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Sun Tsu and Language Learning

This entry is part 1 of 14 in the series Best of AJATT+ Forum

Rigabamboo here! I moderate the AJATT+ forums, so some of you may recognize me as that weirdo who checks for OL2Ls and spams the forums with posts about obscure 漢字 that nobody needs to know, ever.


This is the first post in a new series in which I share what I consider to be the best of the AJATT+ forum. Enjoy!


"I will make you awesome at Japanese." -Sun Tsu


Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.


Beloved AJATT+ member ダンちゃん shares his revelations about language learning from his Monbusho interview. You know any post with a Sun Tsu quote is going to be awesome.


How does ダンちゃん relate Sun Tsu to his Monbusho interview? In his words:


While this was an important interview for me, at no point did I try to ‘win’, either with specific preparation in the months, weeks and days leading up, nor with particular focused effort during. All I did was turn up, and show something of myself which was already there anyway.


Get it? Cramming doesn’t work. Cramming is like going to war and then trying to win. Do it that way and you’ll probably end up on the wrong side of a spear. Instead… just set yourself up to win all the time. FORGET about winning. FORGET about the war. The war itself actually becomes inconsequential. Of course you’ll win, just like you have been up to now. Don’t sweat it. Just keep setting yourself up to win and rest assured that it’ll happen.


Read the original post here.

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  14 comments for “Sun Tsu and Language Learning

  1. September 22, 2011 at 09:10

    But, but… I’m not an AJATT+ member! I can’t read the original forum post. 🙁
    *insert an offer to Kana-tan to become one for free here, for being so lovely, charming and witty and so on*

    • ダンちゃん
      September 22, 2011 at 09:34

      Hehe, maybe that’s the idea. 

      Let me give something of a summary. It’s basically about taking a different perspective on effort.

      I have had several people suggest (post AJATT) that I have a talent for learning languages on the basis of knowing that I am fluent and literate in Japanese, something which is taken to be extremely difficult. The truth is however that I have no such talent. If they had been with me each minute that I watched, read, listened, spoke, and wrote Japanese, they would find absolutely nothing surprising at all. (Of course he can speak Japanese, just about all he bloody ever does is listen to it!) In other words, if you make it your life day after day, success becomes inevitable. It is simply a matter of making that choice to stick to it over enough time, typically far more time than many (most?) people are willing to spend.

      There are those who criticize Khatzumotos advice as ‘extreme’ and ‘inefficient’. I think this comes from focusing too much on numbers like ‘10,000 hours’ and forgetting that the majority of those ‘hours’ are not spent putting in any focused ‘effort’, rather they are indicative of the environment you have chosen to put yourself in in order to secure inevitable success. Can you do it without such intensive immersion? OF COURSE!! But if this is your first foreign language, and you have had problems with quitting and dropping out, going for a full immersion environment is like giving yourself a safety net. Just be there every day and you will start rocking.

      • September 24, 2011 at 07:26

        Most of my classmates react this way when they notice that I’m fluent in English. Heck, some of my teachers thought I lived in the US for 3+ years. I’ve never been to the US–I do listen LOTS of stuff in English, though.
        I’m tired of people thinking that I have some kind of gift. My English pronunciation was downright horrible about 5 years ago.
        Like you said, listening to music isn’t hard.

      • September 26, 2011 at 01:42

        I think the idea of that it’s all about collecting 10,000 sentences or listening to 10,000 hours is kind of setting a poor goal for oneself. I never even set out to create an immersion environment, which was something that just kind of gradually built up over time, and which I really can’t find at all frustrating. In fact, it would be very difficult at this point to stop the immersion environment.
        Having read the Stephen Krashen article on language acquisition, it stood to reason that if language was acquired by input just beyond what one already knows, but there’s know way to know precisely which order that should be, that it would be beneficial to listen and read as often as one can, to get more of those +1 moments. From personal experience I can say that it works better than so-called “efficient” methods.

        • September 26, 2011 at 04:11

          I’ve made up a few rules that I try to abide by. When I’m in front of the computer or in my room, I’m listening to something in English. I only listen to American music, and I rarely watch TV in my native language.
          10,000 sentences isn’t enough. 10,000 hours of listening is a nice goal, though. I don’t like keeping track of my listening hours, so I just try to get as much done as possible.
          Immersion environments can be frustrating sometimes, but it’s usually because the “immersee” is running out of interesting material.
          Buying a few DVD boxsets seems to temporarily solve my problem when I feel like I can’t do this whole listening thing anymore.
          I feel guilty and frustrated when I’m too tired to turn on the TV in the evening. I’ve been working way too much lately and I’ve had to sacrifice the “fun” things.

    • September 24, 2011 at 07:27

      I’ll probably register sooner or later. AJATT+ seems really interesting.

  2. 空間
    September 22, 2011 at 11:52

    Hey there, ダンちゃん! This post has come at quite a fortuitous time for me! I was actually persuaded a few days ago to look into the MEXT scholarships, so maybe you’ll be able to help me by answering a question or two.

    I’m aiming for the one year trip, as I’m already a sophomore in college, and they require fluency to apply for this. I figure it’ll serve nicely as a time limit, much like Khatz had with his interviews, which will help keep me on track. I must ask, though, is there anything I can do to give me an edge on my application? I know Khatz isn’t a big fan of the JLPT, but does it help? I’ve read the MEXT website, and I know they test you in a wide variety of areas (their tests look like a… college entrance exam, funnily enough!), one of which is Japanese, so will a good score on the JLPT be irrelevant?

    Thanks for reading, and if you have any other pieces of advice or interesting tidbits, please, do tell!

    • ダンちゃん
      September 23, 2011 at 10:08

      Hi there 空間. Sure, if you want to take JLPT it might help. I should mention though that I have no JLPT qualifications at all, but that didn’t stop me from getting into a department that requires very high level Japanese in a very good school. How did I do it? I aced the Japanese test MEXT provided, and I also directly communicated with the professor of my desired department in Japanese. So, like Khatz says, real ability will open doors in most situations.
      I should note by the way that most people who come to Japan on a mext scholarship know little to no Japanese at all! Generally this is because they are not researching an area that requires such knowledge inherently, and they can communicate with their proff in English. In general, if you are set on getting a MEXT scholarship, what you need is good enough grades and recommendations to put you ahead of the other people in your country that you are competing against for limited places.
      Best of luck!

  3. Erick
    September 23, 2011 at 12:28

    Hey, if you are going to quote 孫子, a least do it in 中文, please! 

    • Dustin
      September 23, 2011 at 12:33

      Please don’t, because some of us are becoming fluent in other languages than Japanese!  Sure it’s all Japanese all the time, but at least give the rest of us a break and add a cheater English javascript alert or something.

  4. ライトニング
    September 27, 2011 at 15:44

    Would anybody recommend going through RTK again? I realized I have been getting somewhat forgetful with Kanji. Let’s take 仮面 for example. Lol, I don’t even remember what 仮 means. I’m afraid though, If I go through it, something bad might happen to my sentences or something.

    • rigabamboo
      October 3, 2011 at 11:37

      Are the RTK kanji in your SRS? If not, then I would 100% recommend doing RTK again and adding them to your SRS.

  5. L
    October 12, 2011 at 23:20

    I just restarted doing Kanji after putting it off for a couple of years.  My 2nd year in Japan was horrible, I went through the RTK book in a year and didn’t gain anything from it.  I had the immersion thing down, but didn’t get into sentences until the beginning of my third year.  3 years of time wasted..  Visualization never did me any good. 
    But the Lazy Kanji and some of the LK mods here are pretty good.  Memorizing the kanji through RTK method was never any good for me because it took too much work to think of stories for the kanji, actually VISUALIZE them, drill them, and in reviewing, produce the the visualization to facilitate the production of the kanji in question.  I mean, as someone  pointed out (I think it was Kendo), the only thing that the RTK is good for was the breaking of radicals.  That’s it.  In any case, I do this instead and got ideas from some of the people here. 
    Front:  Consider the WORDS you say in PUBLIC less you get _____.
    Back:  訴(訟)ーそーしょうーlawsuit keyword:  sue Japanese kun: Japanese on: ショウ
    No need to visualize here, no need to think hard about the other keywords contained in the kanji in question.  Plus in this way, you are hitting two birds with one stone–as you write down the pictographs for the keywords’ equivalents, you produce the kanji…but you get the added benefit of associating the kanji with the keyword through the card’s hints.  Sometimes I don’t even have to read the card anymore, just scan for the keywords and then produce the kanji and the keyword associated with that kanji.  It’s made things so much easier and has helped memorizing the kanji wayyy more efficient. 

  6. James
    December 13, 2011 at 13:11

    The book Ender’s Game personifies this exact wisdom. I don’t want to spoil it, but the war is over before you even realize it only as long as your perspective is that you’re not even fighting one – if that makes sense. Good book, & this is great wisdom. Nice post.

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