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Practice Time, Game Time

Broadly speaking, there are two modes in the sport that is language.

  1. Practice time
  2. Game time.

I’m not just pointing this out in order to create filler content here. I’m not doing this for my health. I’m making this distinction because far too many people get practice time and game time confused.

They come to practice with the haughty, cagey, know-it-all, calculating self-assuredness that works best in the game, and then when it comes to game time, they’ve suddenly changed their legal surname to Humble.

These are the people who, during practice time, are too good to seek advice, to listen to it, to try out new ideas and techniques that might help their sorry behinds 1, but when it comes to speaking to real Japanese people about real Japanese stuff where real time and real money are on the line, they clam up. They have a conveniently scheduled panic attack. They’re far king helpless. They go fetal. “Intense face” gives way to puppy dog eyes. They run to mommy-girlfriend — they’re hiding behind her skirt; they want an interpreter; their once-wheelbarrow-sized unisex ovaries shrivel up.

The time to be humble is during practice time. The time carry your cojones in a wheelbarrow is during game time.

Practice time is where you go to find your weaknesses. Game time is where you go to hide them, to work around them, to win, to score at all costs.

Practice time and game time can be fluid; they aren’t necessarily set in proverbial stone. Even a relationship with the same person can shift from practice to game and back depending on time, place and occastion.

Whenever the person you’re with has both the time and the will to correct you, it’s practice time. Whenever they lack either of these, it’s game time: it’s time to use what you know and what works to get the job done; it’s time for surgical strike.

Both practice time and game time require courage, but a different kind of courage. Practice time requires inner courage — the courage to eat humility and drink shame in public. Game time requires poker-faced outer courage — the courage to act as if the world belongs to you and you have the right to walk anywhere you want in it.

Just to make things clearer for you, let’s compare and contrast 2 some more practice time / game time distinctions in terms of direction, attitude, core concepts and questions:

Practice Time = Learn

Game Time = Get Stuff Done

  • Whenever the person you’re with has both the time and the will to correct you, it’s practice time.
  • Most input and all SRSing is practice time
  • Practice time core concepts: humble, experimental, choppy, open, variety, correction-seeking, adventure-seeking, finesse, depth, flair, breadth
  • Look bad
  • Fail…fall on our face
  • Eat humble pie, drink shame shakes
  • Random play, messing up, messing around, testing the universe — deliberately mess up, deliberately make a fool of yourself
  • During practice time, you seek out your mistakes and weaknesses, you work on them, you are open to failure and confusion
  • Stretch yourself to suit parameters
  • Use what you don’t know, try out the flying kick
  • Flying kicks and finesse; build a wide, deep and varied vocab
  • Reflective, conscious, selectively suppress/interrupt automaticity and monitor performance
  • Skillwise, get more, build more, learn more
  • Trying to learn, to become a better person
  • Baby face
  • What don’t I know well?
  • What doesn’t work?
  • What needs fixing?
  • What can be improved?
  • Whenever the person you’re with lacks either the time or the will to correct you, it’s game time
  • Output and speaking is almost always game time.
  • Game time core concepts: terse, aggressive, efficient, goal-oriented, score-seeking, fluid, clear clarity, lucid lucidity 3
  • Look good
  • Do well
  • Don’t be clever for the sake of being clever
  • Surgical strike on goal
  • Forget your mistakes
  • Hide your weaknesses; work around your weaknesses
  • Play to your strengths
  • Circumlocute
  • Stretch parameters to suit you
  • Use what you know well
  • Short and sharp; shin kicks; use a narrow, clear, effective vocab well
  • Reflexive, unconscious; exploit automaticity; monitor only outcomes, opportunities
  • Skillwise, use what you know; use what you’ve got.
  • Trying to get stuff done
  • Poker face
  • What do I know well?
  • What works?
  • What gets the job done?

So, practice time and game time. Get them straight. Keep them straight,

When you’re trying to get stuff done, it’s game time. Don’t be clever for the sake of being clever, don’t try out that new word you don’t quite know yet, work well within your repertoire, go for the goal, get the thing done. Get the package/email sent; get the ticket bought; win the negotiation; settle the deal; get on the right train.

Practice joyfully, lavishly, with childlike abandon, so that you can rightfully hold your head up high and get things done like an adult during game time. Put your baby face on during practice, so you can wear a true poker face during the game. Earn the right to be serious by first being playful.

[Update: 2011/9/10: AJATTeer Neoglitch suggests better terminology — I prefer his word choice to mine. Executive summary.

  • Practice Time = Game Time
  • Game Time = Show Time

I personally don’t like Khatz’s wording on this one.
I would rather name “practice time” (or the training grounds) as Game Time, the time where you just goof around, enjoy yourself to the max, learn (and practice) like crazy, make mistakes, learn from them… and you just play mainly to have fun, whether you “lose” or not.
And I would name Khatz’s “game time” (the boss battles!) as… Show-Time! The time where you actually show-off what you have been learning and practicing, and stick strictly to the language “moves” that you need to “win” (instead of trying to be fancy).



  1. (you know the kind, it’s the militant know-it-alls with eloquent complaints like:

    • “MCDs are for faggots!”
    • “this is too technical!”
    • “I am NOT giving up my music for Japanese music! Sorry, buddy — Ben Folds Five is part of who I AM!”
      • No, kid. Ben Folds Five is a part of who Ben Folds Five is…are…was…were. At best, you’re just one of their customers; it’s their band; it’s their music; they exist independently of you — you’re the replaceable one.
    • “why do I have to listen to stuff I don’t understand?!”
    • “why do I have to write kanji?!?”


  2. Woohoo! Schoolese phrase… 😛
  3. redundant duplication

  46 comments for “Practice Time, Game Time

  1. narm
    September 8, 2011 at 07:17

    “I am NOT giving up my music for Japanese music! Sorry, buddy — Ben Folds Five is part of who I AM!”
    Soon as I read that I went to listen to Song for the Dumped. Damn it.

    • September 8, 2011 at 21:59

      Then you don’t want Japanese badly enough.

      • narm
        September 9, 2011 at 06:14

        I disagree. I listened to at least 12 hours of music with Japanese lyrics in them that day.
        One lapse in willpower isn’t enough to make me quit. Sorry. 

        • September 11, 2011 at 20:45

          At least look into Japanese music. Man, you’re here to learn a language.

          • C
            September 12, 2011 at 13:50

            narm: ” I listened to at least 12 hours of music with Japanese lyrics in them that day.”
            Miss Language Learning: “At least look into Japanese music. Man, you’re here to learn a language.” 

            … *cough* Right.

            At any rate, I was thinking I loved various English artists too much to swap over into entirely JP music, but I made the leap a week ago and have been finding great artists ever since. Mostly math-rock, post-rock, indie and alternative stuff. OGRE YOU ASSHOLE is probably my favorite so far (with easily intelligible lyrics, I mean. Otherwise, downy wins).

            That said, one thing that really annoys me is great Japanese bands that, for whatever reason, sing exclusively in English – eksperimentoj being the main culprit that I’ve found. Great music, but it doesn’t do my Japanese any good. 

            • Sheryaar
              November 16, 2011 at 11:20

              AAAAahhhhh man I just checked out Ogre and they are so good
              I ran into the same dilemma and I’ve literally been listening to the same 4 bands for 2 months and it’s driving me crazy… if you’ve got any more suggestions I will love you forever 

              • C
                November 16, 2011 at 14:39

                I’ll send you a list of good / great bands, but could you send me an email at so I can reply to it when I have time? It’d be more convenient. Right now I’m busy with homework, unfortunately. 🙁

                Two suggestions for now though: THE NOVEMBERS and LOSTAGE. If you don’t like those, I know of a variety of others, so you’re bound to find something you like.

  2. September 8, 2011 at 08:24

    This makes me want to use a bunch of sports movie-type cliche phrases like “you got what it takes to bring it?” xD

  3. September 8, 2011 at 10:26

    I think AJATT is one big game <3

    • September 9, 2011 at 04:24

      Yes it’s a game, but so many people think “game” and they think “unimportant.”
      Games are important. Following your dreams is important. In a game the goal is to win, of course, but define winning??? I consider to have won the game if everyone had a good time, I also consider it won if I learned something new, or earned a prize, or repaired a broken relationship.
      Basically, for most of us, most of our business needs to be taken care of. We all hail this “all Japanese all the time” philosophy but really if someone is having a heart attack in your house that speaks English you don’t yell out  「心臓マヒ!!!」 unless you were in a Japanese speaking household. No, you work with what you know in order to save the person’s life.
      Now, maybe later when everyone is normal again, happy, “ha-ha!” goes the little rabbit, then you can start thinking in Japanese again, maybe write in your journal about that incident, but in Japanese hindsight.
      This is kind of why I feel frustrated speaking Japanese. Most people that I meet that actually know Japanese prefer speaking in English, and most people I know who are learning Japanese don’t understand a word of Areckx-speak. For them, everthing has to be textbook or they lose me.
      I’m just so tired of people memorizing phrases instead of actually learning. People are too afraid to watch something without subtitles. People are too afraid to fill their iPod with music with actual lyrics. Most people I meet have a ton of super-cute-retard-nyan~nyan anime music, and it sickens me. Japanese came first, anime sounds the way it does as a result of Japanese, not the other way around… although sometimes it is… haha
      UGH I’m just so tired of people who see a clip from a Japanese dub of a Hollywood movie and say “It sounds like an anime!” or they see a weekly manga jump and say “They make magazines entirely about anime!” I mean… ANIMATION…. The Simpsons is an anime… UYGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHGHGHGHGHH
      and people who learn Chinese refuse to throw on Chinese subtitles.. UGH!!!!!!!!! I HATE IT!!!! Why doesn’t anyone ever understand? You can’t learn a language just by going to class! You need to integrate it into your life. I don’t understand why people always say “I would like to learn such-and-such when they have all the time in the world to learn it. They obviously have time to write on Facebook so why don’t they take the small amount of time it takes to learn something? I don’t get it! How come people are so stupid? I’m stupid for not knowing why they’re so stupid!!! We’re stupid, stupid creatures.
      Seriously, I don’t get why people think I’m so smart just because I know how to read and retain information. I thought everyone was able to do that? How come everyone thinks they can’t learn a language? I keep telling them all it takes is 10 minutes a day, as long as it’s every day. They don’t listen. They keep waiting for classes to teach them, when I told them everything I know, everything I use, THIS SITE, and they still continue to read ENGLISH BOOKS ABOUT THE LANGUAGE RATHER THAN JUMP IN… I don’t get it… it’s scientifically proven, it’s how you LEARNED ENGLISH!!!

      • September 9, 2011 at 10:16

        You need to just chillax and stuff. All the idiots in the world and your weeaboo acquaintances aren’t worth a 9 paragraph rant. Some people just won’t help themselves, and it isn’t worth your time if you give out advice and they won’t listen. Or at least charge them money for it if you are going to keep giving them attention.
        If you love Japanese, or Chinese, or any other language, get good and then use your linguistic mad ninja skills to do something awesome. That’s what really matters.

        • September 9, 2011 at 10:35

          You’re right. Your nickname looks fabulous by the way. Dude, I couldn’t read your rant cause it’s too long. >.<
          But don’t worry about other people. Think about yourself. 🙂
          Learn some languages! Be happy! 

      • C
        November 16, 2011 at 15:05

        Good rant. I agree entirely… though I’ve been allowing myself to get extremely sidetracked lately due to school and work demanding more and more from me. :/

        I think it would really help to have some contacts on Skype or something who I could talk to in Japanese. I wouldn’t be able to communicate very well at first, but I’m sure I could learn quickly. I really need to, at any rate.

        • November 17, 2011 at 01:55

          What really helped me gain confidence was filming myself speaking Japanese and posting them on youtube.(click my name, I actually would like to hear feedback about my Japanese proficiency so feel free to leave a comment)
          Just keep doing it even if it feels forced or unnatural. It helps your brain to start actually thinking in Japanese the more you use it. I just say whatever is on my mind at the time of filming, I don’t write down what I want to say. I think this is the best approach because it helps your become more natural rather than a performance.

  4. September 8, 2011 at 22:02

    This also reminds me of video games that have training grounds & bosses to beat (= most of them)
    Once you’re in front of the boss, it’s time to rock. 

    • September 10, 2011 at 07:05

      I agree with you! Although… I personally don’t like Khatz’s wording on this one.
      I would rather name “practice time” (or the training grounds) as Game Time, the time where you just goof around, enjoy yourself to the max, learn (and practice) like crazy, make mistakes, learn from them… and you just play mainly to have fun, whether you “lose” or not.
      And I would name Khatz’s “game time” (the boss battles!) as… Show-Time! The time where you actually show-off what you have been learning and practicing, and stick strictly to the language “moves” that you need to “win” (instead of trying to be fancy).

      • ロジャー・スミス
        September 13, 2011 at 05:42


      • Ian Long
        September 13, 2011 at 13:49

        Or you could look at like an RPG, with practice being random battles to level up/get new skills(game time), and the boss fights being serious win or die situations (show time).

        Yes, I did play Final Fantasy too much as a kid.

  5. Pingfa
    September 9, 2011 at 11:02

    “I keep telling them all it takes is 10 minutes a day, as long as it’s every day.”
    I really don’t think this is possible myself. I was speaking about this with a friend the other day, here’s what I had to say:
    “I find most people throw this kind of stuff out very easily – I’ve read plenty of comments in regards to language learning where people will talk of how hard it is, how hard they’ve been at learning it and still suck after so many years… they’ll talk all this big talk about needing to buckle down and do serious time… then they give numbers like 10 hours a week.
    Seriously, I’ve read that
    2 hours a day would add up to 14 hours a week
    Again, assuming most people have 16 waking hours… learning a language for 2 hours a day, that’s 14 hours without it
    Is it any wonder they still suck after so many years when they’ve consistently spent 14 hours a day NOT doing it?”
    I continued:
    “Personally, I have my doubts that it is ever possible to pick up a language fluently with 2 hours a day – obviously many people will meet such a remark with resistance and say ‘of course it is possible with time’ but what of all those people who have been doing this and still suck after over 10 years?
    The fact is, they’ve been consistently NOT doing it for 14 hours a day
    So they have quite a lot of practice in NOT doing it”
    Before that I was sharing my views on learning with him and how learning need not be associated with pain, and how so many people will easily claim to have worked their ass off all day for doing an hour or two of work, simply because the whole thing was painful.
    In short, 2 hours isn’t long, and following the almighty True Way of Ajatt you can ‘work’ through a whole day painlessly

    • September 10, 2011 at 20:06

      Agreed, but 2 hours a day is MUCH BETTER than nothing. For lazy people, 2 hours a day is a whole lot. Anything > Nothing.

      • Pingfa
        September 12, 2011 at 12:10

        True indeed. Doing it at all, regardless of how little, will result in being more used to doing it.
        That being said, it can work for lazy people too – after all, Khatz has been pretty open about his laziness. =-p
        He’s just lazy in Japanese.

        • September 13, 2011 at 05:30

          I think laziness is actually an advantage. Today, I’ve watched 8 episodes of anime, and I plan to watch more. Lazy, lazy me! However, this also means I’ve spent (roughly) three hours in immersion, so・・・
          (Of course, I’ve spent much more time on immersion outside of anime today, but to make my example simple, there ya go.)

    • November 17, 2011 at 02:05

      There’s another AJATT post that explains what I meant by 10 minutes. Once you get the ball rolling, it’s easier to continue than it is to stop. So basically, don’t plan on studying/being immersed for 2+ hours, just plan on studying/being immersed for 10 minutes… even better, one minute.

  6. September 10, 2011 at 09:45

    Absolutely agreed, and I understand what you’re saying, I remember so distinctly learning this the hard way when I first tried talking to native speakers: you INSTANTLY lose about 70% of your vocabulary that you normally have when you’re sitting around watching a movie in your target language, alone, at home, you really do have the urge to just clam up and use hand signals or napkin drawings or something, but if you’ll just punch through it and be willing to look and sound kind of dumb (they realize you’re not a native speaker, they understand, they DON’T think you’re dumb, it’s FINE) for a few minutes, you’ll relax and it’ll come back and you’ll see that it’s fine, you know far more than you think.

    • Ken
      September 11, 2011 at 10:47

      I was flipping through a Japanese book while in a coffee shop a couple months ago, and somebody came up and asked me something in Japanese.  I understood every word, and I understood the sentence, but I had no words to respond with, so I stood there like an idiot for a bit, and then gave up and nodded.  Frustrating!  I’m sure I’ll figure out how to use words myself eventually.

      Often the hardest part is getting people to believe that you know kanji.  Native speakers, especially, assume that if you don’t know how to say it, you won’t have a clue.  Here’s a pencil, write it down for me!  Oh, yeah, I know what that is.

      • September 12, 2011 at 10:55

        Yup, I’ve heard this is particularly a problem with Japanese native speakers, they presume that if you’re not a native speaker then you couldn’t possibly understand Japanese.  I find that a fantastic middle ground you can use to sort of ease into it so you won’t get quite as frozen up is to use language exchange sites–you talk to natives via Skype, so you’re talking to a real person in real time and usually looking at them via real-time video, so it’s pretty close to talking to someone face-to-face but just not QUITE as stressful, you know?

        • Ken
          September 13, 2011 at 02:32

          I don’t think it was stress.  I really didn’t know any words yet for what I wanted to say!

          I would have been fine if I could have used words I hear a lot on TV … like if I needed to arrest him for 麻薬.

          • September 14, 2011 at 01:22

            Skype is AS stressful as regular conversation, if not more stressful, because the other person is taking time out of their busy day to talk to you. Urgh. 

  7. 藤原健二
    September 10, 2011 at 13:54

    Music can be rather important to some people. For me, it’s more important to me than any human being. Also, a lot of the music I prefer has no lyrics or indecipherable lyrics. I’m not listening to music to hear words. Last year, I only listened to music that contained Japanese lyrics for months. Then I broke down and listened to My Bloody Valentine. I wept. Literally. It was as though I had been without the most important thing in my life for months and then finally reunited. I don’t need my non-Jap jams all the time, but I do need them some of the time. I simply try to combine my non-Jap jam times with my flashcard reviews.

    • September 10, 2011 at 20:13

      It’s a bit sad that for your music > people…

    • September 11, 2011 at 00:22

      So, you experimented. Great! Some people don’t get anywhere because they put up barriers before even trying, and those people have no experience.

    • ブライアン
      September 11, 2011 at 04:19

      (This comment rating thing is getting out of hand.)
      Anyway, couple of things.  1 – if you think that vague trance-rock doesn’t exist in Japanese, you’re not looking hard enough.  Not really my thing, so I don’t have many suggestions, but start with Fishmans and go from there.
      2 – A little English won’t kill you as long as you’re sure to keep it partitioned off and contained.  I’m a guitarist, I’m in a band… unless/until I move to Japan, that means learning, writing and playing music in English.  So, I just make it much easier to get to my Japanese music than my English music.  I listen to Japanese for fun or to fill air and English when I *have* to.

    • hermanblue
      September 11, 2011 at 10:46

      Just can’t agree more. I’ve been learning French for 3 years, yet havn’t fallen in love with any kind of musique francophone whatsoever. I have thought about trying to like some of them for the sake of learning the language more than a millions times but always ended up going back to my favourite Bjork. It’s so true that people don’t listen to the music to hear words! Most of the time I have no idea what Bjork is singing about but I just love it.

      • September 11, 2011 at 20:44

        Look harder—French music isn’t all that bad. And I agree with you, this comment rating thing is getting out of hand. Rating up someone who says that he likes music better than people is completely ridiculous. He may have been rating himself up. 
        Anyway, a little English won’t kill you, but make some effort to find suitable non-English music. 

        • Livonor
          August 3, 2013 at 06:42

          It’s really hard to me to understand why so much resistence to simply start switching musics, I never liked english music, even back in the dark ages when I was just a 英学生

    • C
      September 12, 2011 at 14:08

      Luckily my version of this is Mono, who happen to be Japanese. Still lyric-less, but it works wonders for meditative purposes.
      But I don’t really think it matters much what nationality instrumental bands are, anyway. Their music can be used productively towards Japanese in the way that you’ve mentioned (during SRS reps or while reading). 

      • September 14, 2011 at 01:23

        I still don’t understand why people would rate down someone who says “talk to people, don’t talk to your music or that kind of shit.”
        Being a loner is bad when you are learning languages, period. 

        • September 14, 2011 at 07:40

          Without commenting on the rating system, different people do have different personalities and interests, and need to pursue their language acquisition in their own individual way.
          Yeah, I totally went all 十人十色 here.

        • ドアホ
          September 14, 2011 at 08:56

          You can’t understand why people would downvote judgmental intolerance? Who do you think you are, judging someone you don’t even know? You wouldn’t have said that to someone in person, and if you stopped and thought about the kind of person you sound like for half a second, you wouldn’t say it on the internet either.

          Let the dude have his music. It’s probably because of people like you that he likes it better in the first place.

  8. Jason
    September 11, 2011 at 11:59

    I have to thank Katz for introducing me to Japanese Hip-Hop.
    Some of the best music in the world. Anytime I get sick of listening to Japanese, I’ll just put on J-Hip Hop, and I ‘m good to go.

    • Ryuudou
      September 14, 2011 at 19:41

      Agreed. J-hiphop is amazing. Especially female rappers or groups with a female rapper… it’s so cute.

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