My (Girl/Boy)friend says I’m Studying the Wrong Way

Studying Japanese is a continued test of confidence. You build it up and have it knocked down repeatedly. Mostly you knock it down yourself. But there are plenty of other people to also knock it down for you.

“You are studying wrong!”
“You won’t become fluent like that.”
“I wouldn’t listen to that website/method.”

One of the strangely common e-mails I’ve received from many readers goes as follows:

“I’ve been studying with Jalup for a while now. I like it and I’ve been making good progress. However, my Japanese girlfriend (boyfriend) says I’m doing things wrong. She says this isn’t a good way to study, and will not make you fluent. She says that there is X, Y, and Z problem with your methods/tools. I really like using Jalup though. What should I do?”

Where to begin….

While I’ve occasionally got this e-mail in regards to a friend, or even a teacher, it is almost always about someone who is in a relationship. The closer a person is to you, the more they care about you, and the more they want to see you succeed. The intentions are good. So your first step should be to (internally and externally) thank them for thinking about you so much and trying to look out for your best interest.

The problems start here.

Assuming you are just beginning Japanese, and are in some kind of relationship with this Japanese person, there is a good chance that their English is really good (that’s how you communicate). Possibly fluent. Maybe even fully bilingual. This makes them the “authority.” They did it. They went through the whole process. They know how becoming fluent works. They want to show you that. They see your Jalup site or other tools like it, and they don’t like them.

Your partner has probably become fluent using more traditional methods. They learned English in junior/senior high school. They studied on their own with textbooks and tutors and cram schools. They probably went through a lot of hell to get where they are.

None of you are even close to this situation. While traditional methods have worked for hundreds of years, there’s a reason why language innovation continues to break new boundaries. There are better ways to do it discovered all the time. Just because older tools were successful at the time doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try new ones.

Your predicament

You get constant pressure from your girlfriend (or boyfriend) to listen to her language learning advice. You like what you’ve been doing, but are now faced with a crossroads and three issues present themselves:

1. You start to doubt yourself

She’s done it. You haven’t. The internet is the internet, and needs to be taken with a grain of salt sometimes. You have living proof right before you. Who are you going to trust?

2. You care about this person

You don’t want to let this person down. You trust them. They’ve given you good advice in the past. What they think about you is important to you, and you don’t want to let them down.

3. You don’t have the results to show

With Jalup and similar methods, you spend a lot of time in the beginning with little to show. You are understanding, not translating. Comprehending, but not speaking much. It makes you look weak early on, but great later. It’s different than your standard “high-paced show of progress” from the beginning.

How to deal with this situation

It’s an unpleasant place to be. I’ve been there. When I first lived in Japan, and my Japanese was garbage, I dated a Japanese girl who had excellent English. I felt all the pressures of the above, and it resulted in a lot of tension and clashes. It’s easy to understand the advice of an article like this, but much harder to actually do anything about it.

It’s easier to just listen to the other person, and try it their way. In addition to the normal difficulties of this type of bi-cultural relationship, the language issue is a big one. How you approach your language learning and how this other person is involved can either make or break your relationship. If learning Japanese means the world to you, and this other person is crashing your world, how long do you think you’ll remain together?

You have 2 options

1. Give in, drop your methods, and follow what they say

This will make them happy. This will make your relationship easier, at first. If you can become fluent in Japanese through their guidance, everything will work out fine. But remember, they learned in a different world, and while it may be possible to have success doing the same things they did, the probability is lower than them.

If you do exactly what they say, and it isn’t working, think of what happens to the relationship then. You blame them. They blame themselves or you.

2. Stay true to yourself, and continue with what you believe in

We all care what the people closest to us think about us. But sometimes you just have to stop. The most important thing is that you care about what you are doing. In the beginning there will be friction. You aren’t listening to their advice. You aren’t studying the proper way. You aren’t showing noticeable progress.

You have a way out though. Once the method kicks in, and you finally start showing results, you can prove that believing in yourself worked. Your Japanese is now fluent in record time. Everything works out fine. Life is good…?

Sort of. By you proving them wrong, you show that their method wasn’t as great as they thought. You didn’t need to listen to them, and could do it all on your own.

Then the final hurdle: your Japanese is great, and you want to use it in the relationship. Their English is great and they want to use it in the relationship. Now what?

While that’s a topic for another discussion, making the decision on how to learn Japanese while in an a relationship with a Japanese person isn’t easy. The best thing to do is sit down and have an honest discussion about it and why you want to study like this. Tell them you respect and appreciate their advice, and will continue to rely on it in a variety of ways, but you need to do this. Tell them to have faith in you. And if they care about you, they will.

Have you ever been in this situation?

Did you listen to your girlfriend/boyfriend? Did you follow your own path? How did it work out? Any strategy you’ve picked up along the way?

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


My (Girl/Boy)friend says I’m Studying the Wrong Way — 8 Comments

  1. In my work-study group, there was a fluent speaker. He was actually a translator who tried to steer me away from jalup. He mentioned that the methods may be too extreme and that I would burn out. My logic was that through massive exposure vs wrote/repetition, I could learn faster.
    Thanks for creating this system.

    • There shouldn’t be anything “extreme” here. People should be able to put in as much time as they feel comfortable. It just focuses on the long term, rather than short term, and gets you enjoying real Japanese now, rather than some future later.

  2. This is actually a really useful article because if you use anki or say you learn from some internet site, everyone you will eventually get some questioning you. I guarantee it. My wife is Korean and fluent in Japanese and because she can’t speak English, we only speak in Japanese (and some garbage Korean from me). She studied Japanese at a Japanese school and became fluent by living there and studying. So my method seemed really strange to her, as I was ‘on my own’ staring into my phone. ‘You have to study in a classroom with other people’ is the method she has in mind.

    I basically just brushed her off and said, ‘if I hadn’t used this method, we wouldn’t be able to talk right now. This is what works for me.’ Although I wouldn’t recommend brushing your partner off, lol, the point is everyone has a method that works for them. And I think that is the best way to explain yourself.

    I’ve met people with high level Japanese that have learnt entirely through text books and their Japanese is better than mine, but the second I glance at a textbook my eyes glaze over. Yet I can use anki for 2 hours a day with no issues. I’ve also met people with high level Japanese learnt entirely through anki and nothing else.

    Whatever works!

    • I fully agree that there are people who flourish in the traditional textbook/classroom setting. That used to be the only route. Now that there are hundreds of new legitimate alternative routes, let people choose what works for them.

  3. I always think it’s a good idea to try multiple methods. Pair Anki with a textbook or speaking in class.

    • Remember that these days, Anki is a textbook (people are just putting the information from textbooks into Anki format). But yes, trying multiple methods to find what works is important. I always recommend trying out some kind of class at some point to see if you like it. Some people get great motivation from being in a classroom.

  4. Interesting article. I thought i would share my experience (somewhat the opposite of the article). I dated a Japanese teacher for a short while, and she was super impressed with my progress (you can read kanji!!) and demanded i explain how i did it. So i explained the jalup system.

    On another note, none of the Japanese schools in my area recommend anki to their students which is a shame. My friend who is studying Spanish gets given decks from his school so i don’t see why the Japanese schools cant do that too.

    • Yes, not everyone is like the type of person in this article. There are plenty of open-minded language learners. You just have to learn to deal when you are not talking to one of them.

      That is a shame about not recommending Anki.

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