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On the Value of Learning How NOT to Do Things

So, again, as with many things, Japanese has a specific word for it: 反面教師 (=はんめんきょうし=hanmen kyoushi). Literally, “reverse teacher”.

Now, long ago, I read a Japanese nonfiction book that advised against the use of hanmen kyoushis. It argued that we were just as likely to imitate them as to contradict them.

And, like a dutiful, obedient, 素直(=すなお=sunao) student, I read the advice and took it, avoiding hanmen kyoushis like phone calls from a butterface…Hey, it’s not my fault that talking like fratboy is this much fun!

Recently, however, I have gone against this advice by and while binging on my favorite guilty, gross-out pleasure. No, not making out with pillows with your mom’s face printed on them (although, that’s also a fun thing to do. Just picture me, skillfully playing tongue hockey with your mother. Let that thought sink in nice and deep).

Where were we?

Oh yeah, my favorite guilty pleasure: A&E’s “Hoarders” (along with TLC’s “Hoarding: Buried Alive”).

I love me a hoarding show. Japan doesn’t have as many, although if you hit up YouTube and type in “ゴミ屋敷”, you may unearth a diamond or two.

So, I’ve been watching a lot of “Hoarders”. “But it’s in English!”, you cry, “— isn’t that an AJATT sin?” Relax. Got ya covered. I set up a smartphone playing a Japanese audiobook from Febe very loudly and on loop (in this case, “Cleaning and Tidying the Toyota Way” — topical, I know). Also, the smartphone was sitting much closer to me than the “Hoarders” laptop speaker. So I kept my immersion environment purity lol.

Anyway, guess what?

My living and working space is now cleaner than ever.
Every time I watch that show (Hoarders) and any show like it, it makes me want to clean. Effectwise, I’d venture that I throw out at least 3 things per episode, so that’s one thing every ten minutes or so.

One of the more disturbing aspects of stereotypical hoarder behaviour is the frequent (mis)use of the word “treasure”. The hoarders on “Hoarders” seem to forever be drooling, smiling or crying over “my treasures”, a phrase made all the more tragicomic by the fact that they seem to be blithely unaware of how much they look and sound like real-life versions of Gollum from “Lord of the Maori Thighs”, the national epic of New Zealand.

“When in doubt, throw it out”, they say. And whenever I feel myself “treasuring” something, I know it’s time for that shiz to go.

So perhaps there is something — a great deal, in fact — to be said for reverse teachers.

Next time you’re on the prowl for good results, try this: find people, real or virtual, who are getting horrible (not just mediocre, but pure awful) results and do the exact opposite of what they do.

Will this reverse teacher business work on everything in the entire universe? Well, duh, no — does anything do that? But it’ll definitely work for a lot things. Use your judgment; you’re not as dumb and helpless as you think you are (strictly speaking, you are as dumb and helpless as you think you are, but only because you think so #selfEfficacy #selfFulfillingProphecy).

Ironically, one place hanmen-kyoushiism doesn’t always work is in language-learning itself. Let me explain: Learning how NOT to say things (i.e. learning the wrong way to say things) is more likely to get you to say them wrong than to say them right. So, avoid examples of bad grammar. As a general rule, you want to only learn the correct (i.e. native and natural) way of saying things so that it’s basically all that you’re able to say. You only want to be able to speak Japanese well and it’s easier to do that by going straight for goal; you don’t need the pollution of bad examples; there is no moral or strategic value in knowing how to speak it badly.

That hanmen-kyoushis have their limits does not, however, mean that hanmen-kyoushiism has no place in an AJATT diet. Far from it. Here’s an example of where you can still apply it: observe what people failing to learn a language are doing and do the opposite. They complain? You stop complaining. They go to class? You stop going. They don’t believe in themselves? You believe in yourself like it’s your religion.

The trick, arguably, is to consider hanmen-kyoushiism a meta-skill or meta-method: it doesn’t always work in language-learning, but it definitely works on language-learning.

That’s all for now. Peace out 😀

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