the benefits of massive failure

I just finished reading Khatsumoto‘s latest blog post, entitled Aim to Fail and i wholeheartedly agree. In order to succeed, you have to first fail many times. If you’re afraid of failure, if you avoid failure, then you’re doomed to mediocrity.

A great example of this for me lately is reading german. I was previously afraid of failure to recognize every word, and this fear made me incapable of reading. When i decided to massively fail at recognizing hundreds of words, reading slowly became easier and easier.

It took me a long time to realize that so much failure was required, or that it could be beneficial. I’ve been taught by school that i have to highly analyze everything and get it all right the first time (i did math, physics, and computing in university). It used to make sense to me that i should study grammar in-depth and look up absolutely every vocab word, but no longer. The brain is a marvelous thing, and learns from massive experience, whether you succeed or not.

Another example was watching Star Trek: Enterprise in german. I watched 3 episodes in the past day and a half, and i barely understood most of the content. But the goal is not to fully understand all of the episode. I know the general idea of what’s happening and who’s doing what. That’s all i need for now. What’s actually happening is that in between all of the hundreds of failures to understand are some small successes, and they’re building on each other. Every sentence gives me a little bit more information, and i understand a little bit more the next time.

I’m probably going to have to watch at least another 100 episodes before i can really understand most of what they’re saying, but that’s ok. I picked star trek to watch because it’s something that i can sit down and watch 100 episodes of. I REALLY wish there was a mandarin-dubbed version of star trek…then i’d do the same for that. German will have to do for now.

The question for language learning now seems to be (for me) ‘what can i sit down and shove into my head over and over again 100 or 1000 or 1000000 times without getting bored?’ For reading and TV, this seems to be sci-fi and fantasy for me. The stories are interesting even if I understand little of the dialog, and there’s enough in common that I can figure out the context pretty easily. Plus i just really enjoy a lot of that genre in english.

So, forget anything that demands perfection. Find something fun that you can fail at over and over again. Eventually your successes will be multitudinous.

2 Responses to the benefits of massive failure

  1. Keith says:

    I think “failure” is the wrong word to use. You only fail when you fail to try. Nobody aims to fail. If you did aim to fail then you would probably succeed at failing every time.

    Imagine going to a job interview and saying, “I’d like to work here because it will give me vast opportunities to fail. In my previous job I failed at everything I did.”

    Sure, it takes a lot of non-successes. The old saying goes, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”
    You’re version would be, “If at first you fail, fail, fail again!”

    Another common nugget of wisdom is “Don’t give up!”

    It took me a while to get a job in a Japanese company. It was very scary going to interviews. I was very nervous before each one because there would be nobody there to translate. Eventually I got better at understanding the questions that were asked and the interviews went smoother. I got 2 job offers, but not simultaneously. The first tentative offer was withdrawn due to “business conditions.” I got another offer and it’s been 4 years now. It’s a good thing I didn’t stop trying. After the first interview I could have given up and said it’s impossible. But 3 months later is when I found my current employer. Did my Japanese improve that much in 3 months? No, but my experience interviewing in Japanese increased enough to make me look like I could speak Japanese.

  2. Kelly says:

    I think the key is to accept that you will always come across words and expressions you don’t know. Don’t let yourself be defeated by the words you don’t know as it will only crush your confidence and demotivate you. Language learning is a long, sometimes frustrating, process but it doesn’t have to be a chore. 😉

    While I’m glad they don’t dub films or shows in the Netherlands (I would hate going to the cinema if that were the case), I feel my Dutch would be better if I had no option but to watch dubbed shows. Subtitles are great but I tend to spend more time watching the action than reading the text below it. I would LOVE to watch Star Trek dubbed into Mandarin. It’s a shame that none of the series are popular in China or Taiwan…

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