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Stop Being Creative

Passive listening doesn’t help, you say? Well, how are you supposed to play a song you’ve never heard?

How are you supposed to do a Lady Gaga impression when you’ve never even heard her speak or sing?

I’ll tell you how…you make it up. You get creative. You invent something new.

And therein lies the problem.

Japanese doesn’t want your creativity. Japanese doesn’t want your inventiveness. Because the second you, an adult foreigner with a 20-word active vocabulary, start “inventing” Japanese, what you have invented ceases to be Japanese. It’s certainly based on Japanese, but it’s not Japanese.

Don’t create Japanese.
Imitate. Imitate. Imitate.

Be creative in your methods. Go wild. But know that the aim is to do a perfect, note for note impression of a Japanese person. Be creative at being a copycat. That is the point of learning Japanese as far as you will be concerned for the foreseeable future.

There will come a time to put your own little spin on it, to add your unique flava, but that will be the 0.0000001% on top of 99.999999% Japaneseness. Fake numbers, of course. But I hope you get the point.

It’s called 守破離, friends.
And it always starts with .

  28 comments for “Stop Being Creative

  1. Nostrum
    February 15, 2011 at 14:02

    I’ve been having the problem where I can read Japanese pretty well, but can’t speak well. I was thinking either I should get more input or try practicing output (I know where AJATT stands on this).

    I wonder whether this emphasis on input would apply to things other than languages, that we traditionally call creative. For example, I often think people would write a lot better if they read more.

    • Mattholomew III, Esquire
      February 15, 2011 at 14:20

      Having peer reviewed more than enough papers in my time, this issue ranks near the top of my $h!t list. I want to grab these COLLEGE students by the collar and scream “If you read books, EVER, you wouldn’t write like this! You wouldn’t even be CAPABLE of writing like this!” Read a book! Read a book! Read a mother effing book!

      Huh? Oh, sorry. Yes, you should get more input.

    • Jason
      February 16, 2011 at 06:08

      If you have trouble speaking a sentence, writing a sentence, producing a sentence, thinking in Japanese…

      If you have trouble with any of this.

      You need more input. No questions…you need input. LOTS of input.

  2. Herman
    February 15, 2011 at 14:53

    the second you, an adult foreigner with a 20-word active vocabulary, start “inventing” Japanese,
    Khats, can you stop being so right for one time! Love that observation

    • Ricky
      February 15, 2011 at 16:56

      Hey, uh Herman you got a little something brown on your nose…(lol)

      • Herman
        February 15, 2011 at 18:07

        Hey, Ricky. I don’t understand this part. Is it supposed to be some punt or what? Can you explain that?

        • Alexei
          February 15, 2011 at 18:20

          Herman, a “brown nose” in English idiom is someone who insincerely flatters authority figures in order to gain their favour. It is a term of contempt, and it can also be used as a verb (and, more rarely, changed into an adjective).

          Ricky, do you seriously have nothing better to do than make posts on a Japanese learner’s blog in order to insult random strangers?

          Khatzumoto, thanks for the reminder.

          • Herman
            February 15, 2011 at 18:46

            Thank you Alexei for your explanation.

            Well, I was trying to flatter, but sincerely. And I don’t think I could get any favour from anybody by posting random comment.

  3. Ricky
    February 15, 2011 at 18:55

    Guys, guys… It’s called a joke… I like khatz too. Geez you guys pull the stick out already,I thought we were suppose to be having fun here…

  4. Herman
    February 15, 2011 at 19:44

    I feel guilty not being able to read Ricky’s sarcasm in the first place.
    I do agree we are supposed to be having fun here.
    Khats forgive me turning your blog into a chatroom, but Alexei and Ricky, do you know each other personally?

  5. Chagami
    February 16, 2011 at 01:27

    I think the skepticism of the importance of passive listening comes from people who’ve never tried it 😛

    I started up my immersion environment about three weeks ago, so I’m not much better than those people. As Khatz had mentioned before, there’s multiple stages to passive listening:

    Stage 1: It’s all gibberish
    Stage 2: You pick out a few words
    Stage 3: You pick out phrases
    Stage 4: You pick out the few words you don’t know

    I’m already at the initial stages of Stage 2. I’ve only spent three weeks in a Japanese environment and I’ve already started to pick out words here and there that I find familiar, and after a short while, understand their meaning.

    So to those who are skeptical about starting the Japanese immersion environment, I’m only slightly further into the journey than you and I can tell you that there will be results.

    Just remember, creating a Japanese immersion environment doesn’t mean you have to throw away your old life, just convert it into Japanese.

    • February 17, 2011 at 07:43

      Does watching TV count as passive listening? I’ve been watching way too much Dutch TV lately (Feb and the backend of Jan) and with kid’s programme’s I can pick out some phrases already – the gist is fairly easy to follow.

      Given that Dutch is much, much easier to workout than Japanese and a lot of words are practically the same as English, I can also confirm that a ‘time-wasting’ activity such as TV watching is so helpful.

      Even within the proper gibberish (Dutch that is not obviously related to English), some of this is now familiar in terms of sound, even if I haven’t worked out the meaning yet.

      It wasn’t meant to be this way. I do really want to learn from people too, but I’m currently a friendless and unemployed jerk, so haven’t had that much chance so far.

      • Mattholomew III, Esquire
        February 17, 2011 at 10:01

        Hey man, I’ll be your friend. I checked out your page, I like the “English lessons for a coffee” idea, I might do that just for kicks sometime. You’re in the Netherlands, I’m in Korea. Let’s do an international high five!

        *raises hand*

      • Chagami
        February 17, 2011 at 12:31

        TV must count, seeing that it’s working 🙂

        75% of my input at this point is TV, and I’m definitely learning.

        You know, if you want a way to test your comprehension, get a movie in a language that you don’t know. I did this by accident by watching the movie The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (or something like that.) It was in Swedish I believe, and even though it was subbed in English, I had a hard time understanding anything!

        Anyway, Chris, be careful with kid’s shows. From personal experience, if I’m watching something that I wouldn’t be interested in if it weren’t for the Japanese content, I’m setting myself up for failure. I’m the kind of person who can put massive amounts of effort into something at the beginning, even if it’s rather tame or laborious. But it isn’t long before I burn out, and end up being worse than when I started.

        Maybe you’ll be better off finding some Dutch South Park, or whatever would interest you more than a kids show 😀

        Don’t worry Chris, we’re all in this together! From The Netherlands to Korea to Canada, international high five! XD

        • February 18, 2011 at 21:31

          Mattholomew III and Chagami – international high five!! yeah!

          English for a coffee – just a way to get to know more people and as a famous Roman Emperor might have said once ‘Give the people what they want,’ and then they’ll probably be more willing to give you want you want.

          I’m alright with the kids TV at the moment. It’s simple and easy to follow and feels good because it gets easier quickly. I also watch some ‘science/educational’ programmes aimed at teenagers and that’s enjoyable because the theme is obvious. I find adult programmes much more difficult to watch at the moment – though I’ll definitely look out for Dutch Southpark.

          International High Fives all round

  6. Maya
    February 16, 2011 at 04:32

    Although I basically agree with your overall conclusion (imitation over creativity, input over output), I just wanted to add that outputing can still be useful, as long as you’re being corrected every step of the way.

    Here’s why: inputing is a necessary part of the learning process, but it only really allows for subconcious aquisition (sp?). Over time, that subconcious knowledges gets transfered to your long-term/active memory, but that transfer is relatively slow & inefficient (especially during your first ~10-15k hours of exposition to the language). During that lag, there are often unaddressed holes/gaps in your knowledge that you’re not even aware of yourself (after all, how can you be conciously aware of a gap in a process that is ~98% subconcious?). By outputing, and being corrected at every turn, these unaddressed gaps in yoru knowledge being addressed, which allows you to conciously & deliberately improve (deliberate practice, anyone?).

    Example: at one point, I didn’t know when い needed to be replaced with く; I would say things like 顔は赤いになった (instead of 赤くなった) or 無いようになった (instead of なくなった). There was a point in which a (Japanese) friend of mine constantly corrected/reminded me about this, and after about 1-2 weeks I started using it correctly. Problem solved.

    I could have theoretically just kept my mouth shout (no output) and waited for the subconcious input process to teach me how to say it correctly, but this would’ve taken longer. This, IMHO, is a huge advantage that adult learners of languages have over babies: we are capable of making the process partly concious and deliberate, allowing us to get farther in a shorter amount of time.

  7. February 16, 2011 at 11:44 Here’s a link of someone explaining it.

  8. Rocky
    February 16, 2011 at 18:33

    On the topic of input before output, one needs genuine input – hence my question: are the dictionary example sentences from japanese Yahoo something people(もちろん日本人ですねえ) actually would say – or are they a bit off?
    If someone (preferably native japanese or 勝元) could please answer me I would appreciate it since it is potentially a convenient source of “picking”. 🙂
    (2333 kanji & 1100 sentences deep)
    A link to an example of an example sentence:

    • February 16, 2011 at 23:07

      Yes they are usually very natural. The online Yahoo dictionary is a great source. I use it all the time.

      • Chagami
        February 17, 2011 at 12:42

        Do you mean Babelfish?? I think Google Translate is better, actually.

        Just my opinion though…

        • Rocky
          February 17, 2011 at 18:22

          Thank you Jason & Japanese Level Up! (The jap-google thing actually worked too,, for some of them.) 🙂

          @Chagami: No, we are actually talking about the japanese online Yahoo dictionary ( where you can just type in a word, check the 英和 below the search field, press enter and get tons of example sentences!
          Google translate can be totally off the mark unfortunately…

          • Chagami
            February 17, 2011 at 22:39

            Thanks for the link, that looks really useful! 😀

    • Jason
      February 17, 2011 at 02:05

      If you’re not sure, type the sentence in google Japan look for a similar sentence, then that’s definitely something a Japanese person would say.

  9. harmony
    February 18, 2011 at 00:23

    Hi Katz, love your blog…you’ve written a lot of great inspirational stuff! Personally I think that many of the people who criticize passive learning are just trying to point out that you can’t rely on it alone, forever…without ever doing anything else. Eventually you do have to start using the language, and applying what you’ve learned by mimicking and copying. Unfortunately there are some people out there who take the passive input thing a little too literally. And by literally, I mean they think that they can just put on some music or tv shows in the background, and that alone will make them fluent. But I think the Shuhari concept is a very good one to follow, and if we take those ideas to heart, we should make good progress. That doesn’t mean we sit on our butt and do nothing, though!

  10. tsn
    February 18, 2011 at 08:38

    I’d agree with what you said, Harmony.

    Some people definitely do take the passive listening thing to heart and think that’s all they’ll really need.

    If they actually took the time to read the site properly they’d see how much work Khatz really put into things with learning lots of vocab (though disregarding learning grammar in the conventional sense) and actually speaking Japanese as often as he could to people around him.

    Passive listening is very important, having a firm foundation in fun is very important, but so is actively learning new things and speaking the language after a while.

  11. salem
    February 18, 2011 at 13:03

    In my experience, passive listening really is all you need. I’ve only ever practiced ‘output’ for ten minutes or so a day, and it’s just to get myself comfortable making foreign sounds.

  12. salem
    February 18, 2011 at 13:05

    That said, I do sing along or copy lines from a TV show every so often (this is great fun when it’s a drama). Sadly there aren’t many sci-fi shows dubbed into the language I’m learning, meaning I can’t put my crystal clear memory of the entire script to Star Wars to use.

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