Playing Japanese like a Video Game

Into The Video Game

Hello everyone, my name is Ninjam and I will be sharing my journey learning Japanese with you from today until I am fluent.  I am a 19 year old college student going into computer science and graphic design, and a hardcore gamer who has been playing for years.  I began studying Japanese not too long ago, and decided to use the JALUP method to do it.

First, where I am right now:


These are my starting statistics.  As you can see I am fairly weak, starting with almost no speaking or writing experience at all.  I am at level 5, almost level 6, and just entered the world of Japanese.  I have been practicing my reading and writing, but they are still fairly low in the single digit range.

While I cannot understand most of anything I see, I look forward to all the rewards that await as I move forward.

Next, my starting equipment:


While I hope to expand this, right now I have my trusty iPhone, loaded with Japanese music and podcasts, my Remembering the Kanji volume one, which is great for those in between moments when going to class, and my laptop, which is essential for my immersion. I will be upgrading my equipment as I go along.

My first major quest on the horizon is to finish Remembering the Kanji.  I am currently at frame 700, and moving fairly quickly.  While I am doing this, I am making sure to immerse myself in as much Japanese as I can each day, and add J-E sentences to anki for study.

My mission is clear. I will not give up. Neither will you.

Swift Ascension

I’ve discovered that the amount of progress that someone can make in merely a month using the methods here on this site are quite amazing. I am no longer as lost when I see natural Japanese text, I have much less of a problem finding out when words end, and can read hiragana/katakana almost perfectly.  It’s very motivating to look at a block of natural Japanese text and be able to say that, although I cannot defeat it yet, I can definitely do some scratches to it.

My first scratches on some key basic grammar

My classmates seem to be faring better than I am. (Typo intentional!)


College classes are officially up and started, and I am taking a full 17 credit hours, which means a lot of time spent studying.  During my search for classes a few weeks ago, I stumbled upon an entirely online Japanese class and managed to sign up for it, a process made difficult by the fact that my adviser was determined it was some kind of advanced class.  The class is rather, different than my high school language classes, in a good way.  It is completely online and the teacher provides plenty of drills consisting of native material, and a lot of example sentences.  The best thing about the class is that I now have a plethora of sentences from the textbooks and all the online sources my teacher gives me, as well as having tutoring options to take advantage of for output practice!

Current Status:


At around level 8, 300 J-E sentences, and 1023 RTK. It has been much easier than I expected to find understandable Japanese to English sentences, even before I got the textbook for my class.  Although my favorite hunting grounds are Japanese Pod 101’s podcasts and the textbook, I’ve also found some while watching anime and even some of the questions on class tests.

J-E carding up the enemies:


Equipment Boosts:

I’m already using three books, as there is just something about actually having a book in my hand that makes me feel more like learning.  I don’t know what it is, although I suspect it’s connected to my love of libraries and just browsing through the shelves, looking for interesting books.


As you already know from the theme of my posts, I like video games. So to make sure that my Japanese flourishes through this, lately I have taken to playing Japanese indie games published online.  A lot of them are free, and although I do not know about their quality, many of them are enjoyable even with little understanding.  I am now confident I can recognize “Cure” and “Escape” in Japanese text, which I am confident will have practical uses in real life.

Time to rake up some more Exp.

Watering The Crops

Interacting with Japanese people can be difficult. So, in part of an ongoing effort to take more chances, I signed up for free Japanese tutoring. While this sounds like something that anyone can do, it really was hard for me, due to my peoplephobia, or fear of talking to people (did I mention I skipped the chapter on phobias last semester in Psychology?) I have, for as long as I have known, been afraid of talking to people or doing things like this.   And yet, it was probably the best thing I could have done for my Japanese, as now I have private tutoring sessions every week, due to the fact that no one else has showed up.


Along the same tune, I have also been attempting to set myself into some nice routines, a word I have always hated, as to me it always came with the word “chores” or “bedtime”.  By routine, I mean I now eat lunch at 11:00 at the food court, not because I eat the food there(I pack my lunch because I am poor) but because a group of exchange students from Japan sit there and eat, and I’m trying my hardest to go from hermit to socially acceptable human being.  After lunch I normally go up to the library to do homework and anki reviews, but the main point here is, routines do not have to be boring!


It’s like finding a new training ground in a MMO and starting it.  At first, it’s hard, the enemies are stronger, the scenery is unfamiliar, there are other players around and they are all calling you names and saying you are too weak to train there.  Everything is different, but eventually you get used to it.  You just get used to your new surroundings and you learn from them.

With a routine set up, I no longer have to remind myself to do my reviews, or write my posts.  I go to the library and it just, happens.  Studying another language is all about consistency.  It doesn’t matter if you only learn a single new word every day and do reviews, as long as you are doing something, growth is inevitable.  It’s just like farming. You have to water the plants every day or they will wilt and die.  Missing a day here and there is inevitable, and perfectly acceptable, but forget to water for a week and suddenly you have a field full of dead potatoes.

I spent most of the month on reviews, as I have for the longest time been feeling like I was falling behind.  Although I added very few new sentences (150) and more new kanji (300), I now feel more ready to press ahead, knowing that I will be less likely to forget what I am learning now with the information securely in my head.


Now back to the farm . . .

One Enemy At A Time

If I am the main character, and my power is Japanese, then what is my enemy, and how do I get stronger?  Those are questions that I find myself asking while playing games often, along with variants such as “can I punch this?” and “if I punch this, will it punch me back?”

There are only so many words and expressions you can see.  There are a finite number of kanji, kana, words, and grammar structures out there in common use, and you have all the time in the world to learn them.  The sooner you stop stressing out about knowing everything now, the sooner you can get to exposing yourself to the language without worries.  Each new word you learn is one less word you need to learn and one more small step closer to Japanese awesomeness.


In Japanese, always start with the friendlier looking bosses.

You won’t know everything. Accept that. You don’t know everything in your own language.  The goal is to learn as much as a Japanese person knows. I visualize it as fighting the boss from FFVII with 1 million hp. At my current level, while I’m only doing 1 damage strikes, as my character grows so does my attack damage.  1 word down? Go for the next. Each one gets easier to learn by connecting them to the previous words I have studied.  1 million hp may be a lot, but this boss has no time limit.


In the beginning, learning Japanese is a long chain of various fetch quests.

As Adshap has suggested, I liken Anki reviews and formal study to grinding weaker monsters.  Kill 500 of them and you level up.  Reading material made for natives is like fighting a boss.  Sure, that boss will give you the same exp as killing those 500 monsters, but if you are level 1 and trying to kill a level 50 boss, you are going to come to a halt.  A game that had only grinding would turn boring fast, but so would a game where everything you fought killed you in a single hit (unless you had the 30-lives code from Contra.)  Even ultra difficult games give you some weak monsters to kill a bit before throwing you to the super powered wolves.


Even regular enemies can sometimes give you trouble.

My adversary is not native material, but Japanese itself.  I must become one with my enemy, learn from it, and absorb it. Every bit of Japanese I defeat causes my own Japanese to become stronger and I’m more able to handle bigger, stronger Japanese, until eventually I win.  The key here is that if I don’t meet with the enemy, or use my powers, nothing is going to happen.  To become a hero, I have to slaughter the mushrooms and work my way up to the dragons.

The Fairy

Finals week is coming up again, and I realized today as I opened Anki for the first time in 4 days that I could not quit Japanese even if I had wanted to.  It’s glued to me now, like a little blue fairy who constantly calls to me while I am doing other activities, telling me to return to my mission no matter where I am or what I am doing.  It may be annoying at points, but it will constantly keep me on track to defeat Ganondorf learn Japanese.


I open my “games” folder on my computer, and 90% of it is in Japanese.  I opened up a folder of PDFs to read and a good third were Japanese manga and children’s books.  My desktop has 4 folders of categorized study material, dictionaries, and various links to websites in Japanese.  I may not understand a good portion of my games and books, but repeated exposure combined with my vocabulary learning has made everything an adventure.

I get happy when I see and recognize a new word that I learned the other day in a game I was playing.  I have a niceselection of movies in Japanese, and when I go to check my calls on my phone I realize that the language settings have been in Japanese for the last 5 months.  The fairy is everywhere on my computer, no matter what I am doing it’s there, telling me to look and listen.


At this point, quitting Japanese is impossible. There are weeks like this one when I am too swarmed by homework and studying that I may not learn much new material. But to study for my chemistry final I have to browse through a plethora of Japanese-named documents to find my notes, meaning even doing something completely unrelated is exposing me to Japanese.  To check the time or set an alarm on my phone requires that I do it in Japanese, and has for a long time.  It’s like how in a game, everyone in the town will be talking about the next calamity, urging you on to stop the moon from falling or whatever it is that needs done.  Those townspeople are my phone and my computer.


Although no true hero would be lazy and do something because it is easy, it would be more work for me to stop learning Japanese than it would be for me to continue.  I have reached the point where it would be easier to catch up on a week of Anki reviews than to give up on it and possibly never learn how to read half of my games.  I would have to find a large amount of entirely new entertainment to replace practically all of my games, movies, books, and manga, a collection I spent months gathering and a lot of money buying.

My weak point now is kanji.  For a while now I have been focusing on catching my vocabulary up to my kanji level, and now my vocabulary is better and I can understand more, but the kanji are getting mixed up.   I stopped adding new cards and slacked on my RTK, despite being close to the end.  I must train my kanji harder, and stronger, probably by fighting a lot more of them.

I just have to keep working at it.  If I take things one moblin at a time I’ll eventually reach the next stage.

Being Patient

Sometimes it feels like learning Japanese is like raising a child.  You feed it for a long long time while it sits there and acts adorable, and then one day you make it take out the garbage and… Wait, I think I’m lost here.  Anyway, the point is, it takes a lot of time before it does anything at all.


Ever since I began learning Japanese I always felt it was going so slow, but at the same time I was learning so much.

If I compare what I know now to even a week ago I feel like I know so much more, but every time I study I don’t feel like I am learning much.  A part of this, I think, is that the language itself needs time to sit.

Every new sentence and phrase, every kanji review I do, it has no effect until later.  This makes studying feel very pointless, and is why the biggest tips you find from learners in the advanced stages is to just keep going, even if you do just a little each day.

Using anki reveals valuable wisdom fail the same card 5 or 6 days in a row, and then on the 7th day I somehow magically know it, and continue getting them right for much longer.  It is the same regardless of if I am studying sentences or kanji. It’s like my brain will not comprehend things until I see them a lot, so studying sessions feel useless because I know I won’t remember anything well for a solid week straight.

This problem is really bad if you already have a hectic life schedule, such as having to move while simultaneously starting your first job and having to prepare for college starting up again soon.


If things get easier the more you study, then why does it seem so bad in the moment?

Why can I see my progress looking back so easily, but study and study and not feel like I am getting anywhere?

I think part of it is that there is more to learning Japanese than just learning the words and grammar and kanji and putting them all together.  It seems like there are patterns in written Japanese, many you can see, countless you cannot see, but your brain can if you see enough Japanese.  The Japanese is there in my mind, but is dormant until it is activated later on in the journey.

If your brain is picking out patterns as you read and listen to Japanese, then that would explain a lot to me.  Like why textbooks are a good start, and why they become useless so quickly, and how I somehow magically became able to recognize where the words end after a few months of study.

It’s like I’m playing a really long game of Minecraft, where every block I place and monster I slay does not have an immediate effect, but over time they build into an amazing world.  Building up starting from very little is something I decided to try with my Japanese..

Every piece of Japanese I see makes me more and more used to it. The Japanese I am learning now just needs time to sink in and sort itself out before I actually know it, so I might as well enjoy the process.



Only You Can Build Your Japanese Up

Progress works the same no matter where you are, and it is really easy to understand.  You do something and see the results.  Then you take the results, and repeat doing something until you are happy with the final results.  You kill one monster and get stronger with the sword.  You kill another and learn how to decapitate things.  You learn how to say “this is a cat” and can now say “this is a dog” with minimal effort.  It’s just taking what you already know and adding to it.

ninjam 24

With a language it’s no different, no matter how vast it seems.  I am no rocket scientist, but surely that is very similar.  You take what you know about basic science and hypothesis and everything, advance to physics, and finally learn rocket stuff.  It sounds so simple, why doesn’t everyone do it!?

It should be easy to just learn and learn and learn, you don’t even have to move all that much.  It’s just taking things in another language and learning what they mean. So why do so few people learn a foreign language to proficiency?

Because it’s hard.  Why do today what you can do tomorrow. It’s also unreasonably difficult for teachers because everyone is different.  Despite your best efforts, some people will come in knowing more than others, and others will come in behind. It’s inevitable with the way things work now.

The easiest thing to do is just to do something simple that you don’t have to think much. Like data entry, or being an NPC.  NPC’s don’t have to work; they just ask the hero to do everything for them.  What an easy life, not having to learn to understand another language.

The problem with this is the hero is not always there.  There are things you want to do, manga to read, anime to watch, but there’s no hero to come translate it for you.

What is the solution?

For most people, it’s the simple way of doing nothing.  If the game is not translated, it must not be that fun.  After all, if it was any good someone would have picked it up to translate right?

It’s flawed thinking, but it works, and it requires very little effort.  Now, this is fine for most people, as not everyone needs comprehension in another language. No matter how much the educational system demands I learn French or Spanish, I really don’t need them to function.  But what about those who do have a need to learn a language, whether it be for survival or for recreation?

ninjam 25

The second solution is to toughen up and do things yourself.  No hero to kill 400 rats?  Better get myself a sword.  Much harder in the long run, but more rewarding.  Not only are the rats gone, but now you know how to kill them in the future.  And possibly, since I killed so many rats, a bear can’t be that much more difficult, right?

It may have taken me a good chunk of my time, but I worked my way through the rats (J-E sentences), and the slimes(RTK deck), and even began fighting the bears(J-J cards).  It was hard work, but I don’t want to wait for a hero to come and make me comprehend everything, especially if the hero may not even exist.  I don’t want to have to wait for someone to tell me what everything means, because I’m not an NPC.  I will take the hard path.

The hard path is always the more rewarding.  Start small, and build your way up.  There are ways to make things easier, you can spend your time studying sword techniques and buying incredibly overpowered beam weapons, but at the end of the day, you still have to do the work.

ninjam 26

4 Years Later

Hello everyone! My name is Ninjam, and I return from the void! Four years ago I started one of the first masters in the making stories (before that was a thing) here on Jalup, but left it on a bit of a cliffhanger. I decided I wanted to come back and give a followup of what exactly happened to me and give some reflections about my lengthy Japanese journey.

Adventures In Japanese - Ninjams Final Mission

Since my last post I have graduated college and started a graduate program, moved twice, gotten engaged (to someone who accuses me of cheating in Soul Caliber), and started working in writing. I went from being unable to figure out where words ended in my first post to starting on full J-J sentence cards in my last, and I’ve had a lot of time to hone my skills since then.


In the beginning, progress rules all. Every new word and sentence is a step closer to your dream. You want to share your progress with the world. It’s fun, exciting, and new. But then the way you measure progress changes. The bosses are still there, but they are not insurmountable. The mini-bosses are there, but they are manageable. And all the other enemies below them? A piece of cake. That’s how Japanese has become for me.

In the years since I started studying, I never managed to go full-immersion. There was just too much to do for me. Like most of you I had obligations, friends, family, schoolwork, and much more. And I personally decided that for me, that’s okay.

Instead I read manga on breaks at school. I went out of my way to choose “Japanese” when playing Pokemon X and Y. I forced myself to go out and meet Japanese students and talk to them after class, despite being painfully shy otherwise. I booted up what must be hundreds of games and visual novels at night. And I always made sure to keep up with Anki reviews and added new cards.

I failed sometimes. A game became a drag with too many unknown words. A visual novel was too dense in text. I only understood snippets of what I saw and got bored an hour in. I stopped doing Anki reviews for a few days. I once didn’t add new cards for a month.

Adventures In Japanese - Ninjams Final Mission 2

Knowledge expansion

But my knowledge kept rising. I set my goals. Although they are low, they are persistent. I can now play visual novels for hours without getting bored. I can read almost any manga I get my hands on, with little problems. Most conversations are easily within reach with my vocabulary allowing me to not only understand, but also to reply. I’m still getting better, but it’s been a long, slow process for me.

I’m somewhere between intermediate and advanced. The grind has become less of a grind, and native materials become more and more accessible every day that passes.

Progress is still made, but it’s hard to get much more than a roll of the eyes when you tell someone you only understand three percent more compared to your reading ability the previous month. It doesn’t sound special.


Adventures In Japanese - Ninjams Final Mission 3

If you keep trying you will win, as long as you’re trying the right things. Figure out what you want to do, and do it. It doesn’t matter how. Read a book. Look at some flashcards. Try to figure out what an option does in a video game (make sure it doesn’t delete your saved game). All of it helps. All of it is improving you. Trial and error and looking up unknowns in the dictionary is all part of the process. Just keep at it.

A language takes time, energy, and effort, but persistence will get you there. Nothing is going to be handed to you on a silver platter. Nothing good ever is. It would be no fun if the best sword in the game was handed to you for free. It breaks the game when that happens.

Moving forward

I’m not where I want to be yet, and I have continued at a slow pace, but I will keep at it. Here’s my main piece of advice: it gets easier. Native material gets less frustrating to consume. Books seem less scary. Kanji becomes your friend. Words become your allies. It might take you a year. It might take you five. As long as you never give up you can win. As a great man once said, “You can win, you feel great, you… can… do… this!”

Good Luck & 頑張ってください!

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A regular college student that plays more games than is recommended. Studies Japanese between classes and after-school.

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Playing Japanese like a Video Game — 71 Comments

  1. Don’t be too worried about not being able to speak/write (when I say “write” in this comment I am referring to being able to type out sentences) , from my experience, as long as your input levels (reading/listening) levels are fairly high, your output can catch up to them fairly quickly once you start practicing.

    I think your idea for having a theme to your posts is pretty cool and I look forward to seeing your progress. That, and we’re in the same major, so there is that making me want to see you succeed too.(笑)

    • Thanks. I was not too worried about my output skills being low, although i still do want to improve on those eventually. There is no point in being able to speak and write without first being able to understand others, so it makes sense they would be lower.

  2. Hey,

    Good for you. I put off RTK for too long–wish I had finished it soon. I am in the midst of my third attempt, but I will be it this time. Going strong at frame 1200. Let’s head off to the promise land.

    • Good luck! RTK is helping me a ton, it sort of demystifies japanese writting and makes it less of a jumble, if you know what I mean.

  3. I’m looking forward to it! What a cute character lol

    RTK takes up a lot of inventory space, and rightly so. Such an important item to have.

    • Thanks, I do like making cute characters in games.

      And yes, RTK is very important, although it taking up so much space may mean I need to get a bag or risk inventory overspill.

  4. Way to go!! I am rooting for you!!! Love the idea very much, I may steal it, lol! がんばれ!(Did I get it right?)

    • I am using video games for my studying. Even if I don’t understand all of them, I can pick out kanji I know and learn new words and sentences. The game I am currently using is mabinogi, a MMORPG. I played the english version, so I know my way around enough that it doesn’t get frusturating, and since it’s an mmo once I learn a bit more I can use it for typing practice with natives!

      And great tip for anki, that could come in handy.

  5. Can’t believe I missed your post, a new fellow adventurer – yay! I’m looking forward to your journey and it’s good to have someone behind me, it pushes me to run faster :)

    Don’t overtake me, I’m warning you!

    • Thanks, your posts were a great inspiration for me. Competition often spurs great achievements, so look out or I’ll soon pass you up!

  6. Great post. Final Fantasy 8 is one of my favorites. I always enjoyed the grinding portion of the game and you lined it up perfectly with JAL’s methods. Sentence mining is comparable to “Card”-ing enemies, or drawing magic. Both have the potential to overpower your characters–or your Japanese ability!

    I especially liked this quote: “It’s very motivating to look at a block of natural Japanese text and be able to say that, although I cannot defeat it yet, I can definitely do some scratches to it.” I’m going to remember this next time some wild Japanese text is putting me down. Thanks.

    • Thanks, Final Fantasy 8 is one of my favorites too, which is why I choose it. It takes a long time, but progress is noticable if you look for it. Every few weeks I open up a random site and see how much of it I can understand. Even understanding just one word on a page makes me happy, because that’s one more word than I could understand before.

  7. Great post! I love the visual representation of your adventure!

    That is so awesome that your university offers a class that’s taught completely in Japanese. My university needs to take a hint (^_-)

    Jumping into an advanced class can be the greatest push, or the greatest demotivator. It all depends on your passion and dedication to the language (which you have) combined with the interest level in the course materials and trying not to compare yourself too much to your classmates. You may find yourself doubting yourself a lot in the beginning. But the benefit of an online class is that you don’t actually see your classmates, so there’s probably less of a comparison-complex. I only have the experience of jumping into in-person classes. I’ve never taken an online language class.

    • It’s somewhat of a new class I think, and as such the teacher is still working out the kinks. It’s still very fun.

  8. “I’m trying my hardest to go from hermit to socially acceptable human being.”

    Ahahaha, sounds like me. Whenever I go to something, I always end up having fun and am so thankful I pushed myself to go. But I have to push myself, because I’m such a hermit.

    Yay for 牧場物語 references!

    • I’ve loved harvest moon ever since somebody stole my kirby game and replaced it with harvest moon. Not sure why they bothered to replace it after stealing but it was my favorite game for a long time.

      After finals I think I’ll see if I can pick up rune factory in Japanese. Ive heard it was a fun game and I saw it can be played on a English ds cause its not region locked.

      Pushing myself was the best thing I did. If I hadnt began doing that in highschool I wouldn’t know anybody and would probably havent had the guts to move out on my own.

      • I ended up getting Rune Factory 2 and not liking it so much. The heart system is different than in HM and I’m not so into the real-time battles.

        The music is really nice and I love how the characters are voiced. Such a great learning tool, just not for me. I still listen to the music though.

  9. Good luck with socializing with the Japanese students!
    I too am in college currently and we have a good deal of exchange students this semester.
    I was also super nervous and worried about talking to them, especially trying to do so in Japanese. But I forced myself to go to my school’s Japanese Association program and ended up becoming very good friends with most of them. Although I try not to speak TOO much Japanese to them, because the point of them being here is to learn English, but by becoming friends with them I can try my Japanese here and there and often through facebook and texting. It also gives me contacts for when I go to Japan.
    Although you may have worries and be nervous, I think you should definitely give it a try.
    Like Rachel said, I too ended up having lots of fun getting to know them and such, and am very happy I gave myself the push and did it even though I wasn’t sure.

    • My main problem this semester has actually been time and energy. I took so many classes I have to walk to school at 6 am and not leave until 4pm.

      Everything takes baby steps. Next semester is booked too but I will try to make room for our schools clubs. I’ll hopefully be more fit and able to walk back at night to socialize.

      • Ninjam, I have been reading all your posts and I just wanted to say that I LOVE how you used actual “video game” pictures to really make alive the idea that learning Japanese is like a video game. Seeing the Fire Emblem one and this Maplestory one sort’ve put a new perspective for me, idk, maybe it’s just the image reinforcement of seeing “nihongo” on an orange mushroom, etc, that made the idea of learning less scary!!!

        I’ll be rooting for you!!!!!!!

        • Thanks! I have been slowly learning just how similar learning a new language is to playing video games. I am still at a fairly low level, but as long as I keep training I’ll continue to improve.

  10. Nice entry, I love the Monty Python quote in your profile too. That phrase should be used as some kind of benchmark in language proficiency

    • Yep! The Monty Python quote was the first sentence I ever learned in Japanese actually. A friend who started learning before me was showing us it.

  11. Link’s Awakening!!!!!

    If there is any single game that rules over my childhood it’s definitely that one.

    Keep up the good work.
    Though I’m not sure that “fighting” a LOT more kanji is quite the thing to do. You definitely need to finish RTK first, and review it, but not necessarily do more than that. The stories are the easiest way to learn and remember how to draw the kanji the first time around, but those stories are also not meant to last forever. For many kanji you’ll eventually just know them, and the stories will then fade away.

    • That’s mostly what I was going for when I said I would fight a lot more kanji. I needed to catch up on a huge pile of review before I felt ready to resume learning new cards.

      And links awakening is very fun. I remember playing the oracle games along with it.

  12. Your post speaks truth! It’s so true that with the right environment, Japanese becomes inescapable. There’s no excuse for not studying Japanese with such an environment, but even if you wanted to slack off, it’s quite impossible! That’s why that environment is so important.

    • I was somewhat forced to stop studying for a few days due to finals. I would spend 9+ hours a day studying those days, not very fun. I passed all my classes but my only contact with Japanese contact was with my phone, setting alarms, navigating, ect.
      Right after finals were over, I slept for 14 hours and woke up at something like 5am, and began reviews right then.

      • Finals are rough and it’s understandable. During my finals, my only retreat from the stress was reading manga on the shuttle bus to school and before class began.

  13. Lately I’ve felt like playing video games instead of studying, but my 3DS is region locked so slacking off still involves a fair amount of Japanese.

    • I only have a regular DS with a few games for long car trips or bored moments in school. I save different games and websites onto my phone for mobile immersion. Lately I’ve been reading the Japanese Mabinogi wiki because of new content that is coming out soon.

      It’s hard work, but my experience with the game let me quickly learn a lot of important vocab from the game.

  14. Great article, I can definitely relate to everything your saying. Often it feels like I am going so slow, but when I look back on how far I have come, it has really been pretty fast.

    • Thanks. I often find it useful to look at what I can do when I get demotivated. I may not feel like I am learning much, but it compounds over time and grows, and is a lot more than any individual day of work can show.

    • Yep, it just takes a lot of time for things to build up. Might as well read and study until it builds up enough that I can respond in Japanese!

  15. Working in daycare, I’ve noticed that when you’re with a child every day for a year, it’s hard to notice how they’ve grown and remember what they were like when they were little. Yet when I’m away on a two week vacation and I come back, they look so much bigger than me and can do all these things they couldn’t before.

    This is how it is! It’s hard to notice how your Japanese has improved until someone who hasn’t heard your Japanese in a while tells you or you look back on what you could do or things you’ve produced (like a blog entry) years ago and realize you’re a lot more capable now than you were then.

    • I may not have worked in a daycare, but after my family moved back I distinctly noticed all of my siblings grew and that I could no longer tease them for being short.
      In particular, my 12 year old sister and her friends seem to have somehow doubled in size without me noticing.

      It is a nice feeling to know that I am making progress even when it doesn’t feel like it at all.

    • Oops, I said “they look so much bigger than me.” I don’t know how that happened. They just look bigger, but they are still toddlers. Not bigger than me.

      • You were probably trying to say something like “they look so much bigger to me”, which was actually how I read your comment until you pointed out the mistake.
        But thanks for pointing it out, ’cause the mental image of you being surrounded by these giant toddlers is hilarious.

  16. Hey man good to see you posting again, and that you haven’t given up! I can relate to what you’re saying about how it feels like you’re not progressing at all, despite studying hard every day. I read a book a while back called “Mastery” by George Leonard where he talks about something he calls the mastery curve, and how it’s natural to make progress in quick bursts and then reach a plateau. Here’s graphic from the book:
    I think once you realize that your progress is not going to be a steadily rising line, and that in fact you’re going to spend the majority of the time at a plateau, things become a lot easier.

    • I think I can relate to the mastery curve somewhat in other areas too. I spent a full 1/4 of my high school career(taking up mostly all my last 2 years worth of electives..) in a vocational school learning how to repair computers and how networking works. In those two years things progressed so slowly, but by the end of it I knew a ton.

      Then I started learning computer science at college and was shocked by how much I didn’t know. I can tear apart a computer and rebuild it in minutes and placed in districts for the tests on how everything works, but felt like I only learned a fraction of what is out there.

      I am going to look up that book later at the library, see if I can find it. It looks interesting.

  17. This is a really good article.
    There are a few lines I find just brilliant:
    “the point is, it takes a lot of time before it does anything at all.”
    “I always felt it was going so slow, but at the same time I was learning so much.”
    “it has no effect until later”
    these just do such a great concise job at describing why the intermediate stages are hard.

    My favorite of these lines is probably the last one: “it has no effect until later”. And perhaps the one thing I would object about this article is your conclusion that “This makes studying feel very pointless”. I’d even say it’s almost the reverse: since it’s not really possible for studying to have full immediate effects it’s easy to think at first that it isn’t working properly, but when you start noticing that the “full effect” come later on that validates the whole method and allows you to fret less about the here and now.

    And the funny thing is that this keeps happening even after your Japanese is pretty decent, but your just stop caring:
    It’s not that rare for me to be reading a novel and come across a word which I know is in Anki, but for which I either can’t remember the reading properly, or maybe I have a thin grasp on the meaning. Back when I was first starting to read this would have seemed like such a huge deal (probably because the less words you know the more you depend on them to figure out the text), but by now I just think “oh, well, guess this word isn’t ready yet” and move on.

    • The part where I said it made studying feel pointless was more before I discovered that it is sort of delayed. Before each failed review felt like I was learning nothing, but now I know there just the ones that need a little more time to stick. I would get extremely demotivated because it felt like I was learning nothing at all in the short term. Once I began to get used to the time it took to learn things I was able to relax a bit more and just enjoy the process of learning.

      • Yeah, I actually thought you probably meant something like that, but your wording reads differently. I’d maybe have said instead “This makes studying feel very pointless in the beginning”, because once you do realize that it is working after all (just in a way different from what you expected), the whole thing feels a lot better.
        And before you know it you’ll find you can do something you really wanted to do, and that just makes the whole process much more enjoyable.

        • Sorry about the unclear wording then. I was rather demotivated because I could see very little progress in real-world application, mostly playing games and reading manga and stuff, but after I figured out that things were just taking a while to sink in I sort of relaxed and could see the progress easier.

          I can’t wait until I am able to do the stuff I want to do. Ill get there eventually as long as I keep at it.

  18. Hey Ninjam,

    great article, definitely the kind of thing it helps to be reminded of periodically. My experience with Anki has been different than yours (for me, missing a card 5 days in a row is a pretty strong indicator that I’ll keep missing it until it leeches out) but the important thing is that each word that does stick and each structure I see repeatedly even if I don’t know that it’s a structure gets me a little closer to where I’m going. Now and then I’ll realize something like the number of tweets I can understand has jumped from zero to 10%, but it happened so gradually it doesn’t even feel like an accomplishment.

    On a tangential note, I suspect if you ever actually wrote a Japanese learning game/visual novel featuring Japanes-chan you’d make enough money to buy the Skytree :)

    • I do have a few cards that just don’t stick, but overall it seems like I just need to see the cards repeatedly to get things to work well. The gradualness is sort of nice, but at the same time annoying. You have to look back to see progress, which is probably one reason the one Japanese class went at a snails pace. I got to go over everything on the final, but because the teacher taught so little I was docked points for using words and kanji we had not yet learned. (A full semester for 100 kanji!)

      And I would loose all that money in a heartbeat from copyright violations cause I am fairly sure princess maker 5 is copyrighted. I was going to edit the name to Japanese, but the way it was reminded me of those old-school games where my name would so often be cut short due to the 6 or 7 character limit.

      • あ、ごめん! I thought these were original illustrations. So I guess I need to complement you on selecting great material to highlight your points, rather than on creating it :)

        (I admit I hadn’t heard of the Princess Maker series. From the name and the look of the game I was not expecting it to be a Gainax production!)

        Your experience with Anki seems to be the more common one. But for me, of the cards that I failed five or more times in the first two weeks, about 50% eventually leech out. Although that means 50% do eventually stick, which is more than I expected! It’s worse for my monolingual deck though, but I’m drifting off topic…

        • I first heard of the Princess Maker series, ironically, from a book in the library. I remembered reading about it in a print version of the web comic Megatokyo, and thought to try it out a while ago. There was an attempt at an official translation and distribution of the second game, but the company went bankrupt so any translations that exist are fan-made.

          I never really bothered to think too much about the statistics for anki as I assumed the program would work everything out in the end. I think I am sitting at a nice… 80% to 90% or so overall retention. Which seems pretty bad, but my immersion mostly consists of a hour or so of playing games in Japanese, and I have pretty poor memory overall, so I expect it to climb, especially as my Kanji cards mature.

          • Just want to point out that your retention rate on mature cards should be around 90%. You should never be concerned at all about your retention rate on new cards at all. For various reasons some cards just won’t stick and there’s never a good reason to try and force it.

            • Maybe I’m overthinking this, but it seems to me there is some value in estimating how many cards are reaching maturity, which Anki reports in a kind of coarse way as the fraction of a deck that’s leeched out. I guess this isn’t a big deal under a Khatzian “add a lot, delete a lot” approach and if cards are easy and quick to make. If cards take considerable effort to make or review and a large fraction end up leeching out I think I’d want an early warning so I could re-evaluate the card format and general approach.

  19. Hahaha, I was just telling my friend today that I don’t want to play Terraria with him because I’d rather do Japanese things instead. It’s actually been months since I last touched this game. Maybe there’s a Japanese patch available now…

  20. I loved this article and loved the references to gaming and learning Japanese. It helped give me courage to continue on my Japanese journey! I would have loved the read how the rest of his journey went and if he reached “fluency.”

  21. Thanks for sharing. Glad you kept at it. Being able to read manga for fun is something I hope to do some day.

  22. I just read your old post that chronicles your journey before reading this one, It’s been very inspiring and I can relate so much because I love videogames too and we have similar tastes for jrpgs. I just finished the first 250 cards on jalup intermediate (and the whole RTK) and I’m about to start the second quarter. Right now j-j studying is getting as smooth as I remember while on jalup beginner and I have almost completely removed the need for English definitions. My only problem right now (and this may sound weird) is that, after 3 years of studying japanese, I forgot why I am studying it. I am trying different things right now, like watching some anime and playing some games but none of it really motivate me into studing more, I don’t feel that burning passion of learning Japanese like I once had. I am still studying at the same pace as always, just because I believe I might find that motivation once again. Can you recommend some good games/ manga I might enjoy at my current level?

  23. Thank you for sharing how you didn’t at first know where words ended. I am five months in and when I work on reading material, even “beginner” manga, it is so frustrating not to know where words end. I’m wanting it to happen too fast, I think. Being such a good reader in English for so long has made me forget the years it took to master my native language. (And I don’t have a mother reading to me every night, like I had learning English. The hours that woman put in!) I am inspired to think that, even at my current slow pace, I can get somewhere functional, like conversations or J-J or reading manga. I just need to remember: It’s about the journey, eh? 😉

  24. I love your statement about your goals: Although they are low, they are persistent. This made me relax and see that I can have “low goals” but as long as I follow them, I will see progress, and a little progress ever day is better than none. Sometimes setting high goals scares me away and I give up too quickly. Thanks for this wisdom in a beautifully written post.

    • I’m with you on the low goals, Candace. It is a relief to feel I can move at a snail’s pace and that is fine. I will still “get there.”

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