Answer the following question. Which path would you choose:
1. Try to become fluent in Japanese in 2 years, with a 75% chance of failure
2. Try to become fluent in Japanese in 5 years, with a 25% chance of failure
The answer might be obvious to you. The answer might require you to think hard. You might think the answer is the same for everyone. But most methods put the focus on the reward. Imagine the slogan of a new site that shouted:
Master Japanese in only 2 years!! Now with just a 75% chance of failure!– Ultra super cool Japanese mastery course
No site or method is going to advertise the hidden risk like this.
Are you special?
Everyone is the hero of their own story in life. This makes us tend to think that probability should work in our favor. Afterall, every movie or game you ever played involves the hero going against insurmountable odds and victoriously coming out on top. So there is no reason this shouldn’t be you. Regardless if the odds are against you. Regardless of the risk. I planned on becoming fluent in Japanese in one year. Because I was the hero.
I’m not saying you aren’t special. I’m not saying this can’t be you. But that beautiful reward of fast fluency can’t be your only focus, no matter how appealing it is. But then again, this also won’t sell:
Learn Japanese like a tortoise. Slow and steady. Slow and steady. One day, far in your future you will become fluent.– Japanese Turtle for the win course
This doesn’t stir our emotions in the beginning. But when you struggle through Japanese, and are in a tough spot, hearing the “slow and steady” does help bring you back down to earth.
Does the risk even need to be focused on?
Why even both considering it? After all, you didn’t know Japanese before. The worst thing that could happen is you not learning Japanese. You can’t lose anything you don’t have. It’s only a risk of not getting something you want.
You know this is wrong though. Failing at something that you try so hard to achieve is crushing, in ways that can take a long time to recover, and that echo in all other parts of your life. And usually this isn’t a little dip into Japanese with a minor “oh I give up.” If you are in the high risk category, it means you are pouring every last ounce of your being in trying to achieve something. Failing on that can tear you in two. And people don’t see it coming because they don’t expect it to be so bad.
I’ve received emails over the years about horrible breakups with the Japanese language. And it is painful.
Is the risk worth it?
You know I can’t answer that for you. I took the risk. I got the reward. It was worth it for me. But if I failed, it would have crushed me. I’ve taken the risk in many other areas of life and have failed. Were those failures worth it? I don’t know.
Taking risks for something that you love and want so bad is always worth it!– Every motivational image of nature with some catchy positive phrase on top
This also might be true, but the real message I wanted to give you is that this is not a game of extremes. You don’t need to play at 75% or 25% failure rates. You get to choose the in-between. You don’t need to choose a 2 year or 5 year pace. You could choose a 3.5 year pace. You can avoid dangerous flash card goals and still rush a little bit.
The final tricky parts of the risk equation
So far I’ve focused mostly on the risk of being a high-paced, hardcore learner with super quick goal posts. But there are some other important things to remember that may throw you off.
1. Ultra slow does not always mean less risk. Sometimes it means more
If 5 years gave you a 25% chance of failure, then 10 years must give you a 5% chance of failure? It’s actually the opposite. When you go too slow, the risk shoots back up. 10 years might be a higher chance of failure than trying to do it in 2 years. Because ultra slow makes it hard to ever make the progress you want, causing eventual fade out.
2. Low risk still is risk and can hurt even more
You spend 5 years at 25% risk vs 2 years at 75% risk. If you fail the 25% risk, you were attempting it for 5 years. You had low risk. And yet you still failed. That’s a rapid round of punches to the gut.
3. No matter what risk you take, there are things outside your control that will mess everything up
You can lose a job, gain another more important interest, have a child, or just find out you didn’t want Japanese as bad as you thought. These have nothing to do with the initial risk you took. Your life suddenly changed dramatically and you can’t continue the same way you wanted to. Low risk does not guarantee a win.
What’s your risk like?
Does your study pace and method make your risk high? Low? Is your risk worth it?
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.