There are a seemingly infinite number of ways to study Japanese. The one way you don’t want to study is the “wrong” way. “There is no wrong way!” may be your internal response. For the most part this is true, but there are “bad” methods considered by the majority of people studying Japanese. What happens when the method you choose falls under this category?
What happens when you are insistent on choosing a method that is criticized. You did the research, weighed the pros and cons, and they made the choice to do something. Something that the vast majority of people learning Japanese says is bad, and will hurt you in the long run.
What do you do when you are in a situation like this? What do you do when you see someone else in this situation?
When you are in this situation
You’ve read what other people have said. You don’t believe it, or you think it can be done a better way. You go against what all the common information says.
There are two results that await you:
1. You prove everyone else wrong. You discover a new way to do things that no one was able to figure out before, and you ultimately win.
2. They were right and you were wrong. You admit your mistake, move on, and ultimately win by doing something else.
Number 1 is rare, but it does happen. Concepts like J-J and Immersion used to be a lot less accepted than they are today. The best example though, is when James Heisig first came up with the RTK (Remembering the Kanji) method.
All the way back in 1978, James Heisig introduced his newly created method to the traditional Japanese teachers of a university. He showed how he could actually write all the Japanese kanji, merely by using English keywords. This was considered to take a lifetime for a foreigner to achieve, but he did it in a few months. However, when they found out that he didn’t learn the Japanese vocabulary that goes with the kanji, they pounced:
We’ve discussed your case very carefully, and there’s about seventy years of combined teaching experience in this room, and it’s the opinion of everyone in here that you are doing yourself a big disservice by studying this way and you should come to class.
They claimed it was nothing but short-term memory, and he must have had a photographic memory. He was told to keep his ideas away from other students, as to not cause harm to their studying. What he was told next would make any modern Japanese learner angry today:
Look, we went to great trouble to bring you to Japan. We expect you to be a diligent student of the language. This is not a game. This is a very serious business, it is a difficult language. I hear you refuse to go to class, study on your own and make this outrageous claim that you can write the characters. I’ve been here for sixteen years, I cannot write them, I’ve never met a foreigner anywhere that writes all the characters that the Japanese know, and yet you said you did it within a month.
However, the president of Nanzan University was intrigued. After further discussion with James, the president believed him, and told him to write his method down in a book. The rest is history.
The RTK method is not without its critics, and definitely does not work for everyone. But it has helped hundreds of thousands of learners achieve kanji acquisition that apparently was supposed to take (more than?) 16 years. More importantly, this opened the door for many other methods (including Kanji Kingdom) decades later to come out and do similar things. The idea became mainstream that it is better for foreigners to learn kanji in a non-traditional way.
This is an outlier story. Coming up with a game-changing method is extremely rare, otherwise it wouldn’t be game-changing. But it does happen. When everyone tells you that you are wrong, there is a possibility that you could be right.
When you see someone else in this situation
The veteran learners see someone attempting something considered a “bad” method and want to help. This is important. Passing down your Japanese knowledge and experience is what allows the community of foreign Japanese learners to grow into something better. Please keep doing this.
However, people sometimes need to have the “good” or “bad” experience on their own to comprehend what is best for them or to truly understand what other people are saying. It’s that whole “not listening to your parents despite them usually being right,” because until you try it for yourself, the advice has no meaning to you. Telling someone repeatedly and strongly what not to do, despite it being considered “correct,” can have the opposite effect.
1. Do thorough research first.
2. Make the best decision you can with the information you have in your current situation.
3. Be aware of the probability of failure.
4. Put in enough effort to try to make it work for you. If it doesn’t, adjust or move on to something better.
5. Always remember that failure is good though. It is moving forward and let’s you discover more about yourself and how you study.
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