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You’re Not A “Learner”, You’re A Logistics Officer

Logistics is the management of the flow of the goods, information and other resources in…in order to meet the requirements of customers. Logistics involves the integration of information, transportation, inventory, warehousing, material handling, and packaging…Logistics is a channel of the supply chain.” — The Pedia Of Wikiness


It’s a well-meaning word. It means well. It wasn’t trying to hurt you; it wasn’t trying to lead you astray.

But think of everything that that word implies: struggle…diligence…wooden desks…obedience…a bit more struggle.

You know what, though? That’s not even the worst thing about the word “learner” with regard to language acquisition. The worst thing about it is that it’s racist…Wait, no.

The worst thing about it is that it’s inaccurate. It’s inappropriate. It does not actually describe the character and behavior that causes the desired effect. “Learning” Japanese does not cause you to become proficient at Japanese.

You’re like: “Hold on…what?”

That’s right. To the extent that the word “learn” often comes loaded with connotations of boredom, textbooks, confusion and more boredom, you don’t get good at Japanese by “learning” it. You get good at Japanese by getting used to it. In fact, for all intents and purposes, good at = used to.

I wish I didn’t suck at writing. I wish I could just make you see it the way it appears in my head. But I can’t. Never fear. Let me try to break it down for you anyway.

  • Environment → Habit → “Used to” = Good At

Habit is a function of environment. The environment variables are inputs and habit is the output. Whatever is in your environment is what you will get used to, is what you will get good at, is what you will learn (in the truest sense of the word).

OK, so what does this mean for someone trying to get good at Japanese? Just this:

Stop calling yourself a learner. Start calling yourself a facilitator. Start calling yourself a logistics officer.

You are a manager. You serve your body — especially the eyes and ears. Your task is to ensure the unfettered flow of information, materials, supplies and other resources in the general direction of your eyes and ears.

It’s like food. Think about it. You don’t go — “hey, I’m gonna do some peristalsis now”. No. Your body does that. You just make sure there’s stuff to work on. You get the food delivered to your mouth at certain times of day. But the rest is kind of out of your hands. It’s not your job.

Acquiring a language is similar. You don’t have to be nearly as deliberate and involved as you think. You’re just a glorified delivery guy. The logistics officer. The supply chain manager. You don’t have to worry about what happens to the package; there are other people whose job that is; you just deliver it.

Simply wanting to get good at [= get used to] Japanese doesn’t directly result in getting good at it. What does? Creating and maintaining local physical environments does. Because local physical environments tend to overpower “outcome desires” when it comes to the immediate causes of behavior. Most of the time, you sit in the chair that’s there, not in the chair that should be there or that you wish were there. Mmm…there are some massive logical holes in this argument, but hopefully you get what I’m getting at.

What does that mean, really? It means that…if you desire a certain outcome, don’t waste your time desiring that outcome. Spend your time desiring environmental inputs that inevitably cause that outcome.  Don’t wish to be good at Japanese, start wishing for and putting yourself in situations — in physical environments — that, over time, in terms of probability, make it very difficult to not be good at Japanese. This is that “stochastic inevitability”.

How do you create and maintain physical environments? Easy. Logistics. Supply lines. So, for Japanese, you make it so that your eyes and ears are getting tasty chunks of Japanese supplied to them — consistently, frequently, endlessly. You do your part. You do your job. Nature does the rest.

Don’t ask whether you’re getting good at Japanese. Ask what’s getting in your face. That’s the question that matters, because it’s the question that answers just about everything else.

If everything that hit your face were stuck there forever, piling on like layers of dust, how much Japanese would be stuck there? How thick would that grime be?

The Japanese word for 1 logistics is “物流” (butsuryuu). It literally means “the flow of things”. What is the flow of things into your life? Into your face? Are those things Japanese? These are the questions that matter.


  1. Oh snap…let the Orientalism begin

  16 comments for “You’re Not A “Learner”, You’re A Logistics Officer

  1. Carl
    February 3, 2011 at 13:12

    You keep saying the same thing over and over again. And that’s a good thing. Thank you.

    • Chagami
      February 4, 2011 at 00:26

      I agree and I think I know why; because idiots like me need a huge amount of “different approaches” and different ways of explaining to get AJATT.

      You see, this is essentially what I’ve got out of AJATT: you don’t try to learn (spoken) Japanese, you just plug into it and go from there.

      The problem with this is, “go from there”???!! What specifically do you mean???! The “learning” process has been so drilled into me from school, that I found it really hard to break free of it. But that’s what I have now finally been able to do. The reality is that you don’t have to do anything else but plug in. You plug in, listen, and your brain will take care of the learning process.

      As stated in this post, your job; find input. Your brain’s job; figure it out.

      I think that having this article earlier would’ve helped me a lot, as it seems to be the article stating AJATT that’s fine tuned for me.

      • February 4, 2011 at 08:22

        I have little confidence in my brain, but I am convinced of the negative — without listening to Japanese, I’ll never understand Japanese.

        • Chagami
          February 6, 2011 at 05:03

          Cathryn, if it helps, I could point out the fact that you’ve done this once before (when learning L1) so why can’t you do it again? 🙂

          I’m the same though, I have little self confidence so I know where you’re coming from. I’ve been able to overcome this by not striving to learn Japanese, but striving to create/maintain an immersion environment.

          Currently, I’m slowly piecing it together. I figure that by next Friday, I’ll be completely immersed. So That’s my goal. Once completely immersed, my goal will be to maintain the environment. It seems to be a way more manageable goal then learning Japanese.

          And also, for those skeptical to being able to maintain the environment, the reality is, if you build it right, you won’t want to leave it once you’re in! (My best example of this is that I used to be unable to sleep with any audio on. For the last week, I’ve had Japanese audio on every night, and now, I would feel strange going to sleep without it.)

  2. Mattholomew III, Esquire
    February 3, 2011 at 17:45

    Have I told you lately that I love you?

  3. February 3, 2011 at 23:11

    I think this article makes a good point.
    You have to make sure your materials are supplied properly in order to get the most out of them.

    Even though I have lots of Japanese music, dvd’s, games, books etc, I found that I wasn’t really using any of them because none of it was being pushed in my face the whole time.

    Because of this I recently re-arranged everything.
    I made my access to everything Japanese effortless, and my access to English materials harder.
    For example, all of my Japanese books used to be underneath my English books, but now the Japanese ones are piled up on the English ones.
    My dvd’s used to be on a shelf on wall, now they are sitting next to my dvd player.
    My Japanese music used to be split up all over my iPod, now it’s in a playlist.

    I made the supply of Japanese something that I don’t even have to think about anymore; It only took 1 hour of my time to do it all, and because of it I am learning a lot more, and as a result of that I’m having more fun with each passing day.

  4. Joel Peterson
    February 4, 2011 at 07:25

    I have found your website to be a very useful tool in the study of Japanese.

    I have gone a couple of days without Japanese material; I immediately felt myself beginning to slip, understanding less of what was going on when I did spend time with the material.

    It made me realize just how important the method is. If Japanese becomes this thing you do, on the side, after everything else, it becomes very difficult to stay interested, and impossible to be immersed.

    Japanese books, video games, television, music; these are the things that I have been integrating into my life. I have limited material at the moment, but day by day, I am gradually increasing it – no excuses! When I realized I did not have the expendable income to spend on some of the books I wanted, namely Remembering the Kanji, I found a solution doing odd jobs on a website, and using the credit on Amazon. When I realized I did not have many DVD’s in the Japanese language, I downloaded KeyholeTV, and watch it instead of regular TV. Even mundane things, such as changing my iphone language, or using chopsticks to eat all of my meals, though they seem fairly inconsequential on the surface, have been important tactics.

    Thank you for sharing all of the information. I didn’t want to immediately start commenting about how your site has changed my life – but it literally has! There is a hell of a lot more Japanese in all aspects of my life, and a lot less of everything else. And it has been a great experience so far.

  5. February 4, 2011 at 11:32

    Lately I’ve been thinking of myself as a Japanese TV station program director, I need to keep new fresh shows playing to keep my audience interested and ratings up. Luckily I’m the audience too so it’s really easy to find stuff I know is gonna be a hit.

    I keep VLC player open and just throw new stuff in it so I can keep it playing all the time. I save the playlist when I need to close it that way I don’t lose my order or forget what shows I had added. I have a dual monitor set-up and keep VLC player up on monitor 2 while I’m doing school work or what have you on the other, otherwise I just move it over to monitor 1 and black out the 2nd monitor so I can sit back and watch TV.

  6. Nick
    February 13, 2011 at 06:38

    I think you mean “unfettered”, no “enfettered”!

  7. February 16, 2011 at 15:56

    I think that you’re definitely right, but missing something here. While there are some people who can just passively accept an input and learn (or “get used to”) something, most people do need to add a degree of effort. There are too many people who have been floating around Japan for years and years but can barely speak a word of the language for me to think otherwise.

  8. October 26, 2011 at 18:53

    I’m about halfway through this whole immersion thing but I won’t stop at 10,000 hours. It does work really well. I’ve made a lot of progress and I haven’t “studied” a language in ages. Merely listening to the language is enough.

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