You Don’t Gotta Catch ‘Em All
I used to be a bit of an OCD. When I played video games, I always thought I had to do every single thing there was to do. The first time I played a Pokemon game, I took it seriously. I really did catch ’em all. I remember walking through fields for hours to find a rare Pokemon and slogging through the caves to get my puny Pokemon to evolve.
When I played through Fire Emblem for the first time, I got every character to the maximum level. Even the ones that I didn’t like. When I played Paper Mario, I collected every single badge, including the ones that were completely useless.
I felt pretty accomplished until I realized how boring it was. I stopped hoarding and found out that it was a lot more fun when you don’t have to do every single thing.
Unfortunately, I took the old philosophy with me on my journey to learn Japanese. I had to understand every single word of a manga before I moved on, I had to understand every single sentence before I turned off the English subtitles, and I had to know every synonym before I used a monolingual dictionary. It didn’t take too long to realize that was no fun, either.
The problem was that I had set my standards too high. In my head, I had expectations for myself that I couldn’t achieve. It’s dangerous to have unrealistic expectations of yourself. Instead of concentrating on my accomplishments, I was constantly stuck on my deficiencies. This was not only bad for my studies but also for my mental state. I’d get depressed looking at all the books and movies I couldn’t understand.
I’ve come to the seemingly obvious conclusion: I’ll never understand everything. I’ll never know every word in the Japanese language. Heck, I don’t even know anywhere close to every word of the English language. Nearly every day I find myself looking up a word I don’t know or searching Wikipedia for something I’ve never heard of before.
That’s okay. Instead of obsessing over what I can’t do, it’s much more fun to keep the emphasis on what I can do. I can read whole volumes of manga! On some pages, I can’t understand a thing the characters are saying.
But I keep reading, and I can understand the next page, and the page after that. Sometimes I’m watching an anime and I can’t catch a single word. But I can understand the next sentence, and then somebody uses a word I just learned so I can feel smart. It’s great fun. (It’s also incredibly satisfying to name your rival rude words.)
Don’t strive for perfection. You’ll find that learning is much more enjoyable when you don’t have to get everything right.
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.
Very true, there is no reason to get caught up too much on what you don’t know when learning Japanese! However, sometimes it’s hard not to feel this way when you come across content that is too difficult for you. Perhaps it’s easier to find content that is closer to your level to keep perfectionism at bay.
Yeah, I always find it easier to accept what I don’t know when I do know most of it! It is much easier to be imperfect when you don’t realize just how far from perfection you are!
Very true indeed. As an English teacher, that’s what I generally tell my students when they are doing some listening activity, and being a teacher helps me with strategies for learning.
But regarding Pokémon, I intend to catch’em all. In my White, there are only 3 missing for me to complete my Regional Pokédex (One day I’ll catch all of the 700+ Pokémon)
Catching Pokemon is just like learning a language then – you will never catch them all… provided Nintendo keep making more Pokemon!
Hahahaha, if I’m able to catch’em all in my Pokémon Y, when they release the following versions, I’ll just need to upload Pokémon from old games to new ones. That’s how I’ve been doing since Sapphire. In my white, I have 480 Pokémon.
But then imagine if you had to EV train all 700 pokemon. To that level of perfection.
Ha… I gave up when I found out you could only get Mew with a Gameshark code or something. I thought “Forget that…” :)
Lot of ways to get rarer pokemon now. It’s more possible now that there are wifi events. Especially with a Japanese Pokemon game, a Japanese ditto (which increases the chance of a bred shiny) goes a long way in the trading forums.
Though, I’ve yet to get a shiny pokemon breading foreign pokemon with my Japanese pokemon yet.
I have a Shiny Meganium that was born like it without Japanese Ditto, it was my 26th egg.
But about the EVs, I only EV train the ones I can battle with. And in the new generation it seems there’ll be an easier way to max and see EVs.
That would make me so happy! I really got discouraged when I found out about EVs, I’m still preparing my team before I’ve even begun to process. If I could see EVs, that would be awesome. I feel I played pokemon more before I knew about EVs.
Yeah, all these kids and their new technology. Back when I played, I had a Gameboy Advance without even a link cable! :)
I’ve started playing on the Brick GB. And my friends bought the kit that was sold here in Brazil, with a GB Pocket, one of Pokémon versions, Red or Blue, and the link cable.
To be honest I think this video game analogy is a bit off.
I’m quite the OCD when playing games too, but the thing to remember is that “catching them all” is a post game kind of thing. I.e., something that is meant to be done at the end after you’ve already completed the bulk of the game.
But the intermediate stages of Adventure games (/RPGs) are often quite different. In fact, it’s much more productive to remember that in most of the best designed games early areas always contain secrets that you can only access after you obtained some of the later game items, or after you’ve leveled up enough, or whatever. Insisting on understanding every single word in your first manga is a bit like wanting to access everything in the game’s initial area from the get go: you can’t possibly, because you are lacking crucial preconditions (knowledge/context/etc).
This means, I think, that until you’re done with the bulk of the “main japanese quest”, at which point you can then turn to “catching them all” if you so wish, one is better off just letting anything that looks too hard just slide by, confident in the knowledge that the necessary tools will come along eventually.
I would agree with this. It would be bad advice to tell someone to just ignore the idea of catching all the pokemon completely. Eventually you’d want to reach that goal, unless you are just playing for the story and don’t want to continue. Basically, compare it to someone learning Japanese just for fluency versus becoming a native-level speaker.
But to be trying to go at that goal before you’ve even beaten the Elite Four means that it’s going to take awhile to beat the Elite Four because you’ve been distracted by your goal to catch them all. I don’t know if this analogy really applies to Japanese, but you can think of it as as a level 10 Japanese learner, you’re not going to understand everything, and you’ll never move on if you let yourself become distracted and consumed by that. Some concepts are just too hard to understand at this point and take awhile to absorb. But eventually you will reach that point.
Think of it as, you’ve caught a pokemon by being exposed to the Japanese. But you haven’t yet trained it to its best potential, so you may not fully understand the word, or perhaps you understand it but don’t know how to apply it yet. It’s a good idea to try to catch them all, but it would be hard to level up all those “pokemon” at the same time and would in general slow you down. It’s good to focus on the pokemon that’ll get you to the Elite Four.
When you don’t know a word in English or your native language, it’s more often that you just don’t know the nuances of the word, not that you have no idea what it means. Yes, there will be times you just absolutely don’t know the word. But usually I find myself using dictionary.com for the words I’m trying to understand the intricacies of in order to improve my word choice, rather than a complete ignorance of the word.
I also agree with your analogy. I generally play the game thoroughly once, until I beat the Elite. In this first playtime, I catch only the Pokémon I’ll need to beat the game (my standard 6 different-type Pokémon team). Then, I restart the game, after knowing the things I’m supposed to do, and pay more attention to the story (this will be pretty true this time, since I’ll play in Japanese X and Y), but I also catch only the Pokémon I need (this time with some changes, because I now know more about them). Only after I beat the Elite again, I’ll go back route by route trying to catch’em all.
With the language is the same. Take general things first, skimming, and then go for specific details, scanning.
Ha, I think I like your analogy even better. I agree. Once you finish the game, beat up the big bad Elite Four and watch the credits roll, then you can go back and understand every word and grammar point and おく in that one manga you read a long time ago. I like how Rachel put it, too – just remember not to get distracted. “I’m not moving on until I catch that super rare shiny Pokemon with the 1% random encounter rate!” But once you beat the game and if it’s important to you, go for it.
But what’s the Japanese-learning equivalent of having a Rattata in the top percentage of Rattata?
More seriously, if slightly off-topic for the post, has anyone at around level 20 found Pokemon useful as a learning tool? I’ve only played a little (maybe a fifth of SoulSilver) and stopped with the idea that I’d play again when I could do so in Japanese. Now, between getting better and getting more comfortable with skipping things I don’t understand, I probably could pick it up and lately I’ve kind of had the urge to. However, because of the limited text and lack of kanji I suspect that it would provide much less benefit per time spent than reading manga or, well, pretty much anything else I could do in Japanese with that time. Anyone have any experience to the contrary?
I would say play. Don’t let yourself not do something in Japanese that you love because you’re waiting to reach that perfect level. Games like Pokemon have had a great impact on my Japanese in my experience. But if you’re worried about its effectiveness over other options, just play it during your downtime. Resting with an easier resource is a great way to regain energy while working on a more difficult resource. It keeps you in the Japanese language while preventing burnout.
It probably won’t provide as much benefit as reading a manga, but that’s all right. There’s nothing wrong with using materials that are a little too easy for you, as long as you enjoy them. But, I will admit, the lack of Kanji is super annoying. It takes me too long to read through it… makes me crazy!
I’d definitely say to give it a go. You really won’t know if you can read it before you try it.
If you succed then that pleasure (and confidence boost) of achieving one of those old goals you’ve been carrying for a while more than compensates for the possible loss of efficiency versus other materials. It’s just incredibly satisfying being able to (finally (?)) have a go at materials that you would want to be reading even if your Japanese was already perfect.
And the worst case scenario is that a possible failure now will make the eventual success swetter.
In fact, that ties into something I don’t remember seeing discussed too much around here: the usefulness of having another go at those materials that you were reading as “new” a couple of months before. I’ve been doing this consistently through my learning period, and while sometimes I’d only notice mild improvement, other times I’d just be blow away by HOW MUCH MORE I could understand now. Moments like those have definitely been my main source of motivation so far.
Hi all and thanks for the comments, they were very helpful! I’ve decided to start playing again, or will as soon as the game arrives. I’ve eliminated English TV, books, and music… but thinking about it, I realized that my downtime still contains more English websites than it should. In that sense swapping in ポケモン can only be better for my Japanese. At least so long as I don’t let it distract me from my core high-effort/high-benefit activities! Maybe the annoyance of not having kanji will put a natural limit on daily playing time :) Anyway, thanks again, maybe I’ll see you around Johto.
Just an important comment, GEN V, Black and White, offers you the option of playing with or without Kanjis. And I believe this feature will be available (I’m really hoping it will) in X and Y as well.
Dear god. As an avid Fire Emblem fan (I played Tear Ring Saga before the patch (admittedly, by copy/pasting bits of Japanese text and then searching for the English equivalent in the translation files)), I have to ask: how did you get everybody to their max levels? I can understand recruiting every character (I’m OCD like that, too), but maxing everybody’s level? Outside of the Tellius games, how does that even work? Did you grind the arenas like crazy, or min/max EXP in every battle?
On topic, though, I feel like there’s always that one example out there that manages to blow the hell out of the “I’ll only learn most of the words and let contextual clues and other information do the rest” philosophy. For instance, one of the first video games I tried to play in Japanese where I’d read the Japanese was Planet Laika. Turns out the unlogic of that game made knowing all of the words practically a necessity.
I had to do a LOT of arena abusing. It was pretty crazy. After that I bought the secret shops out of promotion items. I can’t actually remember if I maxed everyone out, but I did promote everyone at level 20. Like I said, I was pretty nutty. :)
I have actually only played through the GBA Fire Emblems though. Now that I can understand a bit of Japanese it will be fun to play through the old untranslated SNES Fire Emblem games too.
I’ve come across a few places where perfection was necessary, too, with the latest being the Touhou series. Those games are pretty hard to parse. Meh, I’ll come back to them later. :) As I said earlier, it’s a lot more fun to focus on what you can do.
At least in Seisen no Keifu, it’s completely possible to max every character. You can abuse saves to get the most out of the arenas, and there’s only one set of levels (just 30 instead of 20/20), so it’s a lot more possible. Of course, I can’t see why anybody would ever want to use Arden on purpose.
I needed to hear this!!
I get so caught up in all the great games coming out (SO many good 3DS games right now) that It actually stresses me out that I haven’t played them all yet! I still have two games in their plastic because I can’t bring myself to play them until I’m at least 50% of the way through my previous game. and it just makes what I’m currently playing so much less enjoyable too.
I’ve been the same with my japanese studies. I’ve been putting it off not because I dont want to do it but because I have to do everything perfectly, I look back on my past year of ‘studying’ now and think if I’d learnt one kanji a day I’d be so much better right now! Still, I’m working on it! Slowly.
That’s another good point. Studying is another great area to be imperfect! :) I used to be an “all or nothing” kind of guy when it came to studying. If I got home after a long day and hadn’t studied all day, I would get depressed and give up. Now, even if I can’t get my full few hours of study in, there’s always time for five minutes of Anki or a chapter of a manga or three songs from my Japanese-language iPod. :)
Good luck with your studies. 頑張って！ :)
This is the very mentality I adopted with the Japanese-English to Japanese-Japanese definition switch. I’m pretty far over the 1000 sentence mark and yet still rely on English definitions. At the very beginning of my sentence branching journey I was faithful to the only Japanese-Japanese definitions, but it turned into days to a week before I was getting to the words I really wanted to learn, the ones I was hearing all the time from my immersion environment. I relaxed from that kind of perfection and have never looked back. Japanese studying still continues to be an exciting adventure because of that decision.
But don’t think I completely stopped with the Japanese-Japanese definitions. At the moment it’s about 85~90% Japanese-Japanese definitions, and I’m completely okay with that.
I had the same problem when I was going over the J-J bump. I was using Yahoo!’s dictionary and I thought I had to learn every word in every definition before I could end the big gnarly sentence branches. Obviously I wasn’t making much progress. I started to become satisfied with just learning the gist of J-J definitions and using Google Images and J-E for the words with the really ugly Japanese definitions. It is a lot more fun, isn’t it? :)
And Yeah, talking about Pokémon means a lot to me. I’ve started learning English through Pokémon games when I was 9 years old, and it was always my main source of vocabulary, so using it to learn Japanese is kind of a compromise.
That’s awesome! They’ve always been dear to my heart, too. I have a lot of good memories from them. :)
And speaking of that, my latest post is exactly about it, my Pokémon MegaChallenge!