- Secrets to Smoother SRSing, Part 1: The SRS Is a Servant, Not a Master
- Secrets to Smoother SRSing, Part 2: Fun
- Secrets to Smoother SRSing, Part 3: Don’t Go Looking for Items, Let Them Come Find You
- Secrets to Smoother SRSing, Part 4: Collect ‘Em to Throw Away
- Secrets to Smoother SRSing, Part 5: Timeboxing
- Secrets to Smoother SRSing, Part 6: Maintain Only the Baseline/SRS Holidays
- Secrets to Smoother SRSing, Part 7: The Place of Pre-Mined SRSing and Other Ramblings
- How To Banish Boredom from Sentence-Mining (Sentence-Picking)
- Popping Bubblewrap: Tips for Better SRS Sentence Items
- SRS Precedence Rules
- The SRS Victory Formula (SRS Formula Victoria? :P )
This is part 1 of a multi-part series on smoother SRSing.
Word! Alliteration, son! It’s in the air and the power is yours!
…That was awkward.
So, anyway, a lot of people have been going insane in the membrane with SRS stress. Some have even gone on to write weird introductions to blog posts (go figure, eh?)…And some people (including me) even get tense when they study.
I know what you’re thinking: “Khatzumoto gets tense?! Dag, yo, I thought that only happened to pretty white kids with problems“. Me, too man. Me, too.
So, yeah, I had this tension, and I know other people have it as well. Thus, I wrote up some tips for you to help SRSing go more smoothly and happilyly. Checkerachyo!!
The SRS is a servant not a master. That’s right; SRS were developed to serve you. To help you. To free you from the burden of relearning forgotten things, and scheduling your own reviews.
Unfortunately, however, most of us have been to school, which means we’re used to being slaves. That’s right, I said it: school is a form of slavery — a very lite form, low in calories and sodium — but a form nonetheless. People tell you what to wear, what to read, where to be, when to talk, what to talk about, what words to use, when to shut up, when to eat, when to stand, when to sit down, when to move, when to sit still, when to pee, when to pooh, and can enforce their will through physical violence, emotional battery and even legal measures: it’s slavery…or at the very least prison. “Slavery” might be a bit hyperbolic, but it’s not far off the mark (?).
Anyway! The thing about slavery is that, like the elephant in this oft-repeated anecdote, the real enslaving is not physical but mental. You can unlock someone’s handcuffs but if her mind is still in chains you might as well not bother…type thing. You can take a man out of the ghetto but you can’t take the trackers out of a BitTorrent file yada yada. The same thing happens with a lot of prison inmates: these men, and they are often men, would do anything to bust out of that prison while they were in it, but once they get out, they’re so unused to their freedom that many consciously or unconsciously choose to return to jail — I don’t know whether this is actually true or not, but it was in Shawshank Redemption, so it’s gotta be true. Wow, I love blogging…no one to dock you points for not quoting proper sources.
Mmm, and so, many AJATTeers put themselves in the position of slave to their SRS. They try to turn AJATT into school all over again. And it’s not just their fault, nor even school’s fault, nor is it the fault of “society”. No, kids, the culprit here is Khatzumoto. I’m the one who started AJATT off in the direction of 10,000 sentences, so much so that some sites even call this the “10,000 sentences method“. Having said that, there are at least two good (?) reasons why I did it:
(i) Sentences, even 10,000 of them, are a clear, concise, quantifiable thing to aim for. It’s something you can sort of “see”; it’s a tangible goal; it’s all nice and pre-reified; the SRS even records stats and crap for you. In short, it’s almost everything that our current education system sets up as valuable.
(ii) Before writing AJATT, I had shared the methods I was using for learning Japanese; whenever someone was interested I would just tell them what I was doing, or maybe shoot them a quick email. One thing I noticed was that people seemed very reticent about adopting the SRS. I felt then and continue to feel now that the SRS was key, in terms of allowing me to acquire and sustain literacy in Japanese in such a relatively short time with so relatively little effort. So, I purposely went in strong on SRS promotion.
And the people loved it. And they went collecting sentences like their lives depended on it. At the time, this didn’t bother me at all. There were hints that something bad was going on, but at the time it just seemed like healthy enthusiasm. I didn’t even begin to realize a tragedy was underway until I was myself suffering emotionally in my Chinese Project — despite apparently using the same methods as I had in Japanese — methods that had given me so much success and joy. [The truth is that I was trying to ram Mandarin Chinese into my brain through massive, deliberate, dry, joyless sentence collection; I just bought books full of Japanese-Chinese sentences and tried to cram then in. While this is probably physically possible, it is also more boring than Baroque music…yeah, I said it: Baroque music is boring and your mother was a woman! Wanna fight, stitch?]. What really brought the situation front and center to my attention, though, was the extensive, lucid and inspiring writing about this that’s been going on at the blog of Feed Me Japanese (especially this article). That site is the reason I’m writing this today, and in a sense I am re-appropriating Khalid’s message, which is Swahili for “stealing his ideas in broad daylight but it’s all good coz the words are different”…hehe. Khalid really hits the metal object on the head with this one:
“The implication for people who are searching for these sentence collections is that there is an ‘ideal’ set of sentences and if you drill those in your head, you’ll know Japanese. […] But, unless I’m missing something, Khatzumoto didn’t have sentence collections, he collected sentences from everything he saw and read in Japanese. 10,000 sentences was a natural product of what he did, not the purpose.”
OK, so one root cause of the sentence-collection-binging phenomenon was my own initial focus on sentences. Nevertheless, there is still a clue as to what AJATT is truly all about, and it lies in the title of the site: “all Japanese all the time”. At its core, this method was and is about a mental change of identity and a physical change of lifestyle. Everything else was merely to aid that and perhaps increase efficiency without killing fun.
You probably think I’m insane anyway so this shouldn’t weird you out too much — I very frequently imagined myself as a Japanese-raised child. Not “haha, it’s like being a Japanese child”. No, I pretended to BE Japanese. Metaphor, not simile. BUT, this wasn’t about wanting to find a new identity for myself — a place to “belong”, nyah nyah nyah nyah touchy-feely California stuff — too many people confuse it for that; they worry that are or they will somehow “lose themselves”. No. There was a very real, very hardcore, very un-touchy, un-feely reason for all this role-playing. It is something we all know intuitively but which only relatively recently came to me in the form of words. And the cheat code to R.L. iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiis:
Adults act according to their identity rather than their ability.
In the vernacular — people achieve what they think they can achieve rather than what they are actually capable of achieving. Now, a Japanese child is expected to achieve fluency in written and spoken Japanese as a matter of course, no matter how much she may currently suck at it. It is for this reason that I chose the identity of a Japanese child when learning Japanese hardcore. Japanese language skill is expected of Japanese people the way boyish humor is expected of Adam Sandler. I merely availed myself of a hearty piece of this Pygmalion Effect-type phenomenon. I turned myself and my life into a self-fulfilling prophecy of Japanese fluency.
Which is all well and good, but imagine if that had been front-and-center when AJATT was first launched. I don’t think it would have worked; it’s just a little too ethereal, I think. Too…esoteric? Too abstract? Or maybe I’m not giving myself and other people enough credit. I dunno…concrete methods just seem more comforting, more obvious, more ripe for action. But, this idea of “don’t learn Japanese — become Japanese — be Japanese”; this is central to the method/methods discussed on this site. The target language is no longer something you do, it is something you are; it’s practically the air you breathe. There is no spoon. I’m sure there are more efficient/effective ways out there, but I haven’t really seen them yet.
Anyway, don’t be taken in by any hints you may get (even from me) about discipline and consistency and commitment and all those other lame-a$$ abstract nouns. When you get down to it, this method is all about having fun and just being…just chilling. I didn’t “work hard”; I didn’t really “sacrifice” to learn Japanese; I made a lifestyle choice and let the consequences of that choice run their natural course, because Japanese fluency is an inevitable result of a real and sustained Japanese environment; once you get your ducks in a row most of it is simply coasting. Dude, most of the time all I did was listen to Rip Slyme, shop on Amazon.jp and download stuff online; you’re not supposed to spend 24 hours a day attached to your SRS deck like unto an umbilical chord. No…What, do you want to be bored to tears? Do you think you’re supposed to be bored to tears? Well let me lay it down here once and for all:
If it is not fun, then it is not of AJATT.
I know. I know it’s hard to let go of work and pain and struggling. But you need to let go. For your own good — for the good of your Japanese — you must let go. I want you to go out and get an addiction. Get several. Get addicted to an artist or show or video game or chat site or book series or movie in Japanese/whatever your target language is. Momoko’s Japanese really started booming when she got hooked on Trick and Gintama. She does them aaaaalll the time; she’s got the anime of the drama of the manga of the website of the book; the jokes she tells are Trick jokes; the food she eats is stuff she’s seen the characters on Trick eat; and the other day she even had the temerity to tell me to go dye my hair silver since: “you already have a natural perm”. Hmm…
Back in the day, I, too, was “hooked” on all sorts of things — Stargate SG-1, Star Trek, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Dragon Ash, Rip Slyme — all in Japanese of course. Go get hooked. So hooked that your enjoyment of what you do understand (however little that may be) eclipses all your anxiety about “ohhh, this is so hard”, “ohhhh, but there’s so much I don’t know yet”, “ohhh, will I ever get done?”, “ohhhh, but I’m too old and not Asian enough!”, “and so on and so forth!”.
You’re Japanese, remember? Act like it, この(mother)野郎(lover)！
Of course continue to use your SRS. I mean, duh, who wants to forget stuff, right? Just be sure to use it rather than be used by it. Rule of thumb: it’s like watching TV — when it gets bahrin’, yah change th’ channel.
Thanks for reading. Check back soon for the next installment: part 2!
I don’t have a problem with that as such…collecting sentences is a major “active activity” of the process, but the major “passive-activity” (and the primary activity in terms of total time) is not sentence collection but merely being in and enjoying a location-independent immersion environment — i.e. making a little Japan/whatever, wherever you are. One simply can’t be in sentence-collecting mode 24/7 or even 18/7 or even 12/7: 1/7 or 2/7 (3+/7 on a really, really good day and) is probably tops in terms of many people’s ability to concentrate and give active attention to something, at least it is for me.
 A more fundamental root cause may lie in the fact that I don’t actually know why AJATT works. Not really. Like I kind of have these ideas — a bit of Krashen here, a bit of AntiMoon there, my own childhood experiences of both loss and acquisition of language, intense casual observation of other people’s children before the parents get weirded out — but it’s all very vague, and I’m not going to sit here and pretend to you that I know it all and have it all figured out. And then again, I don’t really care thaaat much why it all works, like, it’d be cool to know, but mostly I just care how I can best go about doing this. I figure my peepz Pinker, Krashen and Chomsky can go work out the whys for me while I sit here eating peanuts and watching Evangelion…gotta get my geli on, you know. Yeah…so…not knowing why…
 Which is goofy! You are not who you are just because of the nationality and location of the uterus you grew in, nor because of the media you watch and listen to. You’re you, and if all those things were to disappear tomorrow, you would still be you. Put another way — what’s to stop being a native-level user of Japanese from being just as much a part of your identity as your liking Green Day [it’s always kids you who like Green Day that have this identity fetish]? The fact that you were over the age of 12 when you started it? Come on, man…
 You know, for a while, this site used to bug me. What I mean is, it felt like it was two sites in one. One site was happy and friendly, and the other site was violently macho and in-your-face and people would be all “This is madness!”, and then I’d be all: “This is AJAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAATT!”). I had trouble reconciling these two sides. Fortunately, I have realized the magic glue. And it is this: fun. I guess I knew it all along, but at the same time, I didn’t know.
Have fun. In Japanese. If you’re having fun, the dedication will take care of itself. Notice when you’re bored and act quickly to get back to fun.