Don’t Study Something Because You Feel You Have To

In Japanese there is a lot to learn. A lot. So much that you feel like there is no end in sight, no matter how strong a futuristic language-telescope you are using. With every step forward, you start to notice increasingly complex categories of how things in the language relate to you. Things that you don’t know. Things you want to know. Things you want to learn. Things that you should learn. And then finally, things that you have to learn.

Have to learn? Study it, now! You have no choice?

Dont Study Something Because You Feel You Have To

“Have to…”

Ever notice when you have to do something, you are less likely to do it compared to when you want to. Sure, you may do it, but most likely your “have to” will make it less enjoyable, less likely to see it to the end, and more likely to dread the next “have to.”

Should you just eliminate your Japanese have-to’s?

It depends.

There is nothing you have to do in Japanese. You are learning for your own reasons, whether that is to order something in a Japanese restaurant, or to write the next great Japanese novel. Everything in between is up to you, and no one else.

There are a few things that will feel like absolute “have to’s.”

  • You have to stop using romaji.
  • You have to learn hiragana.
  • You have to learn kanji.
  • You have to learn grammar.

But I’ve met people who just wanted to have basic conversations while visiting Japan. They don’t have to learn any of that. There is only “should” or “need” based on what you “want” to do. Do you want to read manga? Then you’ll need to study kana and kanji in order to read that manga. How you fulfill that need is up to you.

Dont Study Something Because You Feel You Have To 2

These are just generalizations though. Most people aren’t questioning whether they should do the simple building blocks we all know that we should and need to be doing to accomplish our goals. I’m more concerned when you get to the smaller picture stuff.

Do you have to learn all the insects, animals, and tree vocabulary? No. Do you have to master the high-polite Japanese? No. Do you have to learn the all the slang that is used between high school students? No. Do you have to learn Osaka dialect. No. But you’ll want to if you love learning about nature, or plan to work in a Japanese company, or if you are around high school students a lot, or if you like Osaka comedy.

You choose what you want to learn. What you want to leave out. Learn these things because you desire them and you are can expect to have a lot more fun.

Drop and replace

Are there any perceived have-to’s that you ended up dropping that made your studying feel so much better? What did you do instead of those have-to’s?

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


Don’t Study Something Because You Feel You Have To — 21 Comments

  1. This is a great point and I don’t really see this advice often. I always put in more effort when it’s something I’m really interested in rather than something I have to do.

    The only thing I’ve been able to listen to at work is twitch (on my phone sound only). And the thing is, I didn’t start listening to it because I had to, I started it because I really really wanted too. The fact that it was improving my listening, I honestly didn’t even care, I just wanted to listen!

    The trick is finding (it took me a year and half) something you can become so obsessed with that you don’t even CARE it’s improving your Japanese (but secretly it is).

    • It sure feels good when you want to do something, and because you did what you needed to accomplish it, you are finally able to enjoy it (and be obsessed with it).

      I remember in the beginning, people always telling me “you have to practice your handwriting!” I’m glad I listened to what I wanted to do.

  2. I think it’s a generally accepted fact that knowing 大阪弁 makes one at least five times more attractive. Don’t let those comedians grab all the attention!

  3. 仰有る通りで御座います。;)

    I’m feeling like
    Jlpt is one of those things. The test is only held in December here. I’m really considering taking it, just because it seems like I should. I can’t think of a reason not to. I think the only thing stopping me is knowing what to study. Probably just get a kanzen master jlpt1 anki deck and do practice tests.

    • If JLPT is one of these things you should consider not taking it. If you don’t care about it and don’t need it, that is a perfectly fine reason for NOT doing it.

      Personally I love tests and that’s why I’m planning on doing JLPT (N3 this year). You don’t need a better reason for doing it, but you also don’t need any other reason than “don’t care about it” for not doing it.

    • なんなのその書きぶり。。。

      Yeah it’s the same timing here in the US. I’m not planning to go out of my way to cram for it, but I do want to attempt the N1 just to see how I do. Besides, who doesn’t want a shiny certificate? =)

    • I feel you on this. For years, I kept telling myself to just take the test. But every year, just the thought of doing it sounded so pointless to me personally. I even tried to convince myself I’d use the test experience solely to write a series of articles on Jalup on taking the JLPT. But my desire is so close to 0, it gets postponed every year.

      Like Silwing says, for people that want to and like taking the test (for self measuring progress), I think it’s great. For people that need it because the employer in Japan is asking for it, or it helps with their visa, of course go for it.

      But for people who don’t want it, and don’t need it… well you know.

    • I’m taking the N1 in July. Long story short I’m doing half my postgraduate study at home and applying to do the other half in Japan, so it’s a huge bonus to have (especially for academic scholarships).

      I’ve basically gone through the kanzen series just doing all the practice exercises. I haven’t read any of them cover to cover- just the stuff I got wrong in the practices (which I then added to Anki).

      Now it’s closer I’m just doing a full practice test per week to work on time management/ concentration.

      Obviously I’m doing all the usual jalup stuff alongside this as well.

  4. Grammar is a “have to” that I avoided for a very long time.

    In the end I signed up for an evening class at SOAS. To keep up with the class I had to study the grammar. And I’m the kind of person that refuses to miss a class I’ve paid for and refuses to be bottom of the class.

    So that got me to the level where I could pick through kids (5+ XD) books and manga without having to look up every new conjugation for words I would’ve known otherwise. And reading fluency is what I want, so my reading has been climbing steadily since then.

    Lessons, the JLPT etc, they’re all tools to force me to pull out my sword and start hack n slashing my way through the “have to” monsters in the way to what I want.

    The J-J boss can take a hike for now though. I just burnt my latest J-J deck, again (60 cards in it, one a day). It had gotten easier than the time before, but… it’s not holding me back yet. I’m missing chuncks of nuance, but I remember rereading books in English and picking up on things I wouldn’t have gotten a few years earlier. Eventually something spells it out clearly enough that you get it XD.

      • I’ll be back to J-J, I’ve got a couple of experimental J-E anki decks in the forge to test out what I’ve learned from this pass. In a month or so they’ll be old enough to see what works.

        Until then, I have a shelf full of manga and kids novels to be occupied with.

  5. So true. I’ve been studying with Genki II and while, in general, I like doing the practice, I’ve moved from being a perfectionist to only doing what I want to work on. Helps with motivation and I move quickly onto the things I want to do (manga/anime/games).

    • That’s the way to do it. Even good textbooks can drag you down if you feel like you have to master everything before you move on.

  6. I chucked the “learning lots of vocab” bit. When a word comes up in an anime or book, I look it up and likely remember it. Eventually with enough native material I won’t need to look stuff up mostly, so goodbye vocab focus. If I understand the structure/grammar of a sentence that makes me feel a lot better anyhow, because I can always look up words.

    I kept “learn lots and lots of kanji” because I LOVE kanji. And you end up accidentally learning vocab that way anyhow.

    • Sounds like a good move if that was weighing you down. Vocabulary does tend to stick well when you pull it from something that you are enjoying doing (like watching a TV show).

  7. I am letting go of “having” to do everything at once. My strength is as a reader and at this early stage, I need to stay within that comfort zone. So I have let myself bracket conversational skills for now.

    • I think a lot of people face the “everything at once” feeling and it’s completely fine to split off conversations for later. Especially if you are enjoying reading now.

      • I guess I must be enjoying (my version of) reading, since I keep doing it, no matter how frustrated it makes me at times. It’s like being a cryptologist. 😊

  8. Out of interest is there much of a difference between the slang of high school and university students?

    • That would depend heavily on the type and level of the high school and university. But younger people tend to use more new and wild slang, and use it less as they grow older.

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