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That Righteous Feeling, Or: If You’re Not Feeling Naughty, You’re Doing It Wrong

This entry is part 7 of 11 in the series Mediocre Excellence

“if you’re reading a book that’s killing you, put it down and read something else, just as you would reach for the remote if you weren’t enjoying a television programme”

“if you don’t read the classics…nothing bad will happen to you; more importantly, nothing good will happen to you if you do)”

Thus spake Nick Hornby.

If the method you’re using to learn (=get used to) a language makes you feel righteous, it’s a bad method.

Your language-learning method should make you feel guilty. It should make you feel bad. It should make you feel a little dirty. Like learning English by watching Jersey Shore. 

Will you end up talking weird? Yes, you might. I went through a phase where I could only speak Japanese like the juvenile delinquent high schoolers in Gokusen=ごくせん=極先(→極道(の)先生), who are more or less equivalent in verbal sophistication to the Jersey Shore kids. 1

Why is that OK? Because my speech was native-like. Did it need fixing? Yeah. But fixing aesthetically displeasing, native-like speech takes all of 2 weeks. Fixing non-native-like speech is much harder. And Fixing a total inability to speak brought about by “source perfectionism” — the whole “I will only speak the Japanese of sushi-eating virgins who were born on the foothills of Mount Fuji between dawn and sunrise on January 1 during a solar eclipse in a lunar leap year” that a lot of schooled people get into? Well…you can’t fix a car that doesn’t exist.

If you’re proud of yourself for the book you’re reading, if you’re proud of yourself for getting through so many pages, then it’s a bad book. You shouldn’t be proud of getting through the book, you should be feeling bad that you’re running out of book. You shouldn’t be proud of yourself for watching “classic” 黒澤明/KUROSAWA Akira movies…you should be getting titillated by the sex and violence 2. In fact, you should be fast-forwarding to the sex and violence.

Why should you feel naughty? Why should you feel like you’re getting away with something bad — like cutting class…you know, skiving school? Well, there are many reasons, including (but not limited to) efficiency, effectiveness, sustainability. I won’t cover them all ‘coz I can’t be bovvered but I will tell you talk a bit about the ones that are easy to explain. Basically, it goes like this (I feel like Paul Graham waxing techno-philosophical here 😛 ):

Work that looks and feels hard pays in personal and social recognition; you get gold stars from yourself and society simply for being seen doing it. But work that looks and feels and is generally indistinguishable from play has to earn its keep; it has to (ultimately) get results. Any wageslave can walk into a swanky restaurant well-dressed, but it takes a real wealthy person with real charm to turn up in sweatpants. No one will fault you for taking a boring Japanese class even though they never freaking work, but if all you do is watch Samurai Champloo and eat Pocky all day, you will almost certainly have to answer for your playtime with some mad skillz.

Simple story, bro:  Guilty → Fun → Addictive  → Continue → Pwn

No decorative towels here. Since you’re focussed more on your fun than on social convention, you both shed and also outright avoid all kinds of dead weight. This means that all your tools have to earn their keep (you can tell I’m loving this phrase) — they actually have to contribute by making you want to use and interact with them. No boring textbooks for showing off to strangers at Starbucks. So, yeah, pretty much a rehash of the effectiveness argument. You get what you pay for, playa. Lay off me! 😛

In closing! You shouldn’t feel guilty when you’re not doing Japanese 3. No, you should feel guilty when you’re doing Japanese. Right during the act. And not that “oh no I suck” guilt. You want “OMG I can’t believe I get to do this I hope nobody sees me and I totally skimmed through these manga without looking up any words and oh crap I have a final project to do but I’ve spent the whole day in bed watching Samurai Champloo instead” guilt. If you’re feeling righteous, you’re doing it wrong.

Series Navigation<< Stop Trying To Do Things Well: Getting Over ZeroMethod Over Morality: Don’t Improve Yourself. Stop Trying to Become a Better Person. >>


  1. Sidenote:

    So, back in Utah, I have a Japanese friend, Nanako, who knew me from when I basically knew no Japanese. Anyway, during the “hardcore phase” of AJATT, The Original Project if you will, there was a time where I was watching a lot of Japanese-dubbed South Park. A lot. As you might expect, I started talking like the kids in the show. But Nanako didn’t know that. She was just pleasantly shocked at how natural my speech had become, in a sort of “OMG! Where did you learn that?!” way. And, no, it wasn’t the swearing 😛 . It was little things like 「マジかよ」…

  2. Or…just titillated period? [NSFW]
  3. Incomplete? Yes. Guilty? Absolutely not.

  13 comments for “That Righteous Feeling, Or: If You’re Not Feeling Naughty, You’re Doing It Wrong

  1. agentxjp
    August 8, 2012 at 17:38

    Is this philosophy supposed to apply to things outside of language learning?
    For example there are plenty of books well-regarded books I have like Psycho Cybernetics that would give me plenty of society stars, and I wouldn’t mind reading them as it interests me, but I still wouldn’t feel guilty doing it either.
    So while it wouldn’t make me feel guilty to do it, it would also be pretty fun, however this article kind of gives that impression that I should feel guilty if I’m not doing things that make me feel guilty.

    • August 9, 2012 at 02:23

      Feeling guilty about not doing things that make you feel guilty is doing it right, what with the feelings of guilt and all.

    • ahndoruuu
      August 10, 2012 at 22:08

      It’s just one way of approaching things. One that’s especially helpful for learning languages. Language learning: one of the only pursuits where watching porn, talk shows, and made-for-tv movies all day is the essence of productivity.

  2. Jack Cotton-Brown
    August 9, 2012 at 10:28

    I got into this phase where I was watching/reading/playing with things in Japanese that were all awesome, and I did this thing where I completed the games/animes/mangas that I was enjoying. But then I ‘ran out’, so to speak, of stuff and so I acquired a bunch more stuff from a friend. I started going through some anime series that were now on my hard drive, and attempting to complete them from start to finish. I did the whole ‘try everything at least once’ thing, where even if the first episode of an anime wasn’t so captivating, I would push on through the series to see if it got better. The result was that I stopped watching it. I stopped everything. It just happened. I didn’t plan to stop, in fact, I planned to keep on going. But I subconsciously started prioritizing other things ahead of Japanese continuously, until before I knew it, a week had gone by and I hadn’t watched a single episode of the anime I was trying to finish.
    I now understand the importance of channel surfing. I’m starting a new thing where I watch the first 3 episodes of an anime, and if I don’t like it, I delete it. I might just cut it back to the first episode if this doesn’t work. Or maybe just a quick flick through. I miss the days of watching Claymore during university exam’s and being so captivated I wasn’t able to study for my exams till I’d finished the entire series. Now THAT’s a guilty feeling haha.

  3. August 11, 2012 at 02:57


    You’re saying that whatever source material you’re using should be fun and interesting for you, it should meet what I think is the most important criteria: that if it were in your native language, you’d still want to read/listen to/watch it?

    You’re saying it should be fun, in other words?

    Shocker! 😉

    Oh, and absolutely agreed.


  4. August 15, 2012 at 17:46

    Great article, just beautifully spot on!
    Most language students (especially the ones I’ve met in Taiwan) have deeply engrained feelings of guilt in all their studying endeavors…which have been acquired mostly through “pressure-parenting” and terrible educational policies.
    It’s time to shift their minds off the NEED to learn a foreign language exclusively for BUSINESS purposes, the “Learning this language will be a great asset in your portfolio, now go back to your boring books and don’t you ever think about enjoying them!”-mentality, and let them have all the L2 guilty pleasures they truly crave.

  5. Mary
    August 18, 2012 at 00:35

    Today, I felt guilty because I was not studying Chinese (not repeating SRS-Cards) but chatting online with a friend. Then I realized that I was using QQ and we were actually chatting in Chinese 😀

  6. November 11, 2012 at 20:14

    I’ve been thinking about this post a LOT in the past few days.

    At the moment I’m having Midwestern-Protestant-upbringing-level guilt about doing Japanese. There’s no reason why I *should* be doing it. It isn’t going to earn me any more money or help me transition into a career I actually enjoy (well, not any time soon anyway) or become the self-employed musician I was *supposed* to be…and yet I can’t focus on those things because all I want to do is write to strangers on Twitter in a bastardised mix of English and awful Japanese. It’s almost getting to the point where it’s like, maybe I should give up this crazy Japanese thing and go back to being “normal”…only I can’t because it’s so much fun.

    At least I can draw some small comfort from the fact that, apparently, because I feel guilty and tormented about it, at least I’m doing it “right”!

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