The Problem of Success Story Learner Methods — 13 Comments

  1. This is a great and inspiring post. It reminds me of how I do psychotherapy with people. I throw out life strategies that have worked for me and for others, and then I tell the people that they need to take what they want and see what works for them personally. Every learning path is a lifelong work in progress. Thanks for the reminder!

    • It becomes so easy to doubt yourself when you try someone else’s life strategy and find it doesn’t work for you. It’s hard to avoid the “what am I doing wrong?! They did it so I should be able to as well!” But once you overcome this, things really open for you :)

  2. Adam, I thank you again for your mix of confidence and humility, and the reminder that we as humans need to balance listening to others’ advice with a consideration of our own unique circumstances.

    • Haven’t seen you in a long time Hi’iaka. Thanks for stopping by again!

      That balance is so important, yet so difficult. But once you master it, you really set yourself up for trying to get what you truly want.

  3. I love those three steps. We can’t replicate the entirity of another person’s experience, and we learn a lot even when we think we’re failing, so you can’t expect the same success that another person had when you start on the method that they finished with.

  4. Great post. Reminds me of the phrase: “Know thyself” – I think when you try a method you know for yourself if its not working because you aren’t giving it your all or because it really just doesn’t work for you. Everyone walks their own path – yet individual success doesn’t happen in a vacuum. We are always connected to and supported by everyone around us even if we don’t follow the exact footsteps of those who went before us. Kudos to doing it blind without even knowing if success was possible! Whatever method we choose eventually I think we have to find our own individual way using whatever tools suit us best.
    I find these days that the difference this time around studying Japanese is that I don’t need time, or energy, or special memorizing abilities or methods…I just need motivation. Abundant time energy or talent peters out pretty quick as your studies go around and around seeming in circles. Eventually you see the circles was actually a spiral and you’re inching upwards a bit at a time. We can all get there in whatever way – just find that motivation that will make you never give up and get through the dead marshes :) Often when I’m feeling really low I’ll check in with this blog and it always bumps my motivation back up out of the red zone..enough to keep me going :) So thanks for that!

    • Sometimes it can be hard to know whether the method isn’t working for you or you aren’t working hard enough on the method. This is where learning to know yourself (as you said) is really important.

      Just one clarification – while there were few sources of “fluent speakers showing the way” in my very beginning, slowly over time they started to find their way into my view, both online and in person (when I lived in Japan). And I’m very grateful to them.

      I’m glad Jalup can always be that bump of motivation :)

  5. I really appreciate acknowledgment in this post that each person is different, so there is no cookie-cutter method that is going to work perfectly for everyone. As a former classroom teacher (who still does one-on-one teaching), the fact that there are multiple learning styles and different people learn in different ways is something that is constantly on my mind.

    However, there are a lot of well-meaning people out there in the online Japanese-learning community who tend to paint things in a black-and-white way, like X is the best method, or every one has a tendency to do Y (when in fact, not everyone does), or Z is a waste of time and no one should do it (though some people might have a legitimate reason to). So it is refreshing to see this post that talks up-front about how whatever method you attempt to adapt, you need to make it your own. There are some things out there that are very good practices, maybe even “best practices,” like using an SRS and shadowing, and I think the JALUP method is a very good method overall, but even very good things (e.g. Anki) might not be right for some people, and it’s always important to modify what you are doing to suit your own individual needs, strengths, and weaknesses as a learner.

    Also, there are tons of things that factor into the ways that people learn best, so although there are some helpful models out there, like the visual/auditory/read-write/kinesthetic model and the multiple intelligences model (Gardner), it is not as simple as if you know your VARK type or your strengths according to the Gardner model, then you can pinpoint exactly what learning methods you should be using (though I think they are a good starting point). There are also a myriad of other factors, like:

    -Some people learn really well by looking at information organized into charts, while other people hate looking at charts and get nothing out of them.

    -Some people, when learning a foreign language, want to spend a large amount of time listening first, before they ever open their mouth and try to produce, whereas other people (e.g. polyglot Benny Lewis) want to not only produce but start having conversations with real people from day 1. (This is something where it’s easy for people to criticize and say you should start speaking as soon as possible, but if you are someone who needs to spend time listening first before you feel comfortable speaking, there is nothing wrong with that!)

    -Some people like to get an organic feel for a language through massive authentic language exposure, and can actually learn to produce grammatically accurate sentences through getting an intuitive feel for a language. (The blog howtojaponese by translator Daniel Morales recommends an intuitive approach of getting a feel for Japanese rather than a head-knowledge approach.) On the other hand, some people /really/ need to have a ground-up (parts to whole) intellectual understanding of the way sentences are put together, and unless they have that explicit, intellectual understanding, it doesn’t matter how much massive exposure they have, they will never be able to produce correct sentences. I had a Japanese student (Japanese person learning English) who was that way, and it took a couple years of teaching him before somehow we figured out together that he needed to get into the nuts and bolts of how an English sentence is put together. We started doing sentence diagramming, and that was extremely helpful to him, but I can easily imagine that not being at all helpful to another person.

    This list could go on and on, but what I would like to say to anyone who has bothered to read this far(笑)is to encourage you to keep trying to find the method that works for you. It can be a long process of trial-and-error and might take years, but anybody can learn and can have fun doing so, it’s just a matter of finding the things that work for you.

    As a final sort of tangent, about point 3, I wonder if what you (@Adam) mean to say with that point is not “plug your ears and shut your eyes” but “once you find something that works for you, don’t doubt yourself because of what other people say.” Personally, I find it really fascinating to read learner stories, but the take-away for me (again, as a former teacher) is always, “Wow, it’s so fascinating that everyone has such different methods for learning!” It always drives home the point that what works for any given person is an individual thing and is different for everyone. So, I would agree that it’s not good to always doubt yourself and think “maybe I’m doing everything wrong” once you have found a method that works for you, but if it is in the sense of looking for things you can try out to change things up, or to have one more tool for your tool belt, then I think there’s nothing wrong with looking at what other people are doing. In my case, most of the time I think to myself, “Wow, that method is really interesting!” but never actually try it for myself (笑), but shadowing was something I discovered several years into my Japanese learning journey, and if I had not been opening to learning about new methods, then I would now be missing out on a great best practice.

    • That’s why the paragraph on Criticism and negativity over methods is really important to keep in mind, both for learners and the mentors.

      I’m super happy when people come here and use the methods on the site. But I’m also happy when people come here with other methods, and just want to use the motivational posts, media recommendations, or monthly group achievement posts on Jalup.

      2 of the earlier posts on Jalup discuss not needing to do Anki, or RTK, or whatever else is popular.

      Point 3 is a bit complex. It is a combination of:

      1. Don’t doubt yourself. You weighed the options, decided on a method from a person you respect, now try to stick with it. Don’t start listening to a ton of opinions on the internet about the method once you have started and are already into it. Every method has its flaws and criticisms, but that is irrelevant if it works for you.

      2. Don’t be a serial method-hopper. If you always keep your ears open to what everyone is talking about all the time, it is hard to focus on what you are doing. You get caught up in the talk about Japanese methods, without ever actually sticking to one (

      Part 2 has a lot of layers. Because it’s not about a total shut out. But it is about balance.

      For some people it is easy to read others’ stories and methods objectively from a fascination or academic perspective, or maybe to try out new parts of others’ methods they hadn’t thought about.

      For others it becomes a constant comparison game of “my method is taking X months, with Y work and only achieving Z” but “their method is taking only X-2 months, with only Y-2 work, and achieving the greater Z+2.” If that makes sense.

      Anyway, thanks for sharing your interesting commentary!

      • Yeah, I had seen the earlier post about Anki, and like with this post, I think it’s a really good thing that the post acknowledges that while Anki is a good tool, it isn’t right for everyone, and offers suggestions for those people.

        And I see what you mean about the danger of being a serial method-hopper (and agree that is something that should be avoided), as well as that for some people, reading about other people’s methods can be a pitfall that causes them to constantly self-doubt or compare themselves to others in a negative way. Just another thing that goes to show how everyone is different!

  6. This is reminiscent of a philosophy held by Alan Watts, which when paraphrasing goes something like this – If you aspire to be like your idols, you will always fail. You will never become like them because what you really want is to become the image of them you hold in your mind. And when you realize that that is an illusion that exists outside of reality you realize it is hopeless. But the progression of life is like water in that it fills every crevice and canyon and finds the path of least resistance. So when you find yourself at a dead end with nowhere else to go, be like water and find the path of least resistance, even if it means filling that dead end to the brim and spilling over. So, when it is said that you will never become what you aspire to be, it’s a good thing. You don’t have to, because you are already the perfect version of you.

    When I incorporate this into my learning philosophy, I end up with something very similar to this article. You don’t have to always be confident in yourself, but you can’t become someone else to circumvent that. For me, it’s always about finding the right question to ask myself before searching for an answer.

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