First, a few simple notes about Japan, and the change in seasons. Here in Tokyo, it’s rather humid. And by “rather”, I mean it’s comparable to, say, swimming through the air. The temperatures have gotten downright chilly over the last few weeks, ranging usually around 14˚ or less (that’s in C, on F, which I use because it’s what they use here, plus it has fewer flats). In F, that’s about 55˚. Well above freezing. Yet, it feels frightfully cold, and you’re reading from a guy who will spend 15 minutes outside with a t-shirt and jeans when it’s snowing where he’s from. Of course, he’s from a much drier climate, so the cold doesn’t absorb as much.
Also, it’s starting to come down to Christmas time. Here in Japan, that means basically everything it means in America minus silly religious annoyances (the religious meaning isn’t annoying, but the ranting about religious meaning kind of is), and without it being a national holiday. Also, I heard that in Japan, each person really only gets one present, which, if you’re a girl, means you get a fancy new bag (purse-thing). That’s what girls get in Japan, I guess. ^_^ Don’t ask me, I just calls ‘em like I sees ‘em.
This next sections, I debated putting up here or on my personal Japan-blog, since it does pertain to an individual problem I’ve have in school (you have no idea how many times I had to edit that sentence so that people wouldn’t sit down – metaphorically – before continuing on), but I think because the general idea is more widespread and generically applicable than just to my personal situation, I will post it here.
First, you should know that kanji is hard. If you don’t know that, well, you do now. Japanese people tell me that kanji is hard. It’s the hardest thing to learn and the easiest thing to forget. There’s even a rising trend where everyone can read it, but more and more are able to write less and less of it. (Thanks, computers…) So it’s not just us stupid white guys. ^_^
In Inensive Japanese, we’ve set a pace of studying twenty kanji each week. That’s a very hefty pace, considering that there are potentially dozens of new words for each kanji… Kanji is also very interesting, as when you get more into it, it can actually make it easier to learn new words, which is one of the reasons I really actually like it, but that’s not pertinent to the current topic. What is pertinent is that with all these kanji, plus speaking and vocabulary and grammar in class (of which we cover dozens of new items each week) can easily run any person down. In the case of this class, I find myself in one of two positions: either barely staying afloat on the homework/study scene, or rapidly sinking beneath the piled on load.
When things get really heavily piled up, however, is not a time I find myself really wanting to “get to it”, as it were, and work hard to overcome the load. Rather, utilizing arguments that what they’re “teaching” is useless, I argue that there’s no point in doing the homework to catch up, so I drop a few assignments (don’t worry, there’s probably a hundred assignments or more this semestre, of which the grade impact is around 7%, so I’m not hurting too much for that) and pick up the next ones as they come. This actually works rather well in areas other than kanji. You see, the kanji builds up on itself. If you miss a vocab here or there, you can usually pick it up later when needed, but if you miss a kanji, then it makes learning future vocab more difficult, and when it comes time for a mid-term/final, well, it’s just bad.
The second major problem in learning kanji, unlike doing an assignment (of which there are at least two for kanji each week), it’s not something you can just do, say “I did it”, and put away. Each kanji has its shape (that you need to know how to write), at LEAST one pronunciation (often more, with as many as 4 or more), several words that use it, along with a general idea for the meaning of the kanji which can help you to learn the words better, and maybe even a bit of their history if you feel so inclined. When you have these 4 (four? I didn’t count as I wrote it) facets of kanji earning, you can’t simply sit down for an hour one night with some flash cards and learn them all. I can learn 40 words that way easily (recognition, pronunciation, and meaning), but the kanji are more intricate and involved than simple vocab in which they are used.
For these reasons (personal and logistical), I find my subconscious often pushing kanji to the back burner. (It also doesn’t help that kanji is the least emphasized and least frequented class among the collection that forms “Intensive Japanese”.) It says, “Oh, you have more important homework due tomorrow, and kanji’s not ‘til the day after,” and things like that. It also says, “If you start studying kanji now, you’re not getting to bed until 3 in the morning (this being around 11, an hour before I usually hit the sack), OR you won’t have studied well enough to know it well enough for the test, so there’s no point getting involved now.” That along with the knowledge that if I study one day I’ll likely have forgotten it by the next day, making kanji seem rather like a never ending battle to remember things.
But then I thought of something, which I had later confirmed and endetailed. (Is that a word? Just “detailed” seems wrong there, even as a transitive verb… >.>) The idea is this: Just a little study each day would likely spread out the time needed to study it all in one day, and probably only take a slightly longer length of time in total, but resulting in a much stronger knowledge of the information presented. I achieved this conclusion based more or less on my knowledge of increasing interval theory in linguistic learning as well as personal experience in studying. So that’s what I decided to do, is I’ll sit down for a little while each day, acknowledging that I won’t finish my study that day. My goal will merely be to get some of it done. That’s the biggest wall, is the notion of “finishing” something, because you can’t “finish” learning a language. I haven’t even finished learning English, and here I am working on a second… or third… or… whatever. A different one. Anyway, I think you see the point.
Then I came home and looked at an article I received this morning from my older brother, who likes to lurk around on RSS news feeds and send me interesting articles, pointing to this science report. Feel free to read it, but it’s a bit long (and this blog post isn’t?) so I’ll summarize here. Basically, we learn best when we look at intelligence as something you gain, not something you have. Children who are naturally gifted have a predisposition to look at intelligence as a natural extant thing that is what it is. In America, we like to exacerbate this problem by telling our children things like, “You’re so talented,” or, “He’s very bright.” This leads to children tending to look at themselves as naturally intelligent (the research started in the 60s, but the more pivotal parts have only recently been published) but when they encounter trouble, rather than look at it as an obstacle to get over to improve their knowledge, they will say, “Well, it’s pointless anyway” (sound familiar?), and move on to something that makes them feel more confident. However there are some children who look at difficulties and failures as a factor of their not working hard enough to get it done right. They look at every challenge as a chance to get a little bit smarter. Kind of like, it’s not the naturally brilliant plan that gets you from point A to point B, but rather in the plan’s execution, if that makes any more sense. (The brilliant plan being natural ability, which some have and some don’t; the execution being effort applied to a subject, which everyone can do to accomplish the task, natural talent or not. I think natural talent just eases the process…)
I find it fun that I arrived at this conclusion to make learning kanji a process and not a goal on the same day that I received this article. (I made my conclusion before reading the article, however, in case of temporal confusion. ^_^)
Incidentally, there are actually a number of areas in which I have already come to this conclusion, for instance in the area of teaching language, learning to sing, understanding religious principles, etc… Just never had I thought to apply it to something as mundane as everyday schoolwork. The fact is that everything we can learn is really just a process and a stop on the road to knowing more, as there’s always something more to learn about a subject. What we are given in school are really just milestones. My determination was to stop looking at the milestones and to start looking at the road leading up to them.
…And that sounded way more “mysterious wise person on mountain” than I would generally feel comfortable with, but I’ll let it stay for now, since I wrote it, and I dislike editing these things… ^_^
(\/) ( ^^) C(“)(“)
Oh yeah! And you can totally apply this to everything! Relationships, losing weight, learning a musical instrument, everything! Every time you work at something, you’re doing it! Who cares if you’re not seeing results immediately. Just do it because it’s something you want to do, and then you’ll forget about looking for results until one day you stop and say, “Hey! I’ve actually made a LOT of progress!” ^_^ Trust me!