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Why the Way You Ask People for Advice is Totally Messed Up and Is Never Going to Get You Anywhere — And How to Fix It

So, I get all kinds of emails from breathless kids wanting me to tell them exactly how to do it — how to get used to a language. And they want it all, they want to know every single detail. They’ve never made an MCD in their life, but they want to know right now, in advance, exactly whether what they’re doing is right and whether or not it’s going to work.

There’s nothing wrong with that kind of conscientiousness…

…Except for its timing.

Let’s pretend that you’re cheap with your money but loose with your time (read: a college student lol) so you’ve decided to take a road trip from Nueva York to Los Angels. Do you really need to know every twist and turn? Do you really need a list of every single turn and every single road between Russ & Daughters on Houston Street and the BookOff in Torrance?

No. All you actually need to know is the next step, the next turn. And when you get there, you can check again to make sure you’re going in the right direction, ask around (the map is not the territory — things go out of date quite rapidly; roads are under repair sometimes). If you’re a beginner (whether a total beginner or a beginner in a new phase), the first step is the next step, so all you need to know is the first step.

You don’t even need to know whether or not what you’re doing is gonna work. In most cases, your problem is not bad action but total inaction.

You don’t need to listen to me that hard in the beginning. You just need to get started. When to really listen to me is in the middle, when I tell you you’re not hearing enough Japanese or you need to start buying Japanese books long before you can even understand them, or…whatever.

It’s in the MIDDLE that you need my advice. It’s your mid-game that needs work. It’s your mid-game that needs my help most, not your opening game. Even the worst methods in the world (read: school) can get people to so-called “intermediate” level — middling proficiency where you know quite a bit but you also start to realize (and let yourself become oppressed by) the magnitude of what you don’t know.

But it takes an AntiMoon, an AJATT-like method to take you from middling intermediate to advanced and native-like awesomeness.

Now, here is where life starts to imitate Greek tragedy: even though mid-game is where people need my advice most, it is also when they are least likely to take it. Cassandra becomes my middle name. By mid-game, you’ve got rhythm and habits and prejudices, good and bad. You’ve got firm beliefs. It really is ironic, because in the beginning, people are so open to instruction, so bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, so virgin snow-like that they even suspend their belief in common sense. Example:

“Is it OK if I watch movies in Japanese, Khatz?”
“Is rap music OK to listen to, Khatz?”
“Is it OK if I watch American movies dubbed into Japanese, Khatz? Won’t I pick up bad dub habits?”

To me, these questions defy belief. If I sit back calmly, sip some organic milk, and have just had a professional massage, then I’ve got enough control over my anger reflex to not just lash out with a flippant remark, and I can momentarily see how a person could be asking me questions like those. Incidentally, the answer to all of those questions is simple:

Do Japanese kids do it?
Then 999,999 out of a million times, it’ll be good for you to do, too.

But, yeah, Cassandra syndrome, because by mid-game, not only do unorthodox methods get rejected, so does common sense. Beginners often refuse to think for themselves while intermediates refuse any ideas that defy those they accepted as beginners.

This Greek tragedy business is both globally and locally true. So you even see it on small scales. Guy who’s decided to make MCDs has five million questions for me. But once he’s made some, my small-but-significant corrections and suggestions fall on deaf ears. He goes from…I dunno…something to something else. How to not be that guy? Make some MCDs first…try stuff for a few weeks first, and then show me what you’ve tried and ask me about it.


Opening game is a quantity problem, not a quality problem. Get Japanese in your ears. Get Japanese in your eyes. Get kanji coming out of your hand. It’s all about volume. It’s mid-game where clever tweaks start to carry more weight. It’s mid-game where I want you to hang on my every word (not literally, but…yeah).

Mid-game is when I want you to be open to suggestions and corrections, because at mid-game, I’m making suggestions and corrections based on actual data — experiential data that you have been so kind as to accumulate for me, yourself and the world.

And, at every stage, obviously assuming no bodily harm, I want you to try first and ask questions later. Try things out before talking back. Talk back all you want once you’ve actually given something a try. So, guy who dismisses SRS out of hand? Idiot. Guy who tries SRS, uses it correctly (in short, frequent bursts, not binges) and still wants out? Smart guy; let him walk his own path.

Head in the general direction of LA first, and ask for directions not once in one big advice binge, but many times along the way. 

  2 comments for “Why the Way You Ask People for Advice is Totally Messed Up and Is Never Going to Get You Anywhere — And How to Fix It

  1. kyub
    May 28, 2014 at 20:42

    On MCDs….Have you tried experimenting with MCD type audio? Like Maybe a sentence with a small chunk blanked out and then you have the actual full sentence? Whether or not you know the actual word, maybe just taking out 3 or 4 syllables. IDK maybe in theory It can work. Guess it’s something I could experiment with too as well.

  2. donald
    June 1, 2014 at 15:27

    On the subject of giving and getting advice, I found this article very interesting:

    It is on the way advice-givers change the advice they give over time, as they become more
    developed in their domain. It is something to pay attention to when getting advice from

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