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Eric Hoffer, in his book “Reflections on the Human Condition,” writes, “People who cannot grow want to leap: they want short cuts to fame, fortune, and happiness (47).” For Hoffer, life lies in the ability to grow, that is, in the ability to learn and continue learning. The less attuned you are to the importance of the growth-process, the more you will struggle with outcomes that aren’t to your liking.
No great undertaking that you embark on will be easy. There are no real short cuts. If you take a hard look at how you were able to achieve something great, you will probably find that it was not an easy process.
Eight years ago I began learning the Japanese language and now, eight years later, I am still a perpetual beginner. My use of the language how gotten me to great places (at least great in terms of where I wanted to go). Nonetheless, it has never been easy. Mistakes were made and plenty of embarrassing moments happened. The fear of not knowing how to “go on” in conversation or getting caught up in assignments or conversations that suddenly hurtle out of my comprehensive range happen all the time. I’m perpetually struggling to catch-up and tune-in. I know, from this first hand experience, this first-hand struggle, that anyone who speaks, reads, or writes Japanese “fluently,” went through countless hours of preparation and struggle. There is no way to short cut yourself to fluency in a second-language.
Developing your capacity to grow and learn is necessary if you want to change who are. An adult attitude of “I know it all” will constrain and limit your vision. Again, think about learning a foreign language. There will always be things that you don’t know and there will always be situations that you are not 100% equipped to deal with. You must stay in the learning-mode as much as your capacity allows. The paradox here is that the more you learn, the more you grow and the more your thinking changes. Steer your learning so that it benefits where you want to end up and devote yourself to it wholeheartedly and you’ll be in the stream of growth, the stream of recognizing that if you truly want to achieve something, you’ll have to recognize that there are no short cuts. The more difficult it seems, the more you are growing.
I have been studying Japanese for eight years. The first three years I studied at a university in the United States (studying and working for the university as a Japanese tutor). One year was spent working in South Korea and studying Japanese every morning with Korean adults (I was the only non-Korean student in the class). The latter four years have been me living and working in Japan, using Japanese on a daily basis and, for the most part, getting by quite well with the skills I have developed. I have experience in academic translation work, language consultation, education and interpretation.
I’m not sure how relevant this will be to those learning a language other than Japanese, but if they are of use, then great, I’m happy to have helped contribute to your gain in competency.
The following list is in no particular order. You decide which of these is more useful than the other and above all, use them. Thank you.
1. Start with reading and writing as this will help you in the long run.
2. Learn the hiragana syllabry perfectly and be able to write and recall it from memory.
3. Learn the katakana syllabry perfectly and be able to write and recall it from memory.
4. Learn a set number of kanji per day by writing them over and over and over again.
5. Memorize at least 10 particles. If possible, buy a book specifically dealing with particles and learn as many as possible. You will thank yourself later.
6. Increase and review your vocabulary on a daily basis.
7. Practice pronunciation with native Japanese speakers.
8. Have conversations with native Japanese speakers as much as possible.
9. Learn how to say: “How do you say _______ in Japanese?” in Japanese.
10. Watch Japanese movies with English subtitles and take notes.
11. Watch English movies with Japanese subtitles and take notes.
12. Watch Japanese movies with Japanese subtitles and take notes.
13. Listen to Japanese music and pay attention to pronunciation.
14. If possible, go to karaoke with Japanese friends and sing Japanese songs.
15. Find articles written in Japanese about things that you are interested in. Read them even if you don’t understand every single kanji. Try to grasp the subject matter and explain it to someone else in Japanese.
16. Buy a reliable paper dictionary. Spend an afternoon exploring it.
17. Go to Japan by yourself for two weeks and interact as much as you can.
18. When in Japan, ask random people for directions and listen carefully.
19. Write your own paragraphs in Japanese and have a native speaker check them for you.
20. Learn the difference between casual and formal Japanese.
21. Learn “keigo” and learn how and when to use it.
22. Listen to podcasts or radio broadcasts in Japanese.
23. Listen to a Japanese speaker or celebrity whom you admire and mimic the way they talk. I recommend Ryuichi Sakamoto’s podcast.
24. Learn about Japanese dialects and how they differ from each other.
25. Learn how to read and write. I say this again as it will set you apart from other foreigners who can only speak. Plus, you will understand much more of what is happening around you.
26. Learn about “aimai” and observe how people around you talk to one another.
27. Write messages on your cellphone in Japanese. Learn the Japanese emoticon system.
28. Study more kanji. Buy kanji flashcards and study the hell out of them.
29. Take the JLPT tests or buy the study books and simply learn from them.
30. Participate in a speech contest and practice your speech AT LEAST 500 times.
31. Videotape yourself speaking Japanese and observe your pronunciation.
32. Record your Japanese teacher’s lecture and listen closely.
33. Record your own voice speaking Japanese and observe your own pronunciation.
34. Speak to your Japanese friends on the telephone and observe how challenging it is when you cannot see the other person’s mouth.
35. Pay attention to body language and mimic those around you (do this respectfully and subtly).
36. Learn how to bow properly.
37. Learn how to count things properly.
38. If you come across a word that you don’t understand, ask someone.
39. Organize a study group and meet weekly. Don’t just complain or watch anime, but STUDY together. Challenge each other.
40. If you want to excel in a certain kind of career, learn as many words about that career as you can.
41. Start a translation project of a book or article that you like.
42. Once a month, go back and review ALL of the basics (grammar patterns, vocabulary, kanji, etc.).
43. Become a master at asking questions.
44. Enlist the help of a tutor or mentor, someone who can help you develop your skills.
45. Re-read articles that you have read and note how your understanding has changed or how you have forgotten kanji that you were certain you already knew.
46. Study Japanese “reiho,” or manners.
47. Start teaching Japanese to others who are just beginning. Explaining the concepts will help give you a better grasp on them.
48. Practice your reading and writing as much as possible.
49. Listen to Japanese audio and speak along with it (again, imitation).
50. Put yourself in reasonable situations where you MUST speak Japanese.
Dr. Dean Ornish wrote an interesting article for The Huffington Post entitled, Something Good About the Economic Meltdown, in which he addresses the transformative powers of pain and adjusting one’s life habits.
Warren Bennis, in his book, “On Becoming A Leader,” has a line, “Everywhere you trip is where the treasure lies.” This means that when you find yourself up against some kind of life obstacle: a challenging experience, tough decision, “stressful” experience – it is wise to look for the learning opportunity in the face of the obstacle. That is, not letting the troublesome experience overcome you, but learning from it and adjusting the way in which you might interpret it. Generally speaking, this quotation is fitting for the economic crisis. For Ornish, the crisis in the USA is a painful blow to many individuals, families and businesses, but, perhaps, it is a pain that we can learn from (in align with Bennis). Dr. Ornish writes that with the coming of a painful experience, “There is an enormous clarification process that often leads to healing.”
It is hard to say what this “clarification process” entails and how it manifests itself in the individual, but a base level explanation is that it alters one’s habits – one’s ways of thinking and doing. It is the process of realizing that one’s life is not fully embedded in the imagined past or in the imaginary future, but grounded here and now in the reality of the moment. And, in light of this process: Only when it becomes necessary, do people really change (inspired by Lee Thayer).
Ornish also writes, “If anything good comes out of this financial crisis, if any meaning can be found beyond learning to live more frugally, it may be learning to value collaboration over competition, and selflessness over selfishness.” Perhaps, this economic crisis has been a wake-up call for the USA to reach out and connect more fruitfully with the global community – to admit, that “going it alone” is not the right strategy in a globalized world, that we are interconnected on different levels.
Hopefully, instead of getting sucked into vicious circles of harmful addiction, depression, media-fueled anxiety and so on, we can strive to see the “treasure” in this financial “trip” while working to make our own lives and the lives of those around us better and better.
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Yesterday, I posted an article featuring “five quotations for your learning pleasure.” Today, I would like to look into and “open up” one particular quotation, which is by Warren Bennis. The quotation, from his book On Becoming a Leader, is, “Taking charge of your own learning is a part of taking charge of your life, which is the sine qua non in becoming an integrated person.”
What Bennis means by this is that “learning” should not be something that is wholly dictated to you by certain others: teachers, parents, friends, and so on (although there is always the excuse to blame others if you don’t learn what you needed or wanted to learn). Learning is the process by which you grow competencies, which enable you to mind the world in new ways. That is, new things learned produce new thoughts or new angles on old thoughts. Thoughts change with what you learn and how you use what you learn.
This kind of active learning demands curiosity and discipline – necessity. Or, sometimes learning is as easy as “tuning in” to the world happening around you and minding your habits of participation and interpretation. Moreover, who you talk and listen to, the people you spend time with whether through books, the television or in “real life,” also form the limits of what you can learn.
For Bennis, self-learning, that is, learning that is driven by you, builds you and shapes your ways of minding the world. I am tempted to say that, what you actively and passionately learn will change the you that you currently are. If you use computers a lot, yet find yourself stuck in your use of new applications, then, taking the time to learn about those applications and how to use them efficiently will alter the situation from helplessness to a sense of control over the situation. In this way, you are integrating yourself more fully into your life situation. How are you doing with what you have learned?
If your life “feels” broken and you want to pick up the pieces, pay attention to those broken areas and focus on doing what it takes to mend those broken areas. If you don’t know how to fix them, learn how and set about fixing them the best ways you know how.
If there are things that you would love to learn about or do, then why aren’t you doing them? Simply keeping them may not be moving you toward them. Probably, as humans, we are always in a state of learning as we take things in moment by moment. Persistently directing your attention and efforts to the things that you want or need to learn (i.e. doing what needs to be done to learn them), is a step in consciously moving your life where you think it should go.
What you do with what you learn is what other can know about you.
More information about something does not always mean you have learned more about that something. What is meant by this?
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- Five Quotations for Your Learning Pleasure (Selected by Your Humble Editor on a Rainy Tuesday Evening)
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- More on Leadership vs Management – and some good quotes.
- The Only Guide to Happiness You’ll Ever Need
- The Art of Being Who You Are
- Mini Lesson- The Learning Brain
Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner in their book “Teaching as a Subjective Activity,” present the following for our contemplation: “The ability to learn turns out to be a function of the extent to which one is capable of perception change (21).” What this means is that your learning something is dependent upon your capacity for imagining yourself to be other than you are or aiming to properly imagine yourself into the situation that you are faced with. How many times have our perceptions of ourself stifled our potential for taking action or for challenging ourselves in new ways?
Or, said otherwise, when approaching a situation, are you capable of opening yourself to the potentialities of the situation? This seems to follow along the lines of living a great life and being the person that you want to be, becoming the person that you want to be. I remember a meeting with a respectable person, a person whose work I had studied for years prior. When that person told me that, “yes, we could meet tomorrow,” I was overcome with anxiety and fear. However, luckily, I was able to push the fear aside and take the risk of meeting this respectable person. In this kind of situation, what is the nature of the fear? What triggers the panic the could potentially crush the hoped-for situation? In retrospect, it is amazing to find that the panic on my part was severly over-exaggerated. What seemed like a great chasm, was merely a crack in the sidewalk.
It seems that one’s existence is not simply “in one’s head,” but in fact stretched out to the people that one meets and the objects and situations that one is surrounded by. Perhaps we come to know ourselves through the interaction with our environment and with the people in our environment. Our interpretations of how things are are perhaps more important than the things themselves. Perception change can come from wiping off the table or from listening to the wind in the afternoon. However, perception change sometimes does not come easy and it is difficult at times to will ourselves to see things differently. Perhaps, the thinking process returns to an obsessive fear or a hindering shiver of doubt (this is also a mode of perception change). In these times of gloom, it may be necessary to force our body into action, to change our normal routine and to risk “losing face” in order to break the moldy habits that have consumed us. The beautiful thing about a human is that a human is incomplete and in this incomplete existence we can work to change ourselves and to change our lives over and over and over again.
I move between two languages on a daily basis, English and Japanese. When I say that I “move between” these two languages, I mean that I dive into conversations, jokes, sarcasms, criticisms, small-talk and office politics in both languages throughout the day. I am surrounded by others who do the same. I am also surrounded by others who prefer to use one language over the other.
Learning a language is funny and if you ask me “how does one learn Japanese?” I’ll probably give you some tips on how to study or what you can do to increase your language-learning potential, but when does “study” stop and “fluency” begin and at what point does one become “fluent”? Despite confidences from the Japanese, which we know can just as much be cliche as it can be true compliment, the idea of fluency does not enter into my sphere…What I mean is that, in expressing myself in Japanese there is always a wall, an invisible wall that flares up heavily at times and magically disappears at times. Sometimes, I trick the wall out of existence by knowing how to agree, knowing how to carry the conversation. Other times, the wall completely vanishes only to reappear when I least expect it.
If you also find yourself (or want to in the near future) move between these two languages here are a few things you may want to try or at least take into account.
- Pay attention to the others around you and turn your daily life into the playground of learning. That is to say, I think that people can learn a lot by simply tuning in to the words that float around them, the little parts of speech that aren’t taught in textbooks, the kanji that reappear, the nodding of the head, the gait of the other, intonation, pauses…all of these come to life in the others around us. It may be difficult for one to see oneself a part of this and emulation is a wonderful way to learn the art of the spoken and the unspoken.
- Pay attention to what is talked about and how it is talked about. For those who are wondering about “aimai,” the way of vague affirmation or indirect communication, one should always be paying attention to what is being talked about in small talk and how it is furthered on by others. Sometimes talking about the weather is simply talking about the weather and sometimes it is doing much more than that, it is strengthening the bond between you and the other person. It is a reaching out across the abyss from the other to you.
- Humble yourself. I remember someone telling me to always “degrade myself” when presenting some project that I finished as the Japanese heavily do this when talking about themselves. Hhmmm…Well, yes and no. I think that at times it is proper to exit one’s ivory tower and to truly apologetically present some new completed project to co-workers, but at other times it serves one well to be steady and confident. The trick is that it completely depends on who you are surrounded by and who you are perceived to be in said situation. When in doubt, perhaps humbling yourself will serve you well.
- Play with language. I think it is most important to play with the language slowly and smoothly. I used to write poetry in Japanese. At that time my goal was to create a harmony between the Japanese syllables, the form of the poem and the meaning that it held for me. In playing with the language in this way, I realized that it is possible to express or create some kernel of myself in this other language and I think with the proper amount of respect for the language and play with the language one’s ability will grow and the ability to “tune in” will increase.
By no means am I a master at Japanese and sometimes when challenged by a fellow ex-patriot as he seeks to test my level of Japanese, I back down. I don’t appreciate such challenges and don’t wish to duel. The foreigner who wishes to partake in a linguistic duel does nothing for me and doesn’t prove anything to me. The ex-patriot who questions with me and who plays with the language with me is beneficial and much appreciated. Being in a relationship with a friend whom you can learn with is wonderful for both of you and much more productive than the stand-offish challenge.
Thank you for reading this and I wish you all the best in your studies.