“Human intelligence is among the most fragile things in nature. It doesn’t take much to distract it, suppress it, or even annihilate it.”
~ Neil Postman
Jack shares his perspective, reached through bitter experience, on what he quite elegantly calls “The Inverse Relationship Between AJATT Pwnage and Classroom Winnage”:
I’ve just finished semester at uni, it’s been a rainy and gloomy week here in Brisbane, Australia, and it’s as if a single ray of sunshine has just broken through the thick clouds, shining right into my brain.
This is a bit of a story, and I’d like the message to reach a lot of people (so please post the good bits to the regular ajatt blog!)
So my name is Jack, and I started learning Japanese as a little kid in primary school (grade 5). I was so excited to start learning as I had just entirely skipped the fourth grade (after taking some IQ tests) due to being a wee bit older than the other students, and Japanese started in the 5th grade.
I soaked it in like a sponge. I learnt the hiragana very quickly, and in the following years I surpassed the other students by taking optional proficiency tests and learning katakana (not typically taught in primary school). I started high school in a special group of students that had already learnt the katakana.
I progressed through high-school with the same teacher for 5 years, and started scratching kanji by the end of it (I probably knew about 100-150 kanji).
I then continued it in university, hoping to do a study abroad to Japan. I changed universities, and had to start the classes from beginning again. It wasn’t until the end of my first semester at my new home university (The University of Queensland), that I found your blog. I found it because I basically had an epiphany – the subject being how badly I still sucked at Japanese. I was doing perfectly well at university, getting very high grades, but I realised I still couldn’t produce the language impromptu.
So here it is: The Inverse Relationship Between Classroom Winnage, and AJATT Pwnage.
I thus started AJATT, and found it incredibly liberating. I referred hundreds of people to your site *fist bump*. I was learning kanji some 4000 times faster than I was in High School. I was starting to understand things I had never even come across before. I was enjoying it.
I started classes again in semester 2, and the contrast of enjoyment I could see really bummed me out. I went on though, this time hoping that my new found learning method would pull me through.
I failed the course.
I simply didn’t score high enough. I hadn’t studied for each test individually because I didn’t really feel the need. I was learning so fast! Why dedicate 2 hours of study to a written piece when I could just do some sentence reps everyday?
I knew what it was though. I hadn’t finished the kanji, and a large portion of the grade was focused on Kanji. THAT was the problem. So with re-newed vigor, I promptly did a 2k Kanji crash course (well not really a crash course, but I did dedicate my whole summer to just Kanji and immersion). I emerged victorious, with over 2000 kanji under my belt and hundreds of hours of immersion. Ready to start another semester of Japanese.
I felt very confident with my Japanese this semester. I didn’t need to prepare for a test for more than 45 minutes. I was preparing all the time, after all. The other students in the class looked to me for help with Kanji, and the small pieces of the language that we studied in class were very easy to understand. I had racked up over 2000 sentences in the time as well. The result?
I passed the course.
A mere pass. Some assessment items I almost failed (despite having no trouble with them at all). I blamed it on the teacher, and a latent bias towards the understood attitude towards classes that I have. The teacher knew that I had failed the last semester, and knew me personally as someone who wasn’t overly excited about the course (which she had designed). I had dedicated hundreds, almost over 1000 hours to Japanese this semester, and I had to watch as all my classmates scored better than I did. The difference between them and I? They worried about tests, I didn’t. I DID prepare, but I didn’t explicitly feel the need to. They used the resources we learnt from in class, I used natural Japanese.
Yes, I made plenty of errors in my assessment items, however these errors were not scripted like the errors other students would have made. I could have made those errors all day long (haha) but the other students could only keep up the charade for 60 minutes.
My cumulative total was very close to a ‘credit’ grade, which is a bit more modest, so I submitted some pieces for a re-appraisal. (I only needed 1.29 marks). This is the response from my lecturer:
“For the Opinion Piece: On the basis of this reappraisal and in comparison to other students in the 9 to 11 range of marks, we will raise your mark to 10.5 out of 20. Many sentences in the writing cannot be understood at face value and there are gaps in the logic.
One example of this is your translated explanation of why children don’t read is: ‘it is impossible for time to exist’. To the question of why children don’t like reading, your response was: ‘on top of that children don’t read’. The linking word ‘而も＝しかも’, which means ‘in addition to this’, was not followed by a related point as was ‘他に＝ほかに’.
It is not clear what the referential terms ‘こんな事＝こんなこと’ and ‘そうすると’ refer to in the text. The structure of your piece was in dot points instead of paragraph format. Students who received 11 points for this exercise used the grammar forms introduced in the course for defining ‘と言う事＝ということ’ and used evidence such as anecdotes to elaborate their opinions.
Although these are all the negative elements that you have asked for an explanation on, there are signs of development in your writing such as your use of predicates such as ‘べき’ and ‘verb-来た＝きた’ and two relative clauses. These are not used accurately, but the appearance of these in yor work is noted as development.”
To me, it sounds like a piece with perfectly structured grammar would have given her an orgasm.
Everything I wrote was literally translated back into English and checked for logic. A lot of it seems to be taken out of context. I understand what I wrote, but she doesn’t; that’s fair enough. However, no mention of my almost perfect use of Kanji? I could rant about this all day, but the fact of the matter is that classrooms and AJATT aren’t compatible. They can’t be friends. They’re like The Roadrunner and the Coyote; Christianity and Atheism. The more powerful one is, the less powerful the other. I used to be good at classroom Japanese, but I have since lost that ability.
Yet my natural understanding is at an all time high. I’ve started learning new words without using a dictionary. I have a more intuitive understanding of kanji, and how the primitive elements shape the meaning, for example: 睫 has the primitive for “eye” on the left, so I can guess it has something to do with the eye (睫＝まつげ：eyelashes, not covered in RTK 1).
So, after I received my grades for Japanese, I’ve lost all motivation to do anything relating to Japanese. I’m a little depresso actually. After 10 years of taking classes, nothing seems to be in my favour. Classes won’t make me fluent, and AJATT will kill my classroom ability.
I feel like I have seriously wasted my life. That’s thousands of hours, and thousands of dollars I’ll never get back. And the only reason I continued my classes was for a chance to study in Japan, and score some real immersion. All of it was a flipping waste of time, the only good thing was AJATT, which is just an idea, for a different way of doing things.
I’ve decided that I will not finish my diploma in languages. I will leave it unfinished when I return from Japan, because on the off chance that I do become fluent while I’m there, I don’t want my success to be attributed to classes. I seriously want language classes to be a thing of the past. A fable written in childrens books. Almost a myth, that such an absurd thing once existed.
The point isn’t that Jack’s Japanese is already perfect and flawless. The point is not the point his Japanese is at 1 — its position. The point is the clear path, the line of progress, it’s on: its direction. Jack has found a path to natural, native-like Japanese and school is getting in the way of that. School is, to put it rather bluntly,
c##kblocking vigorously impeding his Japanese awesomeness. And for what? In exchange for what? For nothing, really. Nothing but gold stars and awkward gaijinese (=gaijin-sounding Japanese).
That, as I understand it, is what he’s frustrated about. As Japanese class lameness goes, what Jack experienced is, arguably, on the mild side. But knowledge, intelligence, learning, these are fragile things, and all it takes is a tiny bit of bureaucratic behavior to suppress or even destroy them 2. As someone who went to that idiot-making house called school once long ago, I sympathize with Jack completely. Also, he’s really handsome and has amazing taste in websites.
Maybe you have a story about school getting between you and real Japanese? Rant about right here 😉 . Right down there in comments. It’s a rantfest, people 😉 .