Japanese Just Isn’t Working for Me… Until it Was

Hello, I’m Nathan and this is the story of my second attempt at Japanese.

Japan and its culture has always been something very important for me. As a kid I used to read manga and my big brother used to tell me how much he loved Japan and how he wanted to go there one day. When I entered junior high school, I started karate and had my first real encounter with the Japanese language. All those weird kanji, this strange language and the respect between the teacher and the students really fascinated me. That’s when I tried for the first time to learn Japanese.

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At the time, I only spoke French and a little bit of German, so resources like Genki or Tae Kim weren’t really available for me. I searched all over the internet to get Japanese learning resources in French but it was either disappointing or simply wrong. I knew the Internet wasn’t going to help me much so I decided to visit the library of the nearby town. Much to my dismay, the books weren’t any good either, almost all the time focusing on romaji and never really diving deep into the language. I went out of the library disillusioned and disappointed.

Nevertheless, I tried studying Japanese with the little resources I had gathered. I focused on the polite japanese and learnt almost everything wrong. As I crossreferenced certain resources, they were contradicting each other, and I knew I wouldn’t make it. That’s when I thought for the first time, “Face it man, perhaps Japanese really isn’t for you.” At the time, I was also self-learning English so I decided that learning both languages was too much for me and I abandoned Japanese. At least I succeeded in learning English and I was happy enough with that.

Years passed and I always had this distant relationship with Japanese. I didn’t want to get back to it, but I knew one day would come where I would gather my courage and face the challenge. This chance appeared one year ago, as I entered my final year of High School. In High School, I never really got on well with most of my class and spent time alone or with some friends from the other classes.

On the final year though, a classmate started talking with me. A kind girl who spent her time alone, just like me. We never really talked much so I didn’t know her very well. As we were sitting through the French lecture, she started taking flashcards out of her bag. With the utmost discretion, she started putting them down on the desk, hoping the teacher wouldn’t see.

The cards piqued my curiosity so I took a quick look at them but I couldn’t understand any of it. Except for one card, which was representing the hiragana の (no). Surprised, I asked her what she was doing and she told me she was learning japanese because she wanted to go there in the next summer holidays.

I told her how I tried learning Japanese once and never succeeded. She took me very seriously and offered me help (at the time I was shy and afraid of people mocking me for learning Japanese). She gave me a book and I started studying hiragana.

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At the time, I didn’t really know if I had enough patience and motivation to start again. But I had an advantage now. I could speak and understand English. Finally, I decided to give it a try. I went to youtube and typed “Japanese lessons.” The first thing that I came across and which really interested me was Namasensei. The dude was drunk as hell, teaching me hiragana and katakana. His stroke order was messed up, and I didn’t really learn anything but I thought it was funny so I kept looking for more resources. That’s when I found Tae Kim’s Grammar Guide.

So I know that everyone has a favorite way of learning a language or a favorite resource, but Tae Kim really got me started. I think everyone learning Japanese should at least read his introduction because that way of thinking really helped me a lot during my first grammar lessons in Japanese. This was in August 2014. I managed to make it through the first part of the guide, but it was more as a way to relax after school. I didn’t study it seriously.

That’s when I had my second encounter. Seven months ago, I was speaking with some friends and someone I didn’t know. They introduced me to him and we spoke a little. I told him about how I was learning Japanese and he was really interested. I gave him the link to the Tae Kim PDF file and we started speaking about it. At this point in time, I was watching some anime but never really immersed myself in the language.

Seeing how interested my new friend was, I started giving it my all, and studied like I never did before. I reviewed all of my Tae Kim first part in two days. I then went on with the second part that I cleared in a week. It was a lot to take, but I had never been so motivated in my all life. At the same time, I started immersing myself completely in the language, I changed my phone settings to Japanese, I switched all my Pokemon games in Japanese, I created an immersion iPod (without even coming across JALUP first) and started learning Kanji with RTK.

After the first 300 Kanji, I figured that way of learning wasn’t for me and I decided to stop studying Kanji to start studying Kanji-based vocabulary. My summer holidays arrived and I spent all the holidays finishing the Tae Kim. After that, I bought some N2/N3 books as a reference guide and started watching anime without any subtitles. I also started watching some dramas (especially 日本人の知らない日本語 and 泣くな,はらちゃん).

Three months ago or so, I visited JALUP for the first time and sticked to it because the concept was really drawing me in. And here we are. I’m now at the point where I need to extend my vocabulary and kanji reading ability to appreciate more native materials.

As for the advice I can give, the most important thing is not how many hours per day you study or how many kanji you learn each day. Really, it isn’t about quantity, unless your goal is to move in Japan in one month. Give yourself time not to burn out. Then start increasing the amount of Japanese you input into your daily life. Learning Japanese should never be a burden, it should always be a pleasure. I’m not saying it’s not hard, let’s face it, learning a language isn’t exactly easy. But as long as you have the patience and motivation, you’re gonna make it. Have faith in yourself. You absolutely can and will learn Japanese!

Have your own story to tell?

Have you successfully restarted your Japanese after taking a long break or quitting? If so, please check out the information post and submit your story. New entries are always welcome and highly appreciated, as they provide a major source of motivation and inspiration for all Japanese learners on this site.

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Japanese Just Isn’t Working for Me… Until it Was — 5 Comments

  1. Thank you for these stories. Meeting a mysterious girl in school who had a hidden power is just like an anime!

    • Hey I dont really have a question but just want to say thanks for sharing your story. I have a tendency to rush everything and try to do too much, when in reality, I can just take it slowly; after all I am in no rush! I can spread out the workload so that I become fluent in 5 years; no need to try to rush it in 2-3 years, when all it causes me is to burn out. So thanks for the reminder (that last paragraph)!

      • I can totally understand that. I guess that’s why I decided to post my story in the first place. Sometimes you just want to speak and understand right now, without delay, but as long as you’re steady and motivated, time will never be such a huge factor. I’m happy I could help, after all, we sometimes all need to be reminded that Japanese fluency is in fact attainable.

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