Enjoy Japanese Now, Not Later

West Carleton Winter ScapeFluency is the holy grail of language learning. Everybody knows that, even the dudes that aren’t learning a language. In fact, that’s the only thing anybody starting Japanese cares about. Man, they didn’t start learning Japanese so they could have all the fun of reading grammar books all day! And nobody decides to learn a language so they could spend an hour a day reviewing Anki cards.

Everybody wants to know when they’re finally going to reach fluency. “How long is it gonna take me to learn Japanese?” Because of course, once you’re fluent, you can do just about anything you want.

Man, when you’re fluent, you can watch TV all day long without having to strain your eyeballs reading tiny English subtitles. You can send sweet love letters to your hot Japanese girlfriend without sounding like an idiot. You can even read the ingredient lists on those crappy コンビニ foods and figure out what they actually put in them. Everybody’s focusing on the finish line. The studying is just the means to get you there.

But the problem with always focusing on the destination is that you’ll never be happy

What happens when you reach the end? Will you finally be happy? Achieve inner peace and go on an anime binge? Sounds nice, but that doesn’t happen. There will always be a next destination, and you’ll always be dissatisfied that you haven’t reached the next one yet.

What happens when you find you’re finally able to understand your first manga? Great! But once enjoynow-winterroadyou’re done with that, you’re not going to be satisfied if you’re always thinking about the ten thousand manga you can’t understand. The cycle continues. Maybe you’ll be satisfied when you can understand all of them.

But then you realize still can’t hold a conversation about the state of the Japanese government without getting tongue-tied. And Japanese politics are important! What happens when you finally reach “fluency”? Are you gonna be happy then? Maybe your language-learning woes are over, but there will always be the next destination.

Instead of living in the future, be content with the present

I’ll be honest, things aren’t always that great in the present. Maybe you’re slogging through 5,000 Anki cards and you don’t seem to be getting any smarter. Maybe you’ve just grown to hate studying Japanese. Here’s my advice: If you’re not happy with where you are right now, take steps to change that.

Sounds all right in theory, but what the heck is that supposed to mean?

Do some things that will make you happy with where you are. Here are some ideas.

1. Focus on the good things

When you don’t seem to be getting any better, I find that it always helps to take a minute to remember all that you can do right now.You’ve probably come an extremely long way.

Maybe you can read entire books of manga cover to cover. Maybe you can have a ten-minute conversation in Japanese. Maybe you know 200 kanji.

That’s amazing.

Think of how much you could do when you first started Japanese. Basically NOTHING! I could say sayonara and sushi. That’s about it. It’s so much fun to beat yourself up over how much you can’t do, but when you stop to think about what you can do and what you do know, you’ll find that you’ve come a long way.

2. Do things you enjoy

I like having fun. You probably do too. There’s no reason to wait until you’re fluent to do what you enjoy.

Maybe you’re lonely and you just want some nice old Japanese women to talk to. There’s no reason not to do that right now. Find somebody over Skype, a language partner or just another lonely Japanese person.

You’ll probably make a lot of mistakes. But there’s nothing wrong with that. Watch an anime series you’ve had on your to-watch list for a while. Maybe you won’t understand every joke. That’s fine. It’s a lot more fun than waiting until you’re “fluent”.

3. Connect with others

Japanese-learning can be a pretty lonely adventure at times. It’s always nice to find some kind of friend and fellow Japanese-learner to talk with, discuss goals with, share recommendations and encourage. Find a study forum or join a JALUP hunting group.

4. Slow down

Learning Japanese isn’t a race. No, you’re not a bad person if it takes you ten months to Remember the Kanji. Sometimes life can get too busy and you just don’t have the time to balance everything and still spend three hours a day on Japanese. It’s OK to slow down. It works a lot better than stressing yourself out.

No need to always dream about the future. You’ll find there’s plenty to enjoy in the here and now.

Do you enjoy studying Japanese where you are right now? What could you do to help you enjoy the present more?

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A writer for Japanese Level Up, a part-time graphic designer, and purveyor of fine Japanese art (which consists mostly of anime, manga and weird music). When he's not wasting time in Japanese, you can usually find him making pretty pictures or studying something that sounds interesting.


Enjoy Japanese Now, Not Later — 10 Comments

  1. I’ve been told that if you become content with your Japanese you’ll never improve, but I don’t personally believe this. Perhaps it’s because people motivate themselves in different ways. To me, I don’t want to bash myself and say my Japanese is bad all my life, I choose to be content. The desire to be able to understand more of what I love is what drives me. So I definitely go the route of enjoyment as a way of motivating myself while being content. I love what I can do in Japanese. And what I can’t do, or can only partially do, motivates me even more. If I had waited until my kanji ability was equivelant to a native reader’s before attempting reading Kino no Tabi, I’d be missing out on what is now my favorite novel series right now.

    • I agree. I think there is a difference in between being “content” with your level, and being “content enough to appreciate it, but not so much as to not want to progress” if that makes sense haha. The best is obviously the 2nd choice, because that way you enjoy the process, and you use that enjoyment to want to learn even more!

    • Agreed! Being content with where you’re at now is a great skill to have, for learning languages as well as life. Thanks for the comment! :)

  2. I enjoy my studies a lot. I study animation full-time and spend pretty much all day in school. Studying languages (Danish and Japanese, currently) by myself is a way to use other parts of my brain and it relaxes me a lot. It’s a lot less about putting out creative work and I can focus on just absorbing things. (Although I try to practice my writing too.)
    Sometimes I’m too tired to work on grammar after a long day – well, then I’ll just do my WaniKani reviews! Or maybe look through a page in a children’s book or manga and see if I understand a word or two more than last time. I see a lot of people being super ambitious with their Japanese studies and I think it’s cool, I also want to be able to read, say, light novels, but I never try to stress because it’s a fun thing I do, not an obligation. If I ever lose my passion for Japanese completely or lack the time to do it, well, I can just quit. I can pick it up later too. A lot of people say that’s going to doom your studies – I find it liberating. It ensures that I will always enjoy Japanese because no one will ever force me to do or not do it.

    • Right on. I used to be more of a high-stress Japanese learner until I got burned out. I don’t always do my “obligations” either, but I always try to have a bit of fun every day. :) Thanks for your comment!

  3. When I get frustrated (which is not infrequently!) rather than focus on what I can or can’t do I tend to focus on things I wouldn’t need any Japanese in order to enjoy. Things like music (or music videos), rewatching a series raw that I’d previously watched subbed, flipping through manga for the art, playing a rhythm game like Project Mirai or so on. Then when I do understand a word or sentence or recognize some kanji it comes as a nice bonus, rather than being something I have to look for. And if I happen to come across a new word that piques my interest enough to look up then, hey, why not!

    Once or twice, when I was thinking of giving up, this mindset helped me realize that in an important sense there is nothing to give up. It’s not like I’m going to stop enjoying the things I enjoy just because I don’t understand them.

    • Haha, I like that. :) I’ve always been someone who can enjoy something without understanding it completely, too. It’s a good mindset to have.

  4. This reminds me a lot of a similar kind of post that Khatzumoto from AJATT made… and yet this always seems to slip my mind in ALL facets of my life! Gotta focus on and ENJOY the journey/process.

  5. 10 months to Remember the Kanji?! Pah! Took me two years, and I still have a pretty poor retention :p That’s what a full time job will do to you.

    Staying positive definitely helps. Anki is a tool, not the sole repository of your Japanese knowledge.

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