Don’t Become A Second Guesser — 45 Comments

  1. Perfect timing, I’m right in the middle of this very struggle. It really does creep up on you slowly, it starts out very innocently with just one look up and before you know it you can’t stop. Gonna double down on the good fight. Now, if they can just stop coming up with a million different ways to say condition or circumstance or state this would be a lot easier.

    • “Now, if they can just stop coming up with a million different ways to say condition or circumstance or state this would be a lot easier.” <– so true. this has been one of the most challenging thing about the japanese definitions in the intermediate deck for me.

      • Me too. This is the second time I’m going through the intermediate deck. I’m guessing things probably won’t start clicking for me until I’m well into the advanced deck and beyond. I can’t wait until I have that moment where reading just clicks for me <3

      • As someone who’s taking the route of learning through textbooks and WaniKani for kanji, I should say that knowing the kanji helps a lot with the nuance. I just learned 自信 and 信用 and while both can be translated as plain confidence the kanji really help to give the nuance that 自信 is self confidence and 信用 is confidence in a more general sense.

    • Haha, the situation/circumstance/condition struggle I remember quite well. Don’t get too caught up on the finer distinctions between these words as they are heavy “feel” words, where the differences don’t really come across too well in the definition.

      Kick some ass the second time around!

    • There are differences, although fortunately they are one sided. Immersion will fix everything though. For example:

      a. A person is dying from disease and the doctor says : 危険な状態。

      b. A person is going to be eaten alive by a bear :危険な状況。

      When you are at an advanced level, you’ll start searching for things like 状態と状況の違い。

  2. What a great article, would have loved to read this back when. Adam is spot on here. Nonetheless, I don’t think there is any quick fix to completely resolve all and any future doubts. Their frequency may vary, but a lot of your doubts will leave, come and stay with you throughout your journey.

    I know everyone is probably sick of reading this, but really immersion is the key here. If you feel you’re always doubting yourself, perhaps look to the ratio of your immersion to SRS time. I don’t know the exact figure, and I’ve read rough estimates from AJATT and Tae Kim. But one thing is for certain, if your immersion time is less than or around equal to your Anki time, you’re making a huge mistake.

    This is going to make me sound like an idiot, but for the sake of illustration. I’ll never forget spending 3-5 hours in my SRS a day, and like 2-5 hours on immersion each day during my most ‘hardcore period’. I used to be hyper critical of myself, especially during SRS hours. I was so used to my perceived ‘fidelity’ of J-E and its exact one for one way of learning. Of course I read plenty about the hardships of J-J transition beforehand, so any problems I encountered were attributed to inexperience. Time was my salve.

    It was especially frustrating, as I was spending so much time trying to figure out why things weren’t adding up with J-J. In hindsight, if only I had increased my immersion 2 or 3 fold in comparison to my SRS time. Of course at the time, I thought I’d much rather get the boring part, 10,000 sentences, out the way. That way I could ‘finish’ my hardcore sentence phase and have pure unadulterated, fully comprehensible, immersion. As a result of strict review criteria for correct cards, and a burning desire to reach fluency as fast as possible, I sacrificed a huge chunk of my immersion time.

    If only I’d thought of anki as more of a supplement, rather than the end result. Perhaps then I could’ve figured out this critical truth sooner. Way sooner.
    But being a glutton for punishment taught me a lot of important things too.

    If you want that concrete feeling I was searching for so long. It’s so damn freaking simple; reading. It still takes a long time, but I promise you its a lot shorter than beating your head against a table asking for the impossible from a mere single example sentence and definition.

    For quickly building comprehension purposes, in my humble opinion, novels have no equal. Couple that with passive/active listening and you’ve got a mean recipe for success on your hands. However, I understand that around the 1000 card mark a fully fledged novel is hard to pull a lot of enjoyment out of. So obviously try to find things that you can read in great volume, and keeps you entertained enough to keep going! You’re smart enough to work out for yourself what you enjoy. Don’t forget novels are there when you need them, and you will.

    JUST KEEP GOING. Seriously, that’s the most important takeaway. Don’t give up. You’ll never rid yourself of doubt, they’ll change an evolve over time. It’s those that march forwards despite their doubts that succeed. If I had listened to my doubts there is no way I’d even have made it this far.

    In the earlier stages, reading has to take precedent over active listening. Of course passive listen while you read if you can, and I recommend it. I’m not saying to not get active listening practice, of course you have to make time for it every day. But remember, read more than listen, listen more than you SRS, and for the love of all things holy, don’t give up on Japanese. Even if you think gave up forever, you can come back. No, you will come back. You’re going to have your doubts during this journey, nothing can change that.

    Only you can decide whether or not you conquer them.

    • James, great to hear from you again! I figured you were going too hardcore over the past several months to spend time on the site, but I’m glad to see you are still around, and your Japanese studying is just as fierce as ever.

      Great advice (enough for a post haha).

      • haha thanks Adam! I was in Japan for a couple of months and then came home to a horrible backlog. One of the downsides of travelling and having too much fun with 3 other English speaking Australians haha! But yeah, I’ve been around!

        I’ve actually been meaning to tell you! I reread 夢を叶えるゾウ. Was so much better this time around. Really fell in love with it. Subsequently, I picked up quite a bit of 関西弁. Which surprisingly came in handy, as I’ve recently also fallen in love with 月曜から夜ふかし (watched it in Japan every week!)。As you probably know, 村上さん habitually switches to it. Watching Matsuko verbally destruct him is always hilarious. The banter really makes that show! Even better I can understand it now.

        Also the people are really hilarious, from the recurring characters to the miscellaneous, bizarre people who frequent the show. A particular segment with ジャガーさん left me in stitches the other day.

        月曜から夜ふかし 2016.2.15 「雪国の問題を調査した件」[HD高画質]
        The winter special above is where that aforementioned segment is. That’s also my favourite episode I’ve seen thus far, the segment of 寒ブリ was particularly fascinating. Having been to the 築地(tsukeji) fish markets recently and indulging on pricey 大トロ, this episode had me salivating and in tears of laughter all at the same time haha. Though Matsuko is right! It really is a waste to make teriyaki and daikon based dishes out of a 1000 dollar fish…. seriously. But the 刺身 was gorgeous… as the しゃぶしゃぶ

        ps. if you’re interested in checking out this episode, copy and paste the episode’s title into daily motion! It’s enjoyable at any level, but you’ll definitely fall in love with it.
        Is there any other variety show that’s as a big of a phenomena over there? Would love to check it out!

        • Nice! Sounds like you had your nice own Japan adventure.

          Don’t forget to check out the 2 sequels to 夢を叶えるゾウ.

          I hope 月曜から夜ふかし remains on the air forever. I haven’t missed an episode since the beginning. It just never ceases to entertain me. The ジャガーさん segments are so insane, it makes you want to go to Chiba and find out where he performs. I mean planet ジャガー…

          For those of you wondering who ジャガー is, check out this informational video…

          While not as entertaining as 月曜から, the newer program マツコ会議 is a bit similar, and has a lot of that fun vibe. Maybe I’m just too much of a マツコ fan, and need to write a series on all his amazing shows over the years.

          And I know you probably had a lot of wild experiences in Japan that involve the language. If you ever feel like writing an article about any of them send me an e-mail!

  3. I struggle immensely with this issue.
    The heart of it is “What if I messed this up, and this will cause a negative chain reaction to everything after this.”
    If I have a 90% grasp of a word, then I use that word to define another word, maybe I only have a 81% grasp of the second word. If this continues, pretty soon I will have no idea what is going on.
    I don’t have a solution.

    • Don’t know if this will help or what, but I try (and it’s not always easy) to just ‘group’ words I know are related (from the definition) but just kind of skip the details. When I’m on one of my really hard core study days, I’ll stop on those words and really try to parse the grammar and stuff in the definition to try to make it more clear. I don’t do this every day because I don’t usually have the energy to spend 1.5 hours in Anki, but I think this serious pondering and parsing needs to be done at some point and on a regular basis.

      I know that what Adam is saying is true, I’ve seen the same thing said by many others I trust, but it’s still hard and I guess the struggle will always be there until we find our own way out and just trust that things will click later on. I do know the first time I started going through intermediate, that’s when a lot of the beginner deck started to ‘click’. So it’s possible that these words in intermediate just won’t click until we’re well into the advanced deck or beyond.

      I recently had a huge breakthrough with listening, and I imagine the same thing would happen if I spend enough time reading, so just gotta keep moving forward I’m guessing.

      • You are spot on about Intermediate. While doing Intermediate, I was really frustrated like everyone else here, but i recently realized that I now consider the words in Intermediate completely trivial. I guess the change came gradually and some time during the beginning of Jalup Expert for me. I used the J-E crutch for way too long due to the exact reasons mentioned in this article, so it would probably have happened during Jalup Advanced if I had been more disciplined.

        So does this problem continue when you do Advanced, Expert and beyond? In my experience, no. It gets a lot easier later on as you begin to discover relationships between kanji and synonyms and new words become a lot easier to learn from their Japanese definitions. I understand most words either right away or within 1-2 days now. I guess part of it is also down to not second guessing. I have realized that the definitions can tell me the general idea of what a word means, but not how to use it. How to use it can only be learned from seeing it used in context.

    • I feel this struggle too! Sometimes I even start out with maybe a 50% grasp of the word or less. The definition seems like a blob of words I know but can’t get to make any sense and the sentence is just about the same. I just encountered this again with a word a few days ago. A new definition of もう which I thought was a little weird and didn’t completely make sense to me. Then the next 2 or 3 words’ definitions are all based around もう and I am completely at a loss with those words. And then the second-guessing comes creeping or more like it comes slamming down on my head and I really want to look up that stupid word that seems to ruin everything and %¤”%!§&¤#)=#…. So far I have kept myself away from the J-E dictionary, but every time I review any of those 3-4 cards the second guessing is right back waving around the dictionary tempting me to look it up.

      I don’t think there is anything to do about it but to stick to it. Accept the feeling of second guessing as a feeling that you have but that you do not need to listen to. I hope that it will then eventually fade away. I do think however that giving in to the feeling will just prolong the journey towards getting it to fade away. Like you renew the feeling every time you give in to it.

    • Sure, there is a chance that 90% may lead into 81% and then even less. But what counteracts this is often when you see the word multiple times, and then in different situations and then see it in native material, things just click. That original 90% will go up to 100%, which will then knock that 81% up to 88% and so on. The negative trickle effect will be balanced with a positive trickle effect, until the latter overcomes the former. If that makes any sense…

  4. i think it only happened to me like the first 500-1000 cards or so,i’m bad at english in the first place so even if i looked at it i wouldnt get anything,so i just dont worry about it too much and let anki handle it

  5. The best way to avoid this is to be really lazy like me! Hehe. Over time I realised that even if I didn’t understand a J-J definition or wasn’t sure if I was fully getting it, it would probably click at some later point as long as I kept on immersing myself in Japanese.

    The feeling of suddenly understanding something that you were struggling to get is almost as good hearing yourself use a word you didn’t even know that you knew when speaking Japanese!

  6. This article definitely strikes home for me, as I still do this occasionally even while working through the expert deck. (I know, I know.) But it’s high time I broke the habit! This is good inspiration to finally do so.

    Not to make excuses, but one issue I have is I haven’t yet found a good J-J dictionary for Android. Does anyone have any recommendations? I’ve tried a few apps and they’re all pretty terrible (or ad-riddled) — nothing on par with the nice J-E dics like Imi. I’ve just been using Goo via Chrome, but I’d prefer a native app. (And bonus points if it works offline!)

    • I have searched without any luck too… Why is it so difficult to find :/
      If anybody has any recommendations I will be happy too.

    • Best J-J do tionary for Android that I have been using for close to an year: all国語辞書. This is a collection of dictionaries and is pretty fast and efficient in searching.

      Required internet though

      • Thanks for the recommendation! I just installed it, seems pretty cool. If nothing else, I can use it as a quick way to search Goo, with like a million other dictionaries as a backup :D

        Oh, it also has the ability to search the Weblio dictionary, but with a MUCH better interface than Weblio’s own J-J app (which is the one I was using before).

        Still has ads, but they’re much less prominent.

        Anyway, good find, thanks again!

  7. I hesitate to comment, because I am taking a bit of a different route with Anki, and J-J, J-E. I am also using my own self created deck. I have moved from J-E definitions to J-J definitions slowly. On the other hand, what I have discovered with my approach might be helpful all the same.

    Anyways, for a while now, I have had a rule that if I can reasonably understand the word from the J-J definition with about one or two levels of branching, I enter the J-J definition, otherwise I enter the J-E definition. I do not have the patience for more than one or two levels of branching, I am afraid. Anyways, when I started this rule, I was at about 25% J-J, and I think that now I am at about 60-70% J-J.

    I used to have a lot of anxiety and worry, especially when words would come up in Anki that got leeched because I not only did not understand the word, but I did not understand the definition that I had entered (I keep the leech suspending function on). But at a certain point, my relationship with Anki began to change and that eliminated a lot of anxiety over this.

    Now, I do not even really think of Anki (or the Jisho, for that matter) as where I am learning words. I learn words, and really learn the ins and outs of words, from my immersion….from what I read, from what I watch, from my conversations, from what I listen to. Anki’s job is to help me recognize and notice the word when I see it or hear it in context.

    Actually, even words that get “leeched” because I do not understand them, and even those that get “leeched” because I do not understand the definition serve the purpose of helping me recognize the word when I see it…sometimes even better! There have been countless times I have seen or heard a word and thought…oh yes…I recognize that word…I think it may have gotten leeched. Then, I go through my Anki browser, and やっぱり。。。リーチュ! Then I will revive the word. Most often the next time around, I do learn the word, and I tend to really know it then, because I have seen it again in context and it gets the added attention of being revived. Also, the time I spent the first time around with the word can not have been useless, because obviously I remembered it well enough to know it got leeched.

    Of course, there is the question of what if the word does not come up again in my immersion? Yet, that is a bit of a silly anxiety as well, because if that is the case, I do not really need the word, so it does not matter what definition I use. Either way, this takes a lot of stress and worry about of what definition I put in my Anki and is helping me be more and more confident with J-J definitions.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience. I know some people that do variations similar to this. And while I am a proponent of the “strict J-J,” if going 100% J-J is actually going to turn someone off to the language, or make them not want to study anymore, English can have it’s place.

      • After I read this response, I decided to do an experiment. Today, when I was looking up words, I ganburu’d more with 日本語の定義, and found out that 英語が必要ではありません。 そして後で頭の回転は日本語でになっています。


        Maybe it is time. Actually, that will help with my Anki bloat trouble as well, purging 英語の定義. I was a little nervous about what I would lose, but I guess I can let immersion take care of that.

        I also think that I will get rid of and replace one of my daily tasks as well. I do not do RTK, but I have been using a different J-E kanji book, with two new kanji a day. But, I also have been working through kanji workbook for Japanese children for writing practice. I am now in a third grade workbook. I think that I will stop the J-E book, and double up on my daily work with the children’s workbook.

        • Ohhhhh, that’s even better! Then by all means give it a try. Sometimes all it takes is one push to overcome self-doubt and really discover something powerful for yourself.

  8. Was doing some research on the AJATT site about this and a native English speaker made a comment like “I don’t even know what exfoliate means but I know it has something to do with cosmetics”. We even do this in our native languages (just know the general feel of a word but maybe not the exact definition) ^^

    • Yup, we do it in our native language probably more than we even realize. It’s just that when it comes to Japanese, we all start to become over-analytical and expect everything to work and be understood perfectly and instantly.

      • This “over-analyzing” seems to be a general theme in language learning… Since you learned your native language as a kid you didn’t even have the abilities to analyze anything and so never did it with your native language. Analytic abilities is probably both your best friend and worst enemy when learning anything as an adult. Learning becomes way easier but you start second-guessing yourself on every little thing you can’t analyze to pieces. Sometimes you just have to think less! :D

        • And what’s wild is that when you start to over-analyze your native language, you actually start getting hazy on meanings. This will be touched on a future article in the translation series, but often your grasp of even English words sometimes gets a good round of second-guessing!

  9. Ah this struck me right to the core! How could you peer into me so easily Adam? I have a bad habit of doing this every 5th word and I need to stop before I get too addicted.

    • My powers are broad! Yes, break the addiction. At least turn every 5th word into every 100th or something infrequent.

  10. I’m the ultimate second guesser. I’m at 3000 sentences and I still haven’t gone monolingual, because it doesn’t feel right, and I’m not satisfied with anything short of 80% assurance that I’m comprehending something. I’ve read your posts on going monolingual and every time I attempt to go mono, I fail.. I lose motivation, I start to dread the process. I feel like I’m not getting anything at all, so much that it feels I’m going through the motions. I’m not sure how to overcome that.

    • I believe the only way to overcome this is to go through it. The feeling of not comprehending will stay with you for a long while, so you need to accept and embrace that feeling. I’m still having that feeling, a lot, more than 600 cards into J-J. It is a lot about learning how to read Japanese definitions and that just takes a lot of getting used to. My way of coping is by believing that it will click someday and the feeling of comprehension will come back.

      What keeps me going in the short run is that feeling every now and then when I just get a sentence completely. That feeling of accomplishment is way way stronger than anything you get with J-E and keeps me high on motivation for days

      • I second what Silwing said. There is nothing like reading a definition (not even translating it in your head) and suddenly understanding the sentence, it’s a great feeling. It doesn’t happen all the time but when it does <3

        If you are using the jalup decks you can use the browse feature to look up words you don't know. You can usually tell words that are related because they come right after each other in sequence, and they all contain similar words in the definition. If you can deduce the first one in the chain, then you can just group all the others as 'related' in your mind. (if that makes any sense whatsoever). I bet there are tons of words in your native language that if I asked you for the exact definition you would struggle or even give me the wrong definition but you know exactly how to use those words (immersion). And you know what's funny? I know all of this myself, and I also struggle with this issue. It's not easy, it's just something we must do.

  11. I was thinking about this post again today and it struck me that I have a problem with second-guessing even in J-J. In this case though, I’m second-guessing the readings of kanji compounds.

    I get these nagging feelings and want to look up readings for many of the compounds I come across. Most of the time it’s not even that I don’t know it, but just that I want to be sure that I do know it.

    I can’t decide if the problem is better or worse when I’m reading something with furigana. On the one hand, I don’t have to go far to verify the reading of a compound, so it’s not too disruptive. But on the other hand, I find myself just reading the furigana instead of the kanji.

    I recently have been able to wean myself off of furigana, but then I also just got back into two 少年漫画 series, soooooo… oh well. (I wish I could buy the “furigana free” versions or something!)

    • I think this problem will definitely fade away with time. After a while, you’ll just have to trust yourself. And remember, even if you trusted yourself, and it turned out to be wrong, eventually you’ll come around to that mistake.

  12. Thank goodness for this old article, it came around just as I needed it. The suggestions in the comments for ways to push through – especially the one about grouping similar words together in your head – have also been really encouraging and I’m going to try them out now.

  13. Always great to come back and read some older articles, I’ve been strugglign with exactly this. I have been looking up definitions in J-E without even thinking about it until about JI500, which is when I realized that I shouldn’t be doing that. I’ve been doing it without looking things up for almost 100 cards now and there’s definitely a lot of cards that I dont understand but I have to believe that I will eventually understand them through learning more & immersion. It’s a hard fight, fighting the second guessing nature, but it’s the good fight!

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