The Contemptible Valley

Jason Cheladyn
3 min readJan 16, 2022


Sorry to the guy who came up with this term on reddit but I’m using it.

Here it is.

The contemptible valley is where you are when you are no longer a beginner language learner but are far from really fluent. Once you sink to this point, the complements (日本語上手) dry up. People stop offering to teach you. You stop getting pleasent smiles and gentle responses. Instead, confused scowls and a comment about your bad accent. This is the beautiful contemptible valley. It’s where I have lived for the past few years and where I want to escape.

The only way out is through full fluency. So I will be writing about reaching that goal for anyone in a similar predicament as myself.

First, what is fluency?

Google says, Fluency is the ability to speak or write a foreign language easily and accurately.

My personal interpretation is 95% comprehension. So you should be able to understand 1/20 words. Seems forgiving. So how do you reach fluency? I personally subscribe to the belief that anyone can master anything after 10,000 hours of practice. I’ve been studying Japanese for 6 years. My personally rough guess as to how much I’ve practiced is 2500 hours. Give or take 500. That’s 1000 hours more than it takes to become a Le Cordon Bleu chef. What am I doing with my life? Before I have an existential breakdown let’s breakdown my goal.

Malcolm Gladwell says in Outliers, 10,000 hours of intensive practice to achieve mastery of complex skills and materials, like playing the violin or getting as good as Bill Gates

I’m following the AJATT (All Japanese all the Time) study method. In which I use Anki and spend a majority of my time immersing and getting input in my target language. AJATT students aim for a target of 10,000 anki flashcards made by hand. I have 1127 sentence cards. I’ll aim for 20 new cards a day.

After that, one of the big mistakes I made (one of many many many) was not getting enough input before. So now I’m making a hard target of at least 2 hours a day of reading (読解 dokkai) and 2 hours of listening (聴解 cyoukai). It’s easy to sit on my ass and watch netflix, but sitting down and reading takes real energy and truly makes you smarter. If, say, I set an arbitrary goal, JLPT N2 in July, that would give me 169 days. That would be 338 hours of reading plus another 338 of listening. But there is a big problem.

I’ve been a bad bad boy.

Anki is a big problem. Anki is a paid app that consumes a small amount of your soul as payment instead of money. I’ve spent years and thousands of hours on it. It’s a great tool but just like using a hammer to massage your testicles, it’s bad if used the wrong way. I regularly get fed up and quit for a few weeks. Main reason for making this blog is as a motivational experiment to help me stay the course and keep using this sh*tboy. I have 2300 cards I somehow have to do. To help with that I’ve got a great secret tip I’ll share in a future blog.

Years of being sh*t at Anki.

That’s all for now. Catch me on the next episode if you’re interested in seeing if I fail or succeed.