Today we’re going to be talking about natural selection. A science lesson on a language-learning blog? It’s OK, calm down. It’ll be fun. I know nobody actually learned anything from school, but remember Charles Darwin and his theory of natural selection? Something about how only the creatures best suited to their environment survive and the ones that are less adapted get killed off.
As it turns out, the same principle applies to language learning. I’ll call this The Survival of the Most Interesting to make it sound like I know what I’m talking about.
When we learn a language, we get exposed to a lot of different ideas because everyone knows the best way to learn a language.
Buy Rosetta Stone.
Memorize the kanji before you start learning grammar.
Some of these ideas are good for you, and some are bad. But how do you know which ideas will work for you?
Try them out.
But only keep the ideas that interest you. If it gets boring, then don’t do it. I’ve done a lot of boring things before. At first, they started out really fun and interesting and I loved doing them but after a while I got tired of them and I found something better. Keep the interesting ideas and throw out the old ones.
Oh, but that sounds so cruel! What if the idea you’re throwing out is a really good one? That’s OK. It’s just part of nature. The big ones eat the little ones, the interesting ones eat the boring ones, and things like that. What happened to the dinosaurs? They were pretty awesome, but they just couldn’t adapt. Things changed, and they just weren’t the fittest any more. Now they’re dead. It’s sad, but that’s life.
Someone once gave me a really good idea.
“You should listen to Japanese podcasts all day! It’ll help your listening comprehension!” He gave me a few links and off I went on a Japanese podcast downloading spree. I looped them through iTunes all day and my house turned into a loud, nonstop Japanese talk show.
It was great. I packed a dinky little iPod Shuffle full of podcasts and listened to it as I walked around town. But, alas, they became boring – and I found something more interesting.
Now I was listening to Japanese music all day. I liked the podcasts, but they lacked a lot of good drum-work. No rhythm to them at all. Podcasts probably work better than loud Japanese rock music. The words aren’t covered up by distorted guitar noise. Podcasts don’t usually sing choruses in Engrish. If I was going by “Survival of the most effective ways to learn Japanese”, I probably should have kept listening to podcasts all day long.
But music was a lot more interesting. Podcasts aren’t a bad idea. But they just couldn’t survive. Maybe podcasts will become more interesting for me later. They’ll probably be a lot more interesting when I’m able to understand more of them.
Now, when I say “interesting” I don’t just mean “not fun“.
Even things that interest me aren’t always fun. Reading your favorite light novel is a lot of fun. Looking up five words you don’t know per page in a Japanese dictionary isn’t. It can be a lot of drudgery, but it’s not so bad because the book is worth it to you. It’s interesting, even if it’s not always fun.
I used to base my study methods on peer pressure.
If everyone said it was a good idea, well, I’d better do it, right? I’ve heard this from a lot of people: “You should watch some Japanese kid’s shows!” Dragonball, Naruto and friends. “You’ll learn a lot of new words, and they’re pretty easy to understand!”
Well, most of them are, but I found them to be really dull. No offense to the Naruto fanboys. I love you guys. But after watching a couple of episodes, I couldn’t take much more. They were pretty boring, and I wanted to spend some time doing something I enjoyed.
So I’ve evolved my study methods a lot over the months, and you should too.
Kill off the weak, boring ones and move on to the new, interesting ones. Last month I would read an hour of manga every morning. In bed. It doesn’t get much better than that. But I got bored with it. These days I spend most of my time communicating with Japanese people on Lang-8. Evolution in action!
Give your ideas some room to grow and change over time, and you’ll live a happy, fulfilled life. I guarantee it.
What are some ways your methods have changed over the months?
Written by: Eric
A writer for Japanese Level Up, a part-time graphic designer, and purveyor of fine Japanese art (which consists mostly of anime, manga and weird music). When he’s not wasting time in Japanese, you can usually find him making pretty pictures or studying something that sounds interesting.