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The George Costanza Guide to Learning Japanese — 13 Comments

  1. This was a really entertaining post! Had me laughing but nodding my head at the wisdom. Thank you.

  2. Follow this and you too can be master of your domain.

    Now…what would be the Japanese language learning equivalent of “having hand”?

  3. Great question StereotypeA! What do you think of “interesting and just barely comprehensible input” as an equivalent? Like “the upper hand,” that is what almost everyone wants. But it is also, as Jerry says, “tough to get.” Anyway, that’s the best I can do off-the-cuff. Would love to see some other answers.

  4. What’s the opposite of translating in your head? I haven’t been able to come up with any decent answers.

        • Listen/read for thousands and thousands of hours ;) I don’t think it’s possible to not do some amount of translating in your head in the beginning. You have to spend a lot of time with the language before your brain gets used to it, but eventually you’ll get to the point where you just understand what’s being said without that extra translation step.

          • That’s a non-answer. Rather than answer specifically what implicit understanding is and what it is to do that, you say that it’s the inevitable result of practice. If I’m still translating in my head, then it must be because I’m still in the beginning stages and I’ll get there eventually, regardless of how much time I’ve actually spent with the language up until this point. It’s unfalsifiable logic.

            And listening/reading a lot would presumably reinforce translating rather than move me away from it, at least without being able to practice any other clear alternative.

            • Implicit understanding (to me) is simply a lack of needing to mentally translate from the language you are learning to your native language (or some other language that you are good at). Just as you don’t need to translate anything when someone speaks to you in your native language. You just understand what they are saying. I don’t think there is a way to practice implicit understanding, because it’s not so much of a skill that can be practised, but more of a side effect of reaching a high level in the target language.

              It’s kind of like learning how to read as a kid. At first you have to go very slowly. You have to look at and make the sound for each individual letter in a word before you can put the sounds together and make out the word, and you can’t fathom how grown-ups can read so fast. Then as you read more and more your brain gets better and better at processing letter patterns, and eventually you don’t need to think about the letters any more, you just look at a word and read it. And once you reach this stage you simply drop the training wheels so to speak and your reading ability is not hurt by the fact that you at one time had to make out the sound for each letter in a word in order to read it. I think implicit understanding works much in the same way.

              This is just my personal opinion that I base mostly on learning a second language (English) to a rather high level. It would be interesting to hear what some other people who have done the same (Adshap?) think.

        • How do you practice it? Comprehensible input and massive amounts of it.

          What forms does it take? Mostly reflexive reaction. If you hear 元気? and then you go 「元気→energy; vigor→Do I have energy?→Yes, I do!→はい、そうです。」vs just spitting out 「うん、元気。」. You can tell when people have to translate because they are slow to respond to questions, slow to laugh at jokes, and miss cultural nuance when the English gloss they’ve associated with a word doesn’t fix the context they’ve just heard it in. You also notice it in their responses since it will have that kind of 私は・・・ feel to it.

          Implicit understand requires zero actions in the same way you don’t instruct each individual muscle to contract just the right amount in order to move your legs to walk. You outgrow the need for translation complete and for that moment in time, even if it is super brief, you exist only in Japanese.

          Also it’s not magical at all. Foreigners that live here for long enough have an implicit understanding of many Japanese things even if they don’t speak any Japanese at all. They know what keitai, onigiri, and nomihodai are just as well you know samurai, sushi and karaoke.

    • I’m not sure how much Carlton could help, but Will Smith is a good model for anyone wanting to level up quickly. His work ethic is inspiring.

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