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

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