This “burn-out” issue [as discussed here, here and here] is really interesting. Now, all you wusses out there — you know I’m just having fun with you; I don’t actually think you’re wusspots, I just think that you’re morally inferior to me.
BACK UP! You were NOT supposed to see that right there. We’re all special and…
OK, never mind. But, seriously, you know I’m just screwing with you. I think the world does people a disservice in two ways. First, it tells them it’s normal and OK not to have fun for the majority of one’s life. Second, it tells them that it’s OK to feel and act helpless in the face of all this. The result is this disgusting push to mediocrity. But we don’t have to accept boredom, nor do we have to accept weaksauce and being, I dunno…less than we can be? We should join the Army and die? Really, I don’t know, I’m just as lost and vague on this as most people are.
Anyway, after that paragraph of nothing, let’s get to the point.
Let me tell you why you might need a break from Japanese. It is not because of the inherent structure of your brain or some other lamo reason. After all, there are people who have essentially spent their entire lives in a single language and never “needed a break”. The reason, I think, most people need a break from Japanese is because they’re always struggling, always reaching, always try to get somewhere. Always looking at where they aren’t, where they should be, where they could be, where they want to be. If you learn to let go of this and just be Japanese — be, in Japanese — then you will never need a break. If you merely accept Japanese or whatever your L2 is, as the primary reality of your life, as reality itself, then you will never feel the need to escape from it. It is only your thoughts that are tiring you. If you stop having tiring thoughts, you stop feeling tired.
In my hardcore Japanese phase, I didn’t take breaks. Not consciously. Partly because of my moral superiority and saint-like nature and Naruto-like drive. And partly because:
- I sucked at scheduling and getting myself to “do thing T on day D of any given week W”; I really did. And, well, do.
- Knowing my own character, I knew that if I gave myself an English centimeter, I would take an English kilometer; in fact, I would take several English kilometers. Dude, I would take light year. One thing would just lead to another and before you know it I’d have been one of those guys in a forum talking about how: “Ah done tried immerse me in some Jyapnaze wonce…hehe. That shiz is impossible”.
- The fact of living in America and being a college student naturally forced me to leave my Japanese bubble at least some of the time anyhow, so why should I go out of my way to throw gasoline on the English fire threatening my precious wooden Japanese house? There’s a joke in there somewhere about the KKK circling Malcolm X’s childhood home, but…I don’t think it’s worth picking up.
OK, so, what if this still isn’t enough for you? What if you still feel the need for a break? I have the suggestion of a lifetime for you and it is this:
Take a break.
Or whatever L3 is for you. Take a break from L2 in an L3. Important: do not try to learn L3; it’s not for learning…it’s for…breaking to; it’s for resting; it’s for not learning. That’s the idea here, at least.
So, if you’re a native English speaker doing AJATT for Japanese, and you’re feeling “combusted”, feeling “extinguished”, feeling “burned out”, then take a break into Korean…or Hindi…or Spanish, or anything, as long as it’s a language that you suck at, that you know considerably less of than L2. Let’s call this language L3.
Why? At least seven reasons. DJ, break it down!
(1) It’ll be amusing. Languages you don’t know sound like amusing gibberish.
(2) You will realize how amazing you actually are at L2. Learning by immersing in native materials has the one downside that it can make you blind to just how good you’re getting, since you’re always comparing yourself to native speakers, you’re always seeing the delta between your current self and the destination — while rarely getting a chance to see the delta between yourself and the starting point. Often, all it takes to feel energized and confident again is to see how far you’ve come. Before going to Korea, I listened to some RTHK podcasts for Cantonese-speaking learners of Korean [sequel here]. And I realized that my-Cantonese-OWNED, relatively speaking: I could follow almost all of what they were saying, and of course I could read and everything. Conversely, Korean was a total blank. Korean was like…WTF? Circles? TF?
(3) If you’re in a frame of mind that requires a break, then this same frame of mind will be refreshed by a break to L3, but will also be unable to stay in L3 too long, since:
(4) L3 lacks the familiarity, the draw-you-into-a-downward-spiral capability, of L1. Returning to L1 is more than simply watching one program or listening to one song. Returning to L1 is to plug back into the whole matrix, the whole web of materials, relationships and interconnections that you have made in your years of L1 experience. As such, it is a dangerous thing.
(5) A flirtation with L3 can restore in you the sense of curiosity and wonder that brought you to learn L2 in the first place. Anyone who’s learning an L2 feels a “need” to do it, but this “need” is not as strong as the “need” to breathe. Really it’s a “want”, right? It’s fulfilling a “wouldn’t it be cool, if…” I know I make an effort to get people feeling uncomfortable with illiteracy in Sino-Japanese; I think illiteracy is inexcusable. But, you know, really, this language thing is generally fulfilling a desire of ours, a dream; we’re explorers — like Dora, not Christopher all-your-base-are-belong-to-me-now-I-kill-you-AND-your-couch Columbus. Dude, why am I talking about Columbus? Oh yeah, curiosity, wonder — if you’ve lost this in the sea of obligation and “gotta do more reps” and measurement and execution, then a trip to L3 can give this back to you. What’s more you get to take this 元氣 (juvenile energy?) back to your L2 journey.
(6) Most people learning an L2 have interest in further language-learning. “Interest” is too tame a word — it’s closer to greed, LUST, YEEEARNING! Unfortunately, I often see this interest take an unproductive turn — people “learning” multiple languages simultaneously but really just “sucking” at all of them. To be fair, I speak mostly of myself here: there appear to be people who get the MSLA (multiple simultaneous language acquisition) thing working well, but focussing on one thing at a time is much faster and in the end much funner — you get results sooner, leading to a big boost in confidence, and more rapid economic benefits.
Trying to do too much at once tends to drag and lead nowhere — as the saying goes, “the hunter who chases two rabbits catches neither” [by the way, in my experience, there is next to 0 financial return for “kind of” knowing a language, but as soon as you really know a language, you’ll be having to turn opportunities down: this seems to be true regardless of the size of user base, such that thoroughly-learned Icelandic shall tend to serve you better economically than broken Mandarin, although then again if you are in the country where a certain language is spoken, even a minimal knowledge of it is obviously far better than total ignorance. Anyway, rather than have your mental and financial energies divided between two languages, better to acquire one first and then use it a mental and financial hook for the second: emotionally, this decision can be painful — but methinks you’re better off making it than suffering the consequences of evading it]. So, breaking to an L3 is potentially a constructive outlet for the wanderlust that plagues so many of us.
(7) Best of all, when you come back to L2, you will feel like a champ. You’ll be like: “HOLY CRAP! Look at all the stuff I understand!!!” Basically, the sojourn in the truly foreign L3 will make L2 seem totally like home. When I was in Korea, I might as well have been born and raised in Hong Kong because Cantonese sounded like the soothing lullabies of my mother, cooing me to sleep all: “乖呀，乖呀小寶寶，唔使驚呀”[ “ssssh….hush now…you’re safe…it’s Cantonese, motherlover,…no more circles…ssssh…”]. If learning L2 is like running uphill, then switching to L3 is like running uphill with a 50kg backpack: put that thing on for a while — when you finally take it off, life will seem a whole lot easier.
It is like a 50kg backpack, but not nearly as sucky — in fact, it’s actually a lot of fun (see point # 1, above) — so, yeah, try it out! Make your break destination an L3! The break doesn’t have to be long, or complicated; it doesn’t even have to be total. I once watched a Thai movie (Ong Bak!) with Japanese subtitles, and the process left me feeling like a dog having the base of her tail scratched; I really felt like…vegan cookies dipped in soymilk; it was delicious and gave me a lot of confidence in my Japanese, which looked amazing when seen next to my zero Thai knowledge.
Anyway, try it. Go to the red, Krypotonian sun of L3; then return to the yellow, Terran sun of L2 with superhuman comprehension abilities.
I wonder if there’s Prison Break in Polish…