4 Reasons Why You Will Never Become Fluent In Japanese

A good way to start off the new year: let’s tell you why your New Years resolution will fail, and all your efforts to become fluent will be futile. Is this the first negative article on this site? Is this a sign of bad things to come? Am I going to tear you down? Come on. Would I do that? No . . . but you need to hear this.

1. You don’t really want it bad enough

Motivation is an absolute vital source of continuing studying when times get tough. You’ll need it to get through every low you face (and oh there will be a lot). So ask yourself the following:

Why are you learning Japanese?

If your answer sounds something vague and ambiguous like:

“It seems like it’ll be useful in business.”
“Japan has an interesting culture.”
“I want to visit and live in Japan some day.”
“I had to choose a language at school and it seemed like fun.”

You are in for a lot trouble in the long run. You need firm and specific reasons that will push you through hell and back.

2. You are stubborn and refuse to listen to others’ advice and study methods

For every good study method out there (*hint here *hint), there are a dozen bad ones (*hint here *hint). It may be nice to hold an ideal view that there are no wrong ways to learn a language. But this is wrong. Let’s fix it to reality.

There are no wrong ways to learn a language.
There are no wrong ways to slightly improve in a language, but there are plenty of wrong ways to get good at it in an efficient, fast, and fun manner.

And I know how much you love the thought of working hard to merely slightly improve in Japanese . Every bad method you refuse to give up on slows down your progress and drains your motivation. Admit you were wrong on a method you used, accept the time loss, and move on. Also, listen to the people out there that have done this all before you. They can often provide some pretty good advice.

3. You aren’t devoting enough time

If you already hear the voice in the back of your head start to whimper “I just don’t have any free time,” then fluency is not for you, and it never will be. We all have busy lives. While everyone has different obstacles and commitments, we make free time for what is truly important to us.

If you are only putting aside a few hours a week to Japanese, this is a pretty good sign that Japanese is not that important to you.

4. You don’t actually like Japanese culture

Have you ever had the following conversation:

Q: Why are you studying Japanese?
A: I love Japanese culture.
Q: Oh yeah, what about it?
A. Oh . . . the food. And the history. And the technology.

Nice, but  you don’t need the language for these things. To get good at Japanese you are going to eventually have to use native Japanese material.

Have you ever found yourself making an overly broad ignorant statement like:

“All Japanese TV is terrible.”
“Japanese movies are all boring and low budget.”
“Japanese books are over dramatic.”
“Japanese people are shallow and never express what they are thinking”
“Japanese music is dull and lacks inspiration”

The more you complain about the culture, the less you probably want to use it and understand it. If this dislike turns into negativity towards Japan/Japanese in general, than you might as well give up at this point (though you probably will be happy to do so).

I’d like to see this list expanded in the comments section. What major reasons have you seen that you think prevent people from ever becoming fluent in Japanese?



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Adam

Adam

Founder of Jalup. Spends most of his time absorbing and spreading thrilling information about learning Japanese.

Comments

4 Reasons Why You Will Never Become Fluent In Japanese — 19 Comments

  1. “My Japanese classes are over and I just don’t know how to maintain what I learned. I feel like I forgot it all over the summer. I need to review.” A lot of students express this to me. They make it all about maintaining and never get out of the Genki phase.

    Another one, “Kanji is my enemy. I will never learn it.” People already have it set in their minds that kanji is just too difficult for them.

  2. Heh, pretty cool post.

    I don’t know, when I started learning Japanese, I didn’t even have a reason, not even one of the above listed bad ones. I wanted to learn korean for the longest time ever, and after a month of learning Korean (Rosetta stone ( ̄▽ ̄)) I just stopped, (The voices really annoyed me) and went to AJATT (Remembered hearing it once) and started immersing myself and started Kanji pretty much the next day.

    I don’t know, I don’t think I started with a reason at all, and to be honest, I pretty much can’t think of a reason now. These days I have a love for pretty much anything Japanese, books, anime, games, etc. And l guess I have adopted Japanese as another mother language, because I can easily say I do more Japanese than english. Maybe that’s my reason?

    I’ve been going hard for 26 months so far, my Japanese is still a little mediocre in my opinion (Slightly under level 50 or so, maybe 47-48?) (maybe I am too harsh on myself?). I mean, I can read light novels, manga, video games, etc and understand around 75% and up (enough to follow specific plot elements and character development and story) , but my problem is with more specific terminology (bad at science, politics, military, etc) and news.

    I can usually understand a lot of a broadcast if there is a script, but if not most the time I don’t even know what I’m hearing.

    For me, if I don’t understand something as much as I want, I sort of get in a mini depression (minutes) and then I go even more hardcore with learning. Like recently I didn’t feel good about my reading ability because I think it’s not fast enough like a native, and over the past few days, I’ve read almost 600 pages worth, which is more than I have ever done in english I think, I’m the kind of person who’s pretty much allergic to any real book.

  3. 5. You consistently put off doing the things that are supposedly the most difficult because you’re too comfortable with the nice easy things you’re used to doing now. It’s called a rut, and you happen to be stuck in the mud at the bottom that’s made of your own excuses.

  4. Here’s one I have heard and have said (yeah I know I feel guilty about it now) before.

    In Japan, people ignore me or speak to me in English or monstrously mangled Janglish because I look Gaijin, so making friends is too ridiculously hard. Since I can’t make friends who want to speak Japanese with me, there is no hope of native-level fluency.

    PS…I really don’t believe this now, I blame my past social loneliness in Japan on my lack of initiative in talking to people. Talk to somebody long enough to get past the “日本語上手いですね” stage and you will find friends. And don’t ignore old people, they have the time to talk to you and will often hook you up with “kids your age”.

  5. This is an interesting article, and I cant expand it in anyway (perhaps due to my inexperience)

    However, I tried to answer all 4 questions presented in this article to measure myself, and I found myself fascinated by your take on “Study Method”. For the sake of completeness let me present my personal answer to this measurements :

    1. Motivation, it is because I need to expand my business to japan in a very budget minded way NEXT YEAR (a.k.a I might not want to get myself a Dual-Language equipped J-Staff). I have went to japan for vacation last year and discussed this matter with the professional from jetro.go.jp . Knowing the language is definitely an important skill that I will need to communicate properly with my J-staff.

    2. My study method right now are :
    http://iknow.jp , for vocab and kanji learning tools , currently have passed the first 1000 Series, am now studying the second 1000 series (and I am progressing at a rate of 45 minutes / day)
    – When I have spare time, I use it to read books like Oxford Japanese Grammar And Verbs and also some App i have installed in my Cellphone like humanjapanese.com

    3. I am definitely have not devoted too much of my time last year, but this year, I plan to devote 1 hour or more self studying this language / day, to hopefully better arm myself so that I can communicate properly with my J-staff and possibly my J-client next year

    4. I have went to tokyo, kyoto, osaka, and even climb mount fuji last year on my vacation, and I can tell you, that 11 days are a blast :)

    ….

    Now I have a question, what do you think of my study method? I have never visited this site, it seems that you suggest that using this site is a good study method, in which case of course I WILL check it out… But what do you think on my current method? Am I wasting time even as we speak right now? Hell , I DONT WANT to waste my time… I DO WANT to progress fast (if it is possible)… Can you judge how bad is my study method? :)

    Thanks a lot,
    Chowi

    • Just a few points:

      – If your motivation is solely business, there is a high tendency to burn out.
      – Your beginning tools are fine, but you are going to have to expand sooner than you think.
      – Check out the post on this site about active/passive studying. 1 hour a day is on the low end.

      • Thanks for your reply , and wow … after reading the article regarding the Active / Passive studying , I think i have just stumbled upon one of the most valuable information regarding Japanese Learning… Why? Because EVERYDAY , in my office, I ALWAYS put on MP3 player for 7~8 hours straight, the music is mostly instrumental, but NOW, well I can even use this to help me study language? WOW , thanks a lot …

  6. “What major reasons have you seen that you think prevent people from ever becoming fluent in Japanese?”

    Adshap this is for you. My little theory is that, for those in the modern Japanese language learning circle, Anki and immersion and all of that gives the impression that learning Japanese is a totally fun and natural process right from the start. Really fun. Use Anki to remember, read manga/watch drama/anime/japanese tv to learn, buy chopsticks and a futon, and etc etc.

    However I think that you don’t get to have fun, be immersed, and “learn from native material” by reading your favorite manga and sentence-mining until you get to foundational level which is JPLT4 equivalent or so. Even listening to Japanese audio during the kanji phase can be a headache when you leave it on for 8+ hours because you don’t understand anything.

    In reality you have to grind through kanji with no knowledge of Japanese except for Kana at best, and then after that deal with not being able to understand anything until you have a basic vocabulary (1K words at least). To actually get to a point where learning the language is really fun you need to put in A LOT of work first by normal standards.

    I think that places, especially like AJATT, overlook this. Adshap perhaps you could make a post about on how to deal with these earlier tough stages (kanji until core2k and basic grammar or so) where you can’t have the kind of AJATT fun that is advocated?

    • My Japanese ride has been a fun one for the 7 months it has lasted so far. I didn’t use any premade Anki decks to gather a “base vocabulary” (I’ve seen people rush through 10k sentence decks only to find themselves to still be beginners…) until I was “ready” to learn from native media.

      I thought most people only needed a couple of months to get through the kanji+first 1000 words stage…

      I think you should read Adshap’s stuff more thoroughly, mate. ;)

      To answer the same question, I think the major reason must be the written language. 2000 or so kanji with various reading, etc.

      There is also those people that fail any langauge learning project because they realise that it does require hard work. Japanese isn’t that exceptional in this case; other languages have aspects that are hard to master as well.

      No matter how fun it is, learning a language does still require some willpower :)
      I’ve been learning English for 15 years, and I am still not that fluent (perhaps in the late 50’s/ early 60’s going by your scale.)

      • “I thought most people only needed a couple of months to get through the kanji+first 1000 words stage…”

        I doubt “most” people have the time to move at 40+ cards a day on those , so that is a clear underestimate.

        Not to mention that actually getting used to the J-J stage is probably more challenging than anything before that stage.

        I think you are being way too dismissive towards the point Agent J is trying to make.

        • Well, assuming by “couple” he meant several or few, not two, which I think is a mistake many people can make, it is not that hard.

          Just doing 20 kanji a day, which only takes about 1 hour, you can be done in 100 days, just over 3 months. Saying you do around 20 sentences a day once you finish Kanji, that’s around 1.5 months. So you could get to that state in 5 months, not that hard, at least in my opinion.

          • Uvauva and Adshap have more or less touched upon the points as I was making (and agree with me), so there’s really no reason for you me to write you a serious response.

            Though I do recommend you read more carefully, mate. ;)

            @Adshap

            Oh I know. I was more referencing the mindset that most people have nowadays because of AJATT, and the all of the immersion-style methods out there which indirectly give this impression. I brought it to you because you seem very wise, and I figured you’d have good suggestions. I look forward to the post!

          • I did consider that he might be misusing the term “couple” (as a non native english speaker myself, it actually took me quite a while to understand that the correct meaning is 2, precisely because people misuse it so frequently), but dismissed it because there is a crucial difference here: while 2 months of hard work with little fun might not seem so bad, 5/6 months definitely seems like a much bigger investment (particularly since, like I mention in my previous post, this is still an understatement, as adapting to J-J is pretty though itself).

    • Agent J,

      I definitely don’t state anywhere on this website that learning Japanese can be done just by having fun. I actually do the opposite and many posts stress difficulties, challenges, and how to overcome those challenges.

      But your point is valid, and I think it is a topic that others have wanted to know about as well, so I will write a post on it. Thanks for the idea.

  7. How can you say, “You don’t actually like Japanese culture!?”
    How can anyone decide whether they like something that is basically unintelligible to them?

    Though I suppose points 1 through 3 above do apply, at least in my case.

  8. I think my major problems are the following:

    Even though I was hooked in Example Book A when reading it in English, I didn’t enjoy it anymore when I tried to read it in Japanese. My brain hurts after two overwhelming pages of Japanese text, and even though it’s supposed to be entertainment, I’m not having fun at all.

    My significant other says I’m studying “too much Japanese”. He gets mad at me if I tell him I must do my Anki reviews before going to bed. He doesn’t agree with the immersion method.

    I have also found it a bit demotivating that I picked up English in a couple of years without making any conscious effort, but haven’t gotten as far with Japanese despite my greedy efforts to learn it. (Disclaimer: My own language is not a Romance one, so that didn’t help me a bit with English.)

  9. I resent the constant quest for a good reason for learning. I have no good reasons, just bad reasons that have built up over time to life-consuming size and therefore have eventually become compelling enough to make me study properly. I am very motivated and since finding some decent study methods (I was actually using Rossetta Stone before, lol) I have never been tempted to quit. Here are my dumb reasons, not in order of importance but chronological order from when I was 12 until now (16):

    1. Anime is awesome and anime characters all sound beautiful/badass, therefore Japanese is beautiful and I must learn it.

    2. Japanese History is awesome and full of ninjas and samurai!!!!

    3. I can’t stop singing that YUI song but I don’t know what it means

    4. Oooh. Look at all these cool methods I can use and all these forums and all this stuff!!!

    5. This Japanese volume of Naruto 1 looks so cool with all this kanji! So Japanese both sounds AND looks beautiful.

    6. I discovered the Japanese girl rock band Scandal and they are everything I have ever wanted in a band and for the first time in my life I have a favourite song. In fact, I love all this Japanese music and I can’t even bring myself to listen to English music any more. For the first time I actually have my own cool music taste.

    7. Japanese dramas are just the right amount of funny and dramatic; much more interesting than English ones.

    8. England is boring; Japan is full of everything I love. Maybe one day I should live in Japan. If that happens I want to communicate and impress Japanese people with the effort I’ve put in. For now I’ll aim toward JLPT n2/n1 by the time I’m 18/19 so I have the option to go to Uni there.

    9. I never carry through with anything. I have quit every extra-curricular activity I’ve ever done and it was only actually my love of Japanese music that got me to fix my guitar and play again. Therefore, I cannot give up. And if I did give up, my life would be awful anyway because immersing myself is something I can’t stop now I’m so invested, and it would just become a waste of time, like everything else I do, if I wasn’t learning Japanese. I mean what else can give watching loads of TV, listening to loads of music and playing video games such a useful purpose? Besides, I don’t want to stop.

    Since I’m solid on the other 3 points (No.4 especially and 3 to the detriment of probably more important study), I’m pretty sure I can become fluent if my attitude stays like this.

    • To be fair, I think you just did a great job of elaborating your particular brand of good reason. You have more than just a keen interest – you have a passion. Your interest is a major part of your identity. And IMO that’s awesome.

      I imagine most people don’t come to this site following some singular life-changing epiphany that drives them to learn Japanese. For me, it was a very, very gradual process to come to that decision.

      I love video games. I remember being 4 years old, and playing Mario and Zelda and such, and that I so badly wanted to learn to read so I could play more and not rely on my parents to read it to me. So I got REALLY good at reading, really fast. I played tons of text-heavy RPGs and ended up reading at a college level before I even finished grade school – just because I loved it all that much.

      What I didn’t know until much later is that virtually all of those games that inspired me growing up came from Japan. I didn’t know that the shows I watched after school like Robotech and DBZ were “anime” – it was all just cool cartoons to me. I didn’t even know the word “JRPG” until I was in college. Then I took a year of Japanese in college just for fun, and enjoyed it. I got into anime and I really liked YUI’s music, and I played a bunch more RPGs, but I still didn’t feel a “need” to get good at it when subtitles and localization were so readily available.

      So what changed? Well, I got a job. I had the money to branch out and try more games, and absolutely fell in love with a lot of them. And then I waited for sequels. And waited, and waited some more. Tales games take 1-2 years to come over. I’ve been waiting years for Trails in the Sky 2nd Chapter, let alone 3rd. Valkyria Chronicles 3 isn’t coming. Ciel Nosurge isn’t coming. The more of these walls I ran into, the more frustrated I got.

      Then one day I heard that Ar Tonelico was getting a spiritual successor (Ar Nosurge). Despite all the flaws with those games (especially “purging” in AT3 *shudder*), I’m completely enamored with the setting and the music of those games. And knowing that Ciel Nosurge isn’t coming, I assumed Ar Nosurge (with CNS tie-ins) would likely also not be coming. Enough was enough – I didn’t want to wait for my localization fairy godmother to come through for me anymore. I decided to acquire the skills to enjoy the games I wanted to play without needing a translation.

      And that’s it. That’s how I ended up here. My reason isn’t flashy and impressive, but it’s important to me. I think that’s good enough to satisfy Point #1.

      As a funny/ironic follow-up to that story, not only has it been announced that they ARE localizing Ar Nosurge, but they’re doing so blazingly fast. It’ll be out in less than 6 months from the JP release. But I’m still going to play the JP version, and be proud that I’m able to do it… and then go play the heck out of everything else that I won’t have to wait for anymore :)

      • “And IMO that’s awesome” – boosted my ego there, lol, thanks. Anyway, that’s an great story! It really shows that even the most trivial-seeming things, when backed up with passion can drive huge accomplishments. And I also shared your obliviousness of the idea of “anime” until I was 12… at one point I thought Pokemon was French because of the accent over the “e”, and because my French cousin had loads of Pokemon VHS’s.

        I love Japanese games too, but I’m an awful gamer who never finishes any games(apart from a few Harry Potter games that I played when I was in Primary (like Elementary) school) and now I’ve lost my copy of MGS3 that I vowed to finish (thanks to my mum), so I don’t think that could have driven me alone. I seem to have been putting gaming on hold a lot recently for Japanese so when I think about playing Japanese games, I definitely want to play them in Japanese as a benchmark and reward for my progress, even though a lot of them are localized, or have been confirmed for localization.

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