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The L Word

OK, what I’m about to say is super gay. Not “gay” in terms of homosexual or minorities, but gay in terms of “lame” and “marriage equality”.

So, regular gay.

OK, are you offended yet?
Also, women (including and limited to your mom) and Jews (including but not limited to David Geffen) and cripples.

Are we good?
OK, here goes.

When it comes to learning (languages or otherwise), the difference between baby/toddler/kid success and adolescent/adult success (or lack thereof) can be explained in two words: unconditional love.

Babies get it right. Eventually. Because we love them unconditionally. We love them whether or not they’re getting it right. We don’t love (or “respect” — which is probably really just a grown-up word for love: love without pity and condescension, kind of like how “stress” is a grown-up word for “fear”) — them more when they get it right and less when they get it wrong.

And so it’s not necessarily that making mistakes can help you get it right — making mistakes, by itself, in many cases, probably just reinforces bad habits BUT…but…being allowed to make mistakes and being loved despite those mistakes helps you continue, and by continuing, you can get on a self-reinforcing path of getting it right. At the very least, you will be infinitely more likely to do so. Because the trick to winning/getting good at most games is just sticking around. Sticking around until you win. And the getting used to a language game is no different.

Now, let’s not be hasty. I wouldn’t ask you to go do something lame like go love people. Toadly gay. They’d cringe; you’d cringe; it’d be awkward. But at least love yourself. Love yourself whether or not you’re getting it right. Don’t only love yourself when you’re batting 1.000 (why am I using baseball metaphors? I don’t even play baseball! I’ve literally played baseball once); love yourself all the time. Yeah, by the same amount. Don’t ration it out, Scrooge. Just drizzle it on there, like racism and honey on Southern pancakes. Drown yourself in the syrup. You can at least do that for yourself, I mean, it’s free. It doesn’t cost time or money; it’s just a switch. Love. On. No matter what, you’re going to love yourself, that’s what it means…

Gosh, it sounds so gay, though. But it works, so try it.

Out 😀 .

Now, some would argue that all this loving yourself crap (I can barely even bring myself to say it; it’s just so fruity) is the problem, not the solution. Some would argue that if people were more disgusted with themselves, more ashamed, more angry, they would get more done. And I wish they were right, just so I could happily go back to being acerbic and cynical all the time, but they’re not. Sure, those fire-under-the-feet strategies can work, especially from an external source; there’s no use denying objective effectiveness. They can even work internally — you hating and berating yourself into awesomeness.

But eventually, especially internally, they stop working — often rather spectacularly and catastrophically. They’re not sustainable. They fail very ungracefully and spin out of control, with paroxysms of binging and purging. Because, here’s what happens: when nothing is good enough, nothing is eventually what you get. Eventually there’s a crash of some kind and then even self-destructive behavior — witness the extensive literature on people with a lot of objective success but no self-love: nothing is good enough.

And you don’t even have to go to the top of the world to find it. You see it every day on the Internet — people who stopped blogging altogether because they wouldn’t let themselves write a crappy blogpost. Not me — I keep churning out utter crap — like this steamy turd you’re reading right now — because, statistically, all this typewriter-monkeying is bound to produce something decent every now and then. But you never hit those high points without the churn, and you can’t churn if you don’t, at some level, like yourself all the time. Also, women and minorities.

Again, some would argue that all this “loving yourself” crap is the problem, not the solution. They posit that there’s too much of a vacuous, baseless, groundless, self-esteem culture, especially in America. Now, I won’t even attempt to address an issue that large in a single blog post, but I will say that…there are worse things than inflated self-confidence, and if that’s the only problem that Americans have, then…it’s a wonderful problem; a high-quality problem.

OK, cool little anecdote for you: I have a friend who works in the oil industry internationally. He’s American himself. From the Midwest. First generation. His parents are from South Asia. Happily indulging in stereotyping, he tells me that, in his opinion, for cultural reasons, Old World Asians (the Philippines was his favorite country to pick (on)) make great engineers, but the Americans make great managers. Why? Because the Americans are self-confident and decisive. They (1) make a decision and if (2) they’re wrong, they (3) make another decision; and everyone else is in awe of them, but it’s just confidence. Also, unlike the Americans, specifically the American engineers, who all want to move “up” into management (American corporations are famously top-heavy, each with billions of vice-presidents of heaven-knows-what-for — yes, billions), the Filipinos actually want to be engineers.

As it is, loving yourself like people used to love you when you were a baby is a rather strange animal. It’s not the same thing as confidence (although it may indirectly manifest itself as such). You can’t see or hear it from the outside; it doesn’t announce itself. It’s all happening internally. No doubt you’ll see its effects in the external world over time, but most importantly, you’ll feel good — which is really why you do anything anyway.

But instead of waiting for a bell like Pavolvian dog, you ring your own darn bell, internally. You ring your own bell and you feed yourself good feelings, for no reason. And so now, you get to feel good, by feeling good, on the way to feeling good, so you can feel good — it’s like getting paid to play to get paid play to get paid to play to get paid play, so you can get paid…to play.

Which, let me be the first to tell you, is a very nice way of going about things. It’s a whole mess of self-reinforcing awesomeness, and it’s pretty much yours for free. Don’t wait until you’re good at the language to feel good. It won’t matter then. It matters now. Feel good now.

Don’t wait until you’re good at the language to feel good. That’s like waiting until…it’s like waiting until you’re dead of thirst to have a drink. It’s like waiting until you know how to grow food, to eat. It makes sense, but it doesn’t. There are very few things in this world you can’t afford, but one of those things is to wait to feel good. You will not live that long. You will not make it that long.

The fields of language-learning, Japanese and otherwise, are littered with the dead bodies of babies — people who would not let themselves feel good until they were perfect, who would not feed themselves the milk of kindness unless and until they didn’t need it any more. Because, think about it, what the #### good does a compliment do you when you’re already on top? It’d be like complimenting  Michael Jordan on his basketball skills — his record is all the reinforcement he needs; the time he really needed to hear a kind word was when he was dropped from his high school basketball team. The time to be nice to yourself is when you’re at your weakest, which is probably right now; you’ll never be this weak again, because you’re always getting stronger, but you’ll only get stronger if you’re nice to yourself.

So let me tell you as one who survived and thrived, as one who did not end up a Japanese language infant mortality statistic: you cannot ever be emotionally hard on yourself. The odd physical challenge is fun — keeping the headphones in, keeping the sound up, doing kanji reps — but emotional harshness? Never. That’s a death sentence, mate.

Feel good now. Lo…I ‘m not even gonna say it — “l#ve” yourself the exact same, whether or not you’re getting it right. It embarrasses me as much as you to have come to this stage, OK? To be using the “L” word. To have come to such a corny, soft, touchy-feely realization. I didn’t ask for pillows and blankies, man, they were thrown at me. I wish it could be cooler and edgier and wittier, but it it isn’t. The tough 1 (lol) reality is that you’re gonna have to be kind and gentle and loving to yourself.

You know you want it 😀 .

Because what are you even in this game for anyway? The esteem of strangers? Strangers who come and go and won’t think about you for even straight 5 minutes out of the 50 million or so they’ll live? And meanwhile, you spend all 50+ million minutes of your life with yourself and you think your opinion of yourself is secondary? Really? What terrible math. Whether they praise you or mock you, they’ll be gone soon, but you have to live with yourself all the time. That’s a tautological statement in an already-tautological blogpost and I apologize for that; I am so so sorry to have brought the discussion down to such a sappy level. My only question for you is, since you already know you have to live with you, what are you gonna do about it, asdonkeyhole I mean my esteemed colleague?

Whether or not you’re getting it right, L yourself.

Also, watch The L Word, really good show, all six seasons, available in Japanese 😉 .


  1. The tough truth about “tough love” is that you can’t give it to yourself. You can’t do it to yourself. It won’t work. It can’t be self-administered. You have to give yourself the gentle, friendly kind (of love, that is). Without boring you with too much autobiography, in my teens and early twenties, I had a couple of people in my life who tried to be tough on me — and get me to be tough on myself, but I noticed that these people were invariably…sad, sick and mediocre. They were constantly sad and angry, almost always (ALWAYS!) physically sick — constantly battling something, usually an upper respiratory tract infection (as if their tough love had been tough on their immune system…not a health claim, just sayin’) — and all they had to show for it was middling success.

    To be fair, I knew some slackers, too. But the slackers didn’t actually love themselves either — they thought they were stupid, lazy failures who could never achieve anything. They just didn’t get too emotionally worked up about it.

  8 comments for “The L Word

  1. 名前
    December 13, 2013 at 01:57

    The L word…? Be in lesbians with yourself.

  2. James
    December 13, 2013 at 13:29

    “. Because the trick to winning/getting good at most games is just sticking around. Sticking around until you win. And the getting used to a language game is no different.”

    This sentence, much sense it makes.

    *Boring semi-long story to follow*
    I have a group friends from high school that I still hang out with. A few years ago my friends were huge into playing Super Smash Bros. Brawl. They were/are very good at the game. Whenever I hung out with them, we would always be playing brawl. I was ALWAYS out first. I was ALWAYS out fast. I was ALWAYS sucking at the game. But I kept coming back for more. This went on for months, literally months of me still going over weekends to hang out and get destroyed at Brawl. Play a bit, lose, and sit there for a few minutes while they finished the match. Yeah, I didn’t have anyone else willing to hang out with me XD.

    I’m sure you can guess where this is going. After several, several months of getting destroyed, I started getting destroyed less. After a few months I was able to actually take one of their stocks. Several months afterwards, I could take 2 of their stocks. Fast-forward a bit, and suddenly I could hold my own. Occasionally I won by luck. Now, I’m still not as good as them, but I’m a lot better now. Hilariously, now when I play other “casual” players at brawl, I absolutely destroy them without trying. All of that time sucking has lead up to me being decent now.

    Why the long story? Because it was success by simply sticking around. It was success by being too stubborn to give up, and too lame to have other friends XD (kidding of course, I love those crazy guys).

    Now, I can take that scenario, and apply it to Japanese. I’m through RTK, and fully into MCD’s. Soon, I’ll be able to hold my own, I just have to stick with it ^_^.

    Thanks Khatz, (I can use that because we’re friends now right?)
    Just coming to this website is always so inspiring, and gives me the push to keep going.

    • Lunar
      December 13, 2013 at 20:32

      This, in general, is why I love video games. They give you a safe environment to fail in. You screw up and die or get stuck? All you do is hit “restart” or reload a save and you’re allowed to try again, over and over until you do it right. Nobody is judging you (well, in the case of multiplayer games it’s not necessarily true, but still!)

      I also wonder why people in a classroom setting are so afraid of doing something wrong, and that includes me. Now that I’m in university, it’s ironically way more lax than high school. You can fail two tests with no consequences. If you fail more, you can retake them as many times as you want, as long as it’s before the semester ends. If you say something wrong, the teacher just corrects you, he’s a nice guy, nobody mocks you, nobody laughs (unless your mistake made you sound particularly funny.) But it still feels like you failed, like it’s the end of the world and people are scared to speak up, scared to make a mistake. Why is it?

  3. RaccoonGoon
    December 14, 2013 at 05:54

    Being from the American South, I take offense to this article…

    I have never put honey on my pancakes.

    • Howard
      December 15, 2013 at 05:18

      You should, it’s mad good.

  4. Thomas Smith
    December 16, 2013 at 03:06


    That’s a serious question – HOW do you do this? I’ve never done it. Where does one begin?

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