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Taking A Break: The Third Way

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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”.
  3. 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.

In Korean.

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…

  48 comments for “Taking A Break: The Third Way

  1. toadhjo
    October 29, 2008 at 14:15

    So…anybody have any good K-drama recommendations…?

  2. Jon
    October 29, 2008 at 14:57

    This entry was awesome – I just wanted to thank you.
    It’s really motivated me.

  3. Alyks
    October 29, 2008 at 15:48

    Cool. You know what I do? I have this one Japanese manga that I really want to read (ghost in the shell), but just haven’t gotten around to it, because it’s really hard, and I want to understand it more than I currently do, and I’m lazy. Anyway, I remember when first got it, before even starting kanji learning. I couldn’t get past the stupid first page, it was incredibly hard. Every now and then I open it up and find that I understand so much more than the last time I opened it up. I think “wow, look at how far I’ve gotten!”

  4. David
    October 29, 2008 at 16:58

    Learning a third language isn’t so bad. But, I think I’d quickly talk myself out of it because I would just think about how much I could learn in L2 if I avoid distractions. I don’t ever find myself needing a break from L2. I think between school and reading this site it pretty much serves as my “pain relief.”

    I don’t remember which post it was, but it was about ditching things that you no longer like, and finding stuff to watch/listen to that is of your particular taste. Well, I did some searching and totally refreshed my collection of music to listen to. What’s nice is, just like learning a L3 for a little while to make you realize how good L2 is, listening to new music enough will make the older stuff enjoyable again. At least, that’s how it works with me.

    I’m still in the Kanji phase, and I predict it taking a few more weeks before I reach the big 2042. I actually plan on going for 3007 Kanji with the Heisig method. However, I’m going to be doing from 2043-3007 while I’m making my start on sentences. I’m actually really anxious to get started on that part. When I started to understand AJATT better, I really began to think just how fun it would be to basically be playing a game. A game where you hunt down sentences while enjoying my favorite media, on top of doing flash cards. Which, flash cards in mnemosyne are already really fun for me.

    I went ahead and invested in Text-to-speech, because I want to try the dictation style of cards right from the start. And idea I got from that was to actually take the .mp3 files and stick them on my iPod for listening to in random order. I don’t know how effective this would be, but it just came across as a random thought when I was trying to continue adding to my environment.

    And, I actually wouldn’t mind trying to learn Korean. It has interested me for a while.

  5. Savara
    October 29, 2008 at 17:24

    So much truth in this one… I only realise how much I understand of German, when I hear some of the girls here speaking Swedish and I don’t understand anything at all.
    I only realise how much I am getting of Japanese now, when I watch something in Mandarin or Korean (which indeed, sounds like… nonsense/gibberish).

    Hmmm languages are so much fun~

  6. Chris
    October 29, 2008 at 17:48

    There’s a very interesting point here, namely that of “language cross-training” (as Steve Kaufmann called it in a recent blog of his). I know German very well, and French is creeping up behind it (and I’m beginning “all Mandarin all the time” in approximately 2 weeks from now, hence my reading of this awesome site), and I notice in listening intensively to French even for just a week (this is effectively my L3), when I go back to German, suddenly it sounds like English to me. That is, in doing next to nothing in German, I somehow IMPROVED it by listening to another language. Sounds somewhat counter-intituitive, but I think the reason is that listening to a language one is weaker in, forces you to concentrate more, such that when you return to a more familiar language, the workload is reduced and you feel right at home. I can only imagine the effect my Mandarin studies will have on my French!

  7. Ivan the Terrible
    October 29, 2008 at 18:33

    Done and done. Japanese has been my language break from Mandarin ever since the beginning of September. Not only is it great fun and great stress relief, it’s a great reminder of how far I’ve come in my knowledge of 漢字; the characters are no longer an intimidating barrier but an instant memory prod as to the meaning of whatever Japanese word I’m studying .

    たべる? たべる?什麼意思﹗﹖
    食﹖’食物’的食﹖噢﹗食べる = 吃!

  8. vgambit
    October 29, 2008 at 19:05

    My problem isn’t so much the language itself as it is the Heisig learning. At first it was amazing. Then I got to 200 and it became rote. 🙁

    Game Center CX, Downtown, various old Super Sentai shows, and podcasts never get old, but… This damn Heisig just starts to drain after a while.

  9. WC
    October 29, 2008 at 20:12

    I was just reading something about this on another blog and their reasoning was different, but they came to the same conclusion: Use a lesser language for breaks. They said it actually makes them learn L2 better for a while after a break to L3.

    Another thing I’ve found that helps me is to break out of my normal studies and do something different. Watch an anime you wouldn’t have normally watched, pick up a new medium (magazine, newspaper), etc. For some reason, recognizing things in something you wouldn’t have seen before is very encouraging for me.

  10. wenhailin
    October 29, 2008 at 20:46

    toadhjo, I would recommend Coffee Prince. Its about a girl who looks a lot like a boy and gets a job working in a cafe where they only accept guys (coffee princes) hence she puts on the act of being a guy. Then she starts liking the boss, and he starts liking her, but he thinks she is a he and so he is kinda freaked out for a while. Quite funny 🙂

    I watch an episode when I get a little burnt out with my mandarin. But I watch it on a chinese website, so it has chinese subtitles, so I am still working on my mandarin. The subtitles go so fast that I think my reading speed is starting to improve.

    Hope you like it!

  11. October 29, 2008 at 21:49

    Nice post. Great idea. A never-would-have-thought-of-it-myself-but-it-makes-total-sense moment. I think it’s almost harder when you are working on your L3 and let yourself compare it to your fluent L2. Knowing all the conscious time and effort that went into the L2 sometimes makes it hard to stay motivated on the L3. An L4 would be a welcomed counterbalance.

    @vgambit Hang in there!! Don’t worry about the finish line, because there isn’t one. There will always be another kanji you don’t know. Worry about doing a little each day. Just make sure what you do is sustainable. That’s the best advice I can give. Think sustainable. Do 10 to 20 new kanji a day. Write them on actual flash cards and then input them in your SRS. Carry around your most recent 100-200 flashcards and do them when you have a second and keep up with your scheduled SRS reviews when at a computer. If the review has become a chore, then do time-boxing or something else Khatzumoto has suggested. If the actual making of new flashcards and memorizing of stories is boring, liven them up. Back at 200, Heisig is still making the stories for you. Maybe that’s what’s boring. It’s pretty important to stick with his story lines, but you can liven them up with how you envision them. But realize pretty soon he let’s you loose and you get 100% creative control. (And at times you’ll be wishing he was nice enough to give you a ready made story for vulture+eye+silver+glue=baron.)

    I know some people can power through Heisig in a month. But I was where you are. I started last October. I made it strong through December at about 5 or 600. Then I got stuck. 3 months later I finally restarted. There were several more missteps and restarts and “breaks”. It took a year, but I finished book 1 last week. You will love the feeling when you get here. But know that you WILL look back and kick yourself for any and all the wasted time you had. What I don’t regret is finally deciding that 20 new kanji a day was enough (since I kept trying to do more and would get burned out). Slow and steady was how I finally finished.

    Gambatte kudasai!!

  12. Ken
    October 29, 2008 at 22:58

    what happens if your L3 becomes more fluent than your L2… lol… I could imagine this happening in a non-kanji language (I don’t know the technical term sorry).

    have a question for the community though…. do you know of any good Japanese->X language sites? I was trying to help a Japanese friend find beginner sites for Romanian (J->R), but that was a nightmare. Anyone have good ideas? (^^)

  13. Daniel
    October 29, 2008 at 23:13

    Dude I was gonna “learn Spanish [again] after Japanese” but now I’m totally just gonna jump right in. If I find a basic “Learn Spanish” textbook in Japanese I’m golden. Thanks for the motivation!

  14. Jonathan
    October 29, 2008 at 23:19

    Hangul DOES have a lot of circles, doesn’t it? What’s up with that?

  15. Shirow66
    October 30, 2008 at 01:18

    I would be very interested in learning Korean after Japanese, so if anyone has literature recommendations etc please don’t hesitate to share with the rest of us.

  16. Linda
    October 30, 2008 at 02:14

    That post is so great, really motivating.
    I’m learning Korean deeply and Japanese on the side.
    My fiance is also learning Japanese so I have a kind of double immersion. Korean when I’m alone and Japanese when we are together. That work well. I kind of started to understand better Korean or at least to realise that I was understanding stuff when I started to have the Japanese environement.
    I’m also recognising Japanese words when they are commun with Korean’s and the opposite as well. I think it’s great help.
    Asian Movies and Drama are available here :
    I like “Virgin Snow” because it’s in Japanese and Korean at the same time.

  17. October 30, 2008 at 03:50

    I’ve discovered this too and I think I may have an 8th reason for you! When I started learning Japanese I noticed that my schoolgirl French began to come to mind unbidden during lessons and something “clicked” in my brain which made Japanese a little easier. It’s hard to describe, though.

    I noticed that everything became more abstract so that objects and concepts (like verbs etc…) were no longer completely tied to the words from my mother tongue. For example when we are little we will be told that a book is a “book” and one of the big hurdles when learning a language is to get over that but mostly when we learn a 2nd language we teach ourselves that is it also called “un livre” but, deep down, it’s still really a “book.” But, come the 3rd the language, that word-identity seems to go and it becomes just as easy to apply “hon” to the now abstract concept of a bunch of paper bound together as it is the other words – you won’t always remember the word from the new language but you won’t be hampered by trying to get the English word out of your head before you can remember it, either. It seems to me it’s kind of the halfway mark to starting to think in the new language – first you have to stop thinking in your mother tongue.

    Does that make any sense at all? lol

    (I wrote a more eloquent piece on it on my blog several months ago when it first struck, if anyone would like to read it. )

  18. Mike
    October 30, 2008 at 06:07

    Yeah I know what you mean Danielle. It like when you are watching a Japanese TV show, and you understand a lot of the words, but deep down, you are subconsciously translating to English. This is why I am going monolingual once I add a couple hundred more sentences to my SRS, to make Japanese more “natural” to my brain or whatever.

    Also, Khatzumoto has mentioned another strategy for “burn out”. The “1 more” technique. Whenever I don’t feel like doing Japanese, I just say I will do one. Listen to one song. Look up one sentence. Read one paragraph. However, Japanese is just like your native language in that it has that same “Domino effect” were if you do one thing, you will naturally do more and more.

    Anyways, after seeing Shanghai Typhoon (which any respectable AJATTer has seen!) I had a strange drawing towards Chinese. However, I have not felt enough “burn out” to start spending my Japanese time on Chinese.

    I, like Khatzumoto, don’t really think burnout exists. I mean, if you work in a factory with no air conditioning for 13 hours a day you may very well be burnt out, but I see nothing about watching a movie, reading a comic, or playing a video game (Even in a foreign language) that can burn you out. JMHOT (Just my humble opinion though…)

  19. Sebastian V.
    October 30, 2008 at 08:53

    To all gamers out there… there are lots of starcraft games with Korean commentary, those might be useful. 😉

  20. NDN
    October 31, 2008 at 02:41

    Wow! I was going to complete a last comment on this “burn-out” thing in the other post but after seeing this post, I’m completely sure the message was received and with sugar added.

    One thing I really thought of a couple of months ago is: babies don’t choose their native language and don’t get burned out, why should I? They can’t even say if they like it or not. They LIVE their language like there are no more words beyond what they know(+1 rule). It’s pretty amazing.

    On the other hand, an adult can choose what he/she REALLY wants to learn/do and clear the path to achieve his/her dream even if it means “BECOMING” a baby again. In this case, a Japanese baby.

    Another thing I picked up from master Yoda(Star Wars) and that stuck with me was something like: “When training, the pupil does not need impatience.” and “You must clear your mind from all questions.”. These are not perfect copies ’cause I was reading the subtitles in Portuguese, though. 😀

  21. Pasqual Hart
    October 31, 2008 at 03:35

    Nice post, seems like a good way not to get burned out, I haven’t hit the stage where I am bored of the Japanese. I started kind of doing the AJATT method, haven’t listened to anything English all of last week and this week so far, it doesn’t give me a headache and I have learned quite a few things since I am already kind of the “intermediate” level on a classroom basis. I tried taking Korean at school along with Japanese and I had to study for several hours (like 7 or 8 a day) just to get a C-, so I took a break from Korean and I think i’ll wait until I am at the level I want to be in Japanese. I still watch Korean movies a lot because I find them more interesting that Japanese movies, maybe because the speech seems more “comedic” and theres always something random going on. Well except a movie like Old Boy.

  22. Kalu
    October 31, 2008 at 04:56

    I’ve never felt “burnt out” with Japanese. I wake up every day wanting to learn more. Nice post though.

  23. Yuna
    November 1, 2008 at 00:21

    I wish English was my first language (sigh)…
    Thanks Khatzumoto, you always cheer me up haha~
    And yes, there is Prison Break in Polish…when I lived in Poland I used to watch it (I’m Polish) but now I live in England…You want to learn Polish or something? ;))

  24. November 1, 2008 at 00:32

    Hm, I’m seeing some people making comments about “I’ll do language x next to language y”, THIS ISN’T WHAT YOU SHOULD DO! Khatz only means that you should listen to some language x to realize how good you’re at language y. To be honest: I’d find it a waste of time because every minute away from Spanish (my target language) would feel like a waste.

    Overall; this site is called “All Japanese All The Time”, not “All Japanese Spiced With Some Korean”. Remember that.

  25. November 1, 2008 at 05:35

    Hey, this is a good idea! I recently watched the Korean movie Il Mare and enjoyed it, though I really didn’t understand what they were saying. I’m going to take a break with K-dramas if I get bored. Thanks man.

  26. Roderik
    November 2, 2008 at 04:55

    The comment below is not constructive in any way, but I would still just like to tell you that:

    I am very happy and rather impressed with your last articles concerning taking a break. It is therefore that you have my heartfelt thanks. Keep up the good work!


  27. November 2, 2008 at 06:15

    I no longer study Japanese full time, but a couple of ways that I take a break that keeps my language going is watching movies, and playing video games… I got “its a wonderful world” すばらしきこの世界 for the DS before I left Japan, its a long RPG with lots of text… so whenever I play that I’m reading Japanese anyway… but it’s still tons of fun. Sometimes if I hit a phrase I don’t understand I’ll look it up desperately just to ensure that I keep up with the story that I’m so engrossed in!

    I remember when I was a kid (yeah I’m that old) I got Chrono Trigger for the Super Nintendo, but I got it from Japan, so it was all in Japanese. Oh, that and Ogre Battle! I so wanted to play those games! They were -so- in Japanese… I SO SLOGGED THROUGH IT!

    Had a blast though.

    Who said slacking isn’t educational?

    – Harvey

  28. smithsan
    November 3, 2008 at 11:28

    Did you know there’s a course that teaches you to write, record and promote rap?
    Learn how to rap fast here

  29. Aliza
    November 4, 2008 at 13:17

    LOL, I’m referring to Korean as “circles” from now on.

  30. November 5, 2008 at 19:21

    You didn’t anticipate one thing – What if you like your L3 better than your L2?!

    Korean makes a lot more sense to me now that I’m 準上級 in 日本語. (Will I ever claim native fluency? Doubt it!)

    For anyone out there looking for Korean entertainment, MAN or WOMAN have I got a couple of suggestions for you.

    1. For the drama addicts, try 대~한민국 변호사 (translated as Lawyers of Korea, although the pun in the title is much more than that)

    2. If you want an entertaining variety show, hands down 미녀들의 수다 (Translated as a few variations of Talking Beauties, Beauties Chit Chat, or something else along those lines) is the best. It’s a panel-format talk show with an international group of “foreign beauties”. Enlist your Korean friends to find you episodes.

    If you’re considering Korean after having studied Japanese, you’ll find it to be a walk in the cake, or a piece of park.


    Harvey – I had Ogre Battle, too, for SNES, but the Japanese cartridge didn’t fit my system! I wonder what ever happened to it. I’d like to give it a shot now.

  31. November 9, 2008 at 10:50

    Okay, though this may or may not be the place for it, I’d like to share this totally random epiphany that I’ve had about this site/method with you (maybe I’ll just make a fool out of myself, but oh well…). Actually, it may have something to do with this post because this is kind of about phase 0 (the believing in yourself/mindset phase) -ish, and that’s sort of related to what I discovered.

    So, I’ve been doing research on the Krashen and the Input Hypothesis for a research paper, and recently I’ve been reading “The Natural Approach: Language Acquisition in the Classroom” by Krashen and Tracy Terrell. I was reading this part near the beginning where they’re talking about age differences in light of second language acquisition theory. Basically, they said that the reason children before puberty are more likely to be successful in acquiring a second language is because, after puberty, the “Affective Filter” becomes stronger for a variety of reasons. This really means that changes in our *attitude* after puberty seriously limit the effect that input has has on our language acquisition.

    *ATTITUDE.* Wow. I was like, “Hmm…isn’t phase one about acquiring the right *attitude*?!?!” That’s totally what phase 0 is about, isn’t it? It’s all about “lowering the affective filter” so ALL JAPANESE ALL THE TIME has an effect on us. I feel like I’ve just gone behind the scenes at Disneyland and seen Mickey Mouse with his mask off and unlocked the secrets of everything!…not really…

    Anyways, I was just excited to discover that the whole “mindset” phase really isn’t just for wusses, lol, but it’s actually a carefully crafted implementation of The Natural Approach.

    Was this post totally out of place, lol? Sorry. Good Job, Khatz!

  32. November 9, 2008 at 10:51

    edit: I think I said phase one at a certain point when I really meant to say phase 0…

  33. mike
    November 11, 2008 at 05:35

    Again, very good writing.

    I am learning spanish (as the L2 in this) and i would also like to learn japanese. When i need to, i plan to take a break by doing something in japanese, but the only problem is that i have a drive to learn japanese as well. i’m not too sure what to do. i have many resources for learning both languages, but i’ve tried and i know that it’s much better to learn one language at a time and learn it well than just to kind-of-know a language. I have done this before, listening to japanese radio on the internet, and when i return to my spanish, i do feel like i know a ton. i’m just not too sure on what to do about my want to learn both languages at the same time. Does anyone ever feel like this/get these feelings as well?

    ah anyway, a very good and inspiring article Khatz.

  34. sabita
    November 18, 2008 at 04:05

    from my experience, focusing on a third language as a means to remind yourself how far you’ve come in your second language is a good idea as long as 1. your third language does not possess many similarities (i.e. they are not in the same language group, as in, romance, germanic or altaic, et cetera) with your native language, and 2. you are learning a new alphabet.

    for example, as a native english speaker, i found that practicing spanish as a 3rd language when i grew a bit too tired of practicing japanese did not do anything but show me how much easier spanish would have been to learn as my 2nd language than japanese. once you have at least a flimsy grasp of grammar, reading spanish is not difficult; the vocabulary is so similar i can generally read a wikipedia article with only looking up a few words here and there in my spanish/english dictionary. granted, i may be a bit ahead of the game because i have some experience with french, but irregardless, it’s best to pick something with many dissimilarities to your native language family if you really want to be slapped in the face with, “wow, i REALLY don’t know this at all.”

    before i decided to learn spanish, i had a short-lived triste with korean and russian, and THAT was a real lesson in learning my absolute incompetence at picking up a new language totally unfamiliar to me. korean’s alphabet was probably the easiest alphabet to learn–maybe even easier than when i learned the english alphabet in preschool–but the length and pronunciation of words were an annoyance; when i started learning the russian alphabet, with pronunciation and characters that look exactly like an english character but sound completely different, i was ready to hang myself.

  35. Mallory
    November 27, 2008 at 00:41

    So…it’s okay to take a break, unless it’s in English?
    So, if I’m a little burnt-out (only on Japanese immersion, trying to find some cool new tunes to keep me interested, I can still learn kanji and all that perfectly, no problem), it’s ok to keep doing Japanese kanji-learning and all that, but listen to Mandarin (L3 for me after Japanese) music?


    Sorry my grammar’s so atrocious

  36. Seth
    November 30, 2008 at 14:11

    I haven’t suffered any sort of burn out, so I wasn’t poised to try this one out anytime soon. However, I had the chance to watch Ang Lee’s “Lust, Caution” this weekend and there’s a very, very short segment in which a girl is attending a Japanese language class. The teacher speaks in Japanese. After a flurry of Mandarin (in which I recognized about 10 words at most) the Japanese was like lemonade on a hot summer day.

    Really made me think of what good advice this is. Keep up the good work, Khatz.

  37. Warp3
    December 22, 2009 at 02:20

    “Korean was like…WTF? Circles? TF?”
    “ssssh….hush now…you’re safe…it’s Cantonese, motherlover,…no more circles…ssssh…”

    As someone who is actively learning Korean (not Japanese, I use this site more for methodology than language-specific advise), I find those quotes hilarious every time I read this article.

    Jonathan: “Hangul DOES have a lot of circles, doesn’t it? What’s up with that?”

    Oddly enough, only one character in the entire Hangul alphabet is a circle (ㅇ), but due to the rules for building syllable blocks that character is used very frequently. The symbol has two uses. Its “normal” use is as an “ng” sounding consonant when used at the end of a syllable block. The second use is as a “silent” consonant when used at the beginning of a syllable block. Why? Korean syllable blocks must start with a consonant by design, so if a syllable or word actually starts with a vowel sound, the “ㅇ” symbol is used as a placeholder consonant. In other words, one of the first things you pickup when learning to read Korean is ignore circles at the beginning of a syllable block, as they aren’t pronounced anyway.

  38. Kimura
    January 5, 2012 at 03:37

    Definitely useful. I’ve been feeling kind of “burned out” (yeah, I know that means “lazy”) about learning Japanese, but when I try to go back to doing Anki reviews or watching random stuff on Nicovideo, it’s like two minutes (one default timebox) before my brain goes “F this, I’m playing Sonic Generations.” (And can you really blame it, as far as choice of L1 subject matter?) But recently, one of my friends has started taking Korean (she wants to do Japanese like me, but her college only offers Korean), and I figured I’d at least try it (the self-study route of course, classes suck and my money’s already tied up with MY college). I know I “should” be doing Japanese, but maybe trying Korean for a while will reverse the current repulsion polarity of Japanese and get my brain pulled back in…
    Also, for all intents and future reference: Programming languages don’t count, right? The other thing magnetically pulling me away from Japanese is figuring out Java so I can mod Minecraft.

  39. kumonoito
    June 21, 2012 at 16:05

    Funny you should mention Icelandic because in taking a break from Japanese, I’ve been learning Icelandic as an “L3” lol. Great article, I totally agree with the theory!

  40. July 29, 2012 at 19:03

    Probably controversial content, since it’s in class/lecture format, but I found (a part of a Korean lesson series for Japanese-speakers) to be interesting, when I stumbled upon it, last night. 

    Even though I’m not too interested in Korean, I figured out that even if I don’t take any Korean away from it, I could at least see what I can understand in Japanese whilst watching it – since there’s no English in it at all (barring two spoken Katakana loanword examples). (Some of the example sentences refer to milk; money; girlfriends, and boyfriends; and various social occasions, if I remember correctly).

    Like most Japanese language-learning materials, they seem to make heavy use of “wrapping” the two languages together; rather going for total immersion for each lesson – but I guess that it might satisfy those curious about how such things are taught by the Japanese.

  41. Metaldragon
    August 10, 2012 at 04:53

    My L3? German! why? because while i suck at it, i know a little bit of it!
    so i can see basic conversations and begin with hello! then lose track but know what the base content should be!
    then compare it to how far i would normaly get in japanese and feel happy!

  42. January 7, 2013 at 23:53

    I’m unsure if this is the best place to ask – but out of curiosity, has anyone else thought of looking at either ウチナーグチ, or アイヌ語, after 日本語?

    It seems that the former is related to Japanese. (I believe that it was once classed as a “dialect”, for political reasons).

    Unsurprisingly, it sounds different (at least to my ears), and deviates grammatically in various ways. That said, it’s usually written using Kana/Kanji – which should make it easier to leverage one’s knowledge of Japanese.

    As for アイヌ語, I don’t know a great deal about it. However, it seems that it isn’t classed as a “Japonic” language, despite being indigenous to Japan.

    Any thoughts?

  43. Ohhh Sometimes I Drink a Darjeeling
    March 19, 2013 at 23:14

    Recently I did the opposite by accident. I was walking down the street and I heard some people speaking German and could understand pretty much their entire conversation. I had studied German in high school and college, but I didn’t think I knew that much. It was a little bit disheartening when I realized I still knew way more German than I know Japanese – and I don’t consider myself anywhere near fluent in German.

  44. July 3, 2013 at 01:44

    Splendid post! next time I will watch jap animes without subtitles- since spanish is my target language.
    BTW– about k drama- try Absolute Boyfriend. Dunno if that is the exact korean version tittle– its about a girlwho never had a boyfriend then a robot hunk was delivered to her- funny series- not exactly drama

  45. AS
    September 11, 2015 at 18:13


    Reading this as easily as if it had been in English made me feel really good about my current level of Cantonese! When visiting Japan last year, not barely knowing any Japanese, hearing Cantonese spoken by Hong Kong tourists was like sweet music to my ears. I realize that sometimes I have been unknowingly taking breaks using Japanese as L3.

    I really wonder how Khatz’s Cantonese project turned out, since I’m also doing All Cantonese All The Time, but in Hong Kong (aiming for native level fluency!). I feel really spoiled by the choices of Cantonese language media here, and it really suits my tastes much more than Mandarin media did (I LOVE Cantonese style humor and sass – think Stephen Chow)!

    But I feel that I still have to restrict my output a bit in my everyday life in Hong Kong, since I feel that if I know that what I’m trying to say still kind of sucks grammatically/pronunciation wise, I’ll be better off shutting up and getting more input. After days of intensive input I often have moments where near perfect Cantonese comes out of me in conversation, and I wonder where it all came from (but of course I know where). I really should remember to not force the speaking if I know my brain is not able to make it come out right, and only speak whenever I feel it’s pressing to come out.

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