The Heisenberg uncertainty principle of learning

Posted: - Modified: | japanese, learning

It can be frustrating learning something new. When you hit a plateau, you feel like you’re not making any progress, which makes you feel like you suck, which makes it even harder to make progress. Sometimes I feel that way about learning Japanese, or drawing, or even coding with a new platform or API.

I really like khatzumoto’s blog post on Intermediate Angst: Dealing with Feelings of Suckage (from All Japanese All The Time). Here’s what made me go “Hmm…”:

Call it the Heisenberg uncertainty principle of learning languages: you can’t have any momentum if you’re busy worrying about your position.

And from earlier in the blog post, concrete advice on small victories:

If you want to win the long game, stop playing it.
Stop running the marathon and start sprinting instead.
Start running and playing and winning short games instead.

Don’t learn Korean.
Learn the chorus of this song.
Don’t learn Korean.
Play this movie. Don’t even watch it. Just play. It. Audibly.

Sometimes I get lost in the big picture, feeling the insignificance of each small step. If I focus on constantly making small steps, even absurdly small steps, I’ll get somewhere faster than if I’m worried about how slow I’m going.

I knew this truth better when I was younger, reading and rereading books even though I didn’t understand everything in them. Why not rediscover it with Japanese? Some small steps: to read the manga we have out loud, not worrying about whether I understand it, and to repeat that (and other things) until it gradually becomes clearer.

Intermediate Angst: Dealing with Feelings of Suckage

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