Feel you Aren’t Getting Better Yet?

Ever wonder what your Japanese skill progress and improvement actually looked like?  You study more, you get better faster.  You study less, you get better slower.  You stop studying, your Japanese gets worse.  Sounds simple enough.  But how come sometimes you study more, and you feel your Japanese getting worse?  What causes this phenomenon?

Feel you Arent Getting Better Yet

These are the most common views that I think people have about how their Japanese actually progresses:

Straight line, ascending:  Steadily improve over time.

Exponential:  Progression starts slowly, gains momentum, and then increases exponentially.

Declining Exponential: Progress very fast at first, then slows down.

Plateaus and ascents:  Progress ascends, plateaus, and repeats.

I don’t believe any of these are accurate.  I think the following is most realistic:

Zigzag:  Progress doesn’t continually go up, but actually zig zags, with every peak and low point slightly higher than the previous peak and low point.

Assuming that you are continually studying, why would your Japanese go up and then down?  All of a sudden you feel your Japanese is getting worse.  For a few days, you are constantly forgetting new things you just learned, missing things you knew well, and making frustrating mistakes that you never made before.  It can be depressing and destroy your motivation.  But if you continue, all of a sudden your level not only returns, but improves, and is higher than before.

I have a few hypotheses on what causes this:

1.  The language portion of your mind gets tired.  You aren’t getting worse, your mind is compensating by taking a break.  Once you get past this break, your language mind is  rested and ready to go to the next level.

2.  As you learn more complicated concepts, they start to wrap themselves up into the simpler concepts you already know, causing what you already know to get hazy.

3.  You start to realize areas that you were doing wrong all along, and you are fixing and adjusting them, which causes temporary drops in your level.

4.  The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know.  This means that the more Japanese you learn, the more you understand the vast depth of Japanese there is left for you to learn, which puts your original mindset of your progress into a different perspective.

Why is it important to know what your progress looks like?

Everyone goes through lows.  You feel like your Japanese not only isn’t getting better, but is actually getting worse, and no matter how much you study, you will never get good at Japanese.  This visual will hopefully remind you that you may be just going through a low point right now.  If you can just overcome it, your Japanese will rise to new heights.

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Founder of Jalup. Spends most of his time absorbing and spreading thrilling information about learning Japanese. On a quest to become 日本語王 (king of the Japanese language).


Feel you Aren’t Getting Better Yet? — 18 Comments

  1. Usually when I feel like my skills have gotten worse, it’s simply because I’ve gotten a bit further out of my comfort zone than usual and realized once again how much I still have left to learn. It’s an illusion, but a useful one.

  2. That was very encouraging to hear about the periodic lows. It helps to keep my spirits up and my confidence a bit stronger. Thank you.

  3. As soon as you began to show graphs I knew which one you were going to end up with. Or, rather, I knew what the one I would pick looked like.

    Really, I think we are actually loosing our ability speak Japanese all the time except when we are actually learning or using it. SR systems are based on this concept and its easy to see that their probably right because they work so well.

    Anyway, great post. I loved it.

    • If only there was a way to get to the 1st graph. But knowing that the struggle exists is half the battle.

  4. Phew! I was read about other people having seemingly linear or exponential growth and was worried why mine felt so erratic. It’s great to know that I’m not doing something wrong.

  5. I’m not really sure if this is the appropriate topic to be posing this question. (would be really nice to have a general question section, or perhaps a forum?)

    I am trying my best to stop thinking in English when I am doing my reviews and to just think in Japanese. However when doing this, I have noticed that sometimes I will look at the sentence read it out aloud correctly, and then think to my self, what did I just read…

    Even though I am reading it correctly and not translating it to English, its like my brain isn’t sure, until I translate it into English in my head. And then its like, “yeah, you were right.”

    Its like an internal self doubt system that I am finding difficult to get away from.

    And then I will have to read it again…

    • As long as you feel you understand, that is enough. Try not to get too caught up in whether you “really” understood it. Because as you’ve seen, self doubt comes in, and then you might get obsessive on your sentences as to whether you really understand them and constantly check with the English.

  6. Do you reccommend any textbooks or core books to use alongside your method for a beginner? To just build a solid foundation into an intermediate level? Or is literally RTK, passive immersion and writing thousands of sentences in anki all thats needed?

  7. Thanks I needed this. I was getting depressed with RTK because some of the old ones seemed to be getting harder to remember. I see now this is a case of ‘2’ above: I have now added so many Kanji (2000+) that there are ‘clashes’ with the old ones: similar keywords, similar stories, similar glyphs.

    Hopefully the ol’ brain will figure it out in time….

    • Yup, RTK becomes a bit of a pain when the similarities start getting in the way. The brain knows what it’s doing though, so once you get past the clashes, things get clearer with time.

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