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The Fun Algorithm

The Japanese language itself is neutral.
It’s neither fun nor boring. It just is.

So where does the fun come from?
Wow, that sounds like…a line from an Oompa Loompa song.
Wait, no, so…back in topic.

Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known by his rap name, Mark Twain, once wrote:

“Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and…Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.”

People will climb mountains for sport, risking life and limb, but will be hard-pressed to wash their dishes.

Fun is all about choice. Fun comes from choice. Your choices. Your choices of things and people are what make Japanese fun.

So for you who have had your innocent, childlike souls crushed by years of indoctrination disguised as education, here is a systematic method, an Al Gore Rhythm, for discovering and generating fun.

1. Experimentation: Try out lots of stuff.
2. Rejection: Stop doing things you don’t want to do.
3. Acceptance: Keep doing things you do want to do.

There. It’s almost insultingly simple. But I know that a lot of you get royally tripped up on steps 2 and 3: You stop doing things you do want to do, and you keep doing things you don’t want to do. As Hajji from “The Real Adventures of Johnny Quest” used to say, “this is not good”.

The only reason you’re not having fun is because you either don’t try stuff, or because you reject whatever fun you do discover. Or both.

You’re not going to learn this language by suffering. You’re just going to burn out. And it won’t be the language’s fault, it’ll be your fault for being a freaking masochist. If you deliberately choose to do boring crap most of the time, don’t be surprised if you hate yourself and your life.

It’s time to outgrow pain. There is nothing to gain there. Remember, pain, like evil, makes you stupid, because it leads you to conflate suffering with progress. It makes you choose to hurt yourself by default. “This hurts so much, it must be good for me”. No.

Pain makes you stupid. Stop getting hurt. Start getting addicted. Experiment. Reject. Accept.

Boredom, like poison, is a matter of dosage. Some things are fun for 3 seconds, some for 3 minutes, some for 3 hours, some for 3 days. Do not exceed the dosage. Stop when you’ve had enough. Move on. Switch it up. Come back for more later. Or not.

I know I’m repeating myself. But you need it. Drop the whip. Pick up the honey.

  37 comments for “The Fun Algorithm

  1. March 31, 2011 at 01:27

    Oh, how I like the way you KISS for us stupids, khatz.

  2. km31
    March 31, 2011 at 02:57

    So, I completely agree with this advice, and all the advice on this site, i love it!
    BUT, I’m one of these people who HATES waste, in any form (its not an ethical/environmental/moral thing, i just grew up not so well off and being stingy is ingrained into me i guess :P) so I find it really really difficult to spend 90% of my time looking for materials (music, film, tv, books) that i’m only going to use once or twice, and since i put so much effort/money into finding them, they can’t live up to that kind of pressure anyway! So i end up just re-using resources (that i don’t really want to watch a thousand times) over and over because it’s just so…wasteful not to! (x100 if i’ve actually paid money for it).

    I guess i just don’t even know how to have fun anymore 😐

    • lxmorj
      April 5, 2011 at 04:02

      isn’t it still wasteful? if you use material that costs $10 only once, and it accomplishes the goal, you aren’t ‘getting more out of it’ by reading it again. forcing yourself to read / watch / listen over and over for the sake of maximizing the time you spend per dollar spent is as unwasteful as throwing up dessert so you can eat it again and get twice the fun!

      • 魔法少女☆かなたん
        April 5, 2011 at 11:58

        If you read/listen to material, and on the first time, there are gaps in your understanding, it may be enjoyable to reuse in the future as you acquire more language. It’s not inherently useless effort to reuse material multiple times.

        But it does help to have variety. If you’re using the same material too often, maybe it’s time to get more. If you feel like you don’t have a choice, you don’t have enough.

  3. March 31, 2011 at 04:38

    Agreed, and between all the music, music videos, movies, TV shows, videos games, comics, books, magazines, and newspapers out there, not to mention the blogs and internet forums, ALL in Japanese that you can obtain online for free, I just can’t imagine how you could run out of fun stuff that YOU are interested in to learn from.


  4. Jeff
    March 31, 2011 at 07:05

    But I like to get whipped…

    • zaynah ming-lodge
      April 3, 2011 at 03:12

      Touche! 🙂

  5. amy
    March 31, 2011 at 11:55

    “Boredom, like poison, is a matter of dosage. Some things are fun for 3 seconds, some for 3 minutes, some for 3 hours, some for 3 days. Do not exceed the dosage. Stop when you’ve had enough. Move on. Switch it up. Come back for more later. Or not.”

    Love it.

  6. hermanblue
    March 31, 2011 at 18:41

    i know it way sound like a question from a lazy guy, but what happen if one finds there’s no more fun stuff in the language being learnt? (namely French for me)

    • bubble
      March 31, 2011 at 20:18

      No more fun stuff in French? What are you into? Must not be comic books/graphic novels or literature… or rock music (a lot of the good stuff comes from Quebec…). As for films, your mileage may vary – they have ’em, but the ones that get exported seem to be a mix of over-the-top comedy and depressing artsy films. There’s also a lot of video game development in Quebec, and a variety of games are availible in French.

      But if there’s nothing fun left I think your only option for study is to be bored… or maybe find some penpals/skype buddies/real people who speak French generally, because surely you can find something interesting to talk about. I personally suffered through months of Radio France International that I couldn’t understand, so it’s doable if you’re determined. I would not recommend it though – if media fails you, people are more fun and motivating (also scarier…).

      • russ
        April 1, 2011 at 00:56

        re: “No more fun in French”

        I’ve been looking for American movies in Japanese and keep running into “Audio: English, Spanish, French, Portuguese”, so there ought to be something enjoyable in movies, assuming you like American films.

        Someone linked to, and once you find the ADVANCED SEARCH link, you can screen for movies with French audio. If you live in the USA, your library might even have some of the titles for free.

        • hermanblue
          April 1, 2011 at 16:51

          I watched Grey’s Anatomy all seasons in French at least more than five times. I made it through, because I was actually burning my passion for GA. However, I can’t help but wonder from time to time, why bother, it was in English at the first place. Wouldn’t I enjoy it more if I had watched it in the original language that I understand so much better?

      • hermanblue
        April 1, 2011 at 16:47

        “I personally suffered through months of Radio France International that I couldn’t understand”

        I did exactly the same thing. I also added up the suffering by watching all the Focus Emissions on France 24. I can say I understand so much more than the moment I started. What I can’t deny is that it wasn’t fun at all!

        I missed so much the days I watched Grey’s Anatomy days in and nights out not even realizing that I was learning English. French just doesn’t seem to offer that kind of fun-bun for me, so I stopped.

        Thanks for the Quebecoi media recommendation. I personally still have troubles adapting myself to the accent (or to be honest, I just don’t like the accent). When I watch something in French Quebecoi, I just say to myself why is this stuff not in English.

        My point is, Khats’ emphasis on fun is very logical. What’s not so logical is when someone is learning a language where not too much fun (for that person) exists.

        • bubble
          April 1, 2011 at 22:58

          Don’t let the Quebeckers hear you say that – it’s not in English because 1) they’re proud to be francophone and 2) many of them don’t speak English all that well… excluding the anglophones of course.

          That’s exactly why I now choose my languages mostly based on the expected level of fun. French ought theoretically to be pretty good in that respect for most people, but if it isn’t for you it isn’t worth it unless you have a strong practical reason to study.

          Honestly though, the main reason I speak French now is the sunk cost fallacy – I told myself I’d put so much effort in that I couldn’t afford to stop. Now I get a lot out of it, but there was a time when it was just painful and I didn’t have any good reason to study… knowing what I do know, I would do it again, but it’s not a course I would recommend to others.

  7. Lang
    March 31, 2011 at 22:37

    I’m kinda of bored actually of the current seasons offering of Jdrama. Nothing really stands out, and the 2011 jdrama are just boring cop/ CSI type shows.

    So I don’t know what I’m going to do ? I recently got a kdrama and it’s really fun to watch, not japanese though, and with eng subs.

    Maybe I should try out some new manga?

    Any fans here know any must see new 2011 season jdrama?

    • March 31, 2011 at 23:54

      I know what you mean about every drama seemingly being the cop thing. Not my cup of tea either.

      However, the new 2011 spring season of Jdrama is starting soon (actually I think some are starting today!) and that usually brings dramas that are a little brighter and more fun.

    • Nabi
      April 1, 2011 at 10:01

      If you enjoy K-dramas, you could try finding Japanese subs for K-dramas. I’m an English speaker learning Korean and lately for anime that I can’t find dubbed in Korean but still want to watch, I’ll watch with Japanese audio and Korean subtitles. My ears may hear Japanese, but my eyes see Korean and ultimately I’m focusing more the Korean I’m reading than the Japanese I’m hearing anyway. I find it quite enjoyable and sometimes I’m pretty amazed how much of the anime I can understand with no English involved (used to always watch Japanese anime with English subs).

      I think some K-Dramas are also dubbed in Japanese. The last one I heard of was the spy/action drama Iris being dubbed in Japanese last year. Seems to me the Japanese love dubbing things and voice acting is a nice business over there, (more so than in S. Korea where things are more quick to be subtitled than dubbed), so if Jdramas bore you, perhaps try finding Japanese dubs of interesting shows from other countries like USA, Korea, etc.

    • Jason
      April 3, 2011 at 02:25

      You’ve never seen JDrama from the 80s or 90s? There are tons of good ones from the era.

      Try 振り返れば奴がいる。。。if you don’t like this one then I don’t know what to say.

      Or try 鉄の骨…it’s fairly new but I thought it was really good.

  8. ダンちゃん
    April 1, 2011 at 00:59

    Watch some classics?

  9. The Songlei
    April 1, 2011 at 01:47

    i totally agree with your emphasis on fun. my previous technique was to cut out sentences from chinese audio material and review them with anki. i now put these sentences in itunes, shuffle them, and play music simultaneously. i record the whole thing off my soundcard on the fly, creating an ever-changing mix of audio flashcards. with a beat. i now find it hard to imagine how i could ever get myself to cram sentences with srs software. learning chinese has never been so funky.

    • nan
      April 4, 2011 at 21:55

      Mind giving us the details of how you do this? I have a lot of phrase clips, and random bits of Mandarin audio, which I mix in with music and set to shuffle, but it sounds like you are actually having the language clips play over the music. If so, how exactly do you do this?

  10. Onsokumaru
    April 3, 2011 at 23:48

    I don’t understand though. How would you go about making learning it fun?
    Obviously at some point you need to buckle down and study or get through a chapter in whatever learning book you’re using and it won’t be fun. I agree about needing to enjoy yourself though but what would you suggest to making “learning fun”?

    • ahndoruuu
      April 4, 2011 at 17:40

      If you’re doing it right, you won’t be using a “learning book” 😉

      • Onsokumaru
        April 4, 2011 at 22:38

        Haha. I seem to be doing it wrong then.

  11. Andy
    April 4, 2011 at 02:41

    “If you do what you like to do, you’ll be able to do what you like to do.”

  12. April 4, 2011 at 10:37

    I totally agree that having fun is key to motivation. For me just reviewing my flashcards is kind of fun. It’s kind of addictive. In the end though it’s perseverance that counts… Climbing mountains is fun, but it’s also hard. It’s the same with language learning.

  13. April 4, 2011 at 17:15

    Another great post. Thanks and I’ll be passing this one on to others.

    Having fun in Turkey,

  14. Han
    April 5, 2011 at 13:41

    I know what people mean by it’s difficult to find more fun things to do after a while. I generally don’t enjoy movies, and can’t just take twenty minutes out of my time to watch a TV show. I just don’t find them fun. I’ve helped alleviate that a little by downloading shows I always intended to watch in English, but never got round to, in Russian (currently going through Avatar with a friend who knows it inside and out in English, so he can explain any plot points if I’m missing them), but unfortunately the dubbing business here isn’t good.
    And I tried getting games, the text files always end up corrupted! If anyone knows how to fix that, please reply. I think the problem is the format they’re saved in isn’t compatible with my Latin-letter Notepad program, but I can’t only think of maybe uninstalling Notebook to fix it.

  15. Sandra
    April 5, 2011 at 23:20

    It is not simple to have always fun because it isn’t easy to have the right material.
    I’m really interested in Mandarin. I have many links to streaming contents (movies, radio, songs), but for me it is really hard to enjoy them without my computer, or out of my house far from my internet flat contract. Or SRS: no computer, no Anki. I have some songs on my mp3 player, but they’re not enough to have fun all the time, a radio would be better: always contents, no need to choose and download them. I can’t pay for an Ipod or similar to reach contents while moving. Do you think I have to consider such an idea? >_>

    • Han
      April 6, 2011 at 00:42

      Can you not download podcasts from radio news shows, maybe? Even general chit chat shows are useful. A lot of big news agencies these days will have a downloadable webcast.
      As for the SRS, pen and paper works if you’re out the house 😉

  16. April 6, 2011 at 03:40

    What I’v learned so far from learning japanese is that, you must have fun. If you want to get far you must enjoy what your doing. That being said, fun is different for everyone. I’m addicted to srsing but some might not find that fun but I do. I also like immersing,reading,writing,playing around with my full japanese games,novels,mangas,keigo books,etc. But everyone shuold have that general interest of having fun because why else are you doing it then?

    It’s finally 18months of me learning japanese. I’ve noticed a few things people should know, maintain srs reps,immersing,read and have fun with what your learning. If you want to do more, set out what to do but limit it to small amounts. So you don’t burn yourself out from learning too much daily. Maintaing is the key to success in language learning. You get more out of what you maintain than what you do daily. How do I know? I’ve reached that 95%+ in the language in terms of reading/listening. I have full confident I will be able to do the same with speaking/writing. We all worry too much about when we will get good but if you have fun everyday,, you will never need to worry because before you know it, you’ll be fluent. I’m feeling really confident I can gain full fluency in all skills of the japanese language.

    So please have fun, don’t knock yourself down, don’t do too much srsing. Just maintain and add at a steady pace. 20-30 new cards usual works if you do it right. This blog site has taught me a few good things. Khatz isn’t a genius, he’s just a regular person like anyone else. He just did what he felt was fun and succeeded in it. Therefore anyone can do it, heck even I’m doing it and I’m not such a smart person but a lot of people believe I am. But in fact, anyone can master another language. If you did it with english, you can do it with any other language.

    But a lot of people like to say they don’t have enough time. I hate hearing these things personally. If you really want it so badly, you’ll do it and find time to do it. I personally have school,work,still hang out with friends and I still got tihs far. It isn’t suprising. Just give it time and you’ll get far.

    Before I finish this post I want to say this. If you want to improve writing kanji by hand, keep writing. But how does one do this. With the srs you can master writing all major 2000-3000 kanji with the srs of your choice. kana in the question and kanji in the answer. Put basic vocab,kanji,etc in it/sentences. Then start to increase. I’ve increased my written abilities with this. I won’t have problems writing all those kanji in 1 year from now. So if you think you can’t reach fluency in writing,your wrong,very wrong!

    I’ll be sure to post a success story here once I reach complete fluency but until then. Keep having fun,keep learning and lastly just maintain, don’t do too much.

  17. April 6, 2011 at 03:45

    I forgot to mention how long does it take to reach fluency in another language. Probably 1-10 years. But with the srs, one can get it down to 2-5 years in my opinion. But everyone defintion of fluency in different.

    Mine is being able to read,write,speak,listen to that 95%+ mark in the language. That is what complete fluency means to me

  18. April 12, 2011 at 10:06


    I watch a lot of the Jdrama & movies online.(ホタルノヒカリ!)
    & just started reading クレヨンしんちゃん
    that’s fun for me.


  19. Patrick
    April 15, 2011 at 08:57

    Oh mah gawd, Just ordered FFXIII J for ps3, Only $50 (expedited international shipping included) 😀

    Gonna have some fun.

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