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Losing Your Way in a Language, and Finding It Again: Identity, Means and Ends

You remember the original Tortoises and Hares post, right? Well, I got this really insightful email about it from a virulently handsome man named Chris Espinoza, and I want to share it with you here; I’ve highlighted some of the uber amazing parts for your reading convenience:

I have made a breakthrough in my thinking lately in regards to this language acquisition business, and I am excited about it.

I was trying to understand what bothered me so much about the polyglots out there and also why I felt like my Chinese had stunted. The realization I came to corresponds with your difficulty with Chinese relative to Japanese, I think.

The problem was that I was obsessed with acquisition as an end. I felt like I had something to prove to myself, to my former teachers, to people I had argued with about language, and most of all to Chinese people themselves. I wanted to say, “See? Classes do suck. All you have to do is watch movies! Foreigners can learn Chinese quickly and easily!” Because of this, I tried to find the ultimate acquisition method. I looked at all those Chinese movies, TV shows and books as language acquisition tools. And that was the problem. I forgot that the end was not acquisition, but rather the enjoyment of things and people in that language.

I also started to conflate knowledge/eloquence with seeming like a native. My real ultimate desire is to seem like a Chinese person to Chinese people, to have them feel like I am a part of their social circle, someone they can relate to and have fun with. But I forgot about that. I just thought that if I could read enough books on enough subjects and know all the right words and know all the pop references, I would seem like a native. But in reality I already had enough knowledge and linguistic ability. The problem was attitude. I did not see myself as a Chinese person, but rather, and even worse, I saw myself in opposition to them. Chinese was something to conquer, not to enjoy. In the end, if you want to know Chinese, knowing a lot of stuff and being eloquent is not the key. You could ask someone in English, “Oh, how was class today?” and they could respond, “uh, you know, it was kinda boring, the teacher’s stupid, you know?” There is no linguistic virtuosity there, but I would feel like that person was American, or at least in tune with American sensibilities. Whereas, if I asked the same question to some people in China, they would perfectly recite something they had memorized from a TOEFL book and it just felt so foreign and distant from me.

I had a similar problem with myself in China. I was often with my American friend and Chinese people would always be absolutely blown away by his Chinese. People would be impressed with mine, but it was never the level of amazement that they would have for him. There wasn’t a huge gap between us in our knowledge of Chinese, so I couldn’t figure out where the difference was. I’ve figured out now that the difference was my attitude. I had some problems with Chinese culture, so I felt aversion to them in some ways, and I certainly didn’t want to be them. My friend, however, had developed a sense of Chinese identity, that he was Chinese (even though he is a blue eyed fair skinned American of European descent), and Chinese people sensed that. Some people even went so far as to ask if he was Chinese. Now that I think of it, occasionally, people had a similar reaction to me and I’ve realized those occasions occurred when I was loving some Chinese TV show and felt connected to the culture. Then I would go out and people would be amazed. Nothing had significantly changed about my linguistic knowledge, just the attitude. Unfortunately, these occasions were rare, because I spent most of my time hating Chinese people.

When babies and little kids learn their native languages, they’re not seeing linguistic acquisition as the end; they see it as a means. the end is far more interesting, far more relevant, far more about everything that matters to them. if it didn’t matter it might even be possible that acquisition wouldn’t even take place. They want other things — and acquisition occurs along the way. When I was in elementary/middle school and used to emulate certain things I heard people say, I wasn’t thinking “Now I’ll acquire this word.” I was thinking, “Now I’ll be funny, like this person.” Language, a medium, was just that: a thing I wanted because I wanted stuff that was in it. Somehow, I’ve lost track of that, to some extent, with Chinese.

So, as I move forward now, I am keeping two things in mind:

  1. Acquisition is not the goal. Accessing fun stuff in the language is.
  2. I want to BE Chinese, not just some weird foreign dude who can make himself understood in Chinese

So, all those arguments about the detail of the acquisition method are much less relevant than I thought before. I could talk about this forever, but I’ll wrap it up here.

Oh, just one more note about the polyglot thing. For some reason, these people claiming to speak 10 languages really bothered me. I couldn’t figure out why. Now I think I got it, it seems their goal is the acquisition of languages, rather than enjoying what’s in the language. Of course, they are enjoying the acquisition itself, but I don’t think that’s enough to be native-like. And that’s why I think they have just slightly above average results even though their methods might make sense. They still see themselves as Americans or Canadians or whatever studying something foreign. However, realizing this, I now might respect the claims of Benny the Irish polyglot more, for example. Maybe it is possible to speak Portuguese and make Brazilians think you are Brazilian in three months, because perhaps Benny believed himself to BE Brazilian for those three months.

I look forward to your feedback,


Who says “virulently handsome”? Anyway, both Chris and I are looking forward to hearing from you 🙂

  54 comments for “Losing Your Way in a Language, and Finding It Again: Identity, Means and Ends

  1. Jes
    February 21, 2010 at 13:03

    Thank you for sharing Guys. I’ve been realizing along similar lines. I found that ‘what is’ is exactly what is. I did that and that’s all I did. If I want something different, I take what is and I add something to it. This point is very particular,…

    See, how often have you seen something and been get this shift out of here, hehe, shift the shift. Anyway, see it’s not ever going to change till, what ‘is’ is something else. This is where the babies become creators, this point. See…

    Everyone under their own ‘reflex’ exercises that reflex….like a relfex, without thought. *Poof* program runs *Poof* output (*gratification*). But what to do when there are no programs. Or, no more ‘Ram’ (ie. ramming, forcing, etc.). What about brain damaged people who recover (ex. Jill Bolte Taylor)…what about ‘it’? ( that great variable that is typeless and can be cast to any other type as needed, upon which moment perfection would become incarnate). Where does that come from? Where does One come from exactly? Where is ‘is’?…(hint: nation of images)

    So basically without sounding any more like loon that I already do. If you want to find the harmony of two signals you multiply them. If you want to cancel one out you play them 180 degrees out of phase…together. It’s the same with attitude, thought, feelings, language learning. Take what you are and add to it.

    That’s all a baby ever did. And they started with…very little. They take in a vibration and make every effort to harmonize with it. That’s what we do as language learners.

    If you want to be Chinese add, through harmony. Take what you are and add more of who you want to be. Use your imagination. Create. Beloved by everyone? Add all their smiles in…I probably should have done that before I typed this, haha I get so anxious typing on the net. like some nazi it’s gonna jump out of my speaker and goose step me in the kiester (sp?)

    I appreciate this post you guys made because it’s helping me to see just how all-encompassing learning can really be and also how to create something that has never been done before…or lacks role models for. Or, society at large thinks is impossible (^.^)v ありがとうございます.

  2. L
    February 21, 2010 at 13:18

    Omg man, you guys are goooooood.

    I’m currently becoming a native in japanese using textfugu, ever heard of it?

  3. Chris
    February 21, 2010 at 13:31

    Steve Kaufmann has often said when he speaks Chinese he feels Chinese, when he speaks French he feels French. He did a video a while back saying that certain ways of expressing things change depending on the language of a particular culture he is speaking. He therefore tends to more upfront and outspoken in French, but more reserved and less argumentative in Japanese, since these are things he picked up from the people while in the country. I thought that was pretty interesting.

    While I very much agree with everything this particular Chris said with regards to enjoyment, I completely disagree with his generalization of polyglots as though they can all be lumped into exactly the same category with one same goal. Different people have different goals, and I doubt he knows the goals and motivations of all polyglots, so I can’t understand why he personally would be “bothered” by them. As long as you’re enjoying what you’re doing, isn’t that the main thing??

  4. February 21, 2010 at 13:34

    Attitude is absolutely everything. Well, not everything but 90%!!

    Thanks so much for sharing this.

  5. February 21, 2010 at 16:25

    Great post! Very inspirational to see how he’s looking at his acquisition differently now; seeing yourself as a local changes everything and makes it more than just reaching some empty milestone of having a particular amount of vocabulary etc. A language and a culture are intricately intertwined. Appreciation of this changes everything.

    Just to answer the point raised in the e-mail, I definitely try to see myself as a local and my language approach focuses way more on culture and immersion (dates, clubs, parties etc.) than on grammar and vocabulary. I’m taking a break here in Thailand, but my next project will also involve me trying to convince locals that I’m one of them.

    I was absolutely successful in my Brazilian mission; not so much because of reaching my practical objective of not speaking with an accent, but by Brazilians genuinely embracing me as one of them. Reading a few comments on this post will convince you of that.

    Even though a European can pass as a Brazilian (it’s an extremely diverse country), when I finally commit myself fully to learning Chinese or Japanese, I will absolutely be aiming to make the locals think that I am one of them. The only limitation on my skin colour will be that they’ll know which continent my great-grandparents were from.

    Hear hear on what Kanji&Tea said above me.

  6. February 21, 2010 at 18:26

    When people ask me why I eat using chopsticks (despite being outside chopstick-land) I answer: well, you know… to get good at Japanese!
    After that they just keep eating their dinner without further questions, throwing frightened looks at me from time to time.

    • JN
      January 8, 2012 at 08:12

      I thought I was the only one who used chopsticks whenever they seemed like the better tool for the job.  I never realized I was also trying to put myself in a Japanese frame of mind at the time.  FWIW, they are a great way to eat potato chips and keep the grease off your keyboard.
      If your dinner companions are throwing you frighted looks, it means you have made them think.  Your work is done.

  7. February 21, 2010 at 19:49

    This was really helpful. It made me realize for myself that I wasn’t in the right mindset either. I’m going to go work on this. Thanks for this.

  8. WC
    February 21, 2010 at 19:51

    Too true. I realized this some time ago, and that’s why I remind myself why I’m learning Japanese. I do this through posts on the net (like this one!) and through various things around my house that I have set as goals. Anything that’s harder than my current level is a goal, like mangas, light novels, raw anime, TV shows, etc. Even talking on Lang-8 and Skype are goals.

    But they are goals not because I want to learn Japanese… They are goals because I want to do them, and learning Japanese is how I get there.

  9. February 21, 2010 at 21:50

    [Edited for legibility]

    Your blog is wonderful, and while I know credit also belongs to AntiMoon, your language acquisition method is genuis.

    I’ve been studying Japanese for four years now, with two years of college courses, and of course, I still suck.

    Recently, I decided that after working on this for so long, I was going to get fluent or die trying, so I’m working on this full time. That’s when I found your blog. I’d already discovered the SRS thing through, and I’ll be back to once I get the kanji down.

    You see, I was one of those who kept blowing off Heisig because I’ve always learned things really easily in the past, through simple osmosis with a little rote memory thrown in for good measure. So I thought I didn’t need Heisig and his “silly mnemonics.”

    How wrong I was. You can’t learn through osmosis if you can’t read, and you can’t read Japanese if you don’t at least know about 2,000 kanji.

    So after beating my heading against a brick wall the past four years trying to learn kanji through brute force, I’ve finally taken the plunge and started on Heisig. And it just makes so much sense, and I feel like a damn fool for not taking it seriously sooner. I think it just really took reading your success story to convince me. I’ve got my immersion environment set up, and got Heisig’s book, and I’ve been playing with various SRS’s, trying to find the most efficient way to work.

    I was wondering if you could give me some tips though, because I haven’t found any one SRS that does everything the most conveniently.

    Anki comes with a Heisig deck all made up, but you have to enter in your own sentences, and it has that inconvenient feature of wanting to add new cards on a set basis, instead of just letting me add them as I do them.

    Surusu lets me add cards as I learn them, but doesn’t have the Heisig deck and so it requires inputting lots of keywords and kanji.’s quizzing method just isn’t designed to work well with heisig.

    kanji.koohi? as best I can tell, doesn’t use the same algorythm the others do…? but has the deck, and the convenience of other people’s stories readily available for perusal and copy/past.

    Two, I’m having trouble figuring out how to actually make the input/testing/learning process as quick and painless as possible.

    My current method is to write each kanji 4/5 times, while thinking about the story, input the story into the SRS, then, when I’ve got them all in, test myself and do my reviews, write each kanji once as I review, then if I get it wrong or can’t remember, re-write it a couple times correctly, fail that card, and keep going.

    Basically this works in that I’m retaining a lot, but it is very slow. I literally spent all day on it yesterday and only managed to learn 37 new cards, only taking a few five/ten minutes breaks, a shower, and dinner.

    Now, I know there are folks out there learning 50-100 cards a day. I’m not concerned about my learning rate. As long as it is constant I’ll get to the end. But my method literally couldn’t input 50-100 kanji a day, there simply wouldn’t be enough time without giving up sleep (Working literally 10-14 hours simply on kanji), so I know I’m doing something inefficiently.

    Any help you or the community could give would leave me much obliged. I may place a copy of this in the comments to your most recent post if I don’t hear from you soon, but I’d still love your take on things because I know you are a man very good at figuring out how to make a process more efficient/fun. And right now, I ain’t havin’ fun dawg!

  10. Flo
    February 21, 2010 at 23:05

    Thank you very much for sharing this. It’s funny, when I read this kind of article I have the impression that language is like a martial art…

  11. Dempf
    February 21, 2010 at 23:06

    Chris, your experiences with Chinese mirror my own. And the breakthroughs that you have had are also similar to what I’ve been going through recently. (Although I believe that you articulate it much better than I’ll be able to =P)

    Over the past few days I’ve been trying to look at my Chinese-learning life through a different lens, and trying to figure out why I’m even on this road (with the goal of finding not just the excuses I tell myself as motivation to study, but real, overarching, purpose-of-my-life kind of stuff). As I think on it, more and more it seems like my personality in regards to Chinese has been that of the “hare” – I was always trying to prove my worth to myself and to other people, and rarely getting much satisfaction with what I was going through.

    In the beginning I made leaps and bounds, mostly because I started out learning with “traditional” teachers in a Taiwanese school. I made a game out of “out-doing” these teachers by surprising them with my rate of learning. It was definitely a fun experience to connect with and learn from my classmates, and that was part of what drove me: the desire to understand the world that was going on around me. But the emphasis was on proving that I could do things better than the 補習班 where my classmates went to learn English.

    That driving factor was still with me when I went back to the US, but I didn’t have anything to prove, or anyone to out-do except for myself. I tried that competitive model for a *long* time, but what I’ve realized now is that competing against myself doesn’t really work for me – I just end up beating myself up! Not only that, but I end up not interested in learning at all because I’m using the same model that the 補習班 uses. Over-effort, overexertion, none of these lead to learning a language.

    So the realization that I’ve come to is that, even though my model for studying is broken, I love my Chinese friends (who I’ve been ignoring because I’ve felt like I have to push myself as hard as I can to learn Hanzi), and I love learning about Chinese culture. I might not ever get my “Chinese identity”, but as long as I feel happy with the interactions that I have, I will want to learn. Instead of critisizing myself for using the little time that I have away from studying to do things in English and hang out with English-speaking friends, I can just follow my desire to do fun things with the Chinese people who I already know I like.

    Last night I went out with a bunch of Chinese-speaking people and had a blast! I wasn’t worried about what to do or say, or whether it was an efficient use of my time. I was just in the moment, doing what felt natural. That’s how it should be.

    Hopefully that was clear enough for a hungover, early-morning post =)

  12. February 22, 2010 at 03:08


    I just wanted to say that I am going through the same thing at the moment! I found just wasn’t cutting it, though I really, really liked how it made me feel while studying. I could spend an hour on without realizing I was even studying at all, no joke. Why? Because of those silly little sounds they make every time you get something right! It’s those small, obtainable wins that Khatzu talks about. So I thought, why not create my OWN deck/goal on that focuses on ONE keyword and the kanji, which I’m hoping I can work on.

    In the meantime however, I’ve downloaded Anki and started with Heisig’s deck. Though in retrospect I might switch to starting from scratch, or use Surusu, simply because it makes you input everything on your own. I know you said you didn’t want to enter in everything from Heisig on your own, but I think actually creating your own deck will help you retain the information, don’t you think? It may seem tedious to us now, but I bet in the long run it’s actually saving us memorizing time.

    Just food for thought. Going to check out your blog now!

  13. February 22, 2010 at 04:15

    So, the thing that was eating time was the “writing each one 4-5 times” while initially studying. I figured out I could input the stories ten at a time, in about ten minutes, then, I don’t write them until I test on the SRS. If I get them right, then there isn’t any need to write them 4-5 times. If wrong, the SRS will repeat them until I get them right, so the copying the kanji thing gets sorted by the SRS over time, and it goes MUCH faster. I just did my first ten new kanji for the day, plus my reviews, in about 30 minutes. Versus several hours yesterday. The other thing I did, to gain more control over Anki, is went into my deck and tagged everything that I haven’t studied yet as suspended. (In the deck where you can edit cards, select “sort by Heisig’s Number” then scroll down to where you are, click on the one underneath it, scroll to the bottom, hold in shift and click on the last one. That will highlight everything not yet studied. Then click on suspend. Then set your new cards per day to some really high number, and then when you put your stories in, just unsuspend as you go to add them to cards in your stack). I knew there was something terribly inefficient if it was literally taking 14 hours to get 37 kanji in the computer and studied. This is so much less painful.

  14. February 22, 2010 at 04:17

    And there isn’t much on my blog yet. Sorry. I’d just gotten that project off the ground when I found AJATT, so it’s on the back burner until I get a steady rhythm going with my studies and immersion.

  15. Chuck
    February 22, 2010 at 06:20


    I only write a character more than once if I want to work on my handwriting. It doesn’t make your long term memory do any work.

  16. Rochella
    February 22, 2010 at 08:07

    @those doing RTK Heisig if you’re writing out the kanji 3-5 times you’re doing it wrong (or at least, according to Heisig lol)

    go read lesson 11’s(at least its 11 in 4th edition) intro, it tells you exactly what to do when doing his method in 6 steps, which means only writing the kanji ONCE when learning and reviewing 😀

    and trust me, once is all you need if you’re doing all the other steps correctly

    The only time he recommends you writing them more is if you want to get the aesthetics of it, or if you’re going to practice calligraphy.

    Have fun guys! I’m sure that’ll shed time off of it too!

  17. February 22, 2010 at 09:03

    1. Acquisition is not the goal. Accessing fun stuff in the language is.
    2. I want to BE Chinese, not just some weird foreign dude who can make himself understood in Chinese

    I should tattoo this on my arm, just ot remember….

    Great post @ajatt and I’d like to add that I completely want to learn language just because of the pleasure of being understood. Besides that, i never thought about ‘what is fun in’ because I was always thinking about being understood. Maybe in certain level this could get your motivation down but I got it that after been learning English for a while, this thing ‘what is fun in’ came natural. The ‘the fun in’ became the oil to keep my lamp lighting. I use because I can use not because it’s fun but because it’s natural so the ‘in-thing’ that is fun. However, what i want to say is that the balance between to communicate (been understood) and to get in (been a japanese, chinese, brazilian-like or whatever), i guess, could make the whole process complete (fun?). I don’t know i’m just thinking

  18. Matt
    February 22, 2010 at 09:49


    This is some Truth with a capital T. I worked through Heisig and force fed myself hundreds of hours of dramas, but something always felt off. Sure I learned a lot, but now I realize perhaps the mother of all language-acquisition truths: I don’t want to be Japanese. I think my goal all along was to take on a massive challenge, to learn a new skill; not to become part of Japanese culture. When choosing a language I based my decision on the language itself, without any cultural context. I see now that this assured failure before I even began.

    I’m not passing judgment on Japan; it’s just not who I want to be. I guess this means I’m officially out of the Japanese game. I’m still going to learn an L2, and now I have tried and true methodologies so I can hit the ground running, but this time I’m going to conceptualize culture as an end and language as a means.

    Thanks Chris.

  19. Harry
    February 22, 2010 at 09:55


    I think I get it now.

  20. Maya
    February 22, 2010 at 11:22

    日本語俗語辞書 / dictionary of Japanese slang :

    Have fun 🙂

  21. Patrick
    February 22, 2010 at 13:23

    This was a wonderful e-mail with very valuable insight, thank you for sharing it with us Khatz.

    To the others in this comments section that have been discussing efficiency:

    I finished RTK1 about a year ago with several bumps along the difficult path, starting and stopping a number of times without the required determination to plug all the way through in one solid sweep (I imagine most others have had a similar experience). I found writing the Kanji several times while learning/reviewing to be very helpful in the memorization of the character along with the handwriting aspect (something I’ve improved greatly on and am quite proud of). I finished RTK3 as well a few months ago, and here’s a quick note on that: I completely removed it from my Kanji deck… mostly because it seems that 90+% of the characters are just not in practical use and are mostly completely phased out (or in the process). At least this is what I was finding in almost all of the literature that I came across. AJATTeers, please let me know if this was a mistake!

    Regarding other efficiencies while enjoying L2, I have been thinking of the SRS SENTENCE ONLY approach for a while, and even have become so frustrated to not even SRS simply because it completely interfered with my enjoyment of the material I was experiencing (I made a brief comment about it in Tortoises and Hares). I understand this will just make things more difficult (and is almost considered heresy in AJATT land! 🙂 ) so my question to all of the AJATTeers very familiar with enjoying themselves and learning at the same time…. has anyone attempted to SRS the most frustrating/difficult of roadblocks in enjoyment (to me), and that being KANJI COMBINATIONS ONLY. I guess that could be lumped into vocabulary, but I’m talking specifically Kanji Combinations, readings, and writings. Have you made cards with only vocabulary, perhaps a second deck? I will likely attempt this approach as it is a LOT easier for me to continue to enjoy material if I’m only writing down definitions.

    Now I know there’s a lot behind doing full sentences, regarding context and other usage. Sentences will be maintained. However, I’m finding that with a lot of my sentence reviews, I get the Kanji vocabulary ONLY because of the context of that particular sentence, and having seen it before a number of times, but conversely will completely miss it when seen elsewhere.

    Khatz’s theme behind his whole approach is indeed “fun” and I am trying to keep it that way is all. This is all related this particular post simply because I find myself wanting so much to enjoy the material that I’m doing in L2, however, the lack of complete knowledge and the regimented approaches to acquiring the knowledge impede that.

    So… please AJATTeers, I would love to hear any similar experiences and potential fixes to this. I appreciate it greatly, thanks!


  22. Drewskie
    February 22, 2010 at 13:31

    “When babies and little kids learn their native languages, they’re not seeing linguistic acquisition as the end; they see it as a means.”

    Because of this sentence, as soon as I was done reading this post, I made a list of everything I have ever imagined myself doing in Japanese. I think it’ll make a wonderful set of goals. Much better than an intangible “Be good,” and a little more helpful than daily “do more”s (but I’m keeping those, they’re nice too).

    I can already cross some things off, too, like “Read manga on the bus.” Actually, that’s the only one. 😛 No worries.

  23. February 22, 2010 at 20:39

    Potaytoes, Potahtoes. じゃが芋、馬鈴薯

    Good story 🙂 Happens all the time, especially when you start to feel a decent grasp on the skill, in this case language. (make any associations to a musical instrument or martial art you want)

    I recently feel lost myself only because I find I have too many reasons for learning the language.

    Should I spend more time on SRS? My reading is quite good, but I admittedly won’t pick up ドラゴン桜 or ゴルゴ13 without a dictionary nearby.

    Should I spend more time lounging around and watching TV? I can understand most conversations and shows but I still have lots of patch-work when things get fast.

    Should I practice speaking or shadowing more? I find I’m at a complete loss in Japanese constantly when there isn’t a keyboard in front of my hands. Weak point, right? I should attack that! But that doesn’t sound like much fun to me, that sounds like work, so I should avoid it right?

    Besides there is this neat book about vampires who are also pirates I want to finish reading… 🙂

  24. Yaltafa
    February 23, 2010 at 01:00

    A[target language]att in a nutshell = Acquisition is not the goal. Accessing fun stuff in the language is.

  25. Triplej
    February 23, 2010 at 12:01


    be careful with the zokugo dictionary, there’s a lot of random super “inside joke” type things. I looked at it with a Japanese person and although they thought it was funny, there was a lot of things they didn’t know. I would say only use it as a reference if you come across something you don’t understand from another source. But thats just me.

    @the post

    This is a really interesting topic for me. I actually sometimes wonder if I really want to become Japanese, and the truth is I really dislike a lot of parts of mainstream Japanese culture. You just have to understand that it’s a very diverse country and all sorts of kinds of people exist out there. If you can enjoy yourself doing anything in the language you can make progress. I don’t think becoming Japanese is really necessary, but just enjoying something is the main thing. I mean a large part, possible a majority, of Japanese people only listen to European/American music. Same goes for movies, if you check the top sales ranking you can get a good idea of the variety (by the way, the reviews are a great time waster/sentence mine).


    Heres a great resource I’ve been enjoying recently: you can download many many games in Japanese for free as ROMs and use an emulator to run them. A lot of you probably know about this already. Story based games are really great, just like Antimoon recommends. Earthbound, called “Mother” in Japanese is a good place to start for people who think they might have trouble understanding. Chronotrigger is a little more complicated, and Star Ocean is the next step up from that. At least this is the order I’ve gone in.

  26. Raphael
    February 24, 2010 at 05:31

    Hello there, I’m sorry because I have a question which is not directly related to the topic, but there’s no forum and I’ve wanted to explain this on this website for a long time…

    To make it short, this post is about learning several languages at the same time.

    I’m a french student which is currently studying english and italian in college. I have one and a half year left before graduation. The problem is, I’m really more than interested in this whole japanese language thing. Thanks to this website, I discovered Heisig’s RTK and I started to use it on September of last year, learning 20 new kanji a day and copying each of them into Mnemosyne. It was pretty hard but still doable for me to do it while studying other languages for college at the same time.

    But now after 5 months I’ve just finished the book, and so I’m supposed to start the “real game”, which is the full immersion environment, sentence-mining and everything. The problem is that because of college, I have to spend a lot of time studying english and italian (well, for english, this site is very useful btw).

    So do you think it is somehow possible for me to do the AJATT thing while studying the 2 other languages at the same time? I know it’s kind of paradoxical, but I wanna become fluent in japanese so bad and asap…
    Especially because I used to study japanese in another college before (I passed the JLPT 4kyû) and I gave up mainly because of… well, you know, because of the usual reasons which make students of japanese give up and which have been well explained by Khatzumoto. Now that I’m aware of RTK and AJATT, the wish to master this language is now stronger than ever…

    I guess it’s a matter of time management, since I don’t want to delay my japanese learning but I definitely can’t do the “ATT” part of AJATT. That’s why I need your advice, please!

  27. アメド
    February 24, 2010 at 12:08

    This relates to me so much. The language is acquired naturally by doing the same thing natives would do, access native material that is interesting and fun. I’ve been thinking a lot of getting to a high-level in Japanese, but i forgot about the important thing, becoming “Japanese” in the sense. I’ve gotten far, but to get further one must become a part of it, if one wishes to learn it well. That’s all there is to it. I’ve been thinking to myself a lot, questions such as “How would somebody become so fluent in a language?” The answer is, become one, i.e. in this case Japanese. Do the things Japanese people do, watch music,listen to songs,watch drama’s,news,write,speak,eat,sleep,breeze! It’s the product of these things that leads to native-level ability. One doesn’t wish to become fluent, one creates the environment of a native in order to become native-level in the language. So from now on, it’s more immersion, more enjoyment ( ごくせん drama! yea!),anime,manga, games. It’s all about the reactants that equal the product(native-level fluency).
    I think I’ll be off forums for a while, i need to spend more time learning then researching methods. But when i come back, I’ll be at my goal! That i promise.

  28. NDN
    February 25, 2010 at 02:55

    Accidentally, clicked on “Submit Comment”, so here’s the complete comment.

    GREAT POST. I had forgotten about the attitude. I had forgotten to be Japanese and ended up hating it. As a consequence, I stopped my immersion environment. Thanks for reminding me and all the others with similar problems. Although I can’t maintain my environment 100%, that’s no excuse to forget about attitude (BEING JAPANESE).

    Even after stopping my immersion environment, I still can’t eat WITHOUT chopsticks! 🙂

  29. Chris Espinoza
    February 25, 2010 at 03:55

    I’m so glad that so many people found my e-mail helpful. I hope everyone can reach their goals of learning Japanese, Chinese, etc.

    It’s funny you say that because a lot of my inspiration comes from Bruce Lee’s philosophy toward martial arts, i.e. abandoning ineffective traditional forms, tailoring training methods for the individual, and the practice as an expression of one’s self.

    You’re right. I didn’t mean to lump everyone who speaks three or more languages into the same pile. When I wrote this e-mail, I didn’t know Khatz was going to feature it verbatim as a post. I would have put more qualifiers in there if I knew. However, I think that rushing toward the goal without enjoying the process is something we all have a tendency to do (polyglots included). I often wonder myself, if native-like fluency is your goal, how many people(/how many languages) does one have the capacity to become? I’d like to think 10+, but I’m guessing maintenance would become a problem. I don’t think I would have the time to maintain my Chinese, Japanese, Cantonese, Arabic, Yoruba, Slovenian, and Cherokee selves, while trying to all Greek all the time it.

  30. February 25, 2010 at 04:06

    I don’t think I have so much of the ‘being Japanese’ issue, because I am 50% Japanese heritage, I don’t really look that Japanese, but I do look half-Japanese, and I have a Japanese last name. I still suck at the hearing the language — though my reading ability is rapidly advancing. Sometimes I feel like Japanese people sort of want me to be able to understand them, and then are always kind of disappointed by the first baffled expression.

    Btw, it is oddly hypnotic watching so much incomprehensible media over the many years. My vocabulary has improved so I’m often picking out words, though still I am perfectly baffled by Durarara, for example. (though I can pause and read the chat room scenes.) What the hell is going on?

    Katz, if you’re having trouble with Chinese, you know, welcome to the club comrade. You are now ‘one of us.’ I suggest, just for fun, turn to the dark side, put one month of focused effort into traditional methods, you know, text books and grammar and classes, just to see how the other half lives for a little bit. Maybe the ‘only have fun’ system becomes a job because you’ve forgotten the drudgery of traditional methods.

  31. Maya
    February 25, 2010 at 12:29


    Thanks for the heads up! It’s a good thing I didn’t try to pick up random words from there and start using them around my Japanese friends…


    You too?! I was recently at a cafeteria getting lunch, and the lady didn’t want to give me chopsticks because they have this new policy that they only give you chipsticks if you get the stir-fry… I was like, “So what am I supposed to eat this salad with? My hands?!”

    Fun times.

  32. February 25, 2010 at 14:11

    Maya, et all:
    I don’t know where you are in the world, but there is an import chain called World Market that sells really nice porcelain chopsticks w/ carrying case for less than $5. That would be something you can shove in your purse or backpack and then you’d have them anywhere, and not have to argue with cafeteria ladies.

    I have a question about immersion. I’m about 200 kanji into Heisig now, after 4-5 days, and it is awesome. I have my immersion environment set up, that was easy. D/Led a bunch of music and podcasts, went through my harddrive deleting English music, I’m a huge anime fan so all I had to do was delete all the .avi files with subs, because the mkv’s are easy to turn the subs off, and then also d/led some RAWs of stuff not in .mkv format, went to my local Mckay Books and filled up two bookshelves with manga and light novels for about $30. Podcasts/music are great, I just listen to them while I go about everything I do, kanji study, reading this site, cooking, shower, sleeping, etc. I’m disabled, so I can literally give about 22 hours a day to immersion without having to interact in English except for every other weekend when I get my kids. This has Pros and Cons, of course, so don’t hate on me. For instance, the Pros of course, are all that time for study and immersion. The Cons, however, are that writing and typing for very long begins to cause me immense and intense pain in my hands due to fibromyalgia and an arthritic condition that makes my joints swell (swollen joint from arthritis plus sore muscles from fibro=PAIN). This was why my first couple days with Heisig were frustrating, because all the writing and input I was doing were too, too slow and painful. I needed that process to be absolutely as efficient as possible. I solved that, for the most part, though and I’m enjoying it a great deal. Anyways, my point, audio is easy to use, I just leave it playing on my headphones in the background and do whatever else I’m doing, and words and phrases sort of float up to my consciousness every once in a while and I either know them or look them up if I don’t recognize them, then go back to whatever esle I was doing. But video is BORING. If I understand correctly, Khatz doesn’t reccomend doing sentences at all until done with Heisig. That makes sense. But, for now, even anime I love, even anime I’ve watched a bunch with subtitles, is just so boring because despite four years of traditional/semi-traditional study, I’ve let the water go cold many times, which means that I get a lot of grammar mostly subconciously now, but my vocabulary is miniscule. I understand maybe 5% of what I hear in video (drama included), even most children’s shows are way above my head. Since I am not doing sentences at this point, it seems kind of pointless doing a lot of pausing to look up words, since I’m going to forget them anyway. So, how do you guys make watching video pleasurable when you aren’t done with Heisig yet? Thanks in advance,
    PS If your wondering, this post took about an hour to write, with several breaks for my hands.

  33. Triplez
    February 26, 2010 at 01:09


    Definitely read that post series Khatzu made about multiple language learning. But I think you’re biting off more than you can chew to be honest. If it’s fun for you thats cool, but be careful because saying things like (I totally feel like a dick for quoting you here) “I wanna become fluent in japanese so bad and asap” is totally anti-AJATT method. Tortoises right? Enjoy it! If you’re studying too many languages it’s mathematically impossible to reach true fluency quickly, but if you really want to do it you just have to accept that it’ll probably take you a long time.

    So the advice that I’d give, which may or may not be right or helpful, is take a step back think about it realistically. AJATT isn’t about “it’s fun and easy to learn so you can do it without really putting in any effort” it’s about “it’s a lot and not easy to learn so have fun and make it the most enjoyable effort possible.” At least thats my misguided interpretation of the word of Khatzu.


    So I think it is tough to keep up the immersion environment 100% of the time. I would suggest that just doing something in Japanese while doing something else is okay. You don’t have to be watching if you have video going, it’s the audio were after right? In the beginning I would turn on my audio in my free time alone, doing stuff like reading (English) books, browsing the web, etc… I think there is always part of your brain that takes in a small part of the language. Just imagine babies, they don’t exactly concentrate on words and try to decipher the meaning of whats being said. They just slowly and surely get it.


    A really great hack that I read on some other website that I totally forgot the name of (sorry!) is to change your music store setting in itunes to 日本 and go crazy on the Japanese podcasts in there. I’m a big fan of 伊集院光 and 旅バイク right now.

    Also, just throwing this out there… I barely ever delete cards. I think the whole deleting 70% thing is crazy and a result of people getting too ahead of themselves. Once you get the hang of it you don’t make garbage cards. I think. Am I the only one left who isn’t going delete crazy?

  34. February 26, 2010 at 01:49

    hey kendo

    greetings from japan. i was going to hit the hay but saw your post and couldn’t resist. i think it’s awesome that you would take the time out to write such an elaborate message, and i want to be the first to say kudos to you for being so proactive in your endeavors. my mother herself has FMS so perhaps that is why your message immediately resonated with me.

    i finished heisig last week (after about 40 days of intensive study), and i can tell you: mining for sentences is SO much easier once you get the gist of all those kanji. it feels almost too easy. it’s kind of a pain to wait for that point, but once it comes, it’s really pleasant. i felt kind of off and confused – like, why isn’t this part difficult? but i’ve gotten used to the simpleness of sentence study. ii just have to make sure i don’t get too lazy and stop reviewing kanji.

    looking up words, at this stage, cannn be an issue if you’re running into a lot of kanji in the definitions. but by no means should you feel bound by any external AJATT law to not look up words now. one problem with looking up words is that it often leads to people giving up on Heisig. so long as you’re devoted to continuing with heisig, do what you want. you’re not going to hurt your acquisition of japanese by doing so.

    in terms of video, why don’t you pick out some english films with japanese dubs? or import some? that’s what i had to do before i finished heisig. or i mean, ANYTHING that’s not an anime. watch real people, not animation. rent TOKYO SONATA if you get a chance and turn off the subs. old KUROSAWA flicks. just avoid animation until you’re in the sentence acquisition.

    and you know what? if you really want to start on sentences, go for it. just don’t pick out sentences that have tons of new words – and preferably, go with the kanji words you already know. i know that’s difficult to do, but there are no rules. have fun with it.

    and a last thing! please forgive me if i come across naive or presumptuous, but have you considered dietary restrictions in terms of ease-of-pain? i convinced my mother to stop eating store-bought food and only eat fresh fruits and vegetables (and fine, some roasted nuts and some cooked potatoes for a compromise) for a week just to see what would happen. it seriously gave her much much much-needed pain relief. not an end-all cure, but it’s been of great help for her to turn away from store-bought food and towards raw goods that’s really eased her pain.

    alright, enough from me. cheers! gombatte!

  35. Patrick
    February 26, 2010 at 03:18

    Hello Kendo,

    I think that it may be worth it to look up words that you are hearing over and over again while watching video and maybe write it down somewhere on a paper (not in Kanji if you haven’t learned the characters yet). Only words that you hear more than one or two times I would say. I understand your feeling that it is very difficult to enjoy watching video of any sort since it is demanding your full attention and you are comprehending very little of it. Being a perfectionist myself, I can’t stand to let sentences go by with unknown vocabulary, or even unexplained grammatical points. It’s hard to come to a happy medium between looking up everything (which is easy to get caught up in doing, and I think it’s MOST ABSOLUTELY DEFINITELY NOT the correct approach) and looking up nothing (not so bad and not completely useless, but still the feeling of progression is minimal).

    Essentially, on the order of Comprehensive Input, I think the more you hear points the more you will naturally get a feeling for what they mean. Otherwise, we have to be child-like in looking up certain words that we keep hearing and have no idea, similar to how a child will ask an adult when hearing it while watching a movie or whatever.

    Hopefully others will chime in as well with what they do to cope with the frustration of understanding minimal amounts. It’s really easy to avoid things that are almost entirely foreign to the ear. That’s why I think small steps in understanding words or phrases heard more often than not are a good step forward. Frustration is somewhat of an opposite of fun and is a good indicator that a change is needed.

    The question of when to input the items you learn into SRS… perhaps while you are Heisig’ing your way to Kanji Stardom, I suppose it doesn’t hurt to make a pre-sentence deck or something, shrug. 🙂

    Anyway, experiment, find out what works for you. Many of the suggestions on AJATT I find to be not working for me after trial and error. For example, I happen to find classes wonderfully fulfilling while maintaining immersion… something that everyone who posts on AJATT is vehemently opposed to. However, the core concept, FUN and ENJOYMENT makes learning more solid and, yeah, fun, is something that I keep at the root.

  36. February 26, 2010 at 05:09

    >just avoid animation until you’re in the sentence

    Hmm, I don’t get what the problem with anime really is. With low comprehension, I find anime a bit easier to sit through, at least there are colorful moving pictures to look at and some have enough visual content to be understandable even without any language at all. Drama can be pretty impenetrable — I don’t get bored, but I can fall into a weird trance, where hours disappear and I don’t remember anything I just watched.

  37. Raphael
    February 26, 2010 at 05:23


    Thank you very much for answering. Of course I’ve read the posts of Khatzu about multiple language learning (actually I’ve read all the articles of this website, and more than once for many of them). I would love to follow his advice and focus on japanese. The problem is that, since I prepare a diploma for english and italian in college, I can’t stop learning it, I mean, I have no choice, I spend 35 hours a week in the classroom for it.

    However, Japanese is the language I really love. After high-school, I went straight to college in order to learn it. I just gave up after one year because I thought it was too difficult. And in 2008 I went to another college, to learn two other languages I didn’t love as much as japanese, but which could be useful, and I had no other idea of what to do anyway.

    This was before I discovered Heisig and AJATT a few months ago. Now things are different. I’m now done with Heisig. My friends are japanese, my girlfriend also (we’ve been together for a year), even if all of them can also speak at least a bit of french or english. I’ll go to Japan during 2 months this summer (for the first time).

    Everyday I regret to have left my previous college. With hindsight, I realize the sentence “I wanna become fluent in japanese so bad and asap” sounds childish and stupid; sorry about that, I guess sometimes my english is not fluent enough to express my exact thoughts. What I meant by “asap” is that I don’t want to waste time anymore, especially because I know the process is gonna take years. I don’t want to wait for graduation (middle of next year) before focusing on japanese.

    That’s why I need advice. You say, TripleZ, that I’m biting off more than I can chew; so dou you really think I should wait graduation before learning japanese? but I managed to finish Heising in 5 months despite the college work (spending about 2 hours a day for it); so I guess there is a way I can also manage the immersion thing somehow, at least in part?

    The point is that Heisig is easy to deal with, it’s just a book, you go from the first page to the last page with your brain, your pen and your SRS; I didn’t need any advice to use it (that’s why I’ve never posted on the site before).

    But now, with the immersion environment and the sentence-mining, things become more complicated, because they take much more time than Heisig alone (supposed to be All The Time)…

  38. Chris F.
    February 26, 2010 at 10:37

    Hmmm, I don’t like drama so much, so I find it hard to sit through. But even though I love anime, I find it hard to watch too. I don’t think subtitles will really hurt at this point though (early on; I’m still in RTK with ~2 weeks to go), in fact, I think they make a good check of listening comprehension early on. Otherwise, I watch live shows (like Downtown no gaki no tsukai ya arahende; comedy seems to keep me interested), or movies. I think I’ll cut the subs out when I get into the sentence phase, but early on, I don’t think “subtitles=bad” should be a hard and fast rule.

    @post Anyway, I’m posting this after actually just rereading this post. I think it’s really given me perspective, because this is really the essence of why I learn Japanese, and for years, I think I’ve been going off track and just learning to learn. I feel like what someone earlier said, about their friend impressing people more because they could fit in better to be true. I’ve felt this myself. Just yesterday, I was at the library with Japanese people, and bringing up popular shows (Downtown no gaki no tsukai ya arahende :D) was more impressive to them then my kanji knowledge (even though that shocked the hell out of them, even though I’m only 1325 into RTK). Anyway, yeah, I really felt this post, I really think it’ll help me keep on track this time.

    (as an aside, before now, I’d never managed to get past 500 in RTK, even though I’d tried twice before to get through it)

  39. February 26, 2010 at 12:12

    Triplez: well, that’s mostly what I’ve been doing, except just using lots of Japanese podcasts. It’s much more enjoyable to put on a podcast or even music and then surf the web or whatever than just staring at video I don’t get.

    Michael: Thanks for your response, and my best wishes to your mum. That makes sense about the whys of not starting sentences. I don’t think I’m going to skip ahead to sentences for now, but I do think maybe I’ll start looking back over some of my beginner’s books, and maybe work on picking up a little vocab. that way, which I can do while the audio is playing. I agree diet is essential, especially with inflammatory illnesses like this. I became a vegetarian when I took the Precepts to ordain as a Buddhist layman, and it began making a huge difference. Also, avoiding refined sugars and bleached flour helps keep the inflamation and swelling way down.

    Patrick, Maybe I can make a game of looking for patterns of repeated words and phrases during my watching, and look those up, as a way to keep myself engaged and involved with it instead of just zoning out like I’ve been doing.Also, I myself enjoyed my Japanese classes, I just didn’t ultimately learn very much. I will say, though, that Japanese grammar is really easy for me now, after two years of Uni level Japanese, and that is something. At the same time, I feel like all of Khatz criticisms of classes is quite fair and accurate. I wouldn’t go back and untake them or anything, but I sure as heck would have finished heisig before I took them, and done the immersion thing while I was taking them.


  40. Patrick
    February 26, 2010 at 19:09

    Kendo, making a game of it sounds fantastic! I was actually thinking about your post when I was watching a drama last evening. I never actually write down or SRS anything from dramas unless they are A, repeated a bunch of times and I don’t happen to know it (vocab), or B, they are using slang that I’ve heard before (but haven’t written down). Otherwise, stopping and starting the drama up is mad annoying. I leave new acquisition to books and video games that are a lot easier to “pause”.

    Incidentally, regarding your particular sickness, you do take a high-dose fish oil supplement, correct? I’ve read a few books about inflammation and as a result take between 3000-4000mg of FO a day, has really given me some good results in overall general health.


  41. Nick
    February 27, 2010 at 00:52

    Raphael, I ask you this: what are you listening to usually while studying? Music? Then make sure it’s Japanese. Better yet, mix in a little Japanese talk radio, or Japanese news. Download them off the net, extract the MP3, and put them into your iPod. This is advice I’m sure you’ve followed from time to time, but it’s definitely easy to fall off the wagon with it sometimes. Stick with it though, and if you are required to listen to things from the other languages you are studying, then just make a playlist.

    Also, you have about 6 to 8 hours a day that you are probably not making the most of right now. That’s right…sleep. I swear, this might be the greatest piece of advice Khatz has ever dished out. An article or two has been published since about the value of hearing things you’ve studied during the day while asleep. But I say this from experience: it works. It’s especially powerful during that period of time between the sleep and awake states in the morning, as you’re just rousing. I think the brain is just extra open to stimulus during that period, because some pretty cool things have happened to me before when I began doing it with Chinese a year or so ago. Like dreaming that I was in the back of someone’s car while two Chinese people were conversing, waking up and realizing that I was just listening to a radio talk show. I really felt like arguing about whatever they were saying and seriously considered calling in to the show. Anyway, if nothing else, it helps your ears get used to the language. Listening to L2 while asleep is anxiety and distraction free immersion, if you can handle it.

  42. Triplez
    February 27, 2010 at 05:21


    I guess I didn’t really understand your situation when I made that post. I always make mistakes so take everything that I say with a grain of salt. If you’re planning on stopping your other studies when you graduate, it means a lot less time with the languages than going to full fluency. So that changes the situation a bit. Completing Heisig is a big deal too so you’ve already shown you have the time for some Japanese in your life. I just felt like you might be going overboard and trying to do something unrealistic, and wanted to warn you about that.

    I only say this because about a month ago I started Korean, but realized that it would be better to commit that time I was spending learning hangul to more Japanese.

    If you want to do it then go for it. Even Piotr Wozniak, the godfather of all SRSing, recommends at most one hour of reps. So if you have some free time it’s better than nothing. Just make the most of the time you do have and enjoy the ride.

    So anyway, if you’re going to do it than no one can stop you and thats the greatest feeling to have. I recommend some manga with furigana in it (One Piece is still my favorite), thats what I really was absorbed in right after Heisig, and since you studied before, the grammar shouldn’t be too much of a big deal for you.

  43. Raphael
    March 1, 2010 at 04:01

    Nick and Triplez, thank you for your answers!
    Indeed, up to now I haven’t really tried to listening to japanese while asleep. I’ll do it!
    I also have two mangas with furigana (and two similar but in french version). I’ll try to read them as well.

    Recently I found a book which is, I think, a real treasure for sentence-mining! The book is called “1001 expressions pour tout dire en japonais” (“1001 sentences to say anything in japanese”), even if there seem to be rather more than 2500 phrases inside.

    The book was written by two people, a french person and a japanese person. It is not a grammar book, neither a vocabulary book; it only has sentences, every kind of sentences, with a lot of idioms and very useful and natural expressions like for example 「はい、これ上げる。」 (“take it, it’s for you”), 「昨夜ジダンが得点を上げた。」 (“Zidane scored yesterday”), 「あたってくだけろ!」 (“risk it all!”)

    Anyway, I think I will use it a lot! I guess it’s easier for me to do this way, because I have trouble to watch a movie and to pause it every 2 minutes to check the words, the same goes for books and games. Moreover, in the sentence books I have the guarantee that the translations are accurate (which is not the case when I check myself the expressions from a movie in a jisho).
    I still can watch movies and read books anyway, the sentence-book will just be my source for the sentence-mining, like 2 pages a day (about 1 hour). This way, I will just use for adding sentences the time I previously used for adding kanji.

    Do any you also have this kind of book?

    I would be interested to get your opinions about it.

    Khatzumoto has talked a lot about grammar books and text books, but not about this kind of books which seem to have been written just for SRSing 🙂

  44. Triplez
    March 3, 2010 at 14:07


    I actually used a very similar book when I started along with manga. It was actually a English learning book, but they had the Japanese phrases along with them so I just reverse engineered it. So, nice work, good find.

    One mistake I made with my book was to get a little lazy because the translations were already there. I didn’t really put many Japanese definitions, which I wish I’d done now. A dictionary for elementary schoolers is a great stepping stone to regular online ones, because they have the furigana in them too, and the definitions are just much easier to understand. I independently found the same one Khatzu recommends, so I guess this is a double recommendation for the チャレンジ小学国語辞典.

    Of course the My First Sentence Pack is probably amazing. Along with the five Sentence Starte Pack pages:

    Happy sentence mining!

  45. NDN
    March 4, 2010 at 05:29

    Sometimes it’s a bit embarrassing to be Japanese. 🙂

  46. Sarah
    March 6, 2010 at 22:58

    Thank you for this post. I’m definitely experiencing the same thing here in Japan, and changing my attitude seems like the only solution. Easier said than done though, I suppose. I teach English at a junior high school, so I have to speak English and be overtly foreign 40 hours a week. Even with the Japanese English teachers,who are my supervisors, I’m supposed to speak English, so it’s very hard to convince fellow teachers that I can even speak Japanese, let alone that I am Japanese.

    I’m very curious as to how people create a local identity when they’re constantly being reminded that they’re not local, sometimes in a very unpleasant manner. Any advice?

  47. Mark
    March 9, 2010 at 09:35


    You just can’t do it at school really… The only moderate success I had, was to talk to the kids in Japanese; completely disregarding the only English ‘rule’. As a result, I get to practice spoken Japanese at my own level with kids that will mercilessly take the piss if my pronunciation is off, but at the same time are more than keen to help correct my speaking/kanji/read things for me/etc.

    The best option is to do something outside of school. Ikebana/Judo/learn the Tea Ceremony/etc.

    In summary, there’s the Game Face ie at school and your Real face; outside school. You’re being paid to speak English at school so it’s fair enough, but outside school it’s up to you to make the most of your time, and there’s the added bonus that you can talk to people that are actually worth talking with.

  48. Kate
    March 11, 2010 at 14:00


    I agree with what Mark said. Unfortunately our job is to be foreign…but only for 35 hours a week. The rest of the time is yours! Also, while I’ve found being at school pretty lousy for speaking, it is full of opportunities for listening and reading. Start reading the flyers, grade newsletters, etc. and don’t tune out during morning meeting (ok, this one I still have trouble with).

    The best thing to cultivate a local identity is to do something where there’s not a lot of foreign interest- and here I am going to differ and say that a Japanese culture hobby isn’t the best way. I’ve found they get really caught up in showing The Foreigner something Japanese and while your language skills might improve the cultural divide doesn’t (I’ve also heard there’s less of this in martial arts, but from friends who have done tea ceremony/ikebana I’ve heard that). Pursue whatever you’re interested in (and if it happens to be Japanese culture okay), and let yourself get integrated into a scene naturally. This takes time but you become a part of the group *in spite of* the fact that you’re different, not *because of*.

  49. Wren Truesong
    October 5, 2010 at 09:45

    ….dang, that sounds familiar. I need to remember why I started studying Japanese–that I wanted to understand all these awesome stories I was seeing everywhere.

    Once a friend of mine/practice partner, Takehiko, told me that I ‘felt Japanese’ to him. I don’t think I understood it until now… now I need to find that feeling again.

    I’ve only read three posts here and I already feel ready to really -do- things. Thank you.

  50. Alex Ranieri
    January 7, 2011 at 12:59

    This was amazing, guys! Thanks!
    I had to take a break from Japanese late 2010 because I was being a hare and not a tortoise and, due to this post, I now know why and can keep in mind what my ACTUAL goal is. If I’m passionate about Japanese, to want to acquire it is counterproductive, and that’s why I was so dissatisfied. Since I AM passionate about Japanese, and I now understand that passion better, I can finally move forward.
    Thanks again, guys!

  51. April 22, 2013 at 08:03

    Hmm, I’m not sure about where to ask, but what the heck?

    Anyway, does anyone have any suggestions for how to deal with the weird situation where a 日本人 who happens to know English will happily discuss things bidirectionally in Japanese for a while, before gradually deciding to respond more frequently in English?

    Surely, even at this stage, my level of Japanese isn’t bad enough to make them want to give up, without complaint? Or maybe they’ve decided to switch tack, and see if they can either get free English practice (or implicitly try some sort of “role reversal” exchange where they decide to mutually respond in the other person’s second language (Japanese in my case, English in their case)/whatever’s easiest for both parties?

    Either way, despite actually wanting to communicate with the other person (given that we seem to share some common interests, otherwise), it seems sort-of perplexing, given that I feel more at ease trying to communicate with other Japanese speakers in Japanese).

    Still, I could just shrug it off, and see how things pan out in the long run…

  52. April 22, 2013 at 16:44

    Meh, having thought about last night’s comment, I realise that being a co-operative person by nature (rather than being overly competitive/confrontational), it’d be best if I just respect their desire to also learn a “ridiculously complex” (by some standards) language, and compensate by mining their SNS/blog posts to try and improve my grammar, and vocabulary…

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