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Success Story: From Frustration in Japan to Ownage in Japan

Gather round, AJATTeers, gather round. Every so often, when one is in a state of connectedness to this vast “Inter-Net”, one comes upon people with striking good looks and WONDERFUL taste in websites. One such person, a man with “victory” etched into his very name, sent me an email this very day. Now, I share it with you. Tonight, Victor Brunell shares his AJATT success story with the world! [Some sections highlighted for emphasis].


I just wanted to write and say thanks for offering easy access to such an effective method for Japanese language acquisition, not to mention all the great motivation.

I know. That Khatzumoto guy is just awesome.

I began using your method last July.  It is now September 1st, a little over one year since I began, and I can now read all the jyoyo kanji, plus a few extras (around 2,050 in total).  A year ago, I had trouble comprehending almost anything with kanji in it, and I am now able to read newspaper articles, books on subjects ranging from relativity to Japanese history and volume upon volume of manga (Naruto fan).

I coupled your ideas with a program called Kanji Odyssey.  The program basically lists all the jyoyo kanji, along with all the given readings for a given kanji, as well as the most commonly used vocabulary found in Japanese printed forms (e.g. books, newspapers, magazines) for each kanji.  On top of this, example sentences are also given.  Needless to say, it was a lot of work to input all of this into Mnemosyne (my SRS of choice), and there were times when I questioned whether or not I could truly retain such a large volume of information, but the outcome was well worth the effort.  I also took it upon myself to dispense with conventional textbooks, as you suggest, and instead seek out lists of grammar points, especially those necessary for the JLPT.  I then used such lists to scour the internet and online Japanese grammar dictionaries for sentences containing each grammar form, inputting them into a seperate file for study.  Again, the power of combining the living form of the Japanese language with an SRS, especially for this kind of targeted study, surprised me.  My grammar acquisition proved to be quite rapid.  It’s so strange; your mind simply begins to adapt itself to a certain way of thinking after seeing grammar repeatedly used in context, regardless of whether or not you have a concrete explanation in your primary language. Actually, when inputting the grammar points, I only listed explanations of the points in Japanese, which really seemed to help me get a better grasp of each form, even if it did take some time for my mind to adjust.

Of course, I also began to exclusively listen to Japanese music (eerie how quickly it can grow on you) and watch movies in Japanese.  Watching movies in Japanese is such a great way to take a break from your studying, without actually ever leaving it behind.  It also has the added benefit of making crappy acting almost unnoticeable.  At the beginning, I couldn’t understand much of what was being said, but, after sticking to a strategy of always having some movies on hand for my downtime, meaning around two hours of Japanese listening practice a day, besides what I was getting at work, I can now watch a movie in Japanese without much of a problem, only occasionally turning on Japanese subtitles to check what I heard.

Oh, and Heisig’s “Remembering the Kanji” proved to be an incredibly effective way to learn how to write the kanji.  Thanks for the recommendation.  It’s fun being able to take a quick glance at a compound like 薔薇 and be able to reproduce it with ease.

Perhaps I should have prefaced this with the fact that I’ve lived in Japan for three years now, and during the first two years my Japanese was deplorable.  I could understand hiragana and katakana, but, before hitting on this method, the language seemed a bit too overwhelming, and learning it to fluency somewhat of a foolish enterprise, unless I was willing to spend a good five or six years earnestly studying it. I could conduct only the most basic of conversations with my co-workers, whereas now I can have heated debates about anything from politics to science to whaling (touchy subject).  Anyway, in short, my Japanese sucked and now it doesn’t, thanks to your method.

I think I now understand why you offer so much motivation on your website.  While it is true that the method can be a lot of fun, the learning curve for Japanese, due in large part to kanji, seems a bit higher than most Western languages, and it can be frustrating, even if you feel you are making progress.  Sometimes you just want to pick up a book and read the damn thing, but you only know the readings for, say, 837 kanji, making it almost impossible, or at least very tedious, to even look up certain words.  It can really demoralize you at times, but, if you can keep your goal in mind and not lose hope, you’ll take more notice of your progress, rather than what you have yet to achieve, and I think that might be key; the encouragement and positive attitude you foster is indispensable.

Again, thanks for putting in the time and effort to make all this information available.  I wouldn’t have learned Japanese without it.

Victor Brunell
Tokushima Prefecture

[P.S.] I just wanted to send along a quick update. I received my results for the July 2009 JLPT 2級 today and have passed with a score of 77% (309/400).

文字 – 語彙 91/100
聴解 74/100
読解 – 文法 144/200

Thank you, Victor, for good looks and awesomeness.

And now it’s your turn. When are you going to start living (and sharing) your success story, oh fellow AJATTeer? It’s got to start someplace; it’s got to start sometime; what better place than here? What better time than 今?

  18 comments for “Success Story: From Frustration in Japan to Ownage in Japan

  1. Saif
    September 1, 2009 at 23:55

    Very motivational, thanks for sharing.
    I think it all goes down to your believe in yourself AND the methods you are using 🙂

  2. Colby
    September 2, 2009 at 00:56

    I’ve been following the program since early February, and things are really starting to click now–especially after getting that children’s dictionary on your site.
    I figure if I can use a mono-dic, even if some of the entries don’t make sense (yet), what’s going to stop me?
    And that’s what I’ve been realizing more and more lately, I think an intelligent, working method is important for anything, but the biggest thing I’ve been keeping in mind is that little twitter you made awhile back.


  3. Glenn
    September 2, 2009 at 02:01

    Always nice to see someone succeeding. This is a bit off topic, but I recently found this website and thought I’d share, because it’s pretty sweet, and I don’t see it in your link section. It has a search engine that searches lots of dictionaries, including specialized ones, Wikipedia and other encyclopedia-type sites (JAXA came up a few times), and a thesaurus. It has a random search feature as well, where it will just pull up whatever. The address is and it’s become my reference site of choice. Cheers!

  4. Matt
    September 2, 2009 at 02:19

    What better time to leave my first comment? 🙂 That was a great story! I’m looking forward to standing in his shoes a year from now. I just started AJATTing two weeks ago and I already know more Japanese than I learned in two years of high school Spanish! I just hit 300 Kanji today (Heisig), and it sure is motivating not only to mark my own ‘little victories’ but to read stories like this about the cumulative results of these small steps. I’m currently taking in about 8 hours of Japanese audio, about 3 hours of video, and averaging 20-25 new Kanji per day (SRSing with Anki). I never would have started down this path without this site; thanks for everything Khatz, I’ll let you know how it goes.

  5. Terence
    September 2, 2009 at 02:30

    Thanks to the writer, and thanks to Glenn for the link!

    I checked out the weblio link, and judging by what I’ve seen, I can’t wait to test it out and some new sentences hahahahaha

  6. Jorge
    September 2, 2009 at 03:14

    This is why I love this site. Every time I’m feeling like I can’t keep up learning Japanese, I turn to look at any one of the stories here. Case in point: at 898 kanji right now (with the nice Mr. Heisig, of course), and was feeling a little low, cuz THERE ARE JUST SO FRICKING MANY! But it’s always nice to know there are other people out there, persevering and succeeding, and to take motivation from their struggles. 😀

  7. Glenn
    September 2, 2009 at 03:35

    No problem. I just wanted to spready the joy! 🙂

  8. September 2, 2009 at 10:58

    I’ve yet to start AJATTing officially, though I am feeling out the immersion technique. I input into my brain machine only doramas, Japanese movies, Japanese music – though I am currently reading my books on Japanese history, art, bushido, traditions and culture in English. I’m still looking at Japanese text and seeing only 1 or 2 words on the page, so no mono dictionary yet. Though audio-wise, I’m doing a lot of sentence-picking whenever I notice a phrase being used again and again.

    Strangely enough, watching press conferences for films is great for audio recog because I already know the content they are discussing and I know which actors/actresses speak slowly enough for me. (Ryuhei Matsuda’s wpm has to be a world record in slowness)

    It’s been difficult to find other learners at my low level – that’s my main problem. Everyone’s so damn smart and seems to have started younger than me 😛

  9. 亜波愛留
    September 2, 2009 at 12:15

    Interesting story. So far i’ve got to 3007 kanji in around 2.5 months of learning it. I also did katakana for hiragana i already did that sometime ago. I’m only at around 100 example sentences in my anki SRS. But hopefully if i keep at it i’ll get fluent in no time. Anyone got any tips for monolingual sentences and stuff. I remember reading that khatz said you should go around 500-1000 sentences make the shift to pure monolingual sentences. (I’m trying to learn 50-100 sentences per day to try to speed up the process but i’ve got school coming soon but i’m sure i’ll manage in the Japanese since i want this badly. I’ve got around 3 years time till i’ll head over to japan so more than enough time. 2 years left of my program by then hopefully i’ll be fluent. Anyhow can anyone help me with the monolingual stuff i.e. give me some tips or something.

  10. Jack
    September 2, 2009 at 14:52

    Step 1 is belief. Only you can believe in yourself. Don’t rely on others to believe in you for you – only you can do that. Step 2 is immersion. You need too much immersion to allow someone else to immerse with you, unless that person is as dedicated as you are in learning Japanese. Though feel free to share Japanese foods you learn how to make and Japanese music with others. Reading Japanese culture books in English does not count as immersion. Step 3 is Heisig. Heisig is a self study course. Don’t study the Heisig course together with others. We’ll discuss Step 4 (the last step) when you finish Heisig.

    Being smart has nothing to do with it. You are smart enough to learn Japanese if you are a human of average intelligence. Smart people have failed at difficult things before while dumb people have succeeded. What is the difference between those who succeed and those who fail? Some pretend to know. I am not one of them. All I can do is try to succeed. Khatsumoto is talking about “grit” in the twitter posts now; maybe that has something to do with it.

  11. September 2, 2009 at 16:26

    Nice story, makes me feel like a turtle. I’ve been doing this since last August or so. I’m not living full-time in Japan though.

    I’m All Japanese Most of the Time honestly. I’m roughly at 2255 Kanji (and add more whenever I see something new, which is surprisingly not as often as I thought). Creeping past the middle of 3000 sentences because I enjoy reading Manga too much to stop and enter sentences I should (Khatz! You didn’t warn me about this!!) Maybe I should buy a highlighter 😉

  12. Glenn
    September 2, 2009 at 22:31

    As far as the problem of not wanting to stop midstream, I usually just don’t. If I like a sentence (which usually means a scene) enough, I’ll find myself wanting to go back and see it (read it) again, and at that point I’ll focus on the words used. The first tenet is fun after all, right?

  13. September 4, 2009 at 14:42

    Great article and great inspiration. Learning a language (especially Japanese) can seem a very steep climb at first, but if you stay with it and immerse yourself you can definitely become fluent!

  14. Will
    September 4, 2009 at 15:35

    Khatzumoto. long time listener first time caller…I’ve started using your method starting this summer and all I have to say is thanks. I’ve been stressing over how difficult college has been for me, specifically, the leaking bucket problem. I wound up withdrawing from a survey Microeconomics course this past semester because I had forgotten the basics. Over the summer I’ve applied Mnemosyne to intro to Micro and Macro and I think I might even be able to TA those classes this coming semester!!! Also, I’m a Japanese Economics Double Major (yeah, I know, completely pointless, just major in econ and learn Japanese on the side) and I’ve been failing horribly in Japanese…particularly, kanji. It’s going to be nice to show my teachers what progress I’ve made over the summer, seeing as how I’ve been the one messing up and holding back the other 5 kids in class. I managed to learn the meaning and writing behind ALL of the RTK kanji and I’ve memorized All 2,000 words we’ve learned so far in the past 2 years in context. I used to think I had screwed up my life with the past two years in College (my GPA isn’t the greatest) but now there is REAL hope that I’ll make up for the past two years and do something amazing. Thank you for the most life productive and life changing summer I’ve ever had, I don’t know if it was fate or what that I searched “how many kanji do you know?” and I happened to stumble upon your site, but all I know is that my life will never be the same. As soon as I feel I’ve gotten fluent and that I can write to you my success story, you can expect a big fat addition to your donations box. Thank you SOOOOOO much for all that you have done with this site. You really are making a difference.

    I’ll do as much as I can to tell people about this site as repayment in the meantime. I’ve already gotten my high school Japanese teacher to recommend it to her students at school! And she’s been using it with her daughter who doesn’t know Japanese…Yet.

  15. Matt
    September 5, 2009 at 02:22

    Will – I feel you buddy. I think we should send Khatz a gift basket filled with gold bullion. The autodidactism+SRS method has changed the way I approach every academic goal I set for myself.

  16. Gary
    September 5, 2009 at 04:08

    Welcome back Khatz!
    Thanks for posting another inspiring example that gives me more of a reason to continue my Japanese conquest. Going to check that Kanji Odyssey out.

  17. JN
    September 7, 2009 at 18:02

    good stuff. very motivating

  18. 亜波愛留
    October 4, 2009 at 08:50

    really motivating. Just goes to show that any one can learn any language they set there mind too. All you need is a solid method to get there. almost to 1000 sentences.

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