When You Reach Your Japanese Breakdown Point

You’ve hit a wall. No, much more than that. The wall is coming crashing down on you. You are experiencing a Japanese learner 挫折(ざせつ, a serious breakdown, failure, collapse). If you are lucky, maybe you will never encounter this. But if you are like most people, it is an inevitable event that will be waiting for you. This is that breakdown moment where you yell at yourself some of the following:

1. Why the hell am I studying Japanese again?
2. I’ve been studying so hard and so long. Have I been wasting my time all along?
3. No matter how much I study I’m never going to be fluent!
4. I am too (busy/old/dumb/memory-deficient/bad at languages/non-Japanese) to learn Japanese!

What causes 挫折?

You are undertaking a ridiculously intense life challenge that is going to last for years and will test your willpower, knowledge, discipline, determination, and pride. Anything that requires that much of you does not come without its costs.

Now I’m not here to give a lecture on how to deal with 挫折. Hopefully, the IMG (Inspiration, Motivation, and guidance) power ups section of this site is helping with that. I do however want to provide one of my favorite Japanese motivational quotes when it comes to studying anything where it is so hard to see past what you are doing now, and sometimes when you wonder what is really the point of going on.

It’s from the J-drama 太陽と海の教室:



To me, I like to think that “studying” might be something like a treasure hunting adventure. A treasure hunt . . . You don’t know where the treasure lies. Until you find it, there is nothing but repeated fruitless effort.

You cross rivers, go over mountains, and follow pathless roads. There are even times where you end up finding nothing but garbage. However, if you say this was all futile, and stop your travels, then it’s all over. Even though if you just went one step further, you may have found the treasure you were looking for. Your trip ends without discovering anything.

Try imagining this: The 1% of treasure you were able to discover is only waiting at the end of 99% of fruitless effort. Fruitless effort is not a waste.


At least to me, this resonates deeply (you could probably figure this out considering the recently used treasure hunting analogy on a previous reading post). Do you have a favorite Japanese quote that keeps you going when you reach your breaking point? Add it in the comments!

Related posts:

The following two tabs change content below.


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


When You Reach Your Japanese Breakdown Point — 19 Comments

  1. I’m quiet a fan of this passage between ライダー and ウェイバー from Fate/Zero-散りゆく者たち (I apologize in advance for the length and any missing context)

    「無理であろう? どんな細筆でも無理だ。針の先ですらなお太い。描きようもないんだよ。ーーこれより立ち向かう“敵”を前にしては、貴様も余も同じ、極小の点でしかない」

    It’s a little difficult to capture ライダー’s whole personality in just one passage, but this one is the best that I could think of. He’s a very inspiring character if you read all the novels. In my opinion it’s the dynamic of his interactions with ウェイバー, セイバー, and アーチャー together that really make the novels something special.

  2. “Now I’m not here to give a lecture on how to deal with 挫折. ”

    Do you have any such tips, though? Because I’ve been stuck at this point for a couple of years, and I haven’t been able to learn any Japanese as a result of it. It’s not for lack of trying, though. I’ve tried various learning methods for decent lengths of time, and the only core similarity between them has been my innate ability to screw them all up big time.

    • Well obviously I would like to say “try my method and you’ll be fine,” but regardless of the method you use, you’ll face this. Personally, what I do to get through 挫折 is watch something (movie, drama, anime, whatever) that reminds me why I love Japanese. You need to find native material suitable for your level that makes you laugh, cry, or moves you.

      Your level too low? 挫折 might be the one (brief) moment where I say English is okay. You absolutely have to get yourself back on track and if you can’t find any Japanese material that you understand that gives you that motivation boost you need, then watch the Japanese material in English, and remind yourself how much deeper you would appreciate this if it were in Japanese.

      Also are you finding the proper motivation to keep you going? (http://japaneselevelup.com/2011/06/16/the-path-to-japanese-fluency-part-1-constantly-reinforced-motivation/)

      • Is motivation the same as reason? Because my motivations are video games and “I’ve invested so much time and energy into it thus far”. And how do I remind myself of how much more I’d enjoy it if it was in Japanese? Because this sounds like a way to forget about my Japanese studies.

    • I’ve been in this state for awhile now as well. There were weeks to where I didn’t do anything except for listen to Japanese music (it is all I listen to anyway).
      Anyway, I’ve recently found some manga series that I could really get into and so I’ve just been focusing on reading that. I read through 5 volumes of it today. I didn’t do it because I felt like I needed to study Japanese, I did it because I honestly didn’t have anything that I would have rather been doing at the time. I’m not doing anki now and I’m not worrying about it too much right now — I’ll go back to it when I feel I’m ready to go back to it. There have already been a few sentences I came across to where I thought it would cool to add that to a deck. But I’m just here to enjoy myself in Japanese until I feel I’m ready to study again. And while I’m not actively studying, I am improving still — even over the past few days I’ve noticed myself learning some things, and even correct something I had learned incorrectly early on in my studies…
      Now, I’m not saying this is ideal long-term, but it is certainly a lot better than beating yourself up all the time and getting nothing done. Just do what you enjoy, and do it in Japanese. When you see stuff you want to learn, it sorta makes you want to put a little extra effort into learning it — and eventually you’ll want to go back to a bit of active study again.

      • But the problem is I can’t do anything, especially in video games. I’ve searched around for anything around my level, but everything has been too hard, despite how much I actually study. (I study for a couple of hours every day (except in those rare instances where I can’t access my computer), if that helps for anything.)

        • About what level would you say you are based on the tests on this site?
          What kind of video games do you like playing?
          Do you get enjoyment out of watching 実況プレイ”Let’s Play” videos?
          Do you enjoy things other than video games in Japanese?

          For something to be your level, it doesn’t mean you’ll understand everything. It just means that you understand enough to where you can follow the story and get enjoyment out of it.

          You study for an hour or two each day? Which method of study are you using? Do you do anything in Japanese outside of that active study?

          If you answer these questions I might be able to give an answer better suited to you.

          • Last time I took one of the tests, I was somewhere in the 20ish range, although I feel I’m actually below that.
            A lot of genres, really. In terms of Japanese, though, I’d say RPGs and strategy-RPGs.
            Good ones, yes; bad ones, no. Of course, I’m not sure what the point is when I can’t understand any of the language in the videos (I’ve watched enough of them to say that).
            I’m open to other things. I’d be receptive to anime, and I have some Japanese audiobooks lying around on my computer.

            But I haven’t gotten that out of anything, and I’ve done a fair bit of searching around. I’m always stuck at the “picking out words” stage instead of the “actually understanding sentences” stage.

            I’m using Textfugu, wherein I read the entries and do what the exercises tell me to do. Outside this study time, though, I can’t say I do much in Japanese, unless I were to count “listening to music” and “playing Japanese language video games, from time to time”. The only major thing I could think of would be Anki, which I get done first thing in the morning. (I should also point out that these hours are not consecutive. One is from 6-7 PM, and the other from 11 PM until I go to bed.)

            • Your time doesn’t have to be consecutive.
              If you want to understand RPGs, I’d recommend reading more. If you’d like, you can even add セリフ(the script) from the game you are interested in/playing at the time into anki.
              An example of a site that shares game セリフ(FF6):

              The picking out words stage isn’t bad to be in; I’d almost argue that it means you need to listen more. Of course, you should also be working on expanding your vocabulary as well, whether by reading or studying. It can be frustrating at times, but the more time you spend in Japanese, the more familiar with will become. It may be more entertaining to watch easier to follow anime or drama if you don’t understand much than 実況プレイ videos.

              Another note on the picking out words stage: this is where reading is nice. You can spend as much time as you like on more troublesome parts and don’t have to depend too much on the speed, voice or tone of the speaker (it can be written strangely at times). Which leads me into the next suggestion, I’m not sure if it is something you’d be into, but I found that manga is really a great introduction to reading Japanese. It helps you get used to reading and picking up a lot of meaning from context when you don’t understand what everything means — which you’ll be at this stage for quite awhile.. Some manga is really easy to read as well, like よつばと!

              As for suggestions of games your level, I would suggest playing a game you’re already familiar with in English, but in Japanese (preferably one that uses kanji instead of just kana). Another thing I did was play a game from famitsu ( http://www.famitsu.com/freegame/vx/0082.html ) and just learned all the words that I didn’t know that appeared often. At first I had no idea what was going on or where exactly to go (I was just under level 20 at the time) but eventually I was able to follow the story well enough. The game can be a little difficult at times, but I’m more of a casual gamer anyway.

              Ultimately you need to be able to enjoy yourself when doing something in Japanese. If you’re playing a strategy game and don’t understand everything that is being said, don’t stress over it, just keep playing. If you don’t understand everything that is being said in an anime, don’t worry about it, just keep watching. Don’t understand anything in the last paragraph… yeah, just keep reading.
              By doing this, you’ll strengthen what you already learned, and pick up some new stuff without even studying it as well. If you’ve heard or read something hundreds or thousands of times, it is a lot easier to recall than something you’ve only studied.

              Hopefully you find something from this reply to be useful. Good luck in continuing your Japanese studies.

  3. I’m having a problem with time and energy currently that’s just affecting one important aspect of Japanese learning: making new anki cards. I have a long train commute and between my iPhone and paperbacks and a Japanese 3DS I have no problem getting my reviews done and engaging in Japanese, but making cards doesn’t work as well on the train and by the time I get home and have had dinner and have just a little time before bed I don’t want to spend it on that.

    Maybe every other weekend at most I spend some time making new cards and I always have at least enough for one new card a day, but not enough to be making much progress. There was a period in the past when I spent a lot of time away from the computer and I made cards on my iPhone, but I also had more free time then to compensate for how much longer that takes.

    This situation is temporary, I hope to move in a couple months. So I think it’s okay if I just make this minimal progress for now. But chances are life will throw some new challenge out before too long so it would also be nice if I could manage to deal with this.

    If my level were a bit higher, I’d say the JaLUp 1000 would be a good solution, but I’m pretty sure that’s still be too hard for me. I wonder if some kind of pre-made J-E deck would be worthwhile as better than hardly learning any new sentences, or whether it’s better to hold out for the J-J cards that I am capable of if I take the time to make them properly.

    • If you’re not going to end up making new cards — I’d recommend to try out a premade deck in the meantime. Doing something is better than doing nothing. I find premade decks to be useful for situations like this where you almost don’t have the option to make your own deck, but at the same time, I don’t really like them and wouldn’t suggest them as a main source of study.
      My stipulation to the recommendation is that it only be a temporary solution and even keeping it separate from your main deck. Don’t become to dependent on it thinking that you don’t have to make your on cards because you have thousands of more premade cards you can be working on. If you feel you are ready for J-J (or even just get enough time to make J-E cards again), and have enough time to dedicate to it, then I’d stop the premade deck in favor of that.

      I found the premade decks to be a little stale and couldn’t keep them up for long, which might not be a terrible thing.

      This is just based on my experience with the couple of premade decks I have tried in the past.

  4. Good post, and it comes about just right for me today.
    This sounds so much like what I’m experiencing right now.

    The quote that gives me hope is this haiku by issa:
    I like it a lot and it’s my favorite haiku because it teaches me to slow down and take things step by step until I finally will reach the top of Fuji san (or Fuji no yama in this case)

  5. That’s me right now, but Japanese isn’t the reason for it… the reason is English.

    I moved to England for uni a little less than two weeks ago and I struggle a lot with speaking English. This made me reconsider whether I am suited for language learning or not. However, I am not giving up Japanese — no way!

    I find this slightly demotivating, But I’m not giving up now, when the branching process is finally starting to become easier; got 250 J-J cards now :D

  6. Pingback: Japanese Breaking Point | Nicholas' Nonsense

  7. That’s pretty much the sunk costs fallacy you’re making there. It can be helpful, but it’s technically fallacious.

    I dunno, just being a smart-ass I guess…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *