Why Are You Acting Like A Deadbeat Dad Language Learner?

The day you stop sucking at the language isn’t the end of the journey, it’s the beginning.

Universities pay full, luscious lip service to this. Graduation is called “commencement”, at least in North America.

But lip service it is. Full lusciousness notwithstanding. It’s said that most peoples learning — in fact, all nonfunctional reading — stops the day they leave school.

But you and I are not most people. And I didn’t come to give you lip service today. My lips are chapped; it wouldn’t feel good.

Baby care doesn’t end at birth.
Parenting doesn’t end when the baby can walk.
So why, as soon as your linguistic baby can walk, are you thinking of abandoning her? I can hear an objection: “Khatz! Calm down, son! I need new challenges! New vistas! I can’t stagnate! I gotta grow! I’m not abandoning the baby! I’m just making another one!”

Tell that to the baby; she feels as abandoned as fork. You forgot she existed.

Don’t be a deadbeat dad. Don’t be a neglectful mother. Stay. Stay in your language child’s life. Milk it. You came all this way just to leave? OK, OK, I know the parental metaphors are a bit strong. But even in purely utilitarian terms, you’ll gain more from staying and milking than leaving.

Assuming you’re enjoying yourself, that is. If you’re really hating life with the language, then leaving might be the best thing. But I find the reasons most people hate a languages they’re leaving have to do with trying to extract too much extrinsic value from it too fast. Because fun is more about how than what.

When a language is part of your identity, a lifestyle and not an object, not a trophy, then, ironically, you relax and and have more fun and de-suck (real word) faster. In other words, you get everything you could ever ask for and more, if you just stop acting and feeling so desperate. And that can be very hard to believe. Surely the best way to hold onto something is to grip harder, right? How will this kitty know I love her if I don’t squeeze her until her spine breaks? That’s the kind of broken — but apparently reasonable — linear logic that overwhelms you when you’re in that desperate state.

Here’s some good old personal anecdote for ya: In 2004, I decided I was willing to spend my whole life and forget English if I had to in order to get good at Japanese…it turns out neither was necessary, but the relaxed state of mind that came from my resignation surely had some power to it. And, yeah, there was a short term goal or two in there; there was the career fair, but I never saw the fair as end in itself – in fact, by the time I physically got there, I was already looking beyond it, learning more, doing more reps; it was never an endpoint, only a waypoint.

Why does this type of resignation work? Why does resigning yourself to a lifetime of Japanese work? Because what you’ve really done is give up…on giving up. And if you’re never gonna give up, then it doesn’t matter what method you use or how long it takes, and it definitely doesn’t matter how you look to other people. 

On the surface, this “Playa4Life” mindset goes against everything we know in terms of, say temporal motivation theory (TMT). But there are at least three ways to reconcile that apparent paradox. One is to say that the other equation components get driven up so high as to drown out the gamma. Another is to play fast and loose with both mathematics and common sense, and argue that infinite gamma and small (near-zero) gamma behave the same. And the third (and incidentally, least elegant) way is to just go — screw it, TMT isn’t a GUT or TOE, so it must just not apply here.

So, resignation. Think of it like holding an egg: in order to successfully hold an egg, you need a combination of firmness and softness…In order to successfully hold a language, you need the firmness of frequent contact (immersion and SRS), but the light softness of just having fun and not freaking the fork out over your situation, your progress, your vocabulary and stuff.

Maybe one day I’ll start swearing in writing like a real man. Anyway!

  10 comments for “Why Are You Acting Like A Deadbeat Dad Language Learner?

  1. Ri
    October 23, 2014 at 00:08

    Good advice as alwaysーand a rather terrifying metaphor. I promise to work on my language parenting skills! ^^)v

  2. Fearlezzdreamer
    October 23, 2014 at 04:12

    Thanks again for the great post, Khatz.

    In my opinion, it doesn’t really matter whether or not anything contradicts against the TMT, I mean that’s what we Ajatteers do. The TMT formule is simply a tool after all, it’s meant to help us, if it gets in the way we might as well screw it, that’s what AJATT is all about, discarding crap that doesn’t help so that we can milk the things that actually DO help.

    Considering my Japanese project, I’ve stopped doing my SRS reps the ‘right’ way with timeboxes, under perfect conditions etc. and I only do them when I go to the toilet, am bored in class, have to wait for an appointment and so on. In that way I complete 30-40 % of my daily reps, which isn’t perfect, but it sure as hell adds up. There are some golden days where I actually get 100%, but these days are only occasional, when my SRS items are really interesting and fun, and when I’m in a good mood.
    I usually set up 2-3 situational goals a day for my SRS reps, but that’s all I really plan. Anything else I leave to inertia and nature.
    For the rest of the day I just do fun stuff in Japanese, like watching tons of Anime, playing video games, listening to music etc.
    Enjoying this journey that we brave people set out onto. :)
    Oh and that example with the egg, amazing shizz dawg.
    I really want to meet you one day, for you are the one and only guru that has had such a big and positive effect on my life. I always look forward to your posts, every fifth day is like a holiday for my, since I can never wait to see what new advice you’ve got in store. I would really love and appreciate it if you could continue at this pace.

    Stay golden and thanks for everything,


  3. 魔法少女☆かなたんが勝負をしかけてきた!
    January 28, 2015 at 20:54

    RIP AJATT (????-2015)

    • Fearlezzdreamer
      January 29, 2015 at 02:49

      He could atleast update his twitter ! D:

      • NDN
        January 31, 2015 at 09:29

        このサイトがどれだけ僕の人生を変えたことか。ちなみに、僕の日本語はまだ下手ですので、短く書かせていただきます。 (笑)

        僕は、きっとこのサイトを一生忘れないでしょう。 勝元様のご苦労に深く感謝します。
        冗談を込めて、「でかしたぞ、このヤロー!このサイトはすげーぞ!」と言わせて頂きます。 :D

        • Fearlezzdreamer
          January 31, 2015 at 11:11


          • NDN
            January 31, 2015 at 12:51

            ツイッターの方は、まあ、あいつの事だ。更新しないほどだらしないかもしんねー。 (笑)
            元々、あいつは有名人になるつもりはなかったと思う。(違うかもなー! 笑)
            とにかく、俺が言いたかったのはこうだ、「休んでいいんだぞ!」ってな。 :-D
            もちろん、勝元様が戻ってくれば、このサイトはもっと楽しくなるけどな。 (笑)

  4. Anon1
    February 18, 2015 at 07:14

    Khazumoto where are youuuuuu???

  5. Fearlezzdreamer
    March 6, 2015 at 13:16

    Khatz where you at tho?

  6. Fearlezzdreamer
    April 16, 2015 at 17:49

    Khatz at least update your twitter or something to let us know that you’re still alive ! D:

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