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Feb 22, 2011

Change Your Environment to Change Your Life

While reading some manga the other day, I stumbled across a rather familiar phrase: “change your environment to change your life.” This phrase embodies a really powerful method for getting things done, because despite all of our good intentions, we often fall short of our desires when it comes to achieving or completing things. Thus, I'd like to share some ideas for changing you environment to change your life.

In terms of learning a language, contact is the most important thing. The more contact you have, the faster you will learn and the more you will retain. Because staying in contact with a second language is so important, changing your environment to make it easily accessible is crucial to achieving success. There are both large and small areas of life to change, and the more of them that you make Japanese-friendly, the better off you'll be.

One of the greatest (and therefore most difficult) things to change is media preference. This means changing music, television, games, and books into a Japanese-only zone. If you only have Japanese books to read, then you'll have little choice but to read them. Likewise for music, games, etc. The point isn't to make yourself sick and resentful of Japanese, but to force yourself to break out of your normal lifestyle and begin making new choices. By outright banning media in your native language, you'll be opening yourself up to another world of media in your second language. It's a chance for a fresh start, a way to find new things to love.

When I first began to seriously want to learn Japanese, I came across people who advised immersion via media. The idea basically came down to exactly what I just described: toss out the old language and bring in the new one. After reading around for a bit, I had a moment of resolve and declared that I'd do it – I'd ban English and live a new Japanese life. That very same day I began the purge: I deleted my entire music collection from my hard drive and placed a mental wall around my bookshelf (boxing up such things would be better, but I had too many books to store). I also went to all of my websites (email, facebook, etc) and changed my language to Japanese. I changed my homepage. I even changed the names of my folders to Japanese.

I expected to feel a sense of loss, as if I was no longer myself, but instead I felt excited. It felt as though I had deleted my identity, but that only meant that I'd become a blank slate. Up until that point I'd become locked in by my tastes and experiences – I liked this kind of music, this kind of game, this kind of story – but now I had the media of a completely different language waiting for me to experience it. In shifting so many parts of my life to focus on Japanese, it became impossible to ever forget my goals or to lose contact with the language.

Aside from changing media to focus on Japanese, there are many other ways to keep Japanese around. The basic formula is this: (1) find what is not Japanese, (2) make it Japanese. This can be more difficult for some things, but there is always a way. I'll give some examples:

  • When driving, instead of listening to the radio of whatever region you live in, instead bring along a CD or mp3 player with Japanese songs. Tah-dah, now you're in contact with Japanese while driving.
  • When attending classes, take notes in Japanese to the best of your ability. Depending on the stage, this can mean adding one or two words to a page, or perhaps using a Heisig-keyword kanji, or even taking all of your notes in Japanese with only a few English words. Whatever the extent, trying to recall Japanese and write it will keep it fresh in your mind.
  • In any and every situation, thinking in Japanese will keep you in contact. The same can be said for listening to Japanese music – it adds a dash of Japanese to any situation.

A lot of these ideas really depend on what you do and how you live, but as long as you continually try to find the areas of your life that are suffering a Japanese deficit and correct that problem, you'll be making great progress. I highly recommend making a sudden, drastic change (as I did), because it will get a lot of major changes done at the same time. Every person is different though, so just work at the pace that is best for you to make your environment Japanese.

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  1. Hey, just stumbled upon your blog recently. I'm not too serious about learning Japanese, even though I have some interest in doing so - I'm more of a weaboo haha - but this blog is something.

    I'll be following this then.

  2. Really fantastic and inspiring advice, as always. Thank you.

  3. I've been meaning to learn Japanese for several years, but haven't really started yet. But thanks for the advice, I'll think of this when I do start.

  4. Hi! I just stumbled upon your blog and I like it! :D You know what, as I read this entry I kept on smiling because I am doing the same thing! In my work where I constantly check my email via gmail I changed its language to Japanese! Same for my keitai the other day. I felt that I lost something and I know it will be difficult to navigate initially but no turning back now. I decided to do this because I felt something is restraining me in fully understanding Japanese. I have been wanting to learn Japanese for several years but up to now, I merely know basic phrases and kanji. Now, I am very much serious on this. By making my environment Japanese, it will force me to learn it. I think this will work for me.

    I am in the processing of changing my openSUSE to Japanese too.

    Keep on updating your site. It is a great treasure. ;)