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My Decade of Studying Japanese — 68 Comments

  1. This is a great post Adam, and I definitely want to say thank you for starting this blog. I’ve used your methods from about the beginning, and am so grateful for how far it’s taken me. I also want to learn Japanese the fastest way possible which is of course power leveling using your methods. I’ve been studying 6 months and I’m around 35 on the level test. It’s all been thanks to this site, so truly thank you. Your efforts have helped me and so many others.

    • Level 35 in 6 months is extremely impressive and it sounds like you are on a very nice power leveling pace. I’m glad Jalup was able to assist in that speed. これからもよろしくお願いします!

  2. All I can say is WOW. This was a great read it gives me hope that one day my Japanese will get a lot better. As well, it has given me some ideas on what to do with my own study habits.I feel that I need to drop the text books and dive deeper into Japanese media. I will admit I am still afraid of J-J sentences and I believe it because I don’t understand them(maybe someday haha).I also felt the same when after I came back from Japan this summer I want to get better and better. Going to Japan really helped me I was studying Japanese for 2.5 years I was barley getting any speaking practice with natives. Now that I’m back I can’t wait to get back to Japan and show my friends how much I have learned. Lastly I want to thank you for the site it has helped me a lot over the years :)

    • Regardless of what path you choose, phasing out the textbooks and increasing the media provides value to nearly everyone.

      I know you’ve struggled with J-J a bit in the past. Have you tried the transition J-E-J with any success?

      As this post hopefully has shown, everyone has their lows and struggles with various methods and progress. You’ve come this far and don’t sound like you are giving up. So the only place your Japanese can go is up.

  3. This was both hilarious and painful. It reminds me of my own adventure in learning Vietnamese and also this quote by Niels Bohr: “An expert is a man who has made all the mistakes which can be made in a very narrow field.”

    • Great quote! During the process mistakes can feel terrible, but looking back on it, it was the only way to move forward.

  4. Great post, I love how in-depth it is. I haven’t been on this site too long, but I definitely have to give you a thank you as well. I can’t be sure, but I probably would have quit studying without this site’s advice. Just five months ago, I thought learning another language was not in my ability. (It looks like 6 months of studying Japanese will be more productive than 6 years of German classes). Maybe I’ll be in the same boat 10 years from now.

    • I was a little worried about the length, as this is at least 5-10 times longer than then the average post, but I’m glad I was able to put everything in one place.

      I’m glad this site has been the boost you needed, as we all can use a little help finding our own path.

      One of the biggest challenges in learning a language is finding what works for you and then finding the motivation to get there. Sounds like you are well on your way towards that.

  5. Wow. I never thought about how hard Japanese would’ve been back then! I’m so grateful I’m studying it now otherwise I probably would’ve quit after a week or less, especially considering there was no Jalup! Great job Adshap. I’m very grateful for the effort you are putting into this website and it’s community. Thank you.

    P.S. This is the best article I’ve read since I started Japanese over 5 months ago.

    • While 2005 was considerably harder than 2015 is, imagine 10 years before that (1995). At least I had the Internet!

      But yes, fully enjoy all the tools available to you in 2015. I always say that now is the best time in the history of language learning to be studying Japanese.

      All we need now is a fully A.I. equipped robot that speaks in natively pronounced Japanese to act as our speaking partner, correct all our mistakes, and keep track of our progress… I’ll get back to you when I’ve invented it.

  6. Wow, already 10 years? o.O
    I’ve known this blog since 2 years and haven’t known that it existed already that long.

    But how about pronunciation? That’s at the moment my biggest problem I think…
    I just don’t know how to get a perfect accent? That’s why I’m still afraid of speaking because I don’t want to build bad pronunciation habits…
    So how did you do it? The most difficult thing is ん in my opinion… especially at the end of a word かん or in words like ぜんいん、かんじ、かんしゃ、でんわ…

    • Thanks for sticking around for 2 years! Not sure if I’m misinterpreting you but the blog has only been around for 4 years, so you came at the halfway point.

      My solution to pronunciation was just to listen and mimic, listen and mimic, in an endless cycle.

      A split second after you hear something it is much easier to match that pronunciation than if you wait or are attempting to form your own sentences. Eventually you will be able to, but in the beginning there is no better way then to just be a copy cat.

  7. どうもありがとう御座います!七年間ぐらい前から、時々日本語を勉強しています、時々していません。四ヶ月前にこのブログを見つけた。それから、毎日勉強します。金曜日にレベル25に成りました。今「J-E-J」と勉強しますでも、すぐ「J-J」を使いたいです。頑張りますよ!

    最初の日本語のコメントですから、多分文法は悪い。すみません!

    • よくできた文章だと思いますよ。これからも日本語コメントを頑張りましょう。そして
      レベル25になっておめでとうございます!

      J-E-Jが終わったらJ-Jを恐れず一歩ずつ進みましょう。

  8. Nice post Adam,
    I was once obsessed with learning Japanese through content. My first language is not English but I can use English much better than Urdu. That is because I was immersed in English from a very young age. TV, textbooks, video games, the internet, pop songs, news and pretty much everything was in English.

    I too felt the eureka moment when I realized that re-watching something after a while made it really natural for me to be able to understand it more deeply. I learned about Branching ad j-j form this blog. Since then, this blog has been my go-to site for Japanese Learning advice. Thanks 先生

    • It’s great that you know about immersion through experience learning English. It gives you a nice advantage in Japanese to avoid the pitfalls that others will encounter.

      I think a lot of people have their own eureka moment about re-watching things. It’s a fantastic feeling. I’m happy that this site has been able to provide you advice in the areas you needed!

  9. These are the kinds of posts I love the most. Makes me think…not only am I not alone in my quest, but someone has pretty much completed it. Brings back memories of the old AJATT website.

    • Just Curious… what happend exactly with the old AJATT?
      I haven’t visited the website for a long time… but even when I searched for it I haven’t seen anything suspicious… maybe because I don’t know what happend? Because in some minutes I didn’t notice any big difference expect that the new articles aren’t… well… very interesting and that he hadn’t post for some months now…

    • You definitely aren’t alone. And almost everyone on this site is going through the same challenges and battles you are.

      It was fun getting old images of different sites using http://web.archive.org/

      You really get a nice nostalgic view of how sites change over the years.

  10. I’d also like to thank you for this post. The “downward spiral” bit resonated in particular, especially since I’ve coincidentally used those same words on a recent blog post to describe my current status. While my missing pieces seem not to be the ones you found, this gave me some hope that they’re still out there somewhere and its worth continuing the search for them.

    • I think it’s common feeling among all language learners when they reach a certain stage. I’ve seen your progress and enthusiasm over the past few years so I’m confident you’ll escape the spiral.

      And as you know and said, everyone’s missing pieces are different, but you will find them too, and what makes everything finally click for you.

  11. There is not much I can say but WOW!
    Knowing the struggles you had just makes me appreciate the content you have created even more.
    A big thank you for all your efforts and sharing your knowledge!
    May the next 10 years be just as amazing as the past years.

    • One of things I wanted to accomplish through this post was to show that there is no smooth easy progression to success. The struggles, challenges, and lows are faced by us all, and it’s only by meeting them head on and overcoming them does your Japanese get better.

      10 more years? I’m excited. I hope your 10 years are also at least as fruitful (if not many times more) as mine were.

  12. Thank you for this! This was a really good read. Its hard when you are struggling and sometimes its good to show how someone else did. I read AJATT for a while but found the articles to be more words than substance and the cost for anything on that site is insaneeeeeeeeee. I like the articles here since they cut to the point and when I want to buy something (which I have) I don’t feel like I have to save up for a month to get it.

    • I agree that seeing how other people have done it shows you new possibilities you never thought of and allows you to engage in a lot of self-discovery.

      With this article, and a few others as exceptions, I prefer to write shorter articles because I prefer to read shorter articles. So it’s good that others feel the same way!

  13. It is great to see how much you did and progressed over the years.

    I remembered that I started to want to learn Japanese just about the same time as you, 2004 or 2005.
    And I tried it, in wrong ways, all over the years. I recently started studying Japanese in a serious way, three months ago.
    If I started to study it seriously 10 years ago… hehe. So that is why I keep studying it seriously today, to not regret in 10 years from now.

  14. @Jean: I came to post almost the exact same thing. I also started almost 10 years ago. (Well, not quite: I printed out the first few chapters of Genki I in 2006 or 2007 I think.) But I’d study for 6 months, then stop. Then a year, then stop. And so on. One step forward, two steps back. I managed to pass the lowest 2 levels of the JLPT, slowly worked my way through Genki I and II, randomly took a Japanese 103 class when I was in grad school. But I’d always get discouraged and quit, thinking it must be impossible.

    Kanji got me down more than anything — I figured if it took Japanese *kids* like 9 years to get all the jouyuo kanji, it’d take me even longer, and the idea of not being able to read “real” Japanese for that long was excruciating. What was the point? It didn’t even occur to me that I could go at a faster pace than that. (Or a faster pace than the college courses I saw, where you’d know a solid 350 kanji at the end of 2+ years.)

    Then about a year ago, thanks to a better-paying job, I bought myself a ticket to Japan. Figured I’d better pick it back up if I planned on not embarrassing myself. Found my old Anki decks, busted out my textbooks, the whole nine yards. Then, a few months later, I discovered this site, with people talking about learning the jouyou kanji in a matter of MONTHS, among other things. Hugely inspiring.

    More than the concrete study methods (I don’t follow the Jalup methods exactly, e.g. no RTK for me), I found this site totally changed my *outlook* on learning Japanese, which was even more valuable.

    Now it’s been maybe 10 or 11 months since I’ve picked it back up again. I’m planning my next trip to Japan. (I did wind up embarrassing myself the first trip… but only a little!) I’m on track to have all the jouyou kanji by next month. I’m comfortably reading manga, with a dictionary. My listening still sucks, and I keep coming back to subtitles, and I haven’t gone J-J yet… I’ve got a ways to go, in other words. But it just doesn’t feel *impossible* anymore, which makes a massive difference.

    Anyway, I’m just rambilng now, probably sounds like an infomercial :P

    Long story short: thanks for this post, and thanks for this site! It’s been awesome.

    • I mentioned this in the previous comment but it’s relevant to you as well.

      http://japaneselevelup.com/start-and-stop-learners-free-yourself-of-study-baggage/

      I remember being in Japan feeling the same way about kanji. Japanese natives (teachers of English especially) would say it takes Japanese people until junior high (or even high school) to learn all the kanji to be proficient in reading like an adult, so expect a long time (see: impossible) ahead of you.

      When you are already struggling, this can be one of the most discouraging things possible that you could hear. I’m just glad that this statement turned out to be complete and utter BS, and is both false and ridiculous.

      You sound like you are fully on track now, have found your own way, and are soon to be an unstoppable force.

      Stories filled with failures are always more meaningful, and it sounds like you will one day have a lot to say about your rough but rewarding path to success.

  15. This post was fun to read. It was intriguing to read your journey and see the reasons for all the advice you give, rather than just the advice. :-)

    I envy the rate you accomplished RTK once you got to it.

    The biggest key to learning is really to make mistakes, so although what would have worked best for you is all laid out here, maybe the next person could do with a bit of trial and error without taking treating everything as gospel (not that you ever suggested to do that in the first place). I know I got a bit evangelized by AJATT and later JALUP and stuck with methods that weren’t working for me for far too long (years). For things like Kanji and SRS, I really thing having some exposure and context really adds to the motivation, rather than starting out purely from scratch. I’m inspired by your story of taking up SRS after failing to remember vocabulary – I’m in that exact situation now (after having abandoned SRS once already, but that was because it was full of boring beginner sentences) so may dabble a little again and see if it works for me this time.

  16. Thanks for the comments btw! ^^
    I think it’s just a wonderful experience when a language grows in you without doing any great effort. I’ve never read a explanation between the difference of は and が (Ok I did, but srsly who read it and thought afterwards “Oh, I got it! That’s so easy!). I just didn’t understand it and that made me quite nervous… but when I began to let go any feelings of anxious I just got the meaning more and more while listening a lot. I’m not sure if I’ve understood it to an extent of 100%… but I’m sure with just listening more I’ll will get it completely and also all the other things in this truly amazing language. Nevertheless it just feels different in a sentence If I hear or read 天使が/天使は. Or 菓子を/菓子は. But now I couldn’t translate in English ^^ because it only makes sense in Japanese somehow.

    • Fully getting it in a Japanese, but not being exactly able to translate into English is often a sign that you are making a strong connection with Japanese and doing things right.

  17. Best post ever!! Extremely informative and motivating at the same time, not at all too long. I think you shouldn’t be afraid to make it personal – it often touches people in a more profound way.
    I’ll just take this opportunity to extend a huge thank you for managing this amazing site for so long. I started ever so slightly with AJATT in spring 2010 and found this site early 2011(much has happened). If it wasn’t for the continued motivation and techniques found here I would have stayed in some mid-level-blues forever. So, in short, THANK YOU!

    • Yeah I have a few more personal posts planned somewhere down the line now that I realize people actually are interested in hearing about this type of thing.

      And thanks for your support from the beginning! All the way from your Joker video contest entry.

  18. Love the post! Been reading your blog for quite some time.

    Your post hits home because my first attempt to learning Japanese was at 2007 so just shortly after you started. I agree, good online resources were limited then (so much romaji >.>). But unfortunately, I was so discouraged that I would never learn the language and dropped it entirely until 2011.

    Present day: not at all fluent but better than I was 8 year ago. Even with my recent return from a 1 year hiatus, I have never stopped wanting to achieve fluency. It might take a lifetime, but I’m willing to take that chance.

    • All that matters is that you are back and ready to play. You’ll get there in less than a lifetime and then have your lifetime to bask in the rewards of what you set out to do many years ago!

  19. ✲゚。.(✿╹◡╹)ノ☆.。₀:*゚✲゚*:₀。

    Congratulations, and many thanks! Seeing your story like this all in one place is really very inspirational. No doubt many other readers a year or two deep in their journey feel the same.

    Inspired by the advice from JALUP, AJATT and Antimoon, added to the leverage of tools like Anki, Glossika and Skitter, I’ve become quite efficient with my Chinese learning. So despite a high-powered job, building a startup, etc. – with about 90 minutes a day I’ve clawed my way up to around Level 30.

    Thanks for everything! Reaching a very high level of fluency, becoming a masterful player of a language… that is a great goal and look forward to seeing how it goes for you.

    • That’s great you were able to use this site for Chinese as well. And what you say shows that the excuse “I just don’t have the time” is invalid. Nice progress despite a super busy life!

  20. I’m Japanese and really interested in your story. I wanna share this article with my students.
    Regards,

    A teacher from “Nihongo teachers.com”

  21. Funny that you should mention AJATT, because that site was what gave me the final push to actually start learning Japanese, not just think about learning it.

    Kanji tend to be this big, scary thing for Japanese learners, but thanks to AJATT and RtK, (even if I didn’t like the latter much) I stopped being afraid of kanji – definitely a big step.

    Though I’m now at a point where I can read a lot of stuff (lvl40-ish), I’m sorta getting discouraged right now… but I probably shouldn’t be judging my reading ability based on an article about ancient Japanese poetry, lol.

    • Yes, his site has a lot of various advice that has provided a boost to people in different ways.

      And no one should be judging their ability by knowledge of ancient japanese poetry.

  22. What an inspirational story. It’s interesting to see how each piece of the puzzle was put together over time, something I’ve sometimes pondered.
    I found your website/blog in January 2012, a few months after I began studying the language, and have used it as a resource in all aspects of my study from how (and how not) to study Japanese, to what to study in Japanese (or more accurately, what to read/watch/listen to), even to why to study Japanese. JALUP always provides something new and fresh that keeps me coming back, and I enjoy re-reading old posts and reminiscing on the steps I took, and struggles I endured in my own journey.
    I’m sure I’m not alone in praising and recommending your site and methods to lost and confused Japanese-learners I encounter in my community. Thank you for sticking with it for all these years, pushing through the hard times, and constantly rethinking and refining yourself, you have truly created something remarkable.

    • Thanks for staying around so long and for continuously recommending the site to others learners. Jalup has definitely evolved over the years, as I’ve found out what doesn’t work (often painfully!) and what does.

      I’m very happy you’ve found the site to be such a useful resource.

  23. Wow! What a story. Truly inspirational. Reading this makes me feel super motivated to study. Thank you for sharing

  24. Thanks for writing about your personal experience. I found your website a few months ago and have found it very inspiring. I had studied abroad in Japan in college but afterwards went to medical school and residency training so didn’t keep up Japanese. I thought that the door was shut for acquiring high level skills in Japanese but it’s inspiring that you reached a high level with self study methods.

    I am going through the Heisig book and the reviewing the Kanji website and am at 1500 so far. Looking forwarding to finishing in 2 months and ordering your J-E decks and trying them out.

    • There is always an opportunity to start studying Japanese right now, no matter where you are in your life, and despite your age or “busy level.” Many people on this site started way after I did and have less free time then I did, and are still kicking ass!

  25. I’m wondering, how do you calculate your individual levels per skill? I feel like my listening and reading are at the same level, 55, because they both have their own pros and cons that balance each other out. Same for my speech and writing, but at a lower level. I could list qualities, such as being able to participate in group conversations and essay writing. But I don’t know how to give it a number.

    • I judge the individual skills levesl based on how close they are to native (80). I know what an average native is able to do in all 4 and I can see either how far I am away from that level or how far I’ve gone over it.

      For you I’d pick a level to base things off of, and know the expected skills of that level. Then you can judge each of your individual skills based on how far off it is from the expected skills.

  26. Hi Adam,

    I’ve been reading many blog posts and forums on learning Japanese. I have looked through the many ways of successful language learners and polyglots. I can say this has inspired me to push on with my dream to be fluent in Japanese. Reading this blog post strikes a chord in my heart as I understand the frustrations and struggles of learning Japanese. I am currently stressing myself out to find the best ways to study Japanese now that my time in Japan will soon be over. I have been an exchange student in Japan since April 2014 and I can say that my Japanese has SIGNIFICANTLY improved from when I first started. (Studied for 3 years at university but not serious and treated it as routine)

    Being in Japan also doesn’t mean fluency.

    I’m still not there yet, but after reading this post. I am totally fired-up. Thank you.

    • Glad this could give you that extra charge you need. Going back home after living in Japan for a decent amount of time is a crucial turning point. You can either continue to go full speed ahead, not letting your location interfere in the least. Or you can start to get sloppy, lag behind, and get complacent with the thought that “well it’s because I’m not in Japan.”

      Make sure you choose the former!

  27. Great website and content. This site will really help beginners a lot. Well done! However, there are a few things in this article (in the section about your level after 10 years) that I have to question. For example you wrote:
    “I can read slightly faster, more in depth, and know more kanji than the “average” Japanese person”. I have no doubts that your Japanese is high level but that’s a tall claim to make isn’t it? Anyway, no offence intended, keep up the good work.

    • Not really that tall a claim to make. An average reading speed in a native language isn’t fast by itself. For example the average reading speed in English is around 250-300 words a minute. But with heavy reading and fast technique, people go significantly above this.

      Reading is the easiest skill to catch up to quickly in a foreign language. I am a heavy reader (these days I’ve been reading a few novels a week), and have worked on techniques to increase reading speed (these techniques carry over from English).

      I read very complex and in depth subjects for my job, and I am a bit of a kanji fanatic so I study rare ones for fun.

      So these three combined have given me a “slight” over average. Don’t forget that I took a trade off for weaker writing and weaker speaking.

      I’ll assume you are new to this site (Jalup isn’t just for beginners), but none of this was meant as a brag, but just to show that you can break what people think are limits. I usually don’t discuss my own level on the site, but since this is my personal story, I decided to include it and how I view my own progress. This also isn’t an average “I’ve been studying for 10 years!” that people might throw around. This is dedicating a major part of my life to something I love, and putting everything I have to get to where I want to be.

      Sometimes it’s good to look at examples from your own native language. You’ll run into plenty of foreigners who speak eloquently or write in beautiful English. For example, on this web site alone, there are a number of non-native English speakers who write English above the average native English speaker. And writing is more difficult than reading.

      But I’m just some guy on the Internet. Rather then concern yourself over me, enjoy studying some Japanese!

      • Make an article about said reading techniques please :)

        also, how do you approach these new kanji? RTK style or just memoring words and their readings?

        Also, in defence of Adam. Some of the Kanji I use with my tutors (native japanese living in Japan) were absolutely shocked with some of the kanji I know. And I can tell you now, Adam knows a hell of a lot more than me.

        • I don’t know if it’ll be anything that special, but I’ll work on writing something up on this topic.

          As for kanji, I either put it in Anki as a new sentence (since if I can’t read the kanji it means I don’t fully know the word), or I’ll just highlight it to see what the reading is and hope I’ll remember it again. The decision depends on whether I want to interrupt reading with Anki.

    • It’s a perfectly plausible claim. Adam consciously focuses on improving his language skills. He talks about reading a novel every couple of weeks. I certainly don’t do either of these things in English, and most Japanese people won’t do it in Japanese.

      ‘Native level’ is a fuzzy concept. I guess it means the typical man on the street. A university professor is going to have better language skills than a high-school drop-out, despite both being native. I think it’s quite reasonable that a smart, highly motivated foreigner can have stronger skills than some natives.

      In fact I just got back from Tokyo yesterday where I interacted with a lot with Japanese people. They were extremely impressed with my Kanji writing. But I have been writing out hundreds by hand every day for months, whereas most of them probably haven’t written a single one by hand in as long a period of time. Most likely they were just being nice, but when you consider how we’ve been allocating our time, it’s certainly plausible that they were being honest.

  28. Well, I have every reason to learn Nihongo or do I? My wife of 11 years is Japanese. She has made the ultimate sacrifice of living with me in the states and being far away from her family. My payback to her is to learn Japanese (going on 10 years) and eventually retire in Japan near Lake Bika. I simply try many ways and quit out of frustration because I’m not learning. But I’m willing to try the Anki flashcard system.

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