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Little and Often

In high school, I was in the shooting club. That’s right, people. I spout all this peacenik-sounding “why can’t we all just get along” nonsense, but…I used to like guns. Too bad they get used for so much bad stuff. Maybe one day we can load them with software so they can only be used to shoot…cans and Basques </running joke> or something…Might make good paperweights.

Anyway, I’ll never forget the words of the club master/coach/adult supervisor. Wait, back up, before I even get into that, it always struck me as kind of ironic how some of us kids in the shooting club had major beef with each other, but it never occurred to us to use the…OK, I won’t even go there. I promise. I’m through being controversial.

Where was I? Oh yes: I’ll never forget the words of the club master when he gave us advice on how to get good at shooting — i.e. increase our accuracy. Combined with all the (potentially very zen/yoga-sounding) advice on how to breathe, how much air to have in the lungs at the moment of firing, how to relax and focus and stuff, he told us this:

[The key with practice is to do it] little and often.

And, I’d like to think that this is what the overall AJATT practice philosophy is, at the level of execution: little and often. What is little? Lots of nice, small, manageable, winnable chunks. Why often? I don’t really know; neurologically speaking, Piotr Wozniak (creator of SuperMemo) suggests that the fundamental mechanisms underlying human memory are designed to prioritize frequently occurring natural phenomena. Fine muscular skills like shooting are probably no exception to this.

Little and Often

To go slightly deeper, what does “often” mean, really? Simply that the time between chunks should be as small as possible. OK, here comes the magic that is perhaps unique to the skill of language. Take those little chunks…and then decrease the time between them to 0 or near 0. At this point “often” becomes “all the time” and you have yourself and immersion program.

But now that “often” is 0, it can be easy to feel lost, like you’re swimming in a cesspool of your own ignorance. That’s where little games like timeboxing, SRSing and sentence-picking come in. Make yourself as many silly little games as you want…whatever entertains you and keeps you in the loop. Watching YouTube clips, watching short clips of several movies you like (this is the massive turnover idea — the turnover is massive but the pieces are small).

Little and Often

Most of us are adults, or at least pretend to be; almost all of us have some unavoidable exposure to languages other than the one we want to be learning. That’s fine. The key is to get back on the horse as soon as possible. Don’t let the water go cold, get the fire back burning hot and bright again the moment the wind dies down. We may not be able to erase the gaps, but we can minimize their length. Forget your guilt about whatever time you have let pass; it’s gone. All you need to do is focus on how you can get moving again, how you can get back on the right track (*Chris Farley arm movements*).

You don’t have to always be on the defensive: don’t stop at just trying to keep your little candle in the wind burning. Become a pyromaniac: set fire to the things around you. Go on the offensive — try interleaving your target language into your daily life even in situations that don’t welcome it with open arms; like weeds in concrete, let it come up through the cracks of even the toughest environments; let it soak in there like AIDS in a California bathhouse. Also…Basques <parsing error>?

I used to work cleaning buildings in college and walked to and from campus uphill both ways through 12-foot Rocky Mountain snow with the wind blowing in the opposite direction…we weren’t allowed headphones and it’s not like I could read on the side. But we were allowed overhead music. Guess who managed to get them to play Dragon Ash and other sterling Japanese bands?

I took a road trip with extended family; they don’t speak Japanese — yet; I can’t ignore them for the whole trip (actually, they were always really supportive about the Japanese thing and would have gladly let me ignore them, but I didn’t want to) — what do you do? What do you do? I played Japanese music in the car, and not just any Japanese music, but Japanese music that sounded just like their favorite English bands (they like folky 1960s stuff like The Carpenters and The Doors, so I played them ゆず/Yuzu).

There’s always a crack, there’s always something short and sweet you can do. Find your own piece of little and often.

  34 comments for “Little and Often

  1. lin
    March 10, 2009 at 21:36

    This totally makes sense. After all, it’s exactly why high frequency characters are much easier to recall or produce on demand vs those you rarely see or write. No mystery here. Hence the need for something like SuperMemo, Anki, etc..

  2. March 10, 2009 at 22:42

    All I can really say is that Yuzu sure is awesome.

  3. Harry
    March 11, 2009 at 01:39

    Lol I checked out Dragon Ash after this. Pretty sweet!

  4. かつみ
    March 11, 2009 at 03:33

    You’re really stuck on those Basques aren’t you? ^^

    This is really quite interesting in that, some (I, maybe others?) may get the impression that the All The Time part means one continuous big chunk. But the way you illustrated it here, it makes a lot of sense. I’m the kind of person that goes in bursts, and once I start, I don’t stop for long periods of time until I have to (Class or Sleep). Unfortunately what that meant was that I’d be taking in too much English in the mean time. Sure there was Japanese music, but when you’re reading an English site, it doesn’t really work (or so I’ve noticed).

    So, I’m going to think about how I can first break up things into small chunks and then start doing those chunks more often.

    Thanks for the advice. ^^

  5. Seth
    March 11, 2009 at 03:42

    :: angry redneck voice ::

    whar’s the chai-knees proh-jekt updates!?!? nyah!

    (nice article, though :> )

  6. Pasqual Hart
    March 11, 2009 at 05:23

    Good post, I’ve been sorta doing the AJATT, it has been some 4 or 5 months since I started listening to only Japanese music, and I only put the Japanese songs on my iPod, the American songs are still there (and yes the urge is there, like you mentioned in another of your postings). The time in between my “chunks” of Japanese is spaced out quite a bit, esp. on the weekends, but a few of my close friends and my gf accept my AJATT and don’t complain when I put on some Mecha Ike or Utaban or Music station, some random drama, etc. Instead of Family Guy, or Adult Swim, or even subbed アニメ, While the American shows are fine they are at the same time boring because I understand everything, I can always watch them later (years later even) and still understand, can’t do the same with Japanese. You’re illustrations remind me of flow charts that I used to do in some computer classes =P Now using Anki to help me cram a bit before my Kanji quiz 頑張ります〜

  7. Michael
    March 11, 2009 at 05:38

    Shrinking the gaps is hard. I have HOURS of L1 radio that I like to listen to. Unfortunately I haven’t found the same entertainment value in L2 German. SG1 is good, I can almost sing along with Silbermond but understanding is still illusive. 10,000 hours and 10,000 sentences is a long ways away even with short term goals.

    Khatz the blog is great.

  8. Sebastian V.
    March 11, 2009 at 10:19

    After trying out Dragon Ash I kind of want to start All Spanish All The Time..

  9. ヒュー
    March 11, 2009 at 13:57

    A book not about language, but about the brain and in some ways ‘about the fast and often’ is “The Brain that Can Change Itself” by Norman Doidge. If you haven’t already read it, and you don’t mind pop-science stuff, you might enjoy it.

  10. Gav
    March 11, 2009 at 21:38

    Man, I enjoy this site. I think I would read it even if I wasn’t learning another language.

    I remember listening to Dragon Ash and they were kind of saying semi-comprehensible things in English like, hip hop is my life, I love hip hop, etc, at the start of the album. The following songs had not so much of a hip hop as a spanish vibe. It always puzzled me/weirded me out.

  11. Graham Bouvier
    March 12, 2009 at 11:04

    Thank you so much for posting this! The timing is very apt.
    Every once in a while I need someone to come along, give me a kick in the butt, and say something like: “Forget your guilt about whatever time you have let pass; it’s gone. All you need to do is focus on how you can get moving again, how you can get back on the right track”.

  12. Amelia
    March 13, 2009 at 10:00

    Great post, as usual. I have to say I’m with Graham on this site–wonderful motivation tool. I’ve ended up using it the same way the narrator in “The Moonstone” uses “Robinson Crusoe”–whenever he had a problem in his life and needed advice, he flipped it open to a random sentence, and always found it apt (kind of like the 易經). I always find a solution for my language learning problems here, either in the posts or the comments.

    By the way–and a propos of nothing–there’s been an interesting discussion in China lately about reverting characters back to traditional, which brought Heisig to mind. The guy was a complete genius and China’s still entirely unaware of it–and probably always will be. From the article on this on, quoting the director of the Ministry of Education:

    We will soon issue two standards, one for character components and another for irreducible characters. In the past, character components have been known by different names. The 纟 component, for example, is called 绞丝 in some regions but 扭丝 in others [both mean “twisted silk”]. The 亻 component is sometimes called the “standing person” (立人) and sometimes the “single person” (单人). These need to be standardized. Sometimes, the basic meaning of a character is entirely disregarded so that students can more easily remember it. For example, some teachers will describe the word 饿 (“hungry”) like this: they’ll say, look, “hungry” is easy to remember. See the 饣 radical (“eat”) on the side? “I” (我) want to “eat” (饣)! But if you continue along those lines and encounter a similar character with a bug radical (蛾 “moth”), do “I” want to become a “bug”? Does a “single person” and “me” (俄 “momentarily”) mean that “I” want “somebody”? Does a “woman” and “me” (娥 “beautiful”) mean. . . ! We can easily see that there is a lot more work to be done on the cultural and informational aspects of Chinese characters.

  13. Tommy Newbhall
    March 13, 2009 at 10:09

    This is just a question about the twitter feed. I clicked on the link and it took me to which seems to be a website about an advertising company… umm… am i missing something?

  14. Tommy Newbhall
    March 13, 2009 at 14:37

    thanks for fixing the link. My god, Its like my life. but on the internet.

  15. March 14, 2009 at 19:57

    Let’s face it, it’s all a matter of working smarter, not harder.

    It really all reminds me of an dispute I just had last night, in which one particular woman had been boasting how she wnet through years of pain to learn Japanese. And then when I mentioned Khatz’s methods, she was in total disagreement. She felt that one had to study HARD and often. In other words, do things that are “painful but worth it.” She also scoffed at input over output. Sad, really.

    On a different note, I also often find that even though I’m living in Japan, I still find myself in the midst of exposure to English. Seems like every Japanese perosn I meet wants to practice their English for free. I really need to start charging.

  16. Michael
    March 20, 2009 at 12:13

    In another article, you say not to use the Japanese audio programs with a lot of English, but all I’ve found so far are programs with a lot of English….. What really good audio resources do you recommend to use that have little or no English?


  17. Josh
    August 28, 2009 at 12:37

    Im a high schooler who just likes japanese. Dont really care why or how, i just do. Using this method has been the most fun ive ever had learning a language. Sure, its going to be a long journey but ” a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step”. As my school is a music nazi during lectures(2 hours of no music) and then I keep forgetting to turn on my music right after class to keep myself immersed. This post is a great post, even though fall you still can get up and keep going. Im probably going to forget to do my SRS reps(Projects galore.) But hey, its not like japanese is going anywhere right?

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