This site contains archived posts made before July 2022. If you're looking for the live site, you can find it here.

Quantity Over Quality

Wed Jul 03 2013
Everyone is well aware of the common idea that "it's not about how much you do, but how well you do it". This makes sense for almost everything in life. Humans tend to be perfectionists, and perfectionists would rather have quality over quantity by nature. However, astute readers will notice that the title of this article suggests the opposite to be true. When learning Japanese (or any language, for that matter), quantity absolutely overrides quality - especially in the beginning.

Why is quantity better than quality when learning Japanese?

There are several answers for this, but all of them point back to one. When learning, it matters more that you have frequent contact with Japanese instead of making sure to perfect that input. If you're concentrated on maintaining perfection, you're spending time that you could be using to gain more exposure to the language instead to correct yourself. In many cases, this can actually hinder progress all the way to 0 if you focus on it too much. Maybe you're hung up on that one word, sentence or kanji. Remember: don't aim for failure by aiming too high. Who cares if it's perfect? Isn't the general idea good enough? Why must we be experts right out of the gate? The truth is that you're far better off reviewing more cards and coming back to that troublesome one tomorrow then focusing on it and wasting your most valuable asset{{1}}. Instead, finish up the rest of your reviews. Go watch that extra half hour of television. Reviewing 100 vitamin and nutrient-rich SRS cards is far better for your Japanese language diet than one rich, 1,500 calorie, carb-filled, "perfect" sentence or word{{2}}. Dispense with the concept of perfect Japanese - it doesn't even exist for the Japanese themselves. It's no more reasonable to expect perfection in Japanese than it is in your primary language (English for many). I personally don't know anyone who speaks perfect English.

Know that there are other consequences to striving for constant perfection.

Trying to perfect Japanese will likely (almost definitely) lead to the following:
  1. Frustration. We humans don't like to be wrong. Shooting for perfection means an iterative process, which ultimately means that for every success (in this case, perfection) there must be multiple failures until perfection is reached. Hence, you'd be wrong all the time, which leads to frustration, which leads to...
  2. Falling off the wagon. Eventually the natural reaction for most after repeated failure is to give up and move on, or in this case, away, from what you were failing at. Falling off the wagon means that you now must...
  3. Get up, dust off, and get back on. After every fall though, this becomes tougher and tougher to achieve. Every time you fall, you fall farther, and it hurts more because your current fall adds to the injuries of the last. This is the point at which many may get up, but instead of getting back on the wagon they ultimately...
  4. Stop learning Japanese. This is bad. Awful, yet extremely common, unfortunately. Many won't recover from here, and once you've stopped you basically have to start over again.
Why let it get to #4? Why waste all the past effort you put forth just because you're afraid of failing again? Stop this trend before it even gets to #1. Look at it this way: If you are doing reviews and got it most of the way there, instead of disciplinegive yourself a pass. Allow yourself to win. Winning is a great motivator to keep moving forward, and tends to have a snowball effect. The more you win, the more you move forward. Now, stop reading this and start winning! (Charlie Sheen references aside).   [[1]] Time. What, you thought I meant money? Tisk, tisk.[[1]] [[2]] Okay, so that was a stretch, but you get the point.[[2]]