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When To Start Getting Used To Japanese

The sooner you start looking at Japanese, the sooner you’ll start reading it.

The sooner you start hearing Japanese, the sooner you’ll start understanding it.

It is because the thing takes time, it is precisely because the result is not instant that we must start now.

The longer a thing takes to do, the sooner it must be started on.

A thing that can be finished instantly can be started on at any time.
You can microwave a cup of hot chocolate right when you want it.
But you have to start on that pizza long before you want it. Even if you order delivery, it’ll take like a half hour to get to you.

Japanese will take time to get used to, therefore we have to start getting used to it now — long before we need it.

Paradoxically, then, it can be said of any task that urgency is inversely proportional to duration.
Will it only take 2 minutes to do? Then do it later.
Will it take years to do? Then start this instant!

  36 comments for “When To Start Getting Used To Japanese

  1. May 10, 2011 at 01:39

    “It is precisely because the result is not instant that we must start now.” <- This really hit home with me. I'll have to remember to re-read this line (or entire article) every so often again to always keep this in mind.

    * Constantly reminding myself I'm "getting used to Japanese", not studying it. *

    • ahndoruuu
      May 10, 2011 at 02:35

      SRS it! I actually have an AJATT “deck” containing quotes and other things I liked from most of the articles. That way I don’t get urges to go re-read all the articles, I can just sample all the best parts of them at my leisure. I figure reading English sentences for a few minutes is better than reading English articles for hours. hahaha

      • May 10, 2011 at 02:37

        Great idea! Don’t know why I haven’t ever thought of that. O_O!

        ‘Inspirational’ deck here I come!

        * May even eventually translate it into Japanese later down the road, then wouldn’t even be in that pesky English language! ^_~; *

        • Areckx
          May 11, 2011 at 03:11

          Yeah plus you need to keep your English polished.

  2. May 10, 2011 at 07:27

    Absolutely agreed. I also like this little quote:

    “Paradoxically, then, it can be said of any task that urgency is inversely proportional to duration.
    Will it only take 2 minutes to do? Then do it later.
    Will it take years to do? Then start this instant!”

    The way I love to phrase it is: “You have to be persistently consistent.”


  3. Pingback: Fifth Linkfest
  4. 魔法少女☆かなたん
    May 10, 2011 at 12:14

    I read a book a long time ago about time management. I don’t remember what it was called or all the details.

    But the one thing that stuck with me for years, was if something is important, you should start doing it rite naoughw~! Putting things off means you’ll fill your time with other stuff that makes it pretty much impossible to accomplish what you really want.

  5. ライトニング
    May 10, 2011 at 13:14

    I completely agree with this post.

    If i just do not feel like doing sentences one day, i tell myself 2 things.
    1. If you do not feel like it, just do 5. seriously, how hard could 5 possibly be?
    2.If i don’t do it today, fluency will be 1 day further away, so why wait when you can do it now?!

    • kalek
      May 11, 2011 at 12:08

      Remember to delete cards you dislike so that the likelihood of you not wanting to do sentences goes down.

      • angel13
        June 7, 2011 at 13:45

        yeah but I am still in kanji (only about 150 or so in) and I am finding it extremely boring. I just can’t seem to get myself motivated to do it and I don’t want to delete kanji I haven’t memorized yet.

        • kalek
          June 7, 2011 at 22:32

          Try changing things up a bit. If you’re using vanilla Heisig cards (keyword and story on the front, Kanji on back), go grab the “Lazy Kanji Mod V2” deck from Anki’s shard decks and try that out ( look here for more info, including how to rate the cards).

          If you don’t like Lazy Kanji Mod deck, try thinking up your own card format, or even your own way of learning the Kanji and try it out. Remember, AJATT is about experimenting and finding what works for you (that is, what is most fun/easy while still being effective for you) on your own Japanese journey, not following what Khatz did 100%.

          As for the deletion, I actually never deleted any Kanji, but I certainly should have. I finished my Kanji long before I realized the productivity and sanity benefits of deletion. However, my suggestion now would be to suspend cards that give you problems. If those Kanji pop up in your sentences/MCDs/incremental reading/whatever, un-suspend them if you want the extra review of that Kanji, although you may not need it.

  6. May 10, 2011 at 23:29

    Years back then I heard a catholic priest saying at some TV programme for kids pretty much the same thing. It was something along the lines ‘first go rocks (big things) than small stones and finally everything is filled up by the sand. If you pour sand first, there will be no place left for stones and rocks.’ There was this glass tube and actual rocks stones and sand. And for me 7 years old it was stupid xD

    • Areckx
      May 11, 2011 at 03:13

      That’s a common demonstration. And even after the sand is in there, you can still pour water into it.

  7. Anne
    May 13, 2011 at 06:00

    How do you manage the motivation gaps?

    I feel as if I’m stuck in that intermediate level for ages. And I can’t measure my progress at all. It’s annoying.
    Especially, as I’m not really fond of ‘studying’ at the moment. I listen to videos on youtube, I write a diary on lang-8, I try to finally get all the kanji into my head (i.e. I am going for Heisig at the moment again, as I never really studied it thoroughly, but got stuck at about number 850 or so, however I have some knowledge of other kanji as well, it’s just not really ever been ‘systemized’), I’m watching children’s TV and am reading a novel at the moment, so I think I’m doing a fair amount of exposure, but maybe not enough studying, I don’t really know. I can’t really see my progress. How do you do that? Are you watching the same videos over and over again? (which gets boring, I think)
    I mean, I even talk Japanese to my boyfriend who is supposedly about the same level as I am.
    I am ‘in’ Japan as much as possible, still I feel I don’t really have the urge to really understand every single detail I’m hearing, I really have to force myself to not just listen to the flow of the language, but try to get the meaning. Same with my novel: I hardly ever use the dictionary, let alone review sentences or words I didn’t understand. I feel as if I was the worst student ever (haha, I know, you’re supposed to not study but have ‘fun’, however, I wouldn’t spend hours in front of the pc if it wasn’t for Japanese, so it’s not really ‘fun’ if it’s nice weather outside – ok, I read my novel in the park, but still…) I can’t really see, where that ‘fun’ is leading me to. Don’t you ever feel this way?

    • ダンちゃん
      May 13, 2011 at 10:15

      Anne, I suggest you go back to the table of contents, and carefully re-read all the articles Khatz has posted. Even if you have read them before in the past I think it helps to remind yourself about important points, and it seems to me that most of your questions have been answered already, either in the posts themselves of by Khatz replying to people in the comments below them.

      • Anne
        May 13, 2011 at 13:01

        Might be true, however I spent a whole lot of time on reading this site and though I like it, I feel that it actually just helps my English, so I prefer continuing my Japanese novel… I’d love a Japanese version… 😛

    • ahndoruuu
      May 13, 2011 at 10:41

      ^ What he said. Also it may help to make an “AJATT” deck in your SRS of choice containing the best parts of all the articles/tweets so you have a continuous daily feed of positivity/advice. Doing that made a huge difference for me.

      • Anne
        May 13, 2011 at 13:09

        Wow. SRS-ing even more. It seems a good idea though, but I’m probably not SRS-freaky enough.
        It’s not even that I don’t have fun doing Japanese, but all of you SRS-ing like mad and having fun collecting sentences and the lot make me feel bad. I just don’t. I have fun chatting with people, looking up a word that makes me struggle, reading or watching Anpanman. 😛 I’m just not fond of anything like studying at all – I am doing it to some extent, however it’s not fun.
        That said, actually I never studied English – if you don’t take into account school classes. I rarely ever did my homework anyway. With that language it kind of worked for me to just stick to reading and writing letters. Maybe I can do it without the SRSing or with a rather small amount of SRSing anyway. Not sure though if it’ll work for Japanese as well.

        • May 13, 2011 at 14:32

          Go buy LARD. You’ll be able to re-read AJATT without re-reading it. And you’ll also show your gratitude to Khatz.

          As for dont-know-if-Im-making-any-progress and stuff- you’re not a Japanese Learner- you’re a lost Japanese child living in a foreign country abandoned and forgotten, who also lost memory. Now you have to re-learn your mother tongue to be able to return to 日本 and live happily ever after.

        • Eri
          May 13, 2011 at 23:58

          I have this problem too. I really dislike doing SRS reps @.@ I’ve solved it by only doing 10 minutes a day. I make myself do ten minutes and if that’s all I can stand then I stop. Some days I’m just waiting for that buzzer to go off (I use a timer of course) telling me I can go back to just reading Ao no Exorcist. You could probably get away with even less than that but my Japanese abilities aren’t even intermediate yet so I’m trying to get them up as quick as possible without boring myself to death.

          But maybe what you should do is just stop doing reps all together and come back to it later? I’ve done that sometimes, and I feel more like I want to do it. Although I think Khatz called that ‘binging and purging’… Oh well, as long as you don’t beat on yourself after the break I’m sure it’s fine. AJATT isn’t about faithfully following every little detail or else you’ll never learn Japanese, it’s about how Khatz learnt Japanese and ‘now go try it and modify it to fit you’.

          I also believe there’s an article were he talking about the intermediate learner… That they tend to feel they’re not progressing but he says to just keep at it and one day you’ll see the progress again 🙂

          • Anne
            May 14, 2011 at 05:58

            Thank you. 🙂

            Yes, I think, every step in Japanese is a step in the right direction.
            I guess, ‘intermediate’ is really the most annoying level, as it is a in-betweeny. You don’t get that immediate reward you get as a beginner (If you just learnt 私, you will be seeing it in almost every second sentence, but if you just learnt 勿忘草, you will probably not come across it again in the next few months just accidentally. However, you’re not advanced either, so you still need to look up lots of words in any text and if you yourself try to take part in a conversation you will need to ask for words almost all the time. You tend to only see what you don’t understand instead of seeing what you actually understand at that stage, I guess. (at least that’s what I do)

            I hope, you’ll stick to learning Japanese! For sure you have motivated me again. Thank you.

    • ahndoruuu
      May 13, 2011 at 11:01

      Cuz it’s easy enough to read an article, if all you want is reading material. If you’re using the articles to undertake a massive project like the acquisition of Japanese, you’re gonna want some pretty habitual exposure to the ideas contained within so you can really internalize and act upon them ^^

    • stevie
      May 13, 2011 at 20:49

      First of all, Heisig… don’t tire yourself out on numbers. How many were you adding a day before you stopped (assuming you’re doing SRS here, if not then never mind~)

      These days I limit my kanji intake (five new ones a day, though I might stretch to six!) and I’m always wanting more… allll the time. I don’t even need them really, until I start learning Chinese again anyway… but I want ’em. So maybe that’s worth a try if your situation was anything like mine (no idea 🙂 ).

      As for measuring your progress – this is a tricky one. I think I went through the same state of mind that you’re going through now about six months ago. I eventually snapped and retreated to Chinese (new~ fresh~ exciting~ sexier~ (okay I go back n forth on that one)), and for two weeks I was loving it. But eventually I came back to Japanese, and naturally could really feel the difference in how much I knew. And just kept going from there. It’s tricky when you’re constantly faced with the contrast of how much you understand vs how much you still don’t, but I think there’s only one SHOULD in all of this… which is you should be a bit better than yesterday. That’s it. (and if you forgot a word or a kanji it doesn’t mean you got worse ~)

      Aside from that, there’s stuff here that you just CAN’T measure. I dunno the science or theory or anything behind it, but I’ve had the experience of going through a fairly stressful day or two where I get really bummed out about my Japanese ability (or maybe something else happening in my life), only to come through it a couple days later and I feel like I can suddenly understand things I never understood before. This has happened a good few times for me now and other people I’ve talked to say they’ve had similar experiences (though sometimes without the stress part – they just one day realise they’re a lot better than they thought). ダンちゃん I am kinda curious, did you ever feel this way?

      All that immersion, all that listening, half-listening, reading… I’m sure your mind is building bridges over all the gaps the entire time. Even when you stop, your mind is working away at it. Just don’t stop for long. As for making the effort to understand everything (or not) – immersion isn’t reading and comprehending everything you see and hear around you (it took me an embarrassingly long time to grasp this simple fact that I’m sure you know already). Even if you don’t have an mp3 player/don’t want to use it, just taking a book with you is enough. Every time you see or hear something (anything) in your target language, it’s helping in some way. I really think taking the stress out of the learning experience is the biggest favour we can all do ourselves. (Stephen Krashen has talked about it as well). If we’re reading and listening to Japanese every waking hour and it’s frustrating the crap out of us to do it, we’re probably not learning nearly as much as someone who rocks two minutes per hour and loves those two minutes. Okay that might be a bit too extreme, but hey, supposing we DO learn more than the 2-minute guy, I can guarantee we’re not as happy about it :p

      Okay I’ve rambled on like crazy here, I just hope there’s something helpful in this mess 🙂

      finally, what do you actually want Japanese for? do you know your end goal? I mean reading novels and stuff for me isn’t really the means to an end, it IS the end. Once I can read them, I wanna be able to read them better… faster… when I look in the dictionary I want it to be at a point where a native speaker has just as much chance of having to look in the dictionary. I just wanna be able to rock this language… just a feeling I have… and the last few months I’ve really enjoyed the journey to that point more than ever before. I still don’t know when I’ll be there, but if I enjoy the ride I’m not too stressed about it.

      諦めないで:) 頑張ろう!

      • Anne
        May 14, 2011 at 05:26

        Actually, I’m quite fine with Heisig SRS-ing. I didn’t use SRS until a few weeks ago, so I downloaded the Heisig deck and went through it like mad in the first days – it has really been fun. Of course, the repetitions went somewhere near the infinite, so at the moment I’m just reviewing as long as I manage and don’t necessarily add new ones. (but as far as I can see, there will be less in the next days, so I’ll probably go through a few ‘new’ ones (I started taking the book with me and just have a look at the kanji anywhere sitting in the tramway or waiting for a late friend etc. and think about stories, later in the day I’ll go for them in Anki. )
        So far I went through 850, I spend about 30-50 minutes a day on that (according to Anki). It is mostly fun. (I’m not doing it all at once, but about 5 to 20 sessions a day, in some of which I do about 60 kanji, in others just 2. Until I get bored, that is)
        It is probably partly because of me focusing on kanji that I don’t really have any fun in doing additional sentences and so on, but the other thing is that I really just ‘read through’ everything and don’t bother to note difficult sentences, let alone going through the whole work of writing explanations for words I don’t understand properly.
        Like today I was on the train for some hours and read about 50 pages of my novel. I didn’t look up anything. Maybe tomorrow… 😀 I am enjoying this novel, I really am. However, I still suck. 😛 I don’t get every tiny detail and today there even was a passage I didn’t really understand at all until 20 pages later, when I finally got a grip on WHY that girl freaked out 20 pages before. It would be great if I could eventually understand the full context. 🙂
        Of course, motivation depends from day to day.
        I’m really not a background-sound-person, so actually, listening for 24 hours to anything would totally freak me out. The amount I’m doing now is far more than I usually do. That is why I don’t use my mp3 player, although I have one – somewhere…. 😛

        However, thank you very much for caring so much about my ‘problems’. It’s just nice to see other people actually having gone through the same thing.
        As for the positive moments. I know that from playing the clarinet, there are these times when you try and try for the whole day and the more you try the more you suck. However the next day is the rewarding. Suddenly it flows by as if it never had been different.
        I actually never had the experience to that extent in Japanese. However, I’m really really happy when I encounter a word or kanji I just learnt about one or two weeks before. You can see me with a broad smile or even laughing out loud in such moments.
        Waaah! I actually just had a positive experience! A Japanese gave me a Japanese copy of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ about 3 years ago. It was just impossible at that time. Actually, I had a try at it (I just found my self-written furigana in it) and put it back to the bookshelf after seven pages where it remained for the rest of the time… I always regarded it as impossible. Just had a look in and it seems very well manageable, although I probably won’t get the details again. Maybe I’ll start of with it, when having finished the current novel.

    • May 14, 2011 at 01:44

      It sounds to me that you’re already doing plenty to learn Japanese. Watching videos, writing on lang-8, reviewing Kanji, learning new Kanji, talking with friends, watching TV, .. did I miss something? Oh, and reading a novel? This is a lot. I struggle with this same mental issue as you. That’s just what it is, though.. I want to say, “it’s all in your head!”

      I’ve always had anxiety about my progress, and it’s caused me to move slower than I care to admit.. and it’s gotten me no where in a whole heck of a lot of time.. So, don’t be like me. haha

      Nowadays I spend my afternoons reading books, watching dramas, and sometimes tinkering with the SRS. I do 10 minutes of shadowing in the morning, and 3 minutes before bed. And that’s about it. I’m gradually trying to build on this. I had taken a massive 3-month break, and I’m just trying to build up little by little on the tasks that I try to accomplish each day. I keep track of my progress using the contact calendar to make sure I do something each hour, and I use something to keep track of the few minutes of shadowing I do each day. My goal right now is to get to 500 hours. But, within that, I have mini-goals like doing 3 minutes everyday before bed.

      Basically, I’m just saying, your major goals might benefit you better if they’re based on an amount of time in the language, rather than a number of words, sentences, or characters. And, it’s been working really well for me to have such a small task right before bed and when waking up. And, I’ve gradually watched my progress go from 0 hours to almost 9 hours, going at 3 minutes a day.. I just recently added the morning practice. But the important part was, for me anyways, doing something each day and learning to appreciate small steps.

      Anyways, you’ll get there, just find stuff to keep you interested. And, be *honest* with yourself about what’s fun/interesting and what isn’t. This alone kept me from progressing quickly for a looong time. I’ve found that my favorite genre of books is TOEIC books for learning English. ^^ If that’s your thing, too, try reading 「超音読」,「もしも英語が出来たなら」, or if you want something more technical, 「シャドーイングと音読の科学」. Before I was trying to find random stuff to read because I felt a duty to read.. it wasn’t until I got curious about other topics that I started buying books that I actually would read. And, just yesterday I was feeling some kind of lament because I was spending less time with Japanese. I looked at my folder of videos on my hard drive.. and sure enough, none of them interest me anymore enough that I’ll re-watch them. People love novel things. If you continue to have turn-over, i.e. deleting boring stuff, changing the order of your play lists, adding in new stuff, etc., it’ll keep things novel, and as a result, more interesting. This is important because you’ll just lose yourself once you find something truly interesting. That’s when you’re really making progress. So, just focus on finding cool stuff, do a little bit of study, and keep doing the things you said you were doing. Every little bit helps. And, you’ll eventually realize you’re awesome. But, I think that comes after you forget about where you are for a long time.

      Anyways, good luck!

      • Anne
        May 14, 2011 at 05:44

        Thank you very much for confirming me in just sticking to doing what is fun to me. 🙂
        I know this is all this site is about, but still I get the impression of everyone running after SRS-ing 10000 sentences.

        Furthermore thank you for the advice with being true to myself about what actually is interesting and fun for me. I often get the impression I should be able to read texts about Japanese culture in Japanese or about Japanese economy and so on. Actually, these topics aren’t that interesting to me. Don’t get me wrong, I am interested in Japanese culture, obviously, but I’m not a total fan of martial arts or origami or manga and I’ve read the more basic things before or even experienced them myself, so I don’t want to read a text about japanese politeness or suicide rates or whatever. Obviously I don’t know many words that occur in those texts that you may find in a textbook in lesson 20 or something. (Yes, I did use textbooks once, I even own some)
        I did find really interesting blogs though on topics I find interesting and there I don’t have problems looking up words I don’t get. (in one the writer even used words like 需要, so I kind of have some hope, I will eventually get economy vocabulary as well, if I just read enough blogs on stuff I consider interesting. I even SRS-d that one, because I was so happy to come across an economy-word in my life. :-P)

  8. Kaz
    May 13, 2011 at 10:31

    Do it later, yes, but remember to actually do it

  9. Mespia
    May 13, 2011 at 10:55

    Hm. Some of this site is a bit extreme, a bit exaggerated, or extremely exaggerated. This post is good, though.

    I’ve been wanting to learn Japanese for a few years now, but I never really did anything about it. I didn’t really get past the “watashi wa sumisu-san desu” part. I learned my kana, but looking at huge walls of Japanese text made me think: look at all those symbols. I’m supposed to know what they mean at one glance. And the kanji is impossible. I’ll never learn how.

    But I’ll never learn if I don’t start anywhere. So, I’m following Heisig’s method. I just started, but already I can tell that I can pick out the kanji I do know, and it doesn’t seem so intimidating. It seems like I really just have to get used to it more.

    • ベン
      May 13, 2011 at 16:52

      Just out of curiosity, what is it that you find exaggerated?

    • 魔法少女☆かなたん
      May 14, 2011 at 11:56

      Stop looking at stuff that’s too hard. I think I learned more English from reading Calvin & Hobbes than from long walls of text, probably because it was amusing. Don’t just start “anywhere”, find a place that’s fun, or you’ll burn out and start telling yourself that you just can’t do this Japanese thing.

    • jimmy carter
      May 14, 2011 at 13:50

      exaggerated as in emotional?

      yes it’s a very emotional site.
      however, what khatz puts on the site isn’t unrealistic.

      logic can’t be exaggerated; what khatz posts onto this blog is his logic.
      ajatt is khatz “truth”, his genuine knowledge and experience written on a blog.


  10. micl
    May 17, 2011 at 14:28


    • mevsjapanese
      May 17, 2011 at 21:30


      It reminds me of this story:

      A lord spoke to his servant one day:
      Lord: Be sure to plant that cherry tree this afternoon.
      Servant: But it will not bloom for 40 years!
      Lord: Better make it this morning then.

      I don’t understand how looking at Japanese can improve your reading skill. You have to read Japanese to get better at it. Anything else is just looking at letters.

      • ダンちゃん
        May 18, 2011 at 13:54

        Before you can walk, first you must crawl. ^^

        ‘looking’ is not a passive process.

  11. ebutler
    August 24, 2012 at 08:26

    Reading this post makes me want to re-start kanji. I had made it to 850ish before letting it go and now my repetitions have piled up. This was my first attempt. I’m getting psyched up for a second attempt. 😀

    Anyway, this isn’t too discouraging. I’ve written a big piece of software before and I failed on the first two attempts–after getting quite a bit of the way through each one–before finally succeeding on the third. I felt very good once I succeeded, so I feel very good about this process! 😀

    Thanks. 🙂

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