The first post in the “Can You Learn Japanese Simply By Having Fun” series has apparently sparked a debate over my site and another similar Japanese language learning site All Japanese All The Time (AJATT). I’m going to take this opportunity to finally write a post I’ve been considering for a while on this subject, as a lot of users of his site use mine (and vice versa). Let me just set two things straight right from the beginning that may be confusing some readers:
1. The posts in this “learn by fun” series are not in any way intended to attack AJATT at all.
2. I like and recommend AJATT.
But just to make sure everyone understands what is going on here, a brief introduction is in order about his site and the controversy surrounding certain aspects of it:
Welcome to AJATT
AJATT is a popular language learning blog created by Khatzumoto and was created around 2006 (it may have been earlier, as his original site was deleted due to bad hosting). His story is that he learned Japanese in 18 months by having fun and started at the age of 21. Through his self-created method (which borrows on immersion concepts, Remembering the Kanji, and a spaced repetition system like Anki), by September 2005, he had learned enough to read technical material, conduct business correspondence and job interviews in Japanese, and the following month, landed a job as a software engineer at a large Japanese company in Tokyo. He has been living in Japan ever since.
Khatzumoto’s method didn’t involve classes or textbooks or living in Japan. It involved spending 18-24 hours a day doing something, anything in Japanese (“all Japanese, all the time”). Despite the time commitment, he did this while being a full-time student majoring in computer science at a university, with intensive coursework, jobs, a non-Japanese significant other, and far from Japan and Japanese people.
His philosophy is simple with two major principles:
1. The belief that he could become fluent in Japanese
2. Constantly doing fun stuff in Japanese
And the original goal of his site is to:
1. Tell you how he learned Japanese by having fun, so that you can do it, too.
2. Give you some new cool tools that he did not have, and that would have made things much faster and easier for him.
His website has significantly changed over the years, but it is split up into a number of free and paid components:
Main Blog (free):
This is where it all started, and provides his experience and advice over the years with an abundant amount of posts on techniques, motivation, challenges, and strategy. He still continues to update about once a week. Khatzumoto writes in a humorous and casual style. He is a smart guy and quite knowledgeable about Japanese and study methods, has great and original ideas, and has made a real difference to many people who study Japanese.
- He is repetitious and his articles long winded as he sometimes takes concepts he has covered before and rewrites them with a different angle or take on them.
- His writing has a dirty edge (low brow) and is off-putting to certain people.
His own creation of an SRS like Anki (Spaced Repetition System) which he runs from his site.
Various online Japanese study related products he has created such as Anki decks and short guidebooks.
- The site has an aggressive and in your face way of marketing its products.
- He uses limited supply tactics (despite being electronic items) on certain products.
AJATT PLUS ($$):
An extended version of his regular blog requiring membership. It includes exclusive posts and Japanese materials, free access to products, a membership-only forum, and higher priority contact and e-mail. The AJATT Plus is fairly cheap, and the cost varies at $10~15 depending on how you pay for it.
- He is charging for a private forum and articles where other sites do the same for free.
Silverspoon Neutrino ($$$):
A 595-day automated program which follows you daily as your own mini Japanese trainer until you reach fluency.
- Silverspoon Neutrino costs thousands of dollars for an automated e-product, has a refund policy of requiring you to wait for the 595 days to be over before asking for it, and value is questionable.
My Thoughts On AJATT
I already mentioned I like AJATT. All the “controversy” statements above are what you will find strewn across the internet. So what are my actual thoughts on the site?
Fun and Learning
Some people briefly look at his method and think that he is a “Mr. All-Fun Learner” that I just discussed and is merely stating “just put Japanese in your life as much as you can and have fun and you’ll be fluent.” His method is much deeper than this, and requires a thorough viewing of his site.
Some of his articles really appeal to me, are fresh and animated, and hit me exactly with what I need. Others lack punch and usually get a mere skim.
People who don’t write blogs on the internet don’t realize the ridiculous amount of time that goes into good writing. Even articles at a small 500 words which takes a reader a minute or so to read sometimes take 4-6+ hours to write. Having smooth and compelling writing, despite being short, is an arduous and lengthy task.
And we have full time jobs. This kind of free time just doesn’t appear out of nowhere. Now I don’t know Khatzumoto personally and while his writing style significantly differs from my own, it is still clean and well edited and I assume takes plenty of time. Think about it. I have published around 210 articles on this site: If you take the low end and say that each article was around 3-4 hours, that is around 600-800 hours spent on writing. Why do you think I only can write about one article a week?
Now yes, I obviously like writing on JALUP. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t. And I’m assuming Khatzumoto is the same with AJATT. But you reach a point where you would like to earn some money. This provides for two things: it gives you more free time to write more, and it is personally rewarding to know that you are doing something you love, helping other people out, and getting paid for it.
So while his products aren’t for everybody, and you are to judge for yourself what you need, I think it is admirable that he is trying to turn his passion into his livelihood. You could blame me for the same thing and say that I shouldn’t be charging for Anki decks, personal advice, and Japanese lessons. But I like what I’m doing here, and money allows me to do more of that.
His most controversial product now is Silverspoon. Now yeah, this is expensive for online material. He makes a comparison that the average Japanese learner spends several times this going to schools that don’t come anywhere close to making someone fluent in Japanese. I think that if you have the money to spend, and you are the type of person that needs the constant reinforced motivation, the product is worth the money. We create products to meet the needs of the market. One of the top requests of learners is that they wish they had someone constantly motivating them, guiding them forward, and acting as their navigator.
The JALUP and AJATT comparison
Plenty of people have compared the two sites before. Some put them in the same camp. Some put one over the other. Whatever you think about the two, that’s fine. There are definitely influences from AJATT here and I don’t hide them. There are plenty of areas that we agree on. There are others we disagree on. I can tell you one thing for sure though: we both have 5 letters in our title.
Discussion And Respect
People love, love, love to discuss methods. And for some reason AJATT is always on the top of discussion lists. If you want to discuss it, I encourage you to do so in the comments below, as this is a good place for users of both JALUP and AJATT to voice their opinions. However please remember one absolute here:
Don’t insult each other’s methods
People grow emotionally attached to the method they are using. It’s been their side kick, their guide, their close friend on the incredibly difficult journey of Japanese. How do you think it makes people feel when you try tearing it apart telling them it is worthless and stupid. People are different and use different methods for different reasons. Respect goes a long way when it comes to language learning.
Okay this went way longer than I thought. Don’t worry, the next post will be the important continuation to the “Can You Learn Japanese Simply By Having Fun” series.