Always Keep things Interesting

463211561_6db2388757Today we’re going to be talking about natural selection. A science lesson on a language-learning blog? It’s OK, calm down. It’ll be fun. I know nobody actually learned anything from school, but remember Charles Darwin and his theory of natural selection? Something about how only the creatures best suited to their environment survive and the ones that are less adapted get killed off.

As it turns out, the same principle applies to language learning. I’ll call this The Survival of the Most Interesting to make it sound like I know what I’m talking about.

When we learn a language, we get exposed to a lot of different ideas because everyone knows the best way to learn a language.

Buy Rosetta Stone.
Memorize the kanji before you start learning grammar.
Download Anki.

Some of these ideas are good for you, and some are bad. But how do you know which ideas will work for you?

Try them out.

But only keep the ideas that interest you. If it gets boring, then don’t do it. I’ve done a lot of boring things before. At first, they started out really fun and interesting and I loved doing them but after a while I got tired of them and I found something better. Keep the interesting ideas and throw out the old ones.

Oh, but that sounds so cruel! What if the idea you’re throwing out is a really good one? That’s OK. It’s just part of nature. The big ones eat the little ones, the interesting ones eat the boring ones, and things like that. What happened to the dinosaurs? They were pretty awesome, but they just couldn’t adapt. Things changed, and they just weren’t the fittest any more. Now they’re dead. It’s sad, but that’s life.

Someone once gave me a really good idea.

“You should listen to Japanese podcasts all day! It’ll help your listening comprehension!” He gave me a few links and off I went on a Japanese podcast downloading spree. I looped them through iTunes all day and my house turned into a loud, nonstop Japanese talk show.

It was great. I packed a dinky little iPod Shuffle full of podcasts and listened to it as I walked around town. But, alas, they became boring – and I found something more interesting.

Now I was listening to Japanese music all day. I liked the podcasts, but they lacked a lot of good drum-work. No rhythm to them at all. Podcasts probably work better than loud Japanese rock music. The words aren’t covered up by distorted guitar noise. Podcasts don’t usually sing choruses in Engrish. If I was going by “Survival of the most effective ways to learn Japanese”, I probably should have kept listening to podcasts all day long.

But music was a lot more interesting. Podcasts aren’t a bad idea. But they just couldn’t survive. Maybe podcasts will become more interesting for me later. They’ll probably be a lot more interesting when I’m able to understand more of them.

Now, when I say “interesting” I don’t just mean “not fun“.

Even things that interest me aren’t always fun. Reading your favorite light novel is a lot of fun. Looking up five words you don’t know per page in a Japanese dictionary isn’t. It can be a lot of drudgery, but it’s not so bad because the book is worth it to you. It’s interesting, even if it’s not always fun.

I used to base my study methods on peer pressure.

If everyone said it was a good idea, well, I’d better do it, right? I’ve heard this from a lot of people: “You should watch some Japanese kid’s shows!” Dragonball, Naruto and friends. “You’ll learn a lot of new words, and they’re pretty easy to understand!”

Well, most of them are, but I found them to be really dull. No offense to the Naruto fanboys. I love you guys. But after watching a couple of episodes, I couldn’t take much more. They were pretty boring, and I wanted to spend some time doing something I enjoyed.

So I’ve evolved my study methods a lot over the months, and you should too.

Kill off the weak, boring ones and move on to the new, interesting ones. Last month I would read an hour of manga every morning. In bed. It doesn’t get much better than that. But I got bored with it. These days I spend most of my time communicating with Japanese people on Lang-8. Evolution in action!

Give your ideas some room to grow and change over time, and you’ll live a happy, fulfilled life. I guarantee it.

What are some ways your methods have changed over the months?

Written by: Eric

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A writer for Japanese Level Up, a part-time graphic designer, and purveyor of fine Japanese art (which consists mostly of anime, manga and weird music). When he's not wasting time in Japanese, you can usually find him making pretty pictures or studying something that sounds interesting.


Always Keep things Interesting — 14 Comments

  1. I’ve been feelign the same way lately, I’ve downloaded hundreds of podcasts but I end up tiring myself out and listening to only music for a while haha, but then again it IS japanese music so that’s already more than nothing at all!

  2. I couldn’t agree more, to a point. I’m constantly mixing up the Japanese media I immerse myself in. Books one week, movies the next. Podcasts have become a mainstay for me but I’ve always been a talk radio fan over music so they’re a natural fit.

    It’s also important not to avoid some of the fundamentals even if they get boring though. And I find that consuming media makes those fundamentals more fun. I get excited about going through a flashcard deck because holy crap this morning I totally understood three new words in that podcast because I just covered them the day before! The boring becomes an awesome mark of progress instead.

    • Thanks for the comment! :) When I get bored with one of the “fundamentals”, say Anki as an example, I always try to find a way to make it more interesting. Instead of textbook-example-sentences, add lines from your favorite drama! Things like that. :) I agree, there are plenty of great ways to spruce up boring things. :) But if the “fundamentals” make you hate learning Japanese, you find them boring no matter what you do to try to convince yourself otherwise, I wouldn’t do them. Not everybody can stand Anki even if you throw in a bunch of cards from your favorite show/whatever. But you can always come back to them later if you change your mind. :)

  3. I’m sure people have shared ideas on this before, but can anyone recommend some really entertaining Japanese podcasts? (Perhaps ones that tend to use intermediate-level language?)

  4. Eric, I’ve enjoyed all of your articles because they provide a bit of nostalgia for me. For whatever reason the path you are on now seems somewhat similar to my own, but this particular subject really hit home because I find it’s still relevant years and years later. In particular I submit this theorem:

    You probably have a lot more in common with your Japanese peers than you do with your Japanese language learning peers.

    Although Adshap and I seem to both share a taste in dramas of questionable cultural merit for the most part I never seem to like any of the stuff people recommend. I also don’t really enjoy Naruto or Dragonball, nor did I enjoy Yotsuba! after the first book.

    However what I did find is that I enjoy the same things I’ve always enjoyed, for me that would be sci-fi, fantasy, gaming, and electronics, and that finding those sorts of things in Japanese helped a ton. I’ve also developed some new interests such as fashion and Japanese pop-culture which ultimate lead me to read Kyari Pamu-pamu’s book Oh! My! God! Harajuku Girl which is probably the easiest book I’ve ever read hands down. I bet there’s tons and tons of gems like that which are super amazing but don’t fit into the molds of the learning Japanese community. (Side note: One of the reasons it is so easy to read is because it’s about every day events so there’s almost no specialized vocabulary. Also she explains all of the abbreviations and other high school slang used.)

    In fact these days I think I would recommend magazines over manga volumes because they are so inclusive. You get pictures, full sentences, and the articles will eventually point you to other things in your sphere of interest. They are also a much easier transition to books than manga are and there are plenty of magazines written at a very low reading level. (Every fashion magazine ever is barely middle school level because frankly a lot of them are targeting audiences with low levels of education.)

    • Thanks! I’m glad you enjoy my articles. :)

      I like how you think. You’re right, it’s always much better to find what interests you than what interests the language-learning community. Like I said, peer pressure sucks! I’ve always been a big supporter or finding your own way. Everybody seems to think everyone should follow the same path. Glad to hear you’ve found some materials you find interesting – but I still can’t figure out how anybody could not enjoy Yotsubato! :)

      • To be fair I owe Yotsubato! a lot. It was the first manga I sat down and read cover to cover without stopping. However that turned out to be the weak point because of the way I was organizing my studying at that time. I was deep in the middle of AJATT’s SilverSpoon and the page-per-card(1) factor of Yotsubato! wasn’t very high for me anymore.

        I think if I was going to go back and read a similar manga I would dig up some stuff from the 80s instead. At some point your Japanese level far exceeds your cultural knowledge and social training and you have to put some effort into bringing that up to speed. So it’s probably better for me to get really into ちびまる子ちゃん instead because that would fit the childhood my Japanese peers had.

        That said I would still recommend Yotsubato! to anyone learning Japanese. The fact that it’s so self defining, for example they talk about global warming and then immediately explain to her what that is, is absolutely amazing. You couldn’t write a more engaging textbook if you tried. (Er, I mean except until the JALUP RPG textbook comes out!) Furthermore the worst thing I’ve seen from university learners is that they spend 4+ years just studying when most of them could read something like Yotsubato! without difficulty after their 2nd year or so. That’s so much better than those boring sakubun(2) they put in textbooks.

        (1) I wanted harder stuff that I could get more Anki cards out of. Despite the whole “Japanese should be fun” mantra whenever I get busy I almost exclusively focus on it as a task to be completed. It’s worth noting this is a personality quirk and I do this with a lot of my entertainment.

        (2) 作文[さくぶん]: boring writing; essay; composition

        • Right, nothing wrong with not liking Yotsuba. I was just teasing. :) You are right, though, Yotsubato is a Japanese-learner’s best friend. It’s almost as if it was written half-intended for language-learners.

          Getting acquainted with Japanese culture is important too, and that’s why I’ve always loved silly slice-of-life manga/media like Yotsubato and ちびまる子. Obviously they were never intended to be too much more than fluff but it’s always a fun glimpse into Japanese culture, especially for dumb Americans like me who still haven’t been to Japan. :)

  5. I recently set up my anki deck to be a platform for experimenting with card types. I divided it into subdecks based on card format and type of source, and have them so that the ones I currently think are most valuable come first. When I decide to make a significant tweak, I start a new subdeck at the top. I don’t always worry about finishing all my reviews, but the best ones are most likely to happen.

    Cards I’m currently adding use the furigana cloze tools addon. I make one card with all the furigana clozed which I treat like a normal jalup reading card, then any new kanji word gets a cloze with the kanji, and grammar points get the whole grammar element clozed including both kanji and reading if there’s kanji.

    Also except for some loose standard of keeping up with some kind of review, my study is always pretty much whatever I feel like.

    • I love experimenting with Anki. I have a whole bunch of decks, I start a new one every time I try something new and merge the ones I come to like. I know some people keep 8,000 card decks with their very first card stuck at the beginning, but I usually get rid of the ones that bore me or are too old & easy.

      You remind me. I need to make some more cloze delete cards myself :)

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