and after you’ve seen a couple different words that contain the same kanji while reading.. you kind of gain a better understanding in Japanese. Thats when you replace the english word in your SRS whit a japanese one.

        • ライトニング
          July 30, 2011 at 10:29

          I guess so, But let’s take 生クリームを混ぜる。 For example

          Just following the heisig keywords, it turns out to be

          Life/Living Creamをcrowdedぜる 

          Just following the heisig keywords, who would have though that 生クリーム Is “Fresh cream” 

          Also 混ぜる、 The keyword is “Crowded” Right?But it really means to stir,mix。

          That means, Living cream crowded Just by keyword

          Not ”Stir in the fresh cream”

          I see your point, But i honestly can’t see it working for many situations, as it seems that many heisig keywords are not the most accurate to the actual meanings in most senses.


          Keyword is Exit, which it can mean sometimes 「出口」

          But most of the time, it means something around the meaning of “Putting out”

          • July 30, 2011 at 15:11

            I’m pretty sure the Heisig keyword for 混 is ‘mix’.
            At least, that’s what it was in my Anki deck. (I never got the actual book so I could be wrong.)

  5. Agent J
    July 28, 2011 at 16:47

    I miss your long articles Khatz.

  6. Rout
    July 28, 2011 at 23:57

    Ah, but watching movies in Japanese is so boring when you can’t understand more than a few words or an occasional simple sentence. Even if you’ve seen the movie in a language you can understand before. And just leaving them on in the background and doing something else is so distracting and gets annoying after a while. Same sadly goes for podcasts or ebooks.

    • July 29, 2011 at 00:36

      Ah, but watching movies in Japanese is so boring when you can’t understand more than a few words or an occasional simple sentence.

      Could it be that you may be watching films that are geared towards adults and have more dialogue than visual and sound entertainment? Just a thought, as I know we all have different levels of patience. I’ve been doing this for almost three months now and still enjoy it.

      • Rout
        July 29, 2011 at 01:18

        No, actually I’ve been watching Disney, Pixar and Ghibli movies. And while watching Toy Story in Japanese was rather enjoyable, it mostly made me want to watch it in Polish. Yes, watching these movies in Japanese is… fun, but watching them in a language I can understand is so much more enjoyable I can’t motivate myself to watch stuff in Japanese most of the time.

        Yes, Khatz says “have only Japanese movies”, but I know I’ll end up watching something non-Japanese anyway, because it’s more fun.

        • Maji
          July 29, 2011 at 06:57

          Maybe a movie is just too much for you right now. Try watching something shorter so it’s over before you start getting bored. Then you can slowly build up a “tolerance” to Japanese and movies will be fun again.

        • Daniel
          July 29, 2011 at 07:31

          Not if you don’t have any other movies to watch than Japanese movies :P.
          What got me through the stage that your at can be attributed to the fact that I only watched stuff so fun that I didn’t care if I couldn’t understand, it was that fun =), and now i’m to the point where I don’t even have to try to understand.
          Just keep going, you’ll get there.

    • Eri
      July 29, 2011 at 08:56

      I know how you feel. I dislike watching things in Japanese because it’s no fun. I’ve been trying to get through Sgt. Frog in Japanese and I have to forcefully fight the urge to change the language back to English (FUNimation is great for having the Japanese audio, but it’s so tempting to watch it in English :()

      This is why I read things that I know I can only get in Japanese. Then I don’t have to worry about wanted to read in English at least. But I like watching TV, so this is a big problem for me 🙁

    • ahndoruuu
      July 29, 2011 at 09:14

      I used to feel this exact same way. What changed the experience for me was a realization. I’m not quite sure what the realization was, in that I can’t verbalize it well, but basically when you’re watching stuff in a language you barely understand/don’t understand well, the entire experience is different. I had to change the way I watched movies. Rather than just kinda passively stare at the screen and let the story and dialogue over me, when I watch L2/L3 movies it becomes an opportunity just to people watch. See how they act, their facial expressions, intonation, stuff in the background. I’m explaining this terribly but I kinda just take it like I’m observing another world. Frankly, I don’t really care what the story is. I’m just trying to get used to all of this new stuff. “Hey cool explosions.” “Hey cute/hot girls.” “Hey cool-looking guys fighting.” “Hey that was funny; I don’t know why but I’m laughing anyway.” Whatever yo.

      From what I recall, this was kinda how I watched stuff when I was a kid. I think one important AJATT principle is to, as much as possible, mentally return to childhood. That has helped me more than anything else but it’s such a personal thing and so hard to verbalize…which is, I think, why I haven’t seen anyone else try to write about it. But the way I see it is kinda like…each new language you learn is a chance to sorta relive childhood. While your Chinese/Japanese/French/whatever self grows. Luckily your other nationalities grow a lot faster than your native one. ^^

      • ブライアン
        July 29, 2011 at 11:57

        “Frankly, I don’t really care what the story is. I’m just trying to get used to all of this new stuff. “Hey cool explosions.” “Hey cute/hot girls.” “Hey cool-looking guys fighting.” “Hey that was funny; I don’t know why but I’m laughing anyway.” Whatever yo.”
        THIS. This, this, this.

        The funny thing is, you’ll find that language isn’t actually necessary to get the gist of what’s going on, in terms of character interaction at least. This also requires some skill on the part of the production. If it’s a bunch of people siting and talking without much emotion, good luck with that. But that’s a boring movie in any language.

        Also, don’t automatically assume your tastes will be consistent between languages. In English, I love science fiction and crime shows and don’t really care for sitcoms. In Japanese, I’m all about sitcoms and character drama. YMMV.

        Final tip: if your reading is better than your listening, Japanese subtitles are extremely useful.

      • July 30, 2011 at 18:30

        I started my Dutch with lots of kid’s TV and for me, it was an excellent way to start. They were short and a new programme would come on in 5 or 10 mins time.

        Also, like ahndoruuu, it was like a return to childhood. My mindset wasn’t so concerned about understand all the words but about understand the storyline (easy with kids TV). It didn’t bother me that the words were strange, as I saw it as an adventure and when words started repeating themselves, it was like ‘hey, there’s that word again, I wonder what it could mean’. Eventually, I started associating these strange words with meanings. It was fun and kinda magically. Yes, it’s a given, that in Dutch this process is much quicker than in Japanese as it’s so much closer to English but I think it would’ve been much harder if I was focusing on the ‘meaning of words’ all the time.

        Excellent advice! Khatzumoto! On Benny’s blog they were comparing children with adults, and who’s the best learners. Most people said something like, yes, adults are quicker learners but they have to put in effort to learn a language. Buttt!!! You can also learn effortless too! If you put a little effort into building your language environment.
        I’m coming to the conclusion that’s this is perhaps the most important thing you can if you want to succeed in a new language.

    • ahndoruuu
      July 29, 2011 at 09:22

      P.S. another thing that helps is to put all your movies/tv shows into a giant playlist and just have it playing all the time. if they’re actual dvds (hah) rip them 🙂 when you shift your attention to what’s playing, just keep hitting the skip button until you hit something that can hold your interest at that point. if you skip into a long video file, keep skipping a few minutes at a time through the video if need be. screw continuity. also screw trying to figure out what’s going on unless you REALLY want to. most of the time it’s just a pain in the ass and makes you want to stop watching entirely and run back to englishland where things make sense.

      • ライトニング
        July 29, 2011 at 12:57

        Exactly what I do, Except every day I make it a little different.

        In the morning I set my playlist With 30+ hours Of movies, anime, and songs. Listen to it through out the whole day 

        ・Shuffle of course, Want some variety 🙂

        Then the next morning when I wake up, I modify it slightly then repeat.

        But i always make sure my favorite episodes of ボンバーマンジェッターズ Are on there, and never change it

  7. Jason
    July 29, 2011 at 11:58

    What about comic books like Batman or Superman?

    They aren’t translated. I read them all the time. It’s the only thing that I find impossible to turn into Japanese. I just read them while listening to Japanese though (actually skim through them is more like it, since I don’t want to focus too much time on English).

    this thing pisses

    • khatzumoto
      July 29, 2011 at 14:32

      アメコミ – Google 検索
      アメコミ バットマン 和訳 – Google 検索
      アメコミ スーパーマン 和訳 – Google 検索 バットマン:アーカム・アサイラム 完全版 (ShoPro Books): グラント・モリソン, デイブ・マッキーン, 高木亮, 秋友克也, 押野素子: 本 スーパーマン:ザ・ラスト・エピソード (ShoPro Books): アラン・ムーア(作), カート・スワン、ほか(畫), 石川裕人: 本

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