Ambrose Bierce defines “Idleness” as “A model farm where the devil experiments with seeds of new sins and promotes the growth of staple vices”. How does the devil experiment with the creation of “new sins” while we are immersed in the pleasures of our “free time?” Another way to come at the question would be: To what worthy ends do we pursue idleness? The problem with “idleness” is that the more time you spend being idle, the better you become at it and the more you crave it. Hence, it is the perfect breeding ground for the perpetuation of “staple vices.” It is a distraction from work that ought to be done. Oddly, it seems to be this idleness that we crave. To push oneself to the edge of one’s limits through hard labor and suffering is not looked upon as being a good thing. We want the results without the effort. Imagine that you want to learn a foreign language, but before committing to an afternoon of serious study, you decide to watch television. It is a decision like this that promotes the growth of staple vices. Once the seed of a habit is planted, it will grow, it will creep up on you from the inside and overtake you. Can you see the connection between idleness and habits? How about idleness and mediocrity?
When I was a university student, a band that I was in (and am still “in,” even though I’m an ocean away) – Special Dental Team, wrote several songs with Japanese titles and even one with Japanese lyrics. In retrospect, I do recommend this as a study tactic to be stressed in my 50 Study Tips for Improving your Japanese.
That is, if you are prone to create your own art, whether via music, poetry, film, and so on, incorporate some Japanese into your art and develop your art through the frame of a different language. This will give you a more personalized approach to learning the language and will hopefully expand your art in a refreshing way.
Ken Tanaka recently uploaded a video, in which he teaches viewers the kanji for “coffee shop,” through an original song that he wrote. The combination of melody, real-world images and text is helpful and humorous, at least to me. Here is the video:
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.
I have seen consultation sessions here in Japan where the client/student sit in enclosed silence while the therapist/teacher silently and patiently waits, neither saying a word until the end of the session. Perhaps it is through such silent meditation with another that we can truly penetrate to that internal space beyond spoken language, that beautiful nothingness. That is, when our spoken language fails to meet the expectations of the other due to linguistic barriers, how to we deeply learn from each other? How do we help each other? It seems that the Carl Rogers way of empathic understanding would work very well in this situation and sometimes it may only take a smile and time to sit together to open up the situation and create a comfortable space between self and other.
I think that sometimes listening can be more difficult than expressing. Perhaps listening itself is a form of expression. What does it mean to actively listen to another person without forming our opinions and judgments during their talk? Even though people seem to value the quick response as a valid method of replying, I think we should take a note from the Japanese way of communication and learn to become better listeners. If we look at music, the beauty of electro-acoustic music or environmental recordings is the attention it demands of us. It can be very challenging to engage in the sound of crickets. How does one listen to the uneven sound of the evening rain? How do our environments change when we truly listen?
Recently, I was asked for a method of learning a foreign language. More specifically, I was asked how one can better develop listening skills. One way is to practice the art of “tuning in.” When I am in a public place, I concentrate on all of the conversations taking place around me. Since all of the conversations are in a different language (Japanese), I can become aware of the limits of my listening abilities. I see the family enjoying food across from me and in their conversation with the owner of the restaurant I can observe interaction and lose myself in tuning in to their conversation. There is no ill-intentions in this act, simply the desire to enter into an attuned state of listening. Similarly, the train announcements at the station, the recorded messages on the bus, the radio, a Japanese podcast and so on. When we really tune in to the myriad of sounds around us, we let them enter into us and we eliminate the barrier between our own comprehension and the actual sound of the foreign language. During the state of tuning in, the mind is silent, even though thoughts and recollections of understood vocabulary may drift in and out. The purpose of the exercise is to develop one’s ability to tune in to the sounds and to let them merge with oneself.
All in all, listening promotes empathic understanding of the other and develops concentration skills. Of course, in the example of second-language acquisition, I think it is also very important to balance your listening with a host of other exercises and strategies (self-experimentation as to what methods work the best for you are encouraged). In the case of silent listening, sitting together and creating a language-less space may increase and deepen awareness between you and the other. By simply experiencing the flow of life, the flow of mind, you may come to a richer understanding of the present moment.
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.
The Showtime series “Dexter” paints a morbidly human and twisted portrait of a forensics sociopath, Dexter Morgan as he struggles to maintain the facade of social life while waxing his own kind of “private justice” through the elimination of those in need of a little “treatment”. This “private justice” also helps him quench his monstrous tendencies while giving him the satisfaction of his private cravings. That is to say, in this series, the character with whom we spend the most amount of time is a monster, a heartless precise killer caught in a balancing act between desire and restraint.
I recently wrote about Carl R. Rogers, opened up his idea of “false faces” and the need for one to come to terms with one’s many “faces” in the process of becoming a person. Later that day I was floored by “Dexter” as this show in particular focuses on the social mask as the viewer experiences the interior/exterior life of a humble monster.
I see three narratives running through this series. The first is the basic story: a blood pattern analyst, Dexter Morgan working and interacting while secretly completing his little nighttime “projects.” Also, sub-plots which involve the tracking of “The Ice Truck Killer,” his sister, girlfriend and co-workers and so on. The narrative running beneath this is the monologues we receive, the messages from his interior landscape, the reflections on not being able to feel, the awareness of alienation which serve as a blunt study on extreme social masking. Third, there is the interconnecting narrative, the connection point between the prior two, which is the distance between the monster and the social human. It is within this distance that sits between the first two narratives where the viewer spends a lot of time. We are fully aware of the pretending of which Dexter actively engages in, the role playing and repeated attempts to blend in. This distance is vital to his character and is hit upon in every episode I have seen thus far. He is, as he refers to himself, “A master of disguise.”
Moreover, there is the character of “Harry,” Dexter’s father who taught him how to disguise himself and mentored him in the art of blending in. In one episode, Dexter refers to Harry as always being with him. The father-son bond between Harry and Dexter seem to be one of Dexter’s only feelings of true love. His relationship with his girlfriend at times comes to light for him as they partake in the games of everyday life, but still he wrestles with the gap between who he really is and who he knows he must be. Harry is the only person who truly knew Dexter and his cravings and Harry is, in my eyes, the only one that Dexter could truly love.
While watching this show, the mind may become disoriented. The character Dexter that we follow and listen to takes us into the dark spots of the mind, the sterility of his surgical chambers reflect his true inner life. His emotionless involvement are all the more unsettling as are the few things that seem to give him real joy, especially his fascination and love for blood. To emphasize with this kind of character puts the viewer in a vulnerable position as it moves from Dexter as pretending to be warm and friendly to Dexter as coolly vicious and alien. The viewer waits as the episode begins to find out who Dexter’s next evil victim will be. All along, we may forget the perverse interiority of Dexter. At times, he is like the Gnostic alien, the confused being confronted with the strangeness of the alien landscape, on the periphery yet immersed in the waters of sociality.
Dexter Season One is available for purchase through the US iTunes music store.