The True Cost of Language Learning   Leave a comment

Kanji revisions thus far for today.

People like sexy because sexy drives reality, but learning anything to a very high degree of skill takes very unsexy actions. Unless you find being nigh obsessed and incredibly disciplined super sexy.

The internet likes the “sexy” of language learning, which is the end result. They like when people surprise people by speaking their native tongue, or ordering fluently in a store or making natives unsure if they are a native speaker or not. This is very nice clickbait and very interesting in terms of a form of basic inspiration. But this does not in anyway demonstrate the true cost of language learning. As much as people attempt to say it requires no special talents or abilities (in a sense this is true) here what it does take:

a) An unusual personality that mixes a delicate blend of raw passion, ridiculous obsession and rock solid discipline that immediately puts you in the 1% of learners.

b) Unusual patience. I say ‘unusual’ because in truly undertaking the tasks required for these undertakings, one must put several hours a day into an activity that you know will not start to show results for several months. Think about it. Can you imagine putting five to six hours a day into an activity that won’t bear fruit until 90 days? That’s not very sexy, and that’s also why most people never finish the journey.

c) A VERY VERY specific Raw desire for the end result that psychologically carries you through the demands and pitfalls of your journey. Some people are “built” for 10 hour days and can study endlessly, but they fall into that 1% I mentioned who are like that naturally. Such habits must be forged in the fires of your own frustration and observations.

The “sexy” is what happens after the endless hours alone in your room doing repetitions of anki or other methods. The “sexy” happens after you spend hundreds of hours listening to native media. The “sexy” happens after you spend hundreds of hours on acquiring words and grammar.

Once your brain overlaps with enough data, the built-in software in your brain ‘does its thing’ and you will start to understand the language at an accelerated rate. Your speech will rapidly improve and the “impossible” begins to occur. Depending on your language of choice, a hardcore learner can achieve these ‘inhuman’ results in 3-6 months. But those are not 3 ‘sexy’ months. They are months of intense mental demand, physical challenge and true self-assessment.

Take for example, the current list of things I presently know are required to gain an advanced level of both understanding and production of my current target language (Japanese).

  1. Minimum vocabulary of 3,500-5,000 useful words.
  2. Minimum listening time of native audio of 500-1000 hours
  3. Minimum Kanji requirement of 2,136 Kanji
  4. Minimum knowledge of 297 readings for the above Kanji.

Each task requires months of intense work. Learning 3,500 words at a rate of 25-50 per day is a little over 3 months. 5,000 puts you at the 4,5 month mark. Getting in 500-1000 hours of listening at a rate of 5-8 per day will not take less than 2-4 months of highly organized activity that requires you to source very high quality audio in your target language that will carry you through (with interesting content) this long journey. I’ve devised a way to learn the Kanji at a rate of 20-50 per day will full memorization, that takes 8-10 weeks, but let’s say 12 at max (3 months). So all these tasks, which individually one could spent the majority of their time on, all lead to the ‘sexy’. 

THIS is what the internet does not tell you necessarily. This is  not sexy. It can be quite fun at times, even fulfilling. But trust me, there are days I’ve woken up at 5 a.m to start praticising my Kanji and absolutely didn’t want to. There are days I am physically exhausted (from life) and don’t feel like doing “immersion”. There are days that even though I’ve learned about 1700 Kanji with fully memorization and recognition (a feat I was unable to do ten years prior to this) I still feel as if what I am doing is “impossible”, because I haven’t even broken the 2,000 word barrier yet. I know it works, I know it will trigger my brain based on science and my own observations, but at the end of the day:

it is not easy by any stretch of the imagination. 

I do not like to use the word “hard” as “hard” has very negative connotations. See it as extremely challenging. You see, if I was to do this process at a much slower pace using the same numbers, it would actually be “easy”. Meaning, if I took 6-8 months to do all of this versus 3.5 or 4, I’d be in the same place. But that process would be much slower and require even more patience. I’d rather see my results in 3 months than 8 months.

So the sexy is good, and the sexy looks nice. But know that all the people having fun on the internet had to go through a lot to get their gains. I have no issue with showing off skills that took so long to learn. That’s the point! But you really have to go into some dank trenches to get those muscles.

Bright Side

The Bright side is, once you know the true cost, you won’ have any issues with the demands and you will be reasonably patient. You’ll just “do what you have to do” because you’ll be able to predict the shift and changes and anticipate breakthroughs. You’ll just have to put more of your efforts into staying the course. So I try to imaging myself right now at around month 4, with about 800 hours of listening locked in, and a working vocabulary of 3,000+ words. What will things be like then? I also think of one of my major goals, which is playing Zelda: Breath of the Wild in Japanese and try to imagine myself comfortably playing the game in another 2 months or so. Will it be comfortable? Who knows.

Because there are limits to our time and energy we cannot do everything. I cannot play games for hours and learn words for hours. I cannot speak for hours and read for hours, nor can I listening to native audio for hours and write kanji for hours. Once you fit into your system, you work in phases until everything starts to overlap, then you move on.

That my friends is what I think is the true cost. That’s my observation for today. Back to the grind.

Posted September 4, 2021 by marcusbird in Uncategorized

MY NEW TOKYO NOVEL   Leave a comment

Many of you have supported me over the years by watching my videos on youtube, reading these blog posts and helping me to keep active as I blogged about Japan. I’m pleased to announce i’ll be releasing a new novel set in Tokyo, entitled “Naked As The Day”, on December 10th, 2013.  Please watch the book trailer below and grab your free chapter at the launch website, book description after the trailer


When a typical twenty-something year old English teacher in Japan develops severe physical and psychological aversions to his daily routine in a small town, he decides to move to Tokyo with a few months worth of savings in search of more stimulating horizons. As his physical symptoms remain, and now hit with the demands that come with living in one of the world’s most expensive cities, he must take a fast track course in both survival and self-actualization from a host of characters including libidinous transients, self-proclaimed celebrities and kleptomaniac models. Armed with a few skills in the face of an uncertain future, Naked As The Day takes us on an occasionally humorous and poignant journey of human choices and ultimately their consequences.



Top Tokyo Clubs to Checkout   Leave a comment

A few clubs I recommend hitting up in Japan. Not listed but also cool are clubs like F Bar, The New Lexx, Flower, Eggman and Eleven.

One year later: Thoughts on leaving Japan   Leave a comment

On March 3, 2011, my thoughts were all about evolution and moving forward. It was a clear, bright Friday, and I had taken it upon myself to get my work Visa renewed. In the mid-morning, I met a friend of mine for Coffee. Unlike me, he spoke fluent Japanese, and had very interesting credentials in media and non-profit work.” Mike,” I said to him. “Do you realize that if I had your skills, particularly with language, I’d make something happen? The main barrier for me in one sense is language and then belief that I can make something here.”

Mike, who was knibbling a McDonald’s breakfast meal, sort of nodded his head in agreement. To me, Mike had the main tool that most long term residents in Japan had, an acute appreciation of all things Japanese (good or bad) plus a stellar command of the language.

We chatted about normal things, past relationships, and the future. I had met up with him to pay for a camera he gave me a while back. As I went to the train station to head to the Shinagawa ward office to renew my work Visa, I felt a calm settle over me. This calm was not common—living in Tokyo with no health insurance and low income not withstanding—so I relished it. I felt that I’d spent the better part of two years battling to make it in a foreign country mentally and socially and that I’d essentially try and turn over a new leaf, do new things.

I moved to Tokyo in early 2010 with my savings and after five months of hustle and bustle went back to teaching English at three Japanese Junior high schools to survive. For the next six months, I often dreamed of a day when I could do something else. I label myself a “creative”, and sometimes shouting at Japanese teens and sitting alone at my desk in a staffroom where I rarely interacted with teachers was a bit underwhelming. On some days, if the sky was bright in the sky, I’d look to the horizon and think that in some future, I’d be doing something different. This was the mood on Friday, March third, 2011. I felt that getting my Visa renewed was a step towards something different.

The mood in my apartment building was mum. A body or two floated silently through the hallways, it was quiet, and the slightest hint of cigarette smoke hung in the air by a huge ashtray in the lobby. I popped into my room, flipped open my laptop and proceeded to load an episode of  Dexter. Then, the ground started shaking and I, sipping on a Suntory strong, didn’t take note (because Tokyo had frequent, albeit small earthquakes). Then, as the tremors continued, it dawned on me that “this might be the big one.”

For a split second, I had a flashback to a bar I frequented in Shizuoka, in the city of Hamamatsu where I first lived. Marty, the patron, in his heavy Aussie accent said to me “Yeah man, the big one’s gonna come of these days. They said it was supposed to be like 2004 or 2005, but its definitely gonna hit.”

The ground kept shaking and my mind ran through a series of exercises I remember learning in school.  Stand in a doorway, don’t run outside, get under a desk.

I walked to the open doorway. My roommate, a guy from Korea gave me a frightened look and went outside into the lobby. My next move was illogical—I went to my bed and grabbed my camera—and I started shooting video as I followed him into the lobby. The place was really shaking now, and amazingly I didn’t feel frightened, just clueless. A few people in the lobby sprinted outside. I ended up hanging in there, watching the 55 inch plasma screen threaten to drop on its face, and pictures of Jeremy Irons go clack clack clack clack on the wall. Then it stopped.

Then the second quake hit, and everything started.

Everything as in all the e-mails, CNN reports, people watching Al-Jazeer to through internet streams to get info in English, loss of cell phone calls, , rampant fears of impending doom and worse. I made sure to shoot my parents a calm one line e-mail telling  them I was okay. As time progressed and twitter became a soap box for a million new nuclear radiation experts, the apartment completely changed. Everyone hung out in the lobby, and pretty much everyone was drinking. The reality of the situation, people trying to figure out what safe milivert levels were and all that jazz lead everyone down beer alley. I was mostly fine (the alcohol helped that) but then I remembered I had a friend who lived in Fukushima. In fact, I always joked with her if ever we spoke on the phone, calling it “Fukukukukushima!” to which she’d laugh. Naturally, as I saw the tsunami sweeping away houses and massive tankers in its wake, I got worried. E-mails were taking long to go through and no phones worked.

I stared at the TV screen. That huge, behemoth of an LCD and wondered if I had witnessed the death of a friend on live TV. This was the atmosphere that shifted from a day thinking about the future, to being jet-pilot focused in the present. A few people said they were leaving Tokyo a few hours after the quake. One of them showed me an e-mail from the French embassy talking about flight compensations and the need for safety. Then a few other foreigners in my house talked about stuff their embassies were saying. I almost laughed in this situation, because I was sure that the Jamaican embassy had no idea who I was, nor would they spirit me away with their own money.

After sending like twenty SMS messages to my friend (her name was Mayumi) I realized it was futile and I’d have to wait it out. Day turned into night and people threw back the beers, played party games and tried every trick to chill out. “They say another big quake might hit on Wednesday,” Ed, another roommate said. I nodded as he said that, while eating a plate of Turkish food that a guy upstairs suddenly decided was a top priority to make… for everyone on in the building.

At this point I didn’t know what to think. The earthquake itself for me wasn’t so bad, but pretty much every thirty minutes since the quake happened, there were aftershocks. One day into this, I lost a basic sense of balance and I kept thinking the ground was moving when it wasn’t. Two days in I hadn’t slept much and everyone was on edge. One the third day, I heard from Mayumi. She sounded tired, but okay.

“Thanks for calling,” she said. “My family and I are going to go to Yokohama for a while.”

We chatted for a few more minutes, and in that exact moment, I realized that something else could happen, and I might never see her again. When I said goodbye, I felt very circumspect. My family was rallying heavily for me to come home, and in the midst of a sleepless cascade of beer, mixed news reports about heavy radiation and constant aftershocks, I was on my way home.

The morning before I was supposed to leave, several loud booms sounded somewhere far away, with heavy aftershocks rippling through Tokyo as a result. These didn’t sound or feel like anything earthquake related, and this was the first time fear struck my chest. My friend felt it too, and we left the house. During this time, I also had a very heart-wrenching goodbye conversation with a girl who had my heart, my femme fatale, nestled safely in a city far away.

Broken relationships, drinking, insomnia, loss of property and life, all a few days.

I had left the small city of Hamamatsu with two suitcases and hopes for the future, and now I was leaving Tokyo with one suitcase and a cloud of uncertainty as my carry-on.



I spent five weeks in the states before going back to Jamaica, mostly trying to get used to the idea of returning home and all the trappings that ensue with island life. Back home, I felt blank for several months. The bustling day to day life in a metropolis of thirty six million people is a far cry from the more laid back Kingston life. I struggled constantly with the desire to go back to Japan, particularly because of my femme fatale, but also because I had fought for my time there. I’d fought to overcome culture shock, a massive language barrier and adopt new social norms.

I’d gotten used to running to the Conbini at night to grab snacks or drinks. I’d gotten integrated, even doing photography for Fashion shows, video work at Upscale clubs and a little branding with some Tokyo-based companies. I appreciated the way I could meet new groups of people frequently, and it was hard (and still is) difficult to deal with how people in Kingston “mainly hang with friends from high school” as a pervasive social rule. I went from the city to a huge country club, with a dated membership.

In Japan, I created a web series entitled “Jamaican in Japan”, where you could follow me on adventures to reggae parties, different cities ,the top of Mt. Fuji, you name it.  Jamaican in Japan was to be a portal for anyone who’d never seen Japan to experience it the way I did, in a whirlwind of parties and exotic locations. My initial time in Japan was brutally frustrating, because I, the outgoing, chatty socialite suddenly couldn’t speak the main language, and had less places to go.

When I started the series, I kept myself inspired with the idea that maybe one day I’d be able to create content for TV in Jamaica. Maybe residents could see what I did and be inspired to do more. That would be fun, I thought. At the time I had no idea that what I was producing would eventually be on Jamaican TV. I spoke about this in mid-2011 on the island’s largest morning television show, Smile Jamaica. It was a gargantuan catch-22. There I was, chatting about my experiences about Japan, made possible by a rapid exit from said country.

As time passed, I made contacts with a few local media people, and I even tried to emulate my Jamaican in Japan webisodes, but it didn’t feel the same.  Eventually, After months of debate, I decided to try and get my footage on television, and the first episode of a TV show that compiles my travel videos, No Ticket Needed, aired on January 17th, 2012 on a local station, Flow TV.

As I sat with my family and watched myself on TV partying and gallivanting in Japan, I felt somewhat elated and also a little awkward. I’d always wanted to get my videos on TV, but I didn’t realize it would happen this way. This might sound like massive progress, ( and in  a way it is ) but I feel a dissonance exists between this feeling of achievement relative of how I feel about my day to day life. The mental divide between the party-hard world traveler and the laid back island boy is still a large barrier.

My friends in Japan often ask me when I’m coming back, and I often wonder if I’m going back. The dialogue since my return with people who know me has never been “What are you doing now? “ but it remains “When are you leaving?”

This is the question of my life right now. When am I leaving?

A massive earthquake and threat of radiation made me leave Japan, and like a lot of people, another massive earthquake and the threat of more radiation makes going back feel a bit iffy. But what is life without a little spice? After a year, I think I know what that means all too well.

Jamaican in Japan on Flow TV!   Leave a comment

BREAKING NEWS! Flow TV Channel 100 is airing the first episode of my travel show “No Ticket Needed” this Monday at 7:30 p.m! See behind the scenes footage of me touring in Tokyo & Osaka with Maxi Priest, Marvin Priest, Beniton the Menace and the rest of the camp, plus more! If you can’t catch it on Monday, it rebroadcasts on Wednesday at 9:30 pm, or Friday night at 9pm! Spread the word and check it out if you are in Jamaica!



Posted February 12, 2012 by marcusbird in Uncategorized

My Tokyo Design Week Pecha Kucha Speech   Leave a comment

This is a speech I gave during Tokyo Design Week about what i call “Untitled Design” at Pecha Kucha, an event where creatives express their opinions, ideas and work to a captive audience. It was a great experience, and i’m happy to have done it.


Tokyo Economics : The Super Sale phenomenon   Leave a comment



I have a predilection for Craigslist trolling, and I noticed something interesting about Tokyo. Despite it being the world’s most expensive city, people often seem to sell stuff for ridiculously cheap. Why? I’m not sure. Last year I noticed a bunch of Playsation 3’s were being sold online for Ni Man En (about 250 US). But these were usually sold with two to three games. I didn’t own a PS3, but I wanted one, but not just any PS3, I wanted the BEST PS3 DEAL IN THE HISTORY OF MANKIND. I think I got it. For a mere 20,000 yen (back then about 230 US) I got the following:



As luck would have it, I wanted to get a ps3 mainly to have the joy of playing Street Fighter 4. The next day a person (again, someone who was leaving) gave me and additional four games. So let’s do the math. I got a ps3 (box included), with about six top games (valued at over 30,000 yen), a headset for online play and two controllers. Throw in the additional four games I got for free and you are looking at almost a 1000 US worth of playstation product I received in one day, for a little over 200 bucks.


I also received another whopper of a deal maybe a month later. I think I only bought this on principle. Someone was advertising a Nintendo DSi with TEN GAMES for ichi-man en (100 bucks!) so I met up with the guy and sure enough, got me a Nintendo DSi with 10 games. Each of these games is valued at say, 4000 yen, so we are looking at about 40,000 yen just for the games, and average used cost of 15,000 yen for a Nintendo DSi (which is the more expensive version because of its two cameras, etc). When I asked the guy playfully if he had a drug habit, the guy laughed and said no, he just needed money.

But I received a few of the top games for DS in the mix, including Mario Kart DS, Super Mario DS, Zelda Windwaker, Grand theft Auto, and more. I remember also that when the Ipad 2 was announced there was a flood of Ipad Ones selling on CL for 200 bucks. However, I generally try to avoid any new Apple Product until the third or fourth generation when it has features that actually are worth my time. So anyways, just an interesting note.

Ryugashido Caves!   Leave a comment

In 2009, I took a plunge into the depths of the earths outside a place I formerly called home, Hamamatsu. Ryugashido mountain is the place where these 250 million year old caves lie, and I was happy to go under the earth, dodge bats and see kewl looking stalactites.

Inside a Japanese Video Arcade   Leave a comment

A peek into Taito Station, a chain of Japanese video arcades, and a place where I spent ungodly hours playing Street Fighter 4.

Pyramids of Giza!   Leave a comment

Here I go to one of the world’s largest and most mysterious wonders, the Giza Pyramids of Egypt! This was definitely one of the most moving parts of my trip and I am happy to share it with the world.