Wednesday, April 18, 2018

RTK - 1K

Literacy is one of the basic tenants of AJATT - you can't truly immerse if you can't read the language. You will also be missing a lot of the meaning behind words without an understanding of the kanji that compose them. You also can't read a monolingual dictionary. There's many benefits to learning the kanji that all make complete sense to me.

However, learning the kanji as a first step was a little frustrating to accept at first because I just want to start learning Japanese. But it has actually become a really fun process, especially when I look back at how many I've already learned *finger quotes*. It's going to take a little while for them to actually mature in my memory, but I've gone through 1000 kanji already! That's a fun thought!

The consensus is that Remembering the Kanji 1 (and 3) by James W. Heisig is the best approach to learning the kanji. So I've been doing that and using Anki as my SRS

I printed all the kanji from RTK 1 and 3 as a poster to pin to my wall. As I learn them in Anki I highlight them to show my progress.

Got through the first 1k... so far!

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

It is known

"I have a black belt in Taekwondo ...but I have to tell you, I got the black belt on the basis of the written examination" - Stephen Krashen

When I set out to do something new, I have a desire need to learn as much as I can about it. I'm not satisfied to know the simple mechanics behind a thing - I need to understand it - I need to go a little deeper. I'm a software developer (and manager) by trade, and more frequently than I would like, a developer will come to me with a new tool, or framework, or coding paradigm, that they'll want to implement and start using. My style of leadership is one of persuasion over dictation -- My mind has been changed and I've learned too many new things to not want to collaborate first (even when it feels tiring to do so). As such, I will vary rarely say no without collaborating first. It's important for me, and for my team, to understand the fundamentals of an idea, and to consider the full advantages and disadvantages of a thing before adopting it into practice. In fact it's a slight pet peeve of mine for an argument to be presented on the basis of "Well it must be a good idea because big company XYZ is doing it and they're WAAAAYYY smarter than we are!" I hate this for a few reasons: for starters, I don't believe that just because a company is larger, it also means they're smarter as well; plus it's simply lazy to do something just because someone else is doing it. Do your own research!

Which brings me to where I'm at with Japanese. As I mentioned in my previous post, I'm trying my best to learn Japanese, mostly through the AJATT method. So what exactly is AJATT anyway? I'm actually a little conflicted about this right now. I feel like I do understand what it is and what it's roots are - I've read the AJATT Bible, and I've also read the sources that inspired it. I particularly found, Stephen Krashen, and the Input Hypothesis to be excellent sources that really dig at the heart of the method. However I feel like there is an air of haughtiness among the leaders of the AJATT community, that to me is a little stifling. I'll try to paraphrase the message I'm hearing:

Until you've reached a high level of fluency (close to, or on your way to, native level), you can't give advice on how to learn Japanese. You also can't understand what it takes to learn Japanese until you've actually done it. So it's very important that you don't listen to anyone but a fluent AJATT'er, and just do exactly what they tell you to do. Don't bother with science either - that's just a distraction - just do what we say.

I've seen, and have been the personal recipient of, comments and feed back similar to: "Don't try to understand the science or philosphy of AJATT. You're not capable of understanding it until you're as good as us."

I understand where they're coming from and what they're saying... to an extent. You really can't know what is going to work unless you've done it yourself, or (if you believe in science) have evidence of it working for someone else. I even get the argument that while someone may be offering some good advice, it's hard for a non-fluent person to know what is actually good advice, and what may, in fact, be harmful advice. However I do have a problem when it's taken to the extreme - where no method or advice should be explored beyond what a self-proclaimed AJATT'er, who has reached a high level of fluency says.

It's an interesting thing - Khatzumoto who authored and who seems to have single-handedly paved the way for Japanese learning through immersion - didn't pull this out of nowhere. He scoured the tubes, found some sources, understood the concepts, and built a system for himself that worked. The same thing with the folks at, but it's somehow frowned upon to make any sort of conclusions of your own using the same process.

None of this has anything to do with the method itself, but I bring it up here because it has been a part of my journey, and I think it's worth documenting. My intention here IS NOT to dissuade anyone from pursuing AJATT, or to suggest that it's bad, or a flawed method. I still think it's a great way to learn. I just want to be clear that my personal perception and experience with the community so far has been a little rocky.

I don't want to come across as being close minded or unteachable. On the contrary. I welcome feedback and advice, I just wish (hope?) the advice could be a little more than "just trust us, we know what we're talking about." It's a bit, well, like I said... stifling. The reality is that (with personalities aside) the method should speak for itself, and I think it does. And I think the science is there, and I think there are resources beyond AJATT-proper that are worth understanding and experimenting with.

I started this post with a quote from Stephen Krashen (which I found on youtube of a talk he gave). I know there's a difference between theory and practice, and I recognize that there are some smart people who have taken the journey before me, and have valuable insights. I have, and hope to continue to recieve helpful pointers, ideas, tips, and tricks.  ...  I don't know. It is what it is and I'll keep moving forward. Maybe one day when I've made it up the mountain, I'll look back at this and shake my head - maybe it's all been hyperbole and much-a-do-about-nothing, but it's been a part of my journey so far, and I wanted to put it out there.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

New Journay

In my life there's been a few deep seated ideas that have always just been there. I'm not exactly sure when I got them or where they came from, but they're a part of me - they're a part of who I am. For example I always knew I wanted to live in Seattle WA. Maybe that's just because I grew up in Phoenix and I got sick of the sun and heat? But I think it's more than that - Seattle has always felt like home to me. I can't explain it. Another example is I always knew I wanted to get married and have three kids (but God laughed and gave us twins for our third pregnancy). Where I'm going with this is that I have also had this deep desire to learn Japanese. I can't fully explain why, but I've always been fascinated with Japan. Recently something finally flipped in me and I'm fully dedicated to learning Japanese.

This is going to be a long'ish series of posts, but it lays the foundation of why I'm doing what I'm doing. If that doesn't interest you then the TL;DR is: I was doing what most everyone on the tubes said I should, but wasn't making progress. Then I found AJATT and now I'm doing that.

I didn't want to spend a ton of money on this, and the internet (especially youtube) is my go-to for learning new things, it's also it's free'ish. If you spend more than 30 seconds perusing youtube on the subject of learning Japanese, you will quickly find out about the Japanese-Language Proficiency Test or JLPT, which at the time of writing this has 5 levels, N5 being the most basic and N1 being the most challenging. It's the gold standard of fluency. When you reach N1 then you've done it, you're a superstar, you're fluent, you're basically a Japanese native... (which apparently is a steaming pile of)

So I naturally started down the path toward JLPT. I found a flashcard app on my phone with the JLPT vocabulary and jumped right into grinding through it. I also subscribed to to listen to on my commute to work.

At one point I had grinded through close to 1000 words, learned hiragana and katakana, and I had listened to about 50 hours of's absolute beginner series. I also read somewhere that only 20% of a language is used 80% of the time and that 20% percent is somewhere around 2000 words (this is probably wrong by the way). So doing the math, if I knew 1000 words than I should be picking up close to half of what I hear. But in reality I felt like I was picking up maybe 1 or 2 percent - what gives? It finally tipped when I was listening to a podcast which started with a sample conversation in Japanese. I listened intently but couldn't recognize anything they said. After it was done, they broke it down and explained everything about the conversation - apparently I knew all of the vocab. So why couldn't I hear it??!!!

I hit the tubes again and found this:

The first time I listened to it I didn't know what AJATT was, and I got pretty depressed about it. I felt like I was making many of the same mistakes. To summarize, this guy Jeremy spent a ton of time and effort learning Japanese the traditional way by studying for the N1 and learning in school. When he wasn't making the progress he thought he should, he just doubled down on what he was doing and worked harder. In the end he passed the N1 in the 85th percentile but still wasn't really fluent.

I slept on it, and the next morning looked into AJATT (all Japanese all the time). Everything just clicked. The whole philosophy made complete sense to me. I no longer felt dejected, but energized!

Over the next few entries I'll explain some of the aspects of AJATT and where I'm at with the process. I'll also hopefully keep somewhat regular entries on this blog to document my journey. So stay tuned!