Japanese Study Progress Is Tetris
Attention: linear learners out there. I know what you want: A–>B–>C–>D. You want to proceed in a straight forward fashion. Start with the building blocks and work your way up. Stack one item onto the next, each a step up from the last. In the beginning phases (weeks and months), you were probably able to pull this off. But then one day . . .
You come across something that you just can’t grasp.
You were progressing in one nice smooth direction. Gaining one new piece of acquired knowledge after the next. And all of a sudden you get stuck on something. You struggle, kind of get it, and move on. And then it’ll happen again. And again. And then you start to experience it:
1. You lose confidence and cast doubt on yourself. You were following things exactly in order and so perfectly. You were working hard. You “should” be able to understand this next grammar pattern, sentence, or vocabulary but you can’t.
2. You spend an excessive amount of time trying to understand what you are stuck on to make sure you return to that crystal clear acquisition you had before.
3. Your forward pace becomes sluggish as you try to review the previous steps you took to arrive there.
This isn’t the way it works.
You are not building linear blocks one on top of the other. You are playing Tetris.
And how does Tetris work? You continually fill the screen with various shaped blocks. When you make a straight line, those blocks clear. If the blocks pile up towards the top, you lose.
You start off with a blank slate. As blocks land, you are gaining knowledge.
When you clear a line, that knowledge becomes ingrained into your mind.
In the beginning it is easy to clear lines. You feel comfortable. Your screen is free of clutter, and all this is getting firmly thrown into your memory. But as you know, speed picks up, blocks become more irregular, and gaps start appearing.
But you can’t spend time worrying about those small gaps. You have to move on since you can’t control the next shapes that will be delivered to you. Sometimes you will clear lines above those gaps.
And eventually, the right pieces fall in place, and you can clear all the other lines that you couldn’t clear before.
This is how your Japanese progresses
As you move forward, you get those gaps that you can’t understand now. And now is the key word. Because later, due to the right alignment of other knowledge blocks (grammar, vocabulary, exposure) that will come to you in various order, you will eventually be able to fill everything in. And it will be like magic. Those things that you just never seemed to grasp before all of a sudden make sense, all due to one proper block you needed.
Your studying will continue like this because learning Japanese isn’t linear. The important thing is not to get stuck or stop. You can’t pause your Tetris game. Always move forward. Don’t fear buildup. As any excellent player will be able to eventually clear everything down, no matter how high their blocks and gaps pile up.
I promise you, there will be Russian fireworks for you at the end of each stage of your journey.
And maybe, just maybe, you’ll achieve this?
Finally, you might want to get back to your studying with some good background music.
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.
Thank you for the article. I feel I hit that intermediate stage of my Japanese and every new thing that I learn it takes me a while to understand it. Sometimes, I understand it but I can’t use it or output. I glad I am not the only one who feels or has felt like this way. :)
Love the analogy. My learning process seems to be somewhat similar to what you’re saying; it’s just that I’ve never really realized it until reading this article. I would cover some grammar, not quite understand, forget about it, move forward. Then later on, when an accumulation of knowledge would build up, that covered grammar would make me have that “Ah-HAH!” moment.
Wow, really amazing post (and I’m pretty impressed by how speedy it was, considering that the discussion that motivated it was pretty recent).
It’s quite impressive how good a metaphor tetris is for the post initial stages of japanese learning… It just works on so many levels… Except, unlike with tetris, pieces can often pass through other pieces to get to where they should be :P
This post inspired me to… waste a lot of study time playing tetris.
THIS IS SO TRUE! MY GAPS OF UNDERSTANDING ARE PERFECTLY DISPLAYED AS A MISSING BLOCK ON THE BOTTOM ROWS! Ah this made my happy that the Tetris analogy perfectly describes my journey atm but now I know that I shouldn’t worry and that once I clear the row I am on now I will get to it and finally clear it.