“We don’t know one-millionth of one percent about anything.” ~ Thomas A. Edison
AJATT, this website, is a bit like the Matrix. There’s been more than one, it’s just that you only know this one. The original AJATT.com existed for a brief couple of months, before being accidentally deleted by a delightfully incompetent hosting company that shall remain nameless but I’m not bitter.
So, in this original AJATT incarnation, there was a post about there being “no silver bullets” and how there was no magic method that would help you and solve all your problems. I’d been reading too much Fred Brooks and making blanket negative declarations made me feel important 1. Sort of a “look at these chumps looking for silver bullets; I’ma learn them a thing or two”.
Anyway, so (and this never happens, but) I was wrong. There is at least one magic silver bullet. There is one thing you can do that will lead you to success in getting used to languages. What is it?
Looking for silver bullets is the silver bullet. The very act of seeking awesome solutions — magic silver bullets — is itself what will lead you to find something or some combination of things. You keep asking high quality questions, and you start getting high quality answers. Just to keep things moving, you might want to keep using regular bullets while you search for them magic ones, but…yeah, I mean, you don’t stop driving cars until you can figure out how to travel faster than light speed, right?
Don’t worry too much about going wrong. As Norman Schwarzkopf once said, I don’t have the exact quote but basically: it’s easier to change course than to get started; it’s easier to correct course than to get started. You’re better off starting off in the wrong direction than not starting. Being stationary is worse than being wrong.
Looking back, I don’t even think I believed myself while I was writing that “there’s no silver bullet” crap. Because, personally, I’m always looking for magic bullets; Like Pocahontas, I’m always looking just around the river bend for some easy or easier way to make things awesome; like a programmer or a gambling addict, I always feel like I’m on the cusp of something. So perhaps what I really meant to say was: don’t wait for silver bullets 2. Keep looking for silver bullets but don’t wait for them. Don’t let their immediate absence hold you back or otherwise delay you. Yeah. That’s it.
Keep looking for better tools, but use the crappy ones you have right now while-u-wait. Good tools are nice and even game-changing, but your swing matters even more than your clubs. So keep swinging. 3
People will often delight in telling you that some problem “can’t” be solved — you “can’t” learn kanji; it “can’t” be easy; humans “can’t” fly. I know this because I’ve been one of these people; there’s a perverse pleasure and security in certainty, even negative certainty — indeed, in the most recent Batman movie, Bane tortured Wayne with the hope of escape from the dungeon. The suggestion was that straight up despair would be better — easier to deal with emotionally; this may well be true.
But there’s a significant difference between impossibility and ignorance. If in doubt, chalk the difficulty up to ignorance — it’s not impossible: you just don’t know how yet. But if you keep looking for hows, you’re bound to to find something. It may not be what you’re expecting, it probably won’t even be labeled right (a website for English learners revolutionized how I learned Japanese), but there’ll be something. To quote Edison: “We don’t know one-millionth of one percent about anything”. So we can’t speak to what’s possible or impossible, only to what we’ve experienced so far.
As they used to say on The X-Files: the magic bullet you seek is out there. OK, so they never said that. But they would have if the show were about getting used to languages 😛 .
“It is not the possession of truth, but the success which attends the seeking after it, that enriches the seeker and brings happiness to him.” ~ Max Planck
- I’m not saying Fred Brooks did that; I was just…that was my caricatured perception of…you get the point… ↩
- “Do not wait; the time will never be just right. Start where you stand, and work with whatever tools you may have at your command, and better tools will be found as you go along.” ~ Napoleon Hill ↩
- “Many amateur golfers think they need expensive clubs. But it’s the swing that matters, not the club. Give Tiger Woods a set of cheap clubs and he’ll still destroy you.
People use equipment as a crutch. They don’t want to put in the hours on the driving range so they spend a ton in the pro shop. They’re looking for a shortcut. But you just don’t need the best gear in the world to be good. And you definitely don’t need it to get started.” ~ 37signals ↩