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Ask HN: How to learn new things better?
222 points by kahrkunne on Jan 1, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 90 comments
So in the spirit of new year's resolutions I'm planning to learn some new things this year; specifically, I want to to draw, and I want to at least get started learning Japanese. I'd also like to keep improving my skill at mahjong, which I picked up last year, and keep on learning tech-related things.

However, I find it pretty difficult to pick up new things. Learning to draw especially is pretty overwhelming for me; I have no idea how to start, as someone with no skill or experience in drawing whatsoever. Learning a language is also pretty intimidating, and it doesn't help that I find the usual way of learning languages (grinding flash cards) to be distinctly awful (not to mention I'm terrible at it).

As HN seems like a community where people love to learn new things, how do you guys go about things like these?

Maybe just throwing it out there as an additional resource: Coursera has a "learning how to learn" course, which includes lots of references about the theory of learning but many hands-on tips too. It's not too time consuming and doesn't cost anything, so probably can't hurt to look at it. I liked it and try to apply some of the ideas when learning.


I too was going to mention this course.

It is absolutely fantastic, IMO. Going through every week/lecture of it, I keep saying myself it must be an obligatory course for every freshman. We are surrounded with so many distractions in our ordinary daily life and most of us are terrible at habit formation. Procrastination and irregular sleep pattern are our most-common "habit". Long story short, IMHO, this course is a must for whom wants to form a habit, learn how to avoid procrastination / about the importance of sleep / how to avoid distractions and other relevant things.

I believe you meant it should be required for every freshman in college (to which I would agree), but I'd go farther and suggest that it should be required for high school freshman as well, and probably even students starting middle school (I found that the transition from one school level to the next was more abrupt than the transition from one year to the next).

We'd drastically raise the level of numeracy and critical thinking and even graduation rates for various types of students.

"Flow" seems to help a lot.

I recently did some image editing with GIMP. (I usually use Photoshop, and don't really like GIMP, but decided to use it because it is FLOSS and I'm switching to FLOSS where available.)

It was one of my first times using it, and it was difficult to use. I had to check a couple tutorials on YouTube before I could get into the flow.

Once I got into the flow, it was an amazing feeling. And after I was done editing, I was able to learn other, new things unrelated to GIMP.

This is the most difficult thing for me: getting into the flow. I suspect that GIMP won't be able to get me into the flow once I become better at it.

It's such a mystery: flow. There are reams and reams written about it on the internet. On how to hack it. Do this, do that.

What I want is a simple activity, that once I start doing it, I automatically get into flow (so that I can harness the momentum to learn other things). Anyone have personal experience with such "hack flow" activities?

> "Flow" seems to help a lot.

They are related but opposed concepts. I see flow as performing whereas learning is growing.

For me, learning feels like the opposite of flow - you are stuck and the mental difficulty is so bad its like physical pain, but with perseverance you break through and get past the obstacle and previously blocked you. Flow is like using a gear on a terrain for which it is suited but when you meet a new terrain and you have no suitable gear, its time to learn you a new one.

If somebody prefer a book instead, one of the recommended books for this course is book [1] Make it stick: The science of successful learning. The book is written by several cognitive scientist and it contains many useful tricks about learning. Here you can find a short summary containing main ideas of the book [2].

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Make-Stick-Science-Successful-Learnin...

[2] http://dmacjam.github.io/books/2016/10/01/make-it-stick/

I read this (similar) book recently and using the techniques in it I passed the AWS exams in a short space of time: https://www.amazon.com/How-We-Learn-Surprising-Happens/dp/08...

Can somebody who has finished academic education still learn from this course?

Yes, absolutely, I took it this year and it helps me a lot. There is also the book "A mind for number"[1] by Barbara Oakley the course author with a little more content if you prefer.

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Mind-Numbers-Science-Flunked-Algebra-...

Yes! I did it around the beginning of 2016. Anyone can use the techniques, and habits they talk about.

One thing they imparted was that frequent testing is better for learning than repeated reviewing. This caused me to put more emphasis on testing tools and spend less time on reviewing.

For example with vocabulary in language learning rather than review my textbook, I use an SRS like Memrise to test me, incrementally every day.

It also helped me realize how much structure, or behind the scenes help we loose when we leave an environment like university. I would say at the very least it will help you shore up some gaps in your personal learning style.

Yes, I think so. I took this course while studying the last of a five-year engineering program. The mental tools are still really useful, and not something I have encountered through the 'regular' courses given at our local university.

Going through the class myself. Really good approach - probably more valuable than any other class I've done.

Can't praise enough.

I enjoyed duolingo (https://www.duolingo.com) for learning Swedish. I liked the game mechanics, honestly. Here's why:

* Positive reinforcement: cheerful noises and visual progress once I completed a section.

* Negative reinforcement: if I didn't practice at all that day, I would get a notification at 11pm. If I ignored for a while, they were super passive aggressive, saying things like "These don't seem to be working. We'll stop sending them". I felt guilty and would start agin.

* I wanted to keep my daily streak going. It made me feel like Jerry Seinfeld with his "write a joke a day; put an X on the calendar" technique.

* I liked the concepts of experience (exp) and levels; it let me feel like I was making concrete progress, even if I was totally incompetent. I indulged my gamer side while still being productive!

* duolingo works just as well on browser as mobile

* Training sessions were short enough that if I only had a few minutes of downtime, as long as I had my phone on me, I could actually be productive. This made subway rides that much better.

* duoolingo offers a practice mode where I could work specifically on my speed if I had longer chunks of time and wanted to dive deeper.

And today, I can totally speak intelligible Swedish [1]. It worked.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OxoXe5FDIkA – some phrases are off (I should've said "hur man sköter marknadsföring själv") and pronunciation is off.

It's personal, but Duolingo has gone a bit south for me. They are (understandably) focusing on getting users to pay. It just hit me in an unfortunate way: Duolingo is all about "streaks". After a fifteen day streak, I was greeted with "You broke your streak! Buy it back for $3.50." I hadn't broken it, I remembered the exact lesson I did, 100%. Sent them an e-mail; no reply. A week later, I'm talking to my sister, exact same thing happened to her 180 day streak... Another e-mail, again no reply.

All in all, a petty detail, of course. It was the lack of response to support e-mail that got me, not so much the situation itself.

Used to be a fan, but that wasn't a great moment. :(

Weird how they went down the path of charging money for the 'game' parts, as opposed to the actual materials parts. I'd gladly fork over $50-100 for a mandarin duolingo course with an option for traditional characters. I wonder if these volunteers making courses realise that they can make actual money off of high quality recordings of HSK vocab.

I've been using Duolingo to learn Italian. It was awesome up until about 40% fluency, then it lost its effectiveness. It was a great way to learn basic vocabulary and sentence structure, but after that I learned more by just reading my news in Italian.

The italian lessons in particular are, unfortunately, utter garbage. Peek at the French for an example of good lessons.

Yeah I had the same problem. I actually found this online course at ylanguage.com it was really effective.

duolingo is much better in browser than mobile. there it has course summaries, tables, etc. meanwhile, i think it focuses too much on vocabulary. instead it should be daily dialogue driven.

So, I've spent the last 7 days working on a new feature to help people set and work towards goals.

The concept goal: Learning Japanese! (I've been 'learning' for 3 years now).

Here's a screenshot: https://i.imgur.com/afAW49V.png.

Basically it's a moodboard that combines a timer, todos, insights, notes, images and links.

'How does that help me learn new things better' you ask?

The challenge with goals - as I see it - is keeping the path from the you of today to the aspirational you (the one that speaks Japanese) clear. January kicks off, a whole bunch of life gets in the way and when you finally get time to focus that path has become a nebulous mess.

The idea with Goals is to be able to open the app and immediately know:

1. What have I achieved so far: insights on hours spent, tasks completed and how close you are to your goal.

2. What do I have to do next: this is your "how". Tasks, links, audio files, notes.

3. Why am I doing this, again? images, media, notes.

The 'Why' doesn't really fit into most methods of learning but I think forgetting this is the biggest point of failure.

I'm going to grab a coffee and get this shipped. I'll post it to Show HN tomorrow and you can see if it's for you.

I'll be sure to lurk HN tomorrow for it!

Also pleasantly surprised to see Kashiwa Daisuke mentioned in that screenshot

You're a fan? April #02 is beyond perfect.

PS: slightly behind on dev. Be sure to lurk tomorrow too, just in case ;)

I've been leaning towards learning Japanese as a 2017 goal, so this or any other tips would be very much appreciated!

This sounds good, I'm going to look out for it.

+1 on that. Sounds like potentially great app. Please post the name/url in here so we can keep a watch out for it.

I've decided to learn many, many things over the years: programming languages, human languages, musical instruments, drawing/painting/art, sports, math, chess, etc...

What it comes down to is spending time getting your hands dirty making things (or getting real practice), even if your output sucks for a long time. (And it will.)

Favorite personal example: One day, when I was around 19, I decided that I wanted to be an artist. I hadn't seriously drawn anything since I was about 10. My current skills were atrocious, but I started drawing every single day, anyway, undeterred.

Of course, at first I was awful. But I copied old master paintings, drew pictures of famous sculptures, etc.; all of my free-time, I spent drawing. And slowly, but surely, I got better at it. I did this every day for probably about 3 years or so, and by the end of it, I was very accomplished. But it was a constant effort that took years. I probably did over 1,000 drawings, hundreds of paintings, and so on. And about 90% of them were awful. But the good stuff, it was really really good. I guess that's the price sometimes. Nobody is a genius all the time. Even Michelangelo, or Picasso.

The thing is, if you find something you enjoy, it doesn't feel like work or drudgery. (Even though drudgery is the only way to get better.) Instead, it's an activity that you want to spend time on, and when you do--time passes so quickly you don't know where it went. It's like living life on fast forward. (Maybe that feeling's the real-life inspiration for the old trope of the training montage. A deep kernel of truth beneath the fantasy, after all?)

So,are you working as an artist now?

I write software as career, but I still do art as a hobby. I actually tried making a career out of art when I was younger, but it's very very hard to make ends meet, when that's your main source of income.

It's an industry with only a handful of big winners and stars who can make it a fulltime job (at least during their lifetime). And I wasn't quite good enough to be one of them =)

It is really fun and satisfying to make art though, and I'd recommend it to anyone who wants to explore that aspect of their creativity. I feel like I gained a lot in life, qualitatively, from my time focusing on art. 'Hackers and Painters', right? '

I have been learning to draw for the past 2 months or so. I want to get into digital painting but I am still learning the fundamentals with a pencil + paper.

A few things that have helped me so far:

- Setting aside at least 1 hour a day to draw. This one is the most important.

- Drawing from the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards

- Fun with a pencil by Andrew Loomis

- Ctrl+Paint: http://www.ctrlpaint.com/ especially the Traditional Drawing, Composition, Perspective and Anatomy sections.

- Sycra's YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL0373FA2B3CD4C899

For the OP if she happens to have a Wii U I want add Art Academy: Atelier to that list. I'm working through that now and it's keeping me engaged.

Block out your calendar to learn a specific task.

Don't overthink. Just do it.

And after a few months of trying and reading the process will get better automatically.

Key is to just start and be regular.

Agreed. Unless you're doing barbell squats it's far more important in my experience to just get started.

Waiting to start until you have the perfect equipment or technique or form or strategy raises the starting friction and prevents me from doing a great many things I should be doing.

Check out Dr. Robert Bjork's page on desirable difficulties (https://bjorklab.psych.ucla.edu/research/).

Additionally, you need to write about whatever you're learning. Essays, reviews, whatever strikes your fancy. Learning really happens when you try to use the information.

I'll try writing about what I'm learning, I really like the sound of that! Another one of my new year's resolutions was to start writing things anyways - I feel like I frequently write entire essays in my head, but I never put them to paper.

I learned Chinese at my best pace by watching Chinese TV streams while practicing calligraphy over and over, as well as studying vocabulary and grammar with the streams of Chinese TV in the background.

Chinese TV sucks. I paid no attention to the ctl+c-ctl+v plots. However it did help me learn tonality in a way that the butchered American classmate pronunciations could never do. Subtitles also helped with learning characters.

I have found that learning works best with as much immersion as possible. It is never as casual as a subway commute crossword puzzle.

Spaced repetition is very effective, although again it does require flash cards, but optimizes (i.e. minimizes) the frequency at which you have to review them based on how you are learning.

Anki[0] is an excellent, free spaced-repetition app if making paper flash cards isn't your style.

[0] http://ankisrs.net/

Yes, I use that a lot. Mmenosyne is also good.

On learning to draw:

A bit of background: I drew before I could write, started oil painting when I was 7 or 8. I'm 38 now, and usually work with pen and watercolors.

The first thing I suggest you do is check out some lessons. There are a lot of, "how to draw" for children (and adults) that are really useful - especially for people and animals. I still use reference photos and look up techniques from time to time, actually. I also suggest watching Bob Ross. I might not paint landscapes, but his technique is definitely good - you'll likely pick a bit up even if you don't paint.

I'd also suggest learning about color theory, perspective, and eventually how light sources affect the work - some of these can be forgotten if you do more abstract stuff. Remember, part of drawing is basically training your fine motor skills and muscles to do things: This all gets better with time, and why folks suggest sketching daily. This is the same with painting.

Some folks can paint but can't draw as well: I fully suggest trying some painting along with the sketching. You might find that you like doing abstract art, focusing more on texture, use of space, and colors than actual form too. (You can draw just as abstractly, and doing so is good line and texture practice).

And random advice: Switching from pencil to ink isn't as scary as it seems. It helps to break things up into smaller pieces. Sometimes it helps to change a color photo to black and white.

And I'm out of stuff from the tope of my head.

What works for me is to integrate the thing I want to learn into my lifestyle and do it everyday. If I have a day where I am inspired or particularly creative I just funnel that energy into the topic. Along the way I give myself small project goals that emerge from exploring the activity.

The ideal scenario is to become immersed so the topic becomes "part of you".

I also give myself a two year gestation period of incremental learning to see results and build muscle memory. I did this with programming and once you do it with one topic, you will build the confidence that it will come to fruition with anything else you decide to do.

I'm not a fan of peddling the idea that anything worth learning can be learned "fast". It may work for some people, but I think they are the minority. it's been my experience there's usually a fair amount of self deception involved in "fast" learning....or "fast" anything for that matter. This works for some people - I'm not one of them.

If you want to learn a new language then walk around with headphones listening to people speak it. When you talk to people in English in your head ask yourself how to say the same thing in the alternate language. etc....

This. I had programmed on and off for awhile, never anything big, until I started doing it everyday. Now it's part of who I am and the way I think, kinda crazy.

Even if you're a self-taught person, you don't have to learn everything that way, rather than (for instance) taking a class or otherwise going through a course of study. Not necessarily a university class; check out your local community center, or seek out a local artist that also teaches on the side.

The first time I learned a new language I didn't use these tools and I failed miserably. Looking back, I'm thinking "Why did I use 300 hours and spend $X of cash?" without taking the time to learn about learning.

This is especially true with languages, unless you can be fully immersed, but I still recommend it. Look into metacognition and spaced repetition. You'll need a system that works for you but look for techniques backed by research.

Specifically, Fluent Forever is a fantastic book on learning how to learn languages and Scott Young's blog mentioned is great. I second the art recommendation "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain". Good luck!

Check out Beyond Brilliance-a book that was just released out of UC Berkeley designed to teach you how to learn. www.beyondbrilliance.org

Wow! I feel like we're kindred spirits! Drawing on the left side of the brain is an incredible book that did it for me. I've been writing about language learning all over for years, but this interview with Gabriel Wyner is a great spot to start: http://lingsprout.com/en/experts/gabriel-wyner-making-your-o...

He was in the process of studying Japanese at the time of the interview and had some specific comments about it vs the several languages he's learned before.

You mean Drawing on the right side of the brain? http://drawright.com/

I was wondering if there was another school of thought that I missed out completely till now! :)

Yeah, that's the one. Guess all the upside drawing confused my left and right :D

From my experience it's amazing to spend at least 20 minutes every (I mean every) single day on the thing you're learning. Whether it's playing an instrument or learning language, there are days when you seem to not have time for that - but 20 minutes is easily found, and it really, really, really helps. I think I've seen some research regarding that, but I might be remembering wrong. What I know for sure is that it both helped me learn more efficiently, but also helped me through weeks of lesser motivation

Is it still realistic when you want to start multiple things at once? Or should you really go one by one?

I want to strongly recommend this book on procrastination: https://www.amazon.com/Procrastinators-Digest-Concise-Solvin...

I started studying (math) at university this fall for the first time in my life. I'm 32 years old. I have extreme problems to adjust myself to the workload that is required. The other freshmen struggle as well, but I have clearly more problems.

The problems arise most noticably when I'm not subverted to direct peer pressure, that is, when I'm not sitting in university to do homework with my group partners. As the workload is (or seems) so extreme, at least for us freshmen, I just didn't have time to do anything else than sit in uni to do homework, often until 8 or 10 pm or even into the night when there was a deadline the next morning.

What I should have done differently so far is prioritizing the learning of material over just trying to get stuff done inefficiently. I realise that these inefficiencies and getting rid of them are a normal part of growing up academically.

The procrastination problem starts to show up most visibly in my spare time, where I have the time but just cannot bring myself to learn the material. This is where the book really helps. I admit, I just finished it and it will take some time to show results. The thing is, I knew for years (which I have wasted partially) that gaming, reddit, HN, twitch.tv, etc. are a strong negative influence for me. The book helped me realise just how bad my procrastination problem really is and it already helped me be more productive in situations where otherwise I just couldn't bring myself to work on important stuff due to distractions.

Some tools you might find useful: https://freedom.to https://selfcontrolapp.com/

You could try this technique; MAP training: combining meditation and aerobic exercise reduces depression and rumination while enhancing synchronized brain activity


I would advise you to be as experimental as possible, and see what works for you. Each person learns things in their own way. Just picking a particular path (such as using Duolingo, as others have suggested) may work. It may not. I have found that this rings especially true in technical subjects.

My personal suggestions are Duolingo, and "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain" by Betty Edwards. I went from stick men to badly-proportioned but otherwise lifelike still-lifes in a few hours with this book. I have a very strong audio memory so Duolingo works well for me. The most important aspect to getting not-terrible at anything is deliberate practice [1]. Drills, and boring exercises work very well for me.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Practice_(learning_method)

My methods are divided into 2 -- binge and short bursts. In both I tend to use open ended questioning, perspectives and reflections as ways of enhancing the learnings.

Binge is method I use to learn a lot about a topic in the shortest period possible. I start a binge with either trying to understand more about a topic or to try an see whether a hunch I have in regard to the topic is well worth following.

Short burst is a method I use to learn something more deeply and more over a longer term. In this I put in 5-10 minutes 3-4 times a day maybe for a period of about 2-3 weeks. Then rest and reflect for a couple of weeks and then go through the cycle again.

I have written a post about it here : http://prjoshi.com.np/2017/01/02/on-learning/

Hope it helps.

While I'm myself interested in learning more about this topic (the Coursera course mentioned here sounds interesting), I found this book really really interesting:

"So Good they Can't Ignore you", by Cal Newport


It might not go into so much detail on learning (although it touches on the topic a bit), but it puts straight same basic "laws of nature", as I see it, about what really makes you grow: Deliberate practice, and absolutely not the modern phrase "follow your passion".

I like to connect that to the old wisdom of Solomon, in the book of proverbs in the Bible:

"All hard work brings a profit,

but mere talk leads only to poverty."

(Prov 14:23)

For your language learning once you get to the point of "I can write sentences reasonably well and can fill most gaps using a dictionary" I'd recommend keeping a little blog or diary and writing to it every other day. It would be even better if you had a Japanese friend who could do a little spelling/grammar checking for you. I've been doing this for a while over email/text with Czech, but have started putting it on a blog - im only three posts in but it's already very satisfying to look back at what I've got. And they can be SUPER mundane and simple too, mine look like they could be written by a child (without the alcohol) - http://czech.mclemon.io

Some tips from me: -Free language apps or a rosetta stone package for Japanese, children's workbooks are actually great, eg. from 'gifts of the orient' website - Drawing: find images you like on deviantart or google images and sketch them in your own style Mahjong: possibly do what my partner did with chess; play against the computer, get books on techniques, follow the experts.

The most important thing with voluntary learning is that it stays voluntary- keep the passion! If you force yourself to study at a certain time and one day fail to do so, you'll beat yourself up and lose the will to learn. You're doing this for yourself, so do it with joy. Good luck!

If you want to learn a language, find a cheap immersion school in a country and spend 3 months there. Guatemala is great for Spanish. I hear Montreal is good for French.

Drawing... well, I'm not having much luck with that. Did 6 months of drawing 1 hour a day last year. Think I got a little better. Reddit has a couple of useful groups to follow:



Practice and persistence. It's as simple as that. You won't learn much unless you make time for it. Don't focus too much on learning perfectly the right way, just get started and keep at it.

Find a cyclical, ritualized behavior that you can engage in as a way to ramp up towards your main task of the day. For example, first you clean your tools, then you do a warmup, and then you are prepared for something high intensity. You can learn a lot of things by engaging persistently in the warmup activity, and as you feel able, you can "break through" to deeper levels. Don't jump around to different intensity levels or try to force calendar time on them; smoothly build up and then break.

This is how I'm trying to make it work, at least.

With any new skill you need to be willing to sink a lot of time into it. And you need to be fine with being absolutely terrible at it in the beginning.

I usually tell people who want to learn to draw to go to http://johnkcurriculum.blogspot.com/2009/12/preston-blair-le..., get the Preston Blair book, and start doing these exercises by master animator John K (creator of 'Ren & Stimpy'). You will get a lot better, a lot faster. These exercises focus on simple cartoon characters who wear a lot of their construction on the outside; once you can draw cartoon characters, you can keep drawing more of them if that's your thing, or you can build on top of that and start learning anatomy and drawing more complicated characters. (Or do both.)

There's other well-regarded drawing courses on the internet and someday I should probably pick a new one to send noobs to, what with John K kind of being an asshole - but I learnt a hell of a lot when I worked under him, and he is really good at teaching this stuff.

Most of what I know about drawing more complicated figures came from a combination of Bridgeman's "Constructive Anatomy" and Loomis' "Figure Drawing for All It's Worth", and a life drawing teacher who hewed very closely to Glen Vilppu's drawing manual. If you can fit some life drawing classes into your life then TAKE them, you will learn a ton.

Also: Make a space in your life to do this. I ride the bus a lot, and before the advent of smartphones, I'd have little to do to amuse myself besides stare out of the window, read a book, or pull my sketchbook out and draw. Maybe draw some idea floating around my head, maybe draw something I glimpsed out the bus window, maybe something based on my fellow passengers, maybe just some cubes, or the hand I wasn't drawing with. I got a lot of practice in without feeling like I was making myself "practice". Whatever you may be learning, if you regularly drop yourself into a time and place with nothing much to do besides the thing you wanna learn, then you'll do it more often.

Don't blow several hundred bucks on a ton of paints, or on pro software and a Wacom tablet. Just start with a few hardback sketchbooks and some pens and pencils. Oh, and not mechanical pencils. Just grab like a pack of Ticonderoga 2.5Bs, they're cheap and pretty good. And try holding them so that the side of the point addresses the paper for a lot of the beginning of your drawing; this will do several things for you:

* it will train you to keep your wrist fairly steady, and to draw more with your entire arm; keeping your wrist straight and steady will help keep the Carpal Tunnel Fairy away. * it will make your initial lines light, and prone to fade away as your hand brushes the paper; this keeps you from bearing down to gouge an impossible-to-erase line in the paper, and gives you more room to make mistakes before having a dark, illegible mess of lines you can't draw over.

Don't get lost in trying to save a drawing, either. Paper's cheap, turn the page and try the same subject again, or a new one.

When you make a picture you like, hang it over your drawing board, turn it into your computer's backdrop, and keep trying to draw something better than it. You may find yourself hating it because you start seeing all the mistakes. That's great - go draw something new that doesn't make those! (This may take many tries, some mistakes are harder to stop making than others.)

Don't worry about "your style". If someone points out a mistake in your drawing and you find yourself wanting to say "but that's my style!", then you are just covering up your weaknesses unless you can actually sit down and bust out a version of the drawing that Does It Right. When you can do that you can legitimately say "dis mah style". Steal stylizations from artists you love (you're looking at other people's art, right? A lot?), make your own based on reality.

You will find a lot of people declaring "rules" of drawing. Always do this, never do that. The truth of the matter (IMHO) is that all rules of art are actually just warnings: "never do this" really means "if you do this without thinking about what you're doing it'll probably turn out badly". Know the rules, know which ones you're breaking, and break the fuck out of them while staying well within the boundaries of the other rules you know.

(I spent a decade in the LA animation scene, then burnt out and draw comics now. If you wanna look at my work to decide if I'm someone who you should listen to in this, it's all at http://egypt.urnash.com)

I am currently learning Japanese, I started only a month or so ago. I have found two amazing resources (made by the same people,) that I'm sure will be of a great help to get you started with Japanese. They have a text book called TextFugu, that not only teaches you Japanese, but they walk you through the hard parts of getting started and essentially teach you to motivate yourself to learn. They also have a spaced repetition online program (similar to Anki,) called WaniKani that helps you learn Kanji.

Must check out in my opinion: "Human Japanese" (it starts at 0) : http://www.humanjapanese.com/home

Took me many, many years to "learn how to learn".

The key thing to understand is that when learning something new, you will likely be pretty bad at it for a long time until you have practised and researched it ALOT. Then you will find you have gained some expertise.

When you anticipate this, I think you are much less likely to give up on the basis of "I'm no good at this".

Anyone can become competent at pretty much anything, given effort and practice.

AND IMPORTANTLY, by "practice" I mean doing it for real, not doing training exercises.

I just read the audiobook version of this: https://www.amazon.com/Make-Stick-Science-Successful-Learnin...

It's pretty good.

The main idea is that learning is supposed to feel hard. That sense of frustration and confusion is what building new neural connections feels like.

Tim Ferriss wrote a book on how to learn things fast. It's called 4 Hour Chef: https://www.amazon.com/4-Hour-Chef-Cooking-Learning-Anything... He gives a lot of tips but it's up to you to test them out and see what works for you.

Here's a cheatsheet so you don't need to read the whole book http://boingboing.net/2012/11/21/timothy-ferriss-cheat-sheet...

also I heard good things about this learning community: https://www.farnamstreetblog.com/members/ I subscribe to free newsletter and always happy with the content

I find learning more motivating within the context of a project, although that is more relevant to drawing or tech knowledge.

Also, I built a search engine for lectures, which has a lot of talks from tech conferences, which I find helpful for learning about software development topics - https://www.findlectures.com

Thanks for sharing! I really enjoyed looking around the site. What do you use under the hood for searching and faceting, Solr?

Yeah, solr- the UI is custom. The real work is getting metadata that gives good signals for quality :)

Find someone to learn with you. It is much easier when you are learning with someone. You are much less likely to loose motivation and can focus. If you can not find someone in your friends then you can use https://colearn.xyz to find someone to learn with you.

I don't have a reference but when I was learning iPhone development back in 2009, I read somewhere that it's best to learn things in the morning (when you wake up) because your mind is best at absorbing new things. I tried it out and it seemed to improve the pace I was retaining things.

Kathy Sierra gave an informative talk on the topic of learning at the 2015 O'Reilly Fluent conference. It's entitled "Making Badass Developers".


I've not done this, but intend to, if you want to learn Japanese I've had many people recommend this to get started: http://store.steampowered.com/app/438270/

You don't need an app to learn Hiragana. I studied Japanese in college and started in a summer class.

Learning hiragana was a requirement before starting day 1.

To be honest it only took a few hours and all we had to do with was a few pages of photocopied writing pages with some mnemonics. Now you can just download the equivalent, or even get a full guide with videos: https://www.tofugu.com/japanese/learn-hiragana/

Seriously, hiragana/katakana are one area where you don't need a hack. For learning how to actually understand the language, then you'll need to buy books/CDs/Podcast subscriptsions/classes/etc...

I think you should feel that things are done frequently. So decompose big things you want to do into little, viable things, and do one little thing a time. So you can feel that you are successful every time, it's great, then it's more likely that you can continue.

I was learning with his method, works perfectly https://www.scotthyoung.com/blog/myprojects/portrait-challen...

What have you learned with it so far?

How to draw portraits! From a drawing like 7yo to drawing in similar way to his last work. In less than a month. It is really easy. Seriously. It's all about drawing what really is instead of drawing from your imagination. Because normally we are looking at things and still seeing our mental representations not the real objects. This book is most important part (unfortunately all this right/left brain is pseudoscientific, but all other parts are very useful), I didn't do his other exercises, because I was already good with that and have other problems in which I needed to focus. I'm now using his methods (focus and persistence, deliberate practice) and learning to play a guitar. Again, great improvements in no time.

"Design for how People Learn" is pretty good book on helping people learn.

Find a teacher (drawing and japanese), invest time and effort, stick to it. These seem to work for me for most things.

I've observed a couple of things about the way I learn and I think that these are pretty general

a.) Print is a lot better than digital.

b.) You shouldn't read books linearly. I generally jump around a lot and read a particular book several times. The first pass might take just an hour or two, I generally try to understand the structure of the book, create a scaffolding of sorts, I might get 15%. During the second pass I might try to get the next 30%. I should have a good idea of the concepts of the book, I might not be able to solve all the problems. In the next pass, get the next 30%. The fourth pass is optional if you really need to understand 100%. The best part is that a lot of times, you don't actually have to do all the passes, the first two might be enough.

The one thing I always hated about school is how you are forced to master each chapter 100% before moving forward. Sometimes going forward actually helps you understand previous chapters because it puts them in context.

c.) Highlighting helps me a bunch. Some people have the issue that they might end up highlighting too much. I don't highlight when it's all new to me, but only after I might have finished the chapter, I'll go back and think about what's important to highlight. It feels like the process of selecting what's important might be more important than the highlighting itself. But when you come back to it later, the highlighting definitely helps. Writing some notes with a pencil in the book is also good.

d.) More important than fully mastering all the material is making sure that you aren't bored or frustrated. If you can't move forward with something, give it some time, come back to it.

e.) Generally if I'm confused, doing a quick review pass from the very beginning of the book tends to clear things up a lot.

f.) Doing a "compare and contrast" between things that seem similar (or even if they don't) is usually a good way of strengthening some connections.

Btw, over the last couple of weeks, I've been trying to learn ML almost full-time. In the process, I think I managed to figure out what are the best resources for this and I'm in the process of setting up a website discussing what I've found. I started working on this yesterday so it's not quite ready yet. However, if you'd like to check out ML in 2017, I'm hoping to make the process a lot less painful. You can sign up here if you'd like to get notified when it's ready


Regarding point b) there even is a book, aptly titled "How to Read a Book" which pretty much explains the similar approach. Although it does recommend to read linearly at first.

> However, I find it pretty difficult to pick up new things.

That's the whole idea of it, sonny.

> Learning a language is also pretty intimidating

If you're like most people, then the very experience of having learned your very first language, your mother tongue, was probably "quite the struggle, that you never experienced as quite-the-struggle, because you had no preconceived notions as to what constitutes quite-the-struggle".

Doubtlessly everyone keeps at it that finds it somewhat gratifying. Question then, when is it gratifying and when not? I posit it's gratifying not primarily when you garner praise or grades from others but simply when you realize you grasped things about it this week you didn't, or had no idea of, just the previous week.

Just be a kid, poke holes in everything, bend it, try to break it, combine everything with everything, laugh or marvel at what results.

Now languages and drawing are a bit different. What's the point of "learning to draw" when you can't draw the most outrageously "you" way. Don't draw "nicely", that should evolve over time. Draw what comes naturally to you. If only random lines come to you at first, great, that's the first annoyance that'll before long force you to figure out the trick to arriving at slightly-less random figures. Go wild. Languages are slightly different as at the end you want to comprehend and be comprehended. Maybe human languages are somewhere in the middle of the spectrum from wild drawing and highly-restricted formal grammars such as programming languages. If you keep tinkering at these extreme-ends-of-the-spectrum, as always things more-in-the-middle might fall into place a little more easily.

Where am I getting with all of this? Learning (anything) from first-principles by falling-down-and-getting-up and trial-and-error and not-constantly-assessing-your-current-proficiency is the long and hard way, but it's the surefire way and the natural way. And for many, certainly in this crowd I'd wager, the most gratifying one.

> Learning to draw especially is pretty overwhelming for me; I have no idea how to start, as someone with no skill or experience in drawing whatsoever.

Well what would be the point of learning if it wasn't overwhelming, if you already knew where to start and where to go from there, if you already had the skill and experience. I truly do wonder now what your definition of "learning" is ;D

I found whenever I invested much time in just enjoying in a deep, "almost professional-fulltime-fan" way, the works of highly skilled creators you respect and admire in a topic (painters/certain comic drawers, musicians when it comes to learning instruments or composition, or for languages brilliant authors of awesome works as well as perhaps poets/songsmiths) the repeated and active and prolonged immersion in their work can set the stage properly and "pre-seed your brain" in profound hard-to-explain-or-analyze ways. This very period of active admiration irresistably leads parts of the brain on a diversionary trail of "just how did they achieve all this brilliance" that'll keep finding new leads and cues to then prompt you to purposely proceed with in earnest.

Quite wordy, huh? I'm sure there's a 1000 handy "learning anything you want in 21 days" guides out there also. Shame I never felt the need to procure one, my I could be a master painter and most proficient converser in a whole host of languages by now! Wouldn't that be impressive. But this never seemed like fun. Wanna learn for fun and with fun, set small goals and even smaller expectations, and allow as much time as possible. Maybe it's just me but "I'd like to be a great painter (or French speaker) in 21 years" sounds like a much more delightful endeavour than in-21-days (or weeks). Because if that's the outset, chances are as a byproduct you'll already be "really quite decent, better than you expected" after 21 weeks to months but more importantly, by that time you'll no longer even worry about this, as keeping immersedly spending much time with X, Y and Z became just part of who you are as-a-rule.

That's probably the most wordiest way I've ever said "Just Do It and Keep At It". Well I've done my silly deed of the day, time to get back to my own hackery now.

I don't have much on learning in general but drawing has been a big chunk of my life so I figured I'd just chime in on that.

Drawing is a giant world that means many different things. Being good at drawing is also very subjective.

A fantastic example of that is the book "Drawing from the Right Side of the Brain" which I see mentioned already. That book is an interesting read and I did enjoy it myself, but I should caution that it teaches more about visually tracing. Some people consider that an example of skilled drawing and if that is what you are looking for then go for it.

From another angle some people consider skill at drawing to be how pleasing it is to look at. This generally has more to do with the line work and shading and color usage. You can draw a significantly anatomically inaccurate arm with beautiful line work and styling and some people would consider that skilled drawing.

Yet another would be to create something from the mind without a visual reference. This has more to do with an understanding of mass and depth and space than either of the two above. And to some people this is what they would consider skilled drawing.

These are only three of the many, many possible goals of a drawing.

Why am I telling you this? Because to me the endeavor of learning to draw is learning what you personally consider a good drawing. The physical world is not made up of lines and smudges. When you draw you are continually making those translations and decisions. That process of discovery is what will lead to you become better at it.

In the end, there are only two reasons why you put a line in the wrong place. Either you physically missed the correct spot with you pencil, or more likely, because you haven't discovered where the right spot is yet.

You seem to be knowledgeable in this topic, maybe you know any good books about the other aspects of drawing you are talking about? "Drawing from the Right Side of the Brain" is mentioned often, but other books less so.

Thank you

Til I'm good at visually tracing but always considered myself bad at drawing because I couldn't create something from my mind. I never even thought to consider what you said in two paragraphs.

To draw nice quick just focus on fundamental - perspective, creating 3d illusion on 2d, look up coil technique drawing on utube, it really makes even ur stick figures look pro

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