The Phases of Japanese Language Shock

If you have ever considered living in Japan, you have probably read up a little about culture shock, and the phases that a person goes through in adjusting to foreign life.  I am convinced that these phases can easily be applied similarly to learning Japanese.

The Phases of Japanese Language Shock

1.  Honeymoon Phase (Month 0-3)
– You love Japanese, and everything about it is new and exciting.
– You are fascinated with the differences between Japanese and English.
– You make interesting observations and discoveries about Japanese.
– You are constantly studying Japanese and having fun.

2.  Boredom and Frustration Phase (Month 3-12)
–  You have a mix of frustration, anger, and boredom over the pace of your learning.
–  You feel that you can’t do what you want to do.
–  You may go through periods of taking short breaks from Japanese and starting up again.
–  It can be difficult to find fun material and keep your motivation.

3.  Adjustment Phase (Month 12-20)
–  You grow accustomed to learning Japanese and have developed a Japanese immersion routine.
–  You know what to expect, and you understand the pace of your learning.
–  Japanese starts to feel normal to you, and you engage constantly in Japanese.
–  Japanese as a whole begins to make sense, and negative reactions to the language slowly dissipate.

4.  Mastery Phase (Month 20+)
–  This doesn’t mean you have reached a mastery of Japanese, but more that you have fully integrated Japanese into your life.
–  You often prefer watching/reading Japanese material over your own native language material.
–  Not engaging in any kind of Japanese material for an extended period of time leaves you feeling like you are missing something.
–  You no longer consider your interaction with Japanese as “studying”, but just something that is a part of your life.

The turning point: progression from phase 2 to phase 3

This is really the place which decides whether you will either:
1.  Continue studying Japanese and eventually become fluent
2.  Decide Japanese just isn’t worth it and give up

The bad news is that the hardest part of your Japanese studies comes so soon along your studying time-line.  The good news is that if you can get over this phase, you will most likely reach a very successful level of Japanese.

Keep this in mind when your motivation hits an all time low.
Referenced:  Wikipedia article on culture shock

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


The Phases of Japanese Language Shock — 27 Comments

  1. Nice post, this is seriously correct, down to every detail. I’m definitely at phase 3. Not phase 4 just yet(eventfully) . As for culture shock, I hear it depends on the person also. Some people don’t have it for some reason. But definitely knowing the language before going, lessens the impact because you’ve heard the language,read the language and have already seen the language too many times before hand.

      • I’m currently at 1.5 years= 1 year and 5 months. 12+5=17months and in a few days I’ll be at 18months. I’d say phase 4 I’m pretty much almost there(not mastery of the Japanese language just yet). But I do feel odd not immersing/reading/srsing Japanese stuff. If I have to do English all day, I always feel I should be reading Japanese or immersing in it.
        I’d definitely say I’m integrated already. But I pretty sure around the 2 year mark I’ll have everything I need to get to the fluency mark.

        I’m around in term of level
        50: Business
        40: Advanced

        Between those two right now. Although “fluent” is a word I don’t like, not sure why(always more to learn I guess). I do feel that once I reach that 95% mark in terms of every skill. I’ll consider myself fluent in the language.

  2. Phase 2 describes me somewhat. I think I’m closer to the end of that though.

    No breaks though. Frustration doesn’t make me want to quit; it motivates me to overcome.

    • You’ll feel much better once you get over phase 2. It’s good to hear no breaks though. You definitely won’t be quitting Japanese.

  3. I do think I’m in phase 2 now. I started learning japanese with the ajatt methode, but sometimes I don’t feel like it is for beginners like me. So this might be frustrating. I mean I reached the level where I can add monolingual sentences to my srs. However, I cannot understand a lot of grammar, which is more important than I thought. My plan to overcome this phase might be working through textbooks to leaf behind this 初級日本語 phase. Also I would guess after finishing the genki series for instance the sentence-mining process might be even easier for me. My point here is, I cannot understand khatz how he could build up such a good basement to reach high level Japanese skills without learning any grammar. What about the others here?
    Anyway, I really like your blog! You are a motivating me as a learner of the Japanese language!

    • I would definitely go back and take the sentences out from Genki 1, Genki 2, and an Intermediate Approach to Intermediate Japanese and put them in Anki if you need help with a good grammar foundation.

  4. Interesting article.

    Not sure I agree with the amount of time per phase (phase 4 describes me pretty well despite only being 7 months into my studies), but I’ve certainly experienced each phase.

    • The amount of time is really only meant to be an estimate. Like you noticed, it really varies depending on the person.

  5. At fist when I was reading this article, I thought I was number 2, then 3 and even maybe 4. I am not still very good at Japanese, but I see my progress. I have been writing e-mails in Japanese every day and it really improves my Japanese.

    I absolutely can´t think of letting go of Japan or having a day without Japan, because everything about it is so fun.

    I may be number 4, because I really feel I like Japanese stuff a lot more than stuff in my country.

  6. I am in phase 3 and slowly progressing to phase 4. I am able to enjoy japanese content a lot more than before. It feels so great!!!!!

  7. You know, looking at this article, and recognizing that I’ve reached phase 3 in my Japanese studies, I feel mostly proud of myself for being in phase 4 in English!

    ~BR, non-native English speaker~

  8. Guess I’m still in phase 1 even after over a year… probably because progress is slow due to bad methods to start with (forced myself to learn RTK [and slowly] and a bunch of vocab before doing anything else, which only slowed it down further). Or maybe, because of that phase 2 might be shortened (I hope, but it probably won’t happen).

    • If you can keep the positive aspects of the honeymoon phase as you move on, I’d call that a good thing. And everyone would like to skip over phase 2 as fast as possible, so I hope you can too as well.

  9. This is an old post, I know. But it’s scary how accurate this is. Especially phase 2…I quit for a month or something because I was just so frustrated, and then I came to the realization that Japanese was something that I still wanted to do.

    And JUST YESTERDAY. JUST YESTERDAY I was telling a friend of mine that I’ve integrated Japnaese into my lifestyle. He told me that it was something amazing, but I didn’t see it that way. I told him that it was akin to me playing League for hours a day, that I didn’t consider myself actually studying Japanese but me absorbing it on a daily basis. And I actually do prefer reading Japanese things over English: even when I look up how to use grammar, I always look for the Japanese article that explains the English grammar in Japanese using the Japanese equivalent grammar. That way I always get the most natural sentences for reference. And when I take breaks for a day or two and I find myself playing more games than I am learning Japanese it makes me feel uneasy. Though I never really understood why.

  10. I love how new comments on old articles (shown in the recent comments sidebar) make me discover articles I haven’t read before. And with that said I really miss the recent comments sidebar when I’m reading Jalup from my mobile device.

    I believe I have hit phase 3 a little over a month ago. I am far from fluency only just stumbling into the intermediate levels, but Japanese have become a habit. I don’t have to consider whether or not to do my Anki reviews, I just do them. I don’t have to consider whether or not to immerse myself in Japanese media, I just do it (still working on passive immersion though). I recently read that if you want to build a habit you should focus on building just one at a time for the greatest chance of success. Trying to build multiple habits at once will just overwhelm you. I believe that is true. Since Japanese have become a habit I have managed to build a second habit in the last month, which now also have fallen into place in my daily routines without me thinking about it. I have just started building my third habit yesterday. Starting with my Japanese habit I have slowly begun turning my life into what I want it to be. Into what is most important to me.

    Back to the phases… When I read through the different phases I clearly recognized when I hit phase 4 for English. When I read my first English novel (besides easy, short school novels) Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix without using a dictionary. Soon thereafter I became totally addicted to English literature. I rarely read anything in my native language anymore (except for local news, my friends’ facebook updates and literature that is originally Danish). I hit phase 4 for English listening skills way later than I did for reading skills. I kept subtitles for English media for way too long, but when I finally let them go it was a relief to be able to concentrate on the media instead of reading (oftentimes bad) subtitles.

    I’m really looking forward to hitting phase 4 for both reading and listening skills in Japanese!

    • The recent comments sidebar is also available on your mobile device. You just have to scroll down past the final recent post and it should be there.

      And I know with your pace and dedication, you will get to phase 4 sooner than you think.

      • I have seen it a few times but I can’t seem to get it consistently. It is a little weird. When on the front page I scroll past the recent posts I just see the pagination stuff and then the footer. When reading a post I first get the text, then social media buttons, related posts, author bio (author latest posts) and then the comments for that post. No recent comment sidebar there either. Last night I actually tried pretty hard finding where I have seen the sidebar on my mobile device but without any luck at all. I have no clue what I’m doing wrong.

        • Hmm, not really sure then. Are you using Android or Iphone?

          Anyone else have a similar problem?

          On the front page it should appear after you see the page numbers, followed by Random Article and then Recent comments. I’ve only tested it on an iPhone.

          One option you have if it doesn’t work in mobile mode is to click the “Full” laptop icon and it loads the page in desktop mode your phone.

          • Oh interesting… My phone had a setting called “Desktop mode” which was on. After disabling that it works. Yay! Now I also see the “Full” icon which wasn’t there before. *happy dance*

            • Great to hear!

              Before reading your comment, in an effort to try to provide an alternative solution, I spent a few hours playing around with a “Comments Discussion Page.” Pretty much it is a separate page that lists 25 of the most recent comments in a much larger space. I thought it might be easier for people to follow discussions than the current way it is set up.

              To everyone:

              Would anyone find this page useful?


              If people think so, I could link it up on the top menus area for easy access.

            • Absolutely. I have to admit that I pretty much read every single comment on the site (blush), so that is quite helpful.

  11. I am currently a mix of Phase 1 2 & 3:
    – You are constantly studying Japanese and having fun.
    – You feel that you can’t do what you want to do.
    – You know what to expect, and you understand the pace of your learning.

    • I think maybe you can be in phase 3 and have the “You feel that you can’t do what you want to do” feeling at the same time. What differs from phase 2 is that in phase 3 you accept that you can’t do it yet, but you will get there with time and effort. In phase 2 it is more of a frustration and a risk of quitting.

      The phase 1 “You are constantly studying Japanese and having fun” is somewhat similar to “Japanese starts to feel normal to you, and you engage constantly in Japanese.” from phase 3.

      So what I’m saying is maybe you have reached phase 3 almost without noticing. Either way, you seem very dedicated and doing well, so I’m sure you will be comfortably in phase 3 and on your way to phase 4 soon!

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