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Success Story: More in a few months of AJATT than in 4 years of school French

For your happy perusal, here’s a success story from a reader who goes by her Chinese name, Plum Ocean —  I mean, 李洋. Here are her words, digitally remastered in super ultra high definition wide screen Dolby 10.2 digital surround text:

Dear Khatzumoto,

I really want to thank you for writing your blog! [Khatzumoto: Yeah!] I have found so much success through your methods [Khatzumoto: Yeah!]. This isn’t really a success story as much as it is a thank you email [Khatzumoto: Yeah!].

I started learning Japanese in September of 2007 after reading your blog. It really encouraged me that even though there are no lessons around my area, I can learn Japanese. Soon I would find that the methods are much more effective than any text book, class, or listening CD anyone could find. The difficult part of this method is ignoring what everyone else thinks about your progress, and continuing on with doing what you’re doing. I really faced a lack of confidence after talking with a professor of Japanese. I was only a few months into learning Japanese when I told him about your method. He immediately shut down the method [Khatzumoto: Boooooo!], and told me he doesn’t think the way I’m going about learning Japanese is an effective way. He told me to wait for college to really start learning Japanese, rather than going about it in such a difficult matter. He warned me that because I’m learning Japanese from media, I’ll be learning random things, rather than what I’d be learning in a structured text book. Immediately, his comment made me forget about the progress I was making. After a few weeks, I was able to get my confidence up again, and to continue on with your method. I decided not to go to the college this professor was apart of because of his egotism, and because of how he shut me down. I started seeing more success. The more I was immersed into the language, the more I was able to hear the things I’ve learned in the dramas and movies I watch, and in the songs I listen to. The language was no longer a blur to me. I was able to type down the things I heard in Japanese, and study from what I took down. I was able to repeat the sentences I heard, but have never learned before, with correct pronunciation. Learning to read hiragana, and katakana was the easiest thing for me, I had already gotten that down the first few days of learning Japanese. The kanji came the more, and more I would read Japanese. I didn’t start using an SRS, mainly because I didn’t understand how to, until just recently. The SRS has really helped me study Japanese. Especially now, since I’m learning how to write. I regret not studying how to write the language early on. Mainly the reason was because I was to lazy, and would rather type Japanese. I use the SRS to help train me to listen to music I know, and to write down the lyrics while listening to it. I also use it to learn sentences, and grammar. I’ve decided from now on to write down any Japanese I see to help practice my writing skills. Even though I can recognize, and type the characters, when writing, it’s like I never had learned them, which is why I’m focusing on it now. Along the road of learning Japanese, I met a guy who is from Japan who helps me out. He has especially been a help with my grammar, and he corrects my sentences for me, so that I can put them in my SRS and learn from my mistakes. The SRS really makes it so I remember the corrections, so that I can avoid the mistakes in the future.

Now, the success. I would’ve never imagined being able to understand a song in Japanese, or a TV show in Japanese, but now, I am able to do these things. I write a blog on a Japanese hosted server, and in the beginning of the blog it was only in English, but now with every post I write more, and more of what I write is being translated into Japanese. One day, I hope to be able to express everything I write for my blog in Japanese. The guy I met from Japan corrects the Japanese I write on my blog so that I can learn from my mistakes. Recently, I have made a big step in my road of learning Japanese. My friend who lives in America, but used to live in Hong Kong, introduced me to a friend of hers from Hong Kong. Even though he speaks Cantonese, and I speak English, he’s been learning Japanese on his own for a long time, and we were able to become friends through speaking Japanese to each other. When I first attempted having an instant message conversation with someone in Japanese with someone who didn’t speak English well, but knows Japanese, I failed miserably. I was so embarrassed, because they couldn’t understand anything I was saying. However, now, I can hold conversations with people in Japanese. I’m very happy about this. The reasons why I want to learn Japanese is because I love Japanese culture, and I want to move to Japan to teach English. However, if you strip down my reasons to the bone, it is revealed that my real reason is because I want to connect with other people, and form new friendships I would’ve never been able to form if I didn’t speak their language. Making friends with this guy through speaking Japanese has been a success story for me, because I am starting to reach my goal (^-^). The whole reason why I’m learning Japanese is coming true. My Japanese learning road will never have an end. Continuously, I will meet successes, which will make walking on this road worth it. Successes like making new friends through speaking Japanese, becoming a really great teacher in Japan, falling in love in Japan, raising a child in Japan. These dreams are dear to my heart.

I have taken four years of French in high school. When I compare my progress in Japanese to the progress I had in French, there are many differences. I wasn’t able to reach my goal of making friends with a person through speaking French until the latter part of French IV, because I couldn’t hold a conversation until my fourth year of French. While for Japanese, it hasn’t even been a year, and I have made a friend through speaking the language, because I can already hold a conversation in Japanese. It took me four years to be able to listen to a French song, or movie, and sort of get an idea of what is going on, and I am already at that level with Japanese. When listening to French, it is still a blur to me. I can’t repeat every word I hear of it, yet in Japanese, I am able to. To me, it has been proven that your method is way more effective than structured classes because of my experience through learning a language through both methods. I’m not taking French next year, I will have to study it on my own now. The challenging part will be reversing all the methods I’ve been taught in class, and applying the methods I’ve learned through your blog.

Recently, I’ve started learning Mandarin. I know it isn’t good to focus on too many languages at one time, but to me, Japanese, and Mandarin are equally important. French is just a thing I’m keeping up with so that I can hold onto the friendships I’ve made through speaking French. I’m in love with Japanese. I really love learning it, and learning it is essential to go for my dreams of becoming a teacher in Japan. Mandarin has recently become something important to me because I sponsor a girl in China who is around my age. I want to learn Mandarin for her. The English I write to her is translated, but she gets both copies of the letter. When I write Mandarin to her, she is really happy. One day I hope we meet, and I want to be able to speak with her in Mandarin. So far, her English is much better than my Mandarin, but even so, I want to speak with her in her language. The friendship we have has made learning Mandarin important to me, even as important as learning Japanese. A plus to learning Mandarin is I also love to watch Taiwanese dramas.

I started learning Mandarin February of 2008. It has been five months, and seeing my progress reminds me of the progress I had in Japanese. Starting to learn Mandarin was the hardest part. Thankfully, I had my best friend who is from Mainland China who speaks Mandarin as a second language, and Cantonese as a first. She introduced me to pinyin, and taught me how to read it correctly. At first, I was embarrassed to speak Mandarin, because I feared not getting the tones right. Now, I am getting better at pronouncing it without having someone tell me how to first. Even though I learned the kanji in Japanese, I still have to learn a whole new character set, because I am learning simplified Chinese on top of Traditional Chinese (which has more characters than Japanese to begin with). From the beginning I was able to listen to Mandarin, and repeat exactly what I hear. My friend told me that I am amazing at learning languages because I have this skill. I think I only have it because I was taught how to listen through your method. That was very helpful in the beginning. What came later was remembering what I had repeated. Learning to read pinyin, oppose to the other method where numbers are used, has helped me tremendously to remember pronunciation. My progress has been very similar to my progress in Japanese. At first came being able to remember sentences. Now, I am at a point where I’m listening to dramas and songs, and hearing what I have learned in what I’m listening to. I find it amazing, because I am able to sing along with songs sooner than when I was able to in Japanese. I pick up lines more easily. Luckily, all the dramas in Mandarin have Chinese subtitles, so that helps me learn faster. Seeing the parallels in my progress with Japanese, and Mandarin really encourages me, because I now if I keep going, my Mandarin will improve to a point of being able to hold a conversation. At first, learning sentences from passages that were taken from things that don’t have a sound sample was hard for me. However, I have found that writing down everything I see while doing my SRS sentences helps me to remember the feeling of each word in that sentence, and to connect them together to form what concept the sentence is getting across. Now, my friend who was helping me is moving to another town, and she won’t be able to help me with pronunciation like she used to. I’m on my own. However, I’ll be okay. I’ll keep to the methods I’ve learned, and make sure to always get more input before outputting.

Because your blog encouraged me to learn Japanese, I am set free from needing a college that teaches it. When searching for colleges, my major disappointment was not being able to go to the college of my dreams, because it doesn’t have Japanese as a major. Now I am able to go to that college, because I am learning the language on my own! Your blog has made a major impact on my life. Thank you so much (^-^). I hope my long email hasn’t been tiring for you to read.

That’s her story 🙂 . If you’ve had success with the methods discussed on this website, please email me about it! I can put it up here and it’ll inspire other people, and you’ll save me some writing!

  20 comments for “Success Story: More in a few months of AJATT than in 4 years of school French

  1. Kaba
    July 28, 2008 at 03:18

    Unique story 🙂 Outright evidence that Khatzumoto’s method is far superior to classes~ And with the time frames for each language set right next to each other, boy does it make those university classes look bad! (*笑*)

    Anyway, your story really says a lot. One of those things that make me wanna run off and go do & add sentences like there’s no tomorrow x3

  2. Quark
    July 28, 2008 at 03:25

    too emo.

    No, seriously, good job!
    I am also getting good results with the AJATT method.
    I started studying japanese because I wanted to see if it’s possible to learn a language without doing any output at all. I don’t care about being able to speak at all (for the moment, at least) but reading literature is important to me. I’d say so far it’s working well.

  3. Chiro-kun
    July 28, 2008 at 10:54

    Success storyってのはこんなにあったっけ?;D
    まあ、ええわ!おめでとう、李洋はん!

  4. Ken
    July 28, 2008 at 20:45

    I spent 6 years trying to learn foreign languages before college. If I had AJATT then, I’m almost 100% confident I’d be fluent in another foreign language and now working on my 3rd (Japanese).

    Classroom language is useless, I’ve been living in Japan for almost a year now and the methods on this website will shoot your Japanese into super-ultra space while your peers will be struggling out of Earth’s atmosphere. At first it might feel slow [with RtK], but you will hit a point where everything makes sense.

    Just remember to never skip a day!

  5. Cush
    July 29, 2008 at 00:19

    Hi! This is a question for Plum Ocean (I.e 李洋) How many sentences are in your srs now ,and how many were in it before you actually started to get good at japanese?

  6. bubble
    July 29, 2008 at 01:57

    The title to this post sums up what both amazes and depresses me the most. I, too, took four years of French in school (high school). I placed into a low level in college, still unable to read much or hold a real conversation, and only over the summer after that quarter of French, which I spent listening to French news radio and reading articles and later books in French, did I get to anything remotely close to the level I’ve now gotten to in Japanese, after less than a year of study. My French (after a year spent in a francophone household) is still, on the whole, stronger than my Japanese, but it shocks me sometimes how much more natural Japanese already feels to me.

    I will have to stop taking Japanese classes in the fall (yes I have been taking classes at the same time, but my success is largely as a result of all the listening, I feel) and what people don’t get is that my regret is not about not being able to study the language – I can do that just fine, perhaps better without the class. What I will miss is the people (lots of fun, even if their pronunciation can be excruciating) and the easy A.

    I’m actually beginning to wonder if all those years struggling with French in a classroom setting mostly just trained me to struggle and to not have confidence in my French.

  7. Ryan
    July 29, 2008 at 04:09

    Socrates is gonna be pissed when he reads this post. If you ask a language pedagogue whether or not formal instruction is necessary to learn Japanese, he’s going to be thinking about his job security. If you ask a barber whether you need a haircut, he’ll tell you “not only do you need a haircut, you need a STYLE!” which more or less happened here. His statement about the inferiority of learning “random things” is ludicrous. The best speakers of Japanese on the planet are native speakers, and they didn’t learn with textbooks. I guess that if formal instruction is all you’ve known for decades it’s hard to rationally entertain alternatives, which is why Heisig is so vehemently opposed by the mainstream.

    Also, how can you stand simpleton characters? They’re hideous. Even the Japanese simplified characters are often questionable (広????).

  8. Quark
    July 29, 2008 at 06:12

    広 looks nice IMO.

  9. Ken
    July 29, 2008 at 12:46

    @Cush

    If you are using your sentence SRS as a gauge for completion that is a very dangerous thing to do. You have to do the kanji and listening, too. Don’t think of it as a percent till completion, it will click when your mind is ready. Just keep at it!

  10. July 29, 2008 at 14:47

    皆さんのコメントがわたしを励ましてくれます。ありがとうございます!(^-^)

    Cush: For me, what has really helped me tremendously is every day keeping to a Japanese environment, studying everything that I hear, and read. The SRS is only a tool I use to help keep the things that I am learning in my memory. It’s not something of which I base my learning. I don’t really keep track of how many sentences I have in my SRS, I’m adding more each day. To me, keeping track of how many sentences I have in it is not that important, I’m not limited to the sentences I have mined for my SRS. The base of my learning is the Japanese environment I’ve created for myself, that’s the most important part of my progress. The stronger it is, the more input I’m getting. An SRS will help you take in, and really know the input you’ve been getting, but it’ll never create new input for you.

  11. wenhailin
    July 29, 2008 at 22:39

    I not only stand “simpleton” characters, I love them! Traditional ones look scary to me – maybe once Remember the Hanzi comes out I will try to learn them 🙂

  12. July 30, 2008 at 00:36

    Seeing quite a few comments about language classrooms, I’ve got to say, not all language classrooms are created equally. This is coming from 2 perspectives, one as a student and one as a language teacher.

    I also took four years of French in high school. I was pretty good by the end. I tested out of the first two years of college French and completely outperformed my 3rd year university classmates as a freshman. By the end of my junior year (and a year in France) I was asked by a French person if I was French. Not so much an ego trip as demonstrating that “traditional” methods can and do work. Sure, it took 7 years, but it worked. Obviously I wasn’t living a 24/7 French life, so it took a bit longer than Khatzumoto’s method.

    Now for my perspective as a language teacher (I taught French for 3 years in America, now I’m teaching English in Japan), I just have to say that Khatzumoto doesn’t have a copyright on the research upon which his method is based (not that he’s ever claimed such a thing). My preferred methodology is TPRS, Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling. It’s based largely upon Krashen’s hypotheses, as is Khatzumoto’s method, while being informed by general trends in second language acquisition research as well as actual classroom, anecdotal evidence and action research. I would wager that it actually outperforms AJATT in that all input is comprehensible whereas with AJATT, input isn’t designed to be comprehensible for the learner. The learner must seek out comprehensible input or make input comprehensible on their own. TPRS underperforms in that classroom hours are severely limited compared to out of classroom hours. This obviously is a big deal, but doesn’t negate the power of a classroom based on comprehensible input. No doubt a TPRS class, plus AJATT would have incredible results.

    For a TPRS experience, you can google it and read about it (don’t confuse with TPR) or check out fluencyfast.com. No, I don’t work for them, I just believe in the method strongly. And I don’t like blanket remarks about “formal” language classrooms. (Unfortunately, they don’t have Japanese classes regularly if at all.)

    I’d also like to add that more than a methodology, it’s a student’s commitment and drive to learn a language that is of utmost importance. If a student is ambivalent or, worse, actively despises learning a foreign language, no method in the world will bring them to fluency. By the way, there are MANY people who say they want to learn a foreign language, but who don’t really mean it or who are actually ambivalent. I’d bet that for every 1 student who successfully reaches fluency following Khatzumoto’s steps, there are a 100 or more who have started and not made it. It’s because it takes commitment to acquire/learn a language. People don’t realize there is no finish line; you never stop learning a language, even your first language. It’s incredibly hard to take on a task which doesn’t have a set ending.

    Anyway, I could go on, but I think I got my point across. Not all language classes are the same, and if you want to know another language, it’s going to take time and effort and you’ll never be done.

  13. July 30, 2008 at 01:23

    Jadpan: I hope to become an English teacher in Japan one day, and I’m looking for methods that can be used in the classroom that are similar to AJATT. I will research TPRS, it sounds interesting. When I become a teacher, I want to encourage my future students to use methods similar to AJATT if they are seriously committed to learning English, or any other language. I don’t know how cirriculums work in Japan, but if I some how can, I’d like to give my students the most I can in the classroom, and advice for out of the classroom when it comes to learning a language.

  14. M. Nestor
    July 30, 2008 at 11:57

    I like the emphasis on making friends you couldn’t normally make because of linguistic boundaries, that’s a good reason. Sorry to stray off topic, but speaking of French + AJATT, can anybody recommend what they feel is the best French TTS voice?

  15. Quark
    July 30, 2008 at 13:31

    Nestor: Hey, I’m a native french speaker. I found a TTS engine the other day that can handle many languages, including french and 日本語; try it out:
    text-to-speech-translator.paralink.com/

    The french generated sounds fairly decent to me. Couple that with the learning environment and you should be good to go. =)

  16. dancc
    July 31, 2008 at 03:41

    @jadpan
    Have you ever seen the Assimil language books. I’m using the French and Japanese one and they are pretty books made up of of really short stories you try to understand and learn. Granted they are language materials so you may end up saying things like “Hello good sir, a pleasure to make your acquaintance”, but they are a good start. I plan on moving to real books and stories when I finish working through them.

  17. August 10, 2008 at 10:38

    Language classrooms can stink, and so can teachers and their dogmatic approach. And this is one such case.

    The teacher dissed a rather uh, radical approach (sorry, Khatzumoto). Classrooms can be effective etc. So what? What’s upsetting here is that he almost crushed this girl’s confidence and will to learn a foreign language because it did not fit into his controlled learning environment agenda. He also provided some bad advice. “Random” things will fall into place, some language study and exposure is better than doing nothing and waiting for college.

    TPRS, Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling, formerly known as Total Physical Response Storytelling is copyrighted (and also a mouthful). I fail to see the point. The real power of any classroom setting is not the method, it’s the teacher. And this one stinks.

  18. September 27, 2008 at 14:12

    So, my perspective has changed a little bit since I wrote this email. I still thank Khatzumoto for everything, his methods are a good guide to get yourself going. However, the more you learn, the less you really need to look at this blog, and the less you need an SRS. The more you’re immersed into a Japanese environment, the more it just becomes part of your life. I don’t look back at this blog anymore, nor do I use an SRS anymore. I’ve found my own way into learning languages, and I think everyone should try to find their own way too… using sites like these to help grow that method. Everyone has their own path that’s right for them.

    Also, classes aren’t bad. After Japanese camp, I realized that. As long as they are taught fully in Japanese, with no English ever being said unless someone is in danger, or is misbehaving terribly. That’s my theory. I teach English as a Second Language now, and I really love it (^-^). Japanese camp really gave me that push into good Japanese conversations. I learned so much there. However, it was this site that taught me how to study on my own, and this site that gave me the confidence that it can be done. I encourage everyone to not follow this site 100% down to every word. Learning a language is something personal, and no method is perfect for everyone. Everyone needs to find their own way. I used to think this site was amazing, and held the perfect method, but I realized even I have gone off into my own method that works for me.

    Also, methods aren’t set in stone! They are like seeds. The more you nuture them with personal experience, and outside influence, the larger they grow as unique trees.

  19. linus
    September 3, 2009 at 16:51

    It always surprises me to see people who want to learn French. Anyway, if you need some pieces of advice about words/expressions/way of telling things, or what GOOD French stuff to watch/listen, as a French native speaker I may be able to help;
    linus_hoppe@hotmail.com

  20. JoyJoyJoy
    December 4, 2009 at 21:12

    Nice story !

    I think that language classrooms suck, but it is due to the way they teachers teach, I mean, it could be better, I think it is possible to adapt the ajatt/antimoon method.

    We start learning foreign languages at the age of 12, and I don’t think that at this age all kids are mature enough to go through the ajatt method by themselves. A teacher could be useful to teach them the ajatt method and give them some motivation.

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