Forget before you learn

First published on

, updated on

While looking for new ways to learn Japanese and to figure out how to make it stick better in my mind, I came across this video by Bunsuke, where he says he’s never used Anki either to learn or to recall new Japanese vocabulary. That got my attention because I have probably the biggest defender of Anki right here, at home: my older son loves Anki and never gets tired of saying how it has done marvelous things for his Japanese learning along the latest 3 years, and how I’m wasting my time for not trying it, and sticking to it.

The thing is I don’t feel Anki is cut out for me or adequate to the way I usually learn new things, be them languages or not. Meanwhile, right at the beginning of the video I watched, Bunsuke mentioned something that I truly believe when it comes to learning something new:

“I’m completely okay with forgetting. I think forgetting is just part of the process of learning and so I don’t really beat myself up over it if I forget a word or forget a kanji. If it’s important, it’ll come up again”

His relaxed attitude towards forgetting, considering it a natural part of the learning process was really welcome and comforting to me. Bunsuke doesn’t worry about forgetting words or kanji, and this is because he believes important information will resurface through repeated exposure. As his video goes on, he says his learning involves basically two activities: reading and writing down unfamiliar words. Something else I found resonating was that, for him, reading is a form of spaced repetition in itself, rendering Anki not better than reading and recording unfamiliar words and kanji.

The thing is… we will all forget before we learn something. So if, and when it happens, it’s ok. What I do is to keep trying to expose myself to Japanese as much as I can as I try to learn. I’m totally conscious my exposure time is not as big as my son’s, but this is because he’s been dedicating to studying, and only studying, while I have my work duties and a lot of other matters going on. Still, I’m really committed to learning a little every day, even if it means only a couple of minutes (luckily, I’ve been able to do it longer). As for not using Anki, maybe I have an oldschool mindset, maybe not. The thing is, for me, reading and writing down anything I don’t yet know really helps with the learning. I feel that’s what I’ve been doing all my life.

I found out that Steve Kaufmann, a Canadian linguist who currently speaks 20 languages and is an authority in language learning, talks about forgetting languages on a recurring basis in some of his YouTube videos. He says he personally looks for language exposition through reading (and listening to) lots of content, and that this regular exposure to the language makes it quickly revive when needed — so knowing someone as renowned as him also believes important information will resurface through repeated exposure is also comforting to me.

My son doesn’t give Anki all his trust out of the blue. Anki has indeed been the tool that proved crucial for him to gain all the vocabulary, fluency and understanding he conquered in Japanese. This means there’s nothing wrong with using Anki. But his stance regarding Japanese resembles a duty, as he’s dreamed of studying and living in Japan for quite sometime now (and again, I love and admire him for his bravery in doing it this way). On the other hand, although I am learning Japanese for some reasons, I want to do it having fun along the way — meaning that the moment it starts to feel as a chore for me, it will be the moment I quit.

Forgetting words and phrases as part of my learning process has happened to me, and it has been fun. I’ve just got to take a leap of faith while learning, as I’m sure the commonplace between me, Bunsuke and Steve Kaufmann is embracing the idea that forgetting will help building some kind of knowledge reserve that can be retrieved and relearned later. I know it sounds most unbelievable to trust in vocabulary eventually sticking, but I’m sure it will. So that’s why, Anki apart, I believe no one should worry about forgetting along the path of learning.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *