Supercharge Your Japanese with the Ultralearning Principle of Directness

Anthony Griffin
Kokoro Media
Published in
6 min readJul 10, 2023

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On an unforgettable April day back in 2008, I found myself sitting across a desk from a travel agent in Nishi-Shinjuku, clutching a pair of freshly minted Narita Express train tickets in my hands.

Awash with mixed feelings of accomplishment and disbelief, I had just managed to complete a relatively high-stakes transaction without using a word of English. At this stage in my life, I was, at best, a novice Japanese speaker. This situation I had thrown myself into was a far cry from ordering food and asking directions-common occurrences during this, my second trip to Japan.

It wasn’t long until a new sensation hit me: disappointment. Successfully obtaining these train tickets to Narita Airport sealed my fate: my vacation would soon end, and I would have to return home.

This was the moment that solidified my resolve to live in Japan. And, sure enough, a mere seven months later, I found myself just a few blocks away from that same Nishi-Shinjuku travel agency, this time as a gainfully employed resident of Japan.

This article, however, isn’t about how I came to live in Japan. There’s actually a language-learning lesson buried within this travel agency adventure. Unbeknownst to me at the time, through this experience, I was deploying an incredibly effective technique for improving my Japanese: the principle of directness.

What Is the Principle of Directness?

Scott H. Young, an author famous for completing the entire MIT undergraduate computer science curriculum in under a year, introduces and expands on the principle of directness in his best-selling book, Ultralearning. Young defines direct learning as tying what you want to learn to the context you want to use it in.

According to Young, “The easiest way to learn a thing directly is to simply spend a lot of time doing the thing you want to become good at. If you want to learn a language, speak it… If you want to master making video games, then make them… If you want to pass a test, practice solving the kinds of problems that are likely to appear on it…”

In other words, as tempting as it may be to hinge most of your Japanese studies on indirect learning…

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Anthony Griffin
Kokoro Media

Founder and principal consultant (www.consultsaga.com) helping Japan-based organizations market to and communicate with international audiences.