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Language-Learning As Gun Violence: Frequency and Quantity

Think of your L2 as a hail of bullets. You get “shot” by exposing yourself to media — by putting yourself in the path of the bullets.

(Un?)fortunately, your brain, by way of the forgetting mechanism, is able to “heal” itself, erasing the effects of the bullets.

As it turns out, though, your brain is not an invincible healer. So, if you want to get “killed” or “maimed” by your L2 (i.e. become permanently and irrevocably unable to forget it) then all you need do is get yourself shot more and/or faster than your brain can heal you. You need to get shot so many times that you can’t heal. You need to overwhelm the healing mechanism.

When we talk about getting better at (remembering) a language, what we’re really talking about is losing the ability to forget it. We are actually “tattooing” our brains. I mean, just try to forget the language you’re using to read this. Go on, try. I’ll give you a whole week. Try. You haven’t “learned” the languages you’re now amazing at, you’ve had them carved into your brain: you think they’re decorations, but biologically they’re just…scars 😉 . (Given time they can heal, but it turns out that after a certain point it’s harder to forget a language than to learn it, if harder = takes longer).

Increase the frequency with which you get shot. We often call this “immersion”, although lately I’m preferring the term “contact”.  Increase the number of times per day you “touch” your L2. Increase the number of discrete points of time where you are exposed to your L2. Get more bullet wounds.

One way I do this with Cantonese, for example, is to have a batch file that automatically opens live Cantonese Internet radio once an hour every hour, no matter what I’m doing. If I’m not at home, my cats get to listen to it. All I have to do is feed my machine a little bit of electricity, and it works as a diligent, hands-free and nearly-infallible getter-of-things-done.

In addition to the frequency of bullet wounds, you’ll obviously want to increase their absolute quantity as well. Frequent bullet wounds will “hurt” you (just look at how all American English speakers have some exposure to Spanish, and thus feel more affinity towards the Spanish language than to more genetically related languages like Dutch, Frisian or German — then again, I suppose any behavior that brings you closer to Salma Hayek is a good idea 8) ). But to really get yourself &$&$ed up, you’ll need to get hit by a large overall number of bullets as well.

Funnily enough though, increasing bullet quantity directly can be quite stressful for a lot of people a lot of the time. So just focus on the frequency, and the quantity will usually start to take care of itself.

Sorry for the graphic metaphor…Too much Counterstrike, rap music and action movies, I guess 😀 . Plus I just enjoy negative-sounding metaphors for positive activities — everything from drug abuse to cancer to, now, gun violence.

So how do you get yourself shot?

  25 comments for “Language-Learning As Gun Violence: Frequency and Quantity

  1. April 4, 2010 at 15:29

    I like the gun, drug and cancer metaphors, but I grew up on the same rap music and Boyz n Da Hood movies you did. I think immersion is a great metaphor because it really is a lot like going for a swim. At first, the water was really cold and there was this initial sense of shock. One day I even climbed out of the pool, just meaning to warm up in the sun of an hour episode of NCIS, unfortunately, this led to lounging around in a three day marathon of NCIS, Law and Order:SVU and Criminal Minds. So, I got back in the water, let the shock fade a little, kept swimming, and eventually it warmed right up. Yeah, there was a lot of beaching and moaning during that initial phase when I was freezing, but now I’m so used to the water I think I’d feel colder to get out. There are certain Doramas I’d like to watch, except the only copies I can find online have English subs, and that just sounds like dumping ice in my pool, so I’m waiting until I can order the DVD’s. I’m evolving, becoming some kind of Japanese Dolphin (I hope they don’t eat me…oh, I went there). It’s only been around six weeks but I’m already so accustomed to the water, I might go into shock were I to be lifted out of it for too long. If I’m doing anything in English besides interacting with my kids, I’ve got headphones in at least one ear, usually both. So, yeah I make contact with the water, because I live in it now…

  2. Matt
    April 4, 2010 at 16:00

    So basically my brain is Wolverine, and AJATT is a motion-detecting turret filled with unlimited rounds of knowledge bullets that shoot faster than my innate healing powers can keep up with.


    • Matthew
      November 29, 2011 at 09:09

      I love you for saying this =D

  3. Drewskie
    April 4, 2010 at 16:07

    I listen to my ipod like a chain smoker smokes, and one of the first things I did when I started immersion was remove every ounce of English from it. Now, everywhere I go, I’ve got a proverbial cigarette in my hand. My lungs are currently blackening, and given maybe another year or so, I’ll have a terrible cough, the phlegm from which will be disgusting, congealed Japanese.

    Can’t wait!

  4. Chris
    April 4, 2010 at 18:02

    I’d like to hear more about this batch file of yours, Khatz,

  5. Daniel
    April 4, 2010 at 22:39

    I get what you are saying but I disagree on 1 point.
    It’s never permanent. Even native English speakers will forget English.
    Although the forgetting process is slow, every time you are not using the language you are forgetting it, little by little. Say you stopped your exposure to English completely for a few years.. I can guarantee that you will stoop to a very low level, especially in your active vocab and sentence construction. It’s only that, even living in a foreign country, you still expose yourself to some English, that you consistently reinforce it (and hence don’t forget it).
    What I’m trying to say is, there is no magical level where you stop forgetting. You will always be forgetting. Even as you are using the language you will be forgetting other parts of the same language that you are not using. Only by consistently using/exposing yourself to the language do you reinforce those parts and associated parts of that language.

  6. khatzumoto
    April 4, 2010 at 23:12

    Good point. Sort of like this guy:

    “THE last time Ishinosuke Uwano saw his brother, his sisters and his home town…he was a 20-year-old soldier heading for almost certain death on the battlefields of Manchuria. Yesterday, 63 years later, he returned to a country transformed — an old man barely able to remember his native language…

    “I have not spoken Japanese for more than 60 years,” he said in Ukrainian through an interpreter…”” | Mr Uwano comes back from the dead to say ‘Good Day’ – Times Online

    Ebbinghaus and Wozniak’s research would suggest that since intervals grow longer with spaced repetitions, there may come a point where the interval exceeds the natural lifetime, and therefore the a piece of knowledge could go un-reviewed for the rest of one’s life with a 90%+ probability of never being forgotten. But then…few people SRS their native language yet.

    Like you said, definitely a matter of use it or lose it. Uwano-san demonstrates that perfectly.

  7. triplej
    April 5, 2010 at 00:59

    ええと can anyone say meme?


    theres too many good TV shows to be limited by embedded English subs, I usually just open a window and cover the bottom portion of the screen. I know it’s pretty simple, but it gets the job done ね

  8. tsc
    April 5, 2010 at 01:38

    I constantly listen to music when I’m at Uni and at work. Thankfully I just have to sit on my ass at work and can sometimes do some SRSing too.

    I’m finding it harder and harder to keep an interest in anime these days though, especially the new ones, but I try.

    I found a nice website for Asian media though to help with my immersion (movies, tv, anime), with full DVDs, so you can switch audio and turn subtitles on or off to what you want. It’s a private torrent tracker so that means you need to be able to keep a good ratio on the site (i.e. you need to upload more data than you download).
    The site’s called Asian DVD Club ( It has a lot of DVDs to download in Japanese, Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, Russian, among others.

    Other than that I tend to watch Western movies dubbed into Japanese on too.

    I’m also currently trying to read my way through a bunch of manga, and that’s probably the most satisfying aspect so far to me. It really hits home what you’re doing when you can read through pages of stuff you love so much.

    The environment’s taken a while to set up but it’s definitely keeping me motivated now.

  9. Will
    April 5, 2010 at 04:09

    the online-radio batch processing you do doesn’t sound like something I can do with karen’s power tools. what are you using khatz?


  10. Ken
    April 5, 2010 at 13:40

    I have The Matrix playing in the background while reading this. (ネオ! 早く!)

    It works impressively well as a Japanese dub. The places are ambiguous (“the city”), the character names are weird anyway, and there’s not much in the way of written language visible, so it doesn’t have that “Americans in America doing American things but speaking Japanese” feeling that some dubs do. Plus, it also has gun violence!

    I can totally see why khatz watched/s so much Star Trek. It’s probably good as a dub, for the same reasons. It seems entirely reasonable to me that the crew of the Enterprise would be Japanese. Or, at least as reasonable as a French captain with a British accent.

  11. TheArtofBreath730
    April 5, 2010 at 22:58

    I’m interested in this batch file as well…

  12. April 6, 2010 at 02:35

    triplej…duh, why didn’t I think of that…I could just open up a blank internet page and pull it up to cover the bottom of the show…ok, now I’m gonna finally see the rest of Trick lol

  13. Roxborough
    April 6, 2010 at 05:20

    There is a great program called PPStream or PPS for short, google it. The program itself is Chinese (might be useful for you khatz, if you didn’t know), but it has a section of Japanese movies to be streamed. Do check it out!

  14. Lane
    April 6, 2010 at 14:50

    About “batch processing”… I’m doing roughly the same thing with Python in Linux. It basically goes like this (i’m using khatz’s simulradio links ;)…

    here’s a little script that’ll play streaming radio from FM Jaga once an hour FOREVER! All you need are Python and Mplayer.

    import os, time

    while 1 < 2:#forever ; )
    os.system('mplayer '+URL)

  15. Lane
    April 6, 2010 at 14:51

    unbelievable… the indents didn’t work… the two lines under the “while” loop should be indented. Soary everyone.

  16. TheArtofBreath730
    April 7, 2010 at 11:17


    This code only works for Linux I assume? I tried it with Windows and it didn’t work. Though I have absolutely no experience with programming.

  17. Lane
    April 8, 2010 at 07:12


    You just have to have Python (the programming language) and mplayer (a supremely versatile media player) installed.

    Here are some links: — the 2.6.5 framework is fine — a little ways down the page where it says binaries… i’d get the one for windows that says “recommended” out to the side… aside from that, i can’t say… i don’t use windows.

    Good luck!

  18. Theun
    April 12, 2010 at 05:41

    Wow, being half-Frisian, I feel proud that you mention Frisian :), you actually know of the language!

  19. Ness
    June 2, 2011 at 23:08

    I love this website… xD
    My mom thinks I’m crazy. I was in a car accident just over a month ago, and I had to be homeschooled for half a semester and stuff. But I thought it was a great thing that happened, because now I literally can work on japanese ALL THE TIME 8D (except for the homework school sends me… Oh well…)
    So I think I’m gettin’ a wholotta bullets, here. Constant bullets from my constantly-playing ipod with “O! Naruto Nippon!” (Totally amazing/amusing radio show with seiyuu from Naruto, the bestest anime/manga on the face off the planet~) and my favourite music, the kind where it’s all in japanese, you know? 😛 And when I’m not listening to my ipod, either I’m listening to the same stuff on my computer so the ipod can charge or NON DUBBED/SUBBED ANIME! Plus getting Pirates of the Caribbean in Japanese, plus searching internets for things to read in japanese. And when the docs say I’m better (no permanent damage yatta!) I’m gonna go back to working and stuff as much as possible so I can afford to buy more (kinya guess?) JAPANESE STUFF!!!


  20. Carnival
    October 25, 2019 at 13:56

    Shoot me!

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