I am doing the seemingly impossible for a 55yo autistic old fart. I am learning Japanese.
Why Japanese in particular?
I mean it's the highest-context language known to man, and the four alphabets — kanji, katakana, hiragana, and romaji — together comprise more than 2,300 characters, all conspire to make it the hardest language for Westerners to learn as a second tongue.
So of course I picked Japanese.
(I have other reasons too, for picking Japanese, and I'll share them with you anon. I intend to learn a new language every year. So next year I'll probably study Mandarin, the year after Arabic, and then maybe pick up one of the Scandinavian languages).
Thing is, I'm not learning it how most people go about it.
Most people learning a second language try to learn by rote-memory and repetition, often laboriously going through a process of mental translation as they do.
I have my Secret Weapon...
... my best mate, cunning linguist, and fellow Aspie, Julian.
See, not only is Julian fluent in Japanese, but he's also about to moisten his gusset with his PhD in linguistics.
He teaches English as a foreign language, but that's moot, because the difference between his methods and others' mean the most important thing is how you learn rather than what you learn.
So, for me, it's a process of going through the recommended course (Pimsleur), and then spending as much time as I can stand immersing myself in Japanese TV programmes, sans subtitles or over-dubbed dialogue.
Here's the thing... just a couple of weeks in and already meaning is starting to emerge as I watch the programmes.
Not much, to be sure, but it's there.
And... I'm not consciously listening for words I know, and – most important of all — I'm not translating the words I do recognise into English.
Rather, what they mean is just what they mean (I'm not explaining this very well, but it's what's happening, and it's very different from my experience with my rusty schoolboy French which I still translate pretty much word by word).
And, of course, the better I get, the faster I'll get better yet, especially when I can have a meaningful if slow conversation with Jules in the pub.
This is exactly how you learn your native language as a child, so it's hardly surprising it works so well.
And the written language?
But easier than you think
First... the bad news.
Japanese has four alphabets: kanji, hiragana, katakana, and romaji, and they're all intermingled and in common use.
Hiragana and katakana have 46 basic characters each and a bunch of others — 20 dakuon, 5 handakuon, 36 yōon, 1 sokuon and 6 additional letters. Unless I've got my maths wrong, that adds up to... 114 each, so 228 in total.
And then there are 2,300 or so kanji in common use (although the total number is 50,000+).
Oh, and for reasons I'm starting to understand now, learning to read Japanese helps enormously in learning to speak it.
The good news, though, is Japanese is a very logical and structured language, and that goes for the writing too.
So while there's a fuckton to remember, it took me less than a week to become competent in hiragana and katakana. It's gonna take me around three months to get the kanji under my belt.
But the bigger question is...
Why learn a second language at all?
I mean, it's unlikely Japanese is ever gonna be much use to me in my business, right?
Because as I've said often before language doesn't just express thought... it shapes thought, too.
See, in (probably) every language you'll ever come across there will be words, phrases, and concepts which have no counterpart in your native language. And that effectively means there's a blind spot in your thinking.
Consider... the French phrase deja vu.
To describe the spine-tingling feeling of having experienced something before in English takes some lengthy exposition, and still doesn't describe it fully.
Which is, of course, why we stole the phrase deja vu in the first place, I imagine.
But when you hear the words deja vu, I'm confident every native English speaking adult human of sound mind will know exactly what it means.
Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius said:
"The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts: therefore, guard accordingly, and take care that you entertain no notions unsuitable to virtue and reasonable nature"
So... by learning a second (and then third, fourth, fifth, etc.) language I vastly broaden the scope and improve the quality of my thinking.
That gives me more choices and the ability to ask more and better questions.
And the more choices you have and the better questions you ask, the better choices you're able and likely to make.
As I've said before...
... I'm mad and autistic, not fucking stupid.
Anyway, why is all this relevant to you and your biz?
Thing is, what applies to me also applies to you, too.
And in terms of your business it's gonna help you to widen the scope of your own thinking and ask better questions.
But right now, you probably don't have the "language" for that.
You ain't fluent in marketing, positioning, pricing, or any of that other vital stuff.
Most people go about the process of learning to grow and scale their businesses by learning it parrot-fashion from books and programmes.
Sure, that gives you a superficial knowledge of the topic, but it takes a long time to absorb and internalise it.
It's just like learning a language (and when I say "just like", that's exactly what I mean).
And in the same way as I'm taking a different approach to learning and benefiting from Julian's personal help as a mentor, business owners tend to do better when they take a similar approach to their businesses.
In other words, books, programmes, and the never-ending soggy-biscuit circle-jerk of LinkedIn and other social media platforms is OK (ish), but nothing is quite so effective as immersing yourself in the culture and chewing the fat one-on-one with someone who's fluent in it.
If that doesn't cause you to stop and think, there's not much hope for ya.
You can try to figure all this stuff out on your own and learn from books and stuff... but why the fuck would you want to?
It's much easier to let yourself be guided by someone who knows the lie of the land, so to speak.
Need help with all this?
Here's what you can do...
It’s The Shit.
And it’s free.
In fact, it’s SO good I guarantee if you heed my advice and do the fucking work then you’ll get the fucking results.
And if you can show me you've done the work and NOT got the results I promise I'll buy you a pizza to calm your tits.
You can thank me later.
Jon McCulloch, The Evil Bald Genius
Author, speaker, business mentor, and autism advocate