A while ago I wrote the article “When Learning Japanese It’s All About The Little Victories.” This is kind of like that, but this time we’re focusing on epiphanies. Oh, just in case, here’s the definition of epiphany.
A sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience.
Basically, it’s something you realize all of a sudden. Now, most people usually think about big, life changing epiphanies when they think about epiphanies. But, I don’t think these are particularly helpful when it comes to language learning. Little epiphanies are where the progress is at – the problem is that you just don’t notice them too well. Just the act of noticing little epiphanies (they really do happen quite often, as long as you get little enough) will change your outlook on your progress through life (as well as your progress through the Japanese language).
Now, why do you want to have more epiphanies? How is that helpful to learning Japanese?
Unfortunately, I don’t have studies, science, or really anything else to back this up. Just personal experience. Here’s what I think:
In order to learn Japanese, you have to have X number of epiphanies before Japanese becomes “Obvious.” This is when things just sort of make sense on their own. It’s a magical moment, but a moment you probably won’t notice right away, because it will sneak up on you.
To have X number of epiphanies, you need to:
- Study and do the right things.
- Study enough / be exposed to enough Japanese.
This is all pretty general and unhelpful, but I hope at least you agree that you have to do the right things in order to get epiphanies. Also, bear with me on the idea that you need “X number of epiphanies” to reach the “obvious” point. I don’t know what “X” is, but it’s a pretty big number. Everyone has to have the same epiphanies (as in… “ohhh, so that’s how that grammar works!”) to progress towards obvious land… though some people will experience bigger or smaller epiphanies for different things.
Anyways, what I’m trying to say is that people have to have these epiphanies. What’s really important is the question of how to get them and how to notice them. The more you notice the epiphanies, the more you can do with them. The more epiphanies you end up having (remember, everyone has to have the same epiphanies, pretty much!) the closer you’ll be to “obvious.” Let’s look at those questions – I think they’re a lot more interesting… and helpful!
Noticing Your Epiphanies
One thing I want you to try is to pay close attention to your epiphanies. I believe epiphanies are happening all the time, you just have to think smaller.
There are two things that I think make it a lot easier to notice them, though.
- Paying attention (duh)
- Writing down things you don’t understand
Paying attention seems simple enough, but it’s actually really hard. You have to constantly be thinking “am I realizing something?” throughout the entire day, and that gets difficult to do until you do it enough (and it just becomes a natural question in your head). Whenever you feel confusion, or something similar, you should automatically get ready to notice your epiphany. When you have one, think through it and how you came to it in your head. Eventually, you’ll actually get better at having epiphanies. Epiphanies are the steps towards greater understanding – you want to have a lot of these if you can.
To make this even easier, I’d recommend writing down things you don’t understand. I’m talking about everything (Japanese included). Bring a small notepad with you wherever you go or set up Evernote on your phone. Writing things down that you don’t understand is a lesson in humility and a lesson in epiphanies. You should go through your list every day and take note of the things you understand (between the time you wrote them down and the time you looked at them again). Then, think back to how you came to that understanding. What epiphany brought you over the edge? What epiphany made that concept make sense? Think through the epiphany and slow it down (usually they come on pretty suddenly!) so you can figure out how you reached that point of understanding.
Eventually you’ll get better at noticing and analyzing epiphanies. You’ll actually get good at having epiphanies, because you’ll learn the things that give you epiphanies, and therefor give you more knowledge (dare I say you’ll get an epiphany about it?).
Having More Epiphanies
More isn’t always better, but when it comes to epiphanies I think the more the merrier. You’ve learned how to start noticing your epiphanies (as well as how to analyze them so you can set yourself up to have them more easily) so now it’s time to look at ways to have more epiphanies, especially with your Japanese learning. These are just some suggestions, and not everything will work with everyone, but I imagine most Japanese studiers will get something out of at least one of these. In general, these all just follow good study habits as well, so nothing here will be a bad thing to try.
Write Down The Things You Don’t Understand
Already mentioned this above, so I won’t harp on it long. Use Evernote, it’s pretty much the best note-taking software ever. I use it for everything, including Japanese. If you write down the things you don’t understand, you can focus on the things you don’t understand (rather than avoid them… or ignore them). When it comes down to it, people who get better at the things they don’t understand or aren’t good at are the ones who win in the end. The people who ignore the things they don’t understand are the ones who end up falling apart later on. Why? Because these people avoid the difficult epiphanies, and everyone needs to have these epiphanies in order to progress.
Studying consistently will garner you more epiphanies than studying eight hours all at once for one day a week, even if you’re only studying 30 minutes a day instead (totalling 3.5 hours a week of study, versus the eight). Why? Because it allows your brain to rest and think on things. Also, it brings up reminders more consistently, meaning things you don’t understand have a much higher chance of breaking through. Studying consistently (rather than in bursts) is just about the best thing you can do for your Japanese. Why? Because it creates more opportunity for the epiphanies you need to move forward and get better.
Make Things Small
Shooting for the big epiphanies is a mistake. Shoot for the small stuff – they add up automatigically into the big stuff without you knowing (that’s why “obvious” status will sneak up on you!). Don’t make your goals gigantic, make them small. Achieve your goals often. Anki is one of many great tools for this. Anki is best when taken in smaller doses on a daily basis. It can take ten thousand vocab words and give them into small chunks (just enough, not too many). It also brings things back to review, depending on how well you answered the card before, giving you every opportunity you need to have a small epiphany. Nothing huge or gigantic here… just small epiphany after small epiphany after small epiphany after… oh, wait, did I just learn 10,000 words?
Finding Your Epiphany Groove
It’s easy to do a lot of this stuff… but it’s hard to notice epiphanies. It’s sometimes hard to have epiphanies. But, with a combination of consistency as well as analysis of yourself (how did I have this epiphany? What did I do to get here? etc) you’ll get better and better at it. Some people think that “smart” people are smart because they’re naturally smart. That’s totally untrue. Smart people are smart because they practiced being smart. They got better at learning than you, so learning is a lot easier for them.
Noticing and having epiphanies is the same thing. You can learn to have epiphanies. You can learn what sets them off, and do the right things to make them happen more. If you practice at it every day, you’ll get better and better, and soon you’ll find that learning is a breeze, and that you understand things you’ve never thought possible to understand.
So, take it all in stride. Start now. Do it little by little. You’ll be surprised at what you come to realize.