Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Softly and Often

"The most important thing about brushing your teeth is to make sure you do it softly and often."

Sitting in the dentists chair, receiving a lecture on oral hygiene, my first thought was "Huh, that kinda sounds like something that Khatzumoto would say!" Maybe: "Japanese is like your molars and your ignorance is the plaque. Brush your Japanese softly and often to fight that ignorance. Have you brushed your Japanese today?"

And then there was this other gem: "Flossing once a week, or a couple times a month, isn't going to do anything. But if you take a couple minutes a day and floss, you'll notice a significantly healthier mouth."

Not only are dentists far less scary than they were in my youth, they seem to have an innate understanding of the effects of steady, consistent progress.

Why brush softly? Apparently intensive brushing can damage your mouth and cause your gums to recede. An ominous fate- unless you're an Emo kid with a hardcore vampire fetish...

How does this apply to learning, do you ask?

When I first wanted to study Japanese (institution style), which was not offered at my high school, I had to wait until college. I was SUPER stoked to go- I'd been obsessed with Japan since visiting the country in 9th grade. I knew how to count to 10 from karate and a few words from all the anime I watched. I was ready to cut my teeth on some Japanese.

And first thing we heard in that class was this: "This is an intensive Japanese course. Not only are there 7 hours of class each week, you'll be responsible for at least 20 hrs of homework per week and time in the language lab. And you should probably find a speaking partner for a few hours a week."

Notice that intensive there?

Its no secret that I'd never been a seriously dedicated scholar in a 'traditional' setting- But the kind of workload sensei was demanding not only seemed unrealistic for wet behind the ears freshman; it felt like punishment.

I made it through the first few weeks alright before the work piled up and that ominous kanji mallet came down upon my head. One of the first characters we were responsible for was the horrible composite 電話- でんわ, 'telephone,' which has 26 strokes and is made up of two individual kanji with four distinct components. Not only that, the demand for output was increasing at a rapid pace.

I'm not sure the exact moment, but know I wrote the task off as impossible.

By the midterm I was hopelessly behind and my interest (both in the language and the culture) waned through extreme frustration. The final oral exam was one of the most embarrassing moments of my academic career.

The gums on my Japanese baby teeth had receded from too much hard brushing!

But that was not the only problem....

...and Often
Everyone knows that brushing often gives you nice things. Like kisses from pretty girls. But if you neglect regular brushing... ever spent a weekend camping and seen how quickly you get grossed out with your OWN mouth? Bad things build up fast- its easy to fall behind!

One of the major hurdles that held me back in my Japanese odyssey was that I stopped inputting popular Japanese media. This arose from Sensei's insistence that you could only learn 'properly' from academically proscribed material. Proscribed material is BORING, which really killed my motivation to study it. Worse, her assertion that anime and manga were a waste of time for language learning drove me away from the things that had attracted me to the language in the first place.

Japanese that I found fun and beautiful was laid aside, replaced with dreary textbooks.

My exposure plummeted. I started avoiding what I liked because it apparently didn't teach what I needed to know. I avoided homework because it was boring. I would halfheartedly study for the quizzes and exams I was dreading- a few hours a week- instead of the frequent doses of 'useless fun' I'd experienced beforehand. My retention sucked, I was getting bogged down with debris from earlier lessons.

I just didn't brush my Japanese teeth often enough!

Fast forward to today. I've learned more in 6 weeks of AJATT than I did in 3 months of intensive classes. I'll be halfway through Remembering the Kanji by the end of the week. My vocabulary is growing at a steady rate. My listening and reading comprehension is still slow, but miles ahead of what I had achieved in class.

Now my learning teeth are clean and sharp. I make sure I brush daily to stay fresh. If it feels like I'm brushing too hard, I ease up and stop trying to force it.

For now, its time for me to sink these incisors back into some Kanji...

So until next time remember this: No matter what you want to accomplish, brush it softly and often. Don't hurt yourself for it. Enjoy the soothing bristles. Play fun brushing games. Just make sure you brush!

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