The Split-Second Decision to Study Japanese
You’re going to be studying Japanese a long time. Whatever number you are thinking, double it… no triple it. The decision to learn Japanese: you’d assume that such a major decision that affects your life for years to come would require a lot of thought. Weeks and maybe months would go into figuring whether Japanese was right for you. Is learning a foreign language worth it? Is learning Japanese worth it? Why do I want to learn Japanese? How would I learn it?
Finally, after the culmination of endless nights of worry over whether learning Japanese was the proper path your life needs to take, you give it the okay. You give it your hanko of approval.
Is this how it happened?
Maybe… probably not.
I am usually a decision-making over-analyzer. I could ponder the pros and cons of something for days or weeks. I had always liked Japan and Japanese things. I had seen my fair share of movies and anime. I had always thought it would be cool to learn Japanese. But when it came down to actually jumping into it, it took a mere second. One late night moment (it always is).
Before the final semester of university, with no grand future plan or job in mind, and watching a Japanese TV show, I looked up online going to Japan. That’s the perfect idea to research after midnight during winter break. Why not?
Websites bombarded me telling me how to get a job in Japan. It’s 2am. The perfect time to decide my future. I’m doing this. First thing next morning, I went to the local bookstore and bought a Japanese textbook, and haven’t looked back since.
I didn’t sit there for days and weeks balancing the good vs. bad. I wanted this. I wanted it now. I was going to give myself one year till Japanese fluency, but the decision was made right then and there, which would change my life. Of course after I made the decision, and already started down that road, I began to question it. But that’s another story…
Fast or Slow Decisions?
I talk with a lot of people who have just started learning Japanese. People who have just made the decision. Some of them were “slow-deciders.” They spent an enormous amount of time going through websites and videos, in every effort to find something that would push them to the correct answer. Other people knew instantly. There was never a question in their mind.
Which has a better chance of success?
You’d think first that the slow decision process is more thoughtfully planned out. The better the plan, the better chance of success. Right? But on the opposite end, the instant decision is usually based on passion, and a good sign that you really want it. Otherwise you wouldn’t start one random late night.
Even slow decisions are decided fast. Sure, you spent weeks leading up to the decision turning point. But when you decide, in that final moment, it’s usually a moment of passion. Weeks of planning come to an instant conclusion. It’s a good thing too, otherwise you might have spent weeks more.
How long did it take you to decide?
Did you decide to learn Japanese instantly? Or did it take you a long time weighing what to do, the good and the bad, and whether this was right for you?
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.
I think I don’t really remember ever making that decision. It kind of made itself, because when I realized it, I had already made it.
I guess it’s a bit like falling in love… Some people just get hit by it in an instant and others could never pinpoint such a moment.
I took my time to get friendly with Japanese. I slowly got to know it a little better, learned tidbits here and there… And after a while, before I even realized what had happened, I found myself deeply in love with the language and longing to learn more. How did this even happen? It kind of just did… When did it all start? No idea. Should I… should I stop it? NOOO~O!
Yes, there were quite many instances where I asked myself whether I should continue or not, so there were some conscious decisions I made as well. And I’ve been an on and off learner for quite a while, so I probably had that a tidbit more often than I should have :P But honestly, by now I’ve realized I am too stubborn to ever give it up completely, so I might as well just do this properly <3
That’s an interesting way of doing it. Making the decision without realizing you made it. I could see a lot of people relating to this!
This comment hit me right in the heart… After reading the post I was thinking how I even started this and at first it seemed to me such a distant memory that I might have forgotten exactly how I made the decision. But the instant I read this I was sure. This is how it happened to me. One day I just found myself in the middle of it all.
To take the falling in love analogy a bit further.. People breaking up and then getting back together is probably something most people know about. I never understood it though. I have seen multiple relationships like that and never ever got it at all. Either you’re in or you’re out. But my relationship with Japanese started out exactly like that. Wildly passionate at first learning hiragana and katakana, trying out a couple of different textbooks. Then it died down a bit and eventually I quit. Life brought more interesting stuff. But we kept bumping back into each other, and that initial spark of wild passion was still there. Eventually I found a method that really worked for me and now I’m far too deeply involved to ever quit again.
Just some evening thoughts from me…
Hee, I’m glad I’m not the only one :) To be honest you could call it rather indecisive as well… but I feel like it did work out nonetheless!
I like your continuation of the thought as well. And it’s a bit funny how we sometimes can’t understand the action of other people even though in other instances we might actually act similar, right?
Growing up, I just thought Japanese stuff was neat. I was never into anime, but I admired the history, the rituals, the Zen approach. So when I needed a language course in my Freshman year of college, I chose Japanese. The teacher was awesome (and I took another course every year, even went to Japan for two weeks) but my abilities were unforgivably awful. I had a great teacher, just no follow-through.
For three years after graduating, Japan remained a part of my life, through cars and games, music and movies, a buddy studying abroad, and I was finally sorta dragged into a genuine appreciation for anime and manga. I started to feel a resonance with the culture, a soft sort of alienation that I thought I might want to engage on a more serious level.
Buuuuuut I didn’t.
Then, late one night (you’re right, it really always is), I realized I was turning into *that guy*. Just living the pattern, following the gaming and car trends, not really doing anything for *me*. I had picked up dozens of hobbies but I’d never really *done* anything useful with my time. I was, in a moment, simultaneously overwhelmed with disappointment in myself and immediately filled with motivation.
So, whyyyy not try finishing the thing I’d paid the most to get started on? Still had my Genki books and three years is barely any time at all in the grand scheme of things…
I spent five minutes browsing and reading reviews on the app store, bought Human Japanese, and started on the basics that night. I wound up in bed just before sunrise.
I started trolling other learning forums, but prior failures had taught me I’d need to avoid the trap of talking-about more than doing, and not burn myself out in the hours and hours a day I can kill on a novel idea. I downloaded Anki, got the Kanjidamage deck and a Core5000 deck, and I told myself an hour a day tops, new things every day, and take every opportunity to avoid any Anki avalanches. I didn’t need to concern myself over statistics or studies, “Methods YOU WON’T BELIEVE WORK”, “fluency in [x] months!” or who thought my approach was a bad or good idea.
“It does not matter how slow you go as long as you do not stop.”
Anki says I’ve studied flashcards 708 of the last 736 days (96%) since, learning to write and recognize kanji through the KanjiDamage deck (I’m not a visual person, so I make myself draw every review on Anki’s whiteboard), playing with different core sets, and working through loose collected vocab and grammar points (in their contexts, of course).
I got JALUP beginner about six months ago (better late than never), and it’s been the most helpful tool I’ve encountered so far. I’ve been working on supplementing my grammar before I pull into intermediate, but I’m still starting to really be pleased by my ability to occasionally ‘get’ what’s said on some sites and anime even if I can’t directly translate just yet.
But, I gotta be fair to myself: In those moments I’m flipping through youtube and understand a comment from a Japanese native or watching Samurai Champloo and pick up on a subtlety that isn’t in the subtitles… Those moments remind me that I haven’t just been trying to learn a language, but really opening myself up to a world that’s pretty far outside of my own walls.
And though I can track it back to a single moment of decision, it had to come after years of incubation for me.
One day I’ll be surfing the Japanese web with the best of them, but in the meantime, simply knowing that I *can* stick to something this difficult, this slow, when for years prior I just felt like my life was on rails, is a reward in itself.
This was a really cool article. Thanks for the chance to reflect :).
Thanks for the story Kharl. It sounds like you’ve been all around with your studying, and finally found where you need to be. No one goes in a straight line (or anything even resembling a straight line). I’m looking forward to hearing how this takes you through the next year.
The article is great and the comments are so interesting to read.
Complicated question. For this decision I don’t think I weighed the pros and cons. I knew I wanted to do it but I kept false starting. During these false starts I kept building my immersion environment with media I loved. Eventually I reached a point where all I did was watch stuff I didn’t understand but found very entertaining and I suddenly realized I wasn’t gonna stop watching this stuff so why not study Japanese? That kinda became my mantra for a while, sure this studying is hard but if I stop I’m just gonna go back to watching TV shows I can barely understand so why bother quitting again?
So it sounds like your decision came naturally from the buildup of the environment you were creating around you. Then it just became the natural progression of what you were doing.
For me it was completely on a whim. I just started learning for a lark. Although Japan had been vaguely on my radar screen for a while – it’s a fascinating place – I really had no particular connection or reason to bother. I made the decision at work. I just asked a colleague “Do you think I should learn Japanese?” and he said I might as well. So I did.
As I slowly learn the language my motivation has been maintained by learning more about the country and culture and meeting and befriending Japanese people. I was just reflecting yesterday that about 20% of my Facebook feed is in Japanese now and I can understand 50% – 80% of the posts.
So I’m sure you are constantly thanking your co-worker :)
That’s great to see your social media slowly change over to Japanese and realize it has just become natural now.
Mine was also on a whim. I was on the internet, and while I was on there I came across an ad that said “Learn Japanese in 90 days” or something to that extent. I knew that probably was a false statement, but I clicked anyway. After clicking out of that ad, I typed in how to learn Japanese. After reading many articles, I decided to start learning Japanese. I like the falling in love analogy that was used, because slowly I fell in love with the language. That being said, I have had my ups and downs with it, but I still love the language.
I have always been very fascinated with Japan and Japanese, so I guess it was eventually going to happen.
The first time was 10 years prior to my current “attempt”. I had been reading a lot of manga and came across some untranslated ones and was quite intrigued. I spent about 2 months of study using mainly Genki before the lack of progress started getting to me. Then World of Warcraft happened…
So 2 years ago I had just turned 40 and was looking through my books from my last attempt. Something just clicked and I thought “it’s now or never”. I ended up spending the rest of the evening looking through available study methods online. By the time I went to bed there was no going back. The options available were much better than during my first attempt and my motivation even higher. About one week later I found Jalup…
I am now almost 2 years into learning and I am blown away at what I have accomplished. At this point there is no such thing as quitting. Japanese is such a deep part of me now that I would never be able to put it away again.
I always loved Japan growing up. I followed a lot of living in Japan YouTube channels such as; AkibaTom? Tokyo Cooney, and TkyoSam. I belive it was on TkyoSams channel that he had an interview with Khatzumoto from AJATT. This was about 8 years ago. He seemed like a cool guy and I decided to give AJATT a shot. Before that I honestly never thought of learning Japanese independently. Everyone would always tell me I had to take courses in college if I ever wanted to learn it. I started that night and it was awesome.
Unfortunately I’ve been a stop and go learner this whole time, but the thought of learning Japanese has never gone away since that day. It seemed like a no brainer as soon as I found worthwhile methods.
Well I guess for me it started late one night when I just decided to watch this anime I had been hearing about. I didn’t have much experience with anime or foreign language media, so when I liked the show I became interested in Japan. And I became interested on an unprecedented level, so it was a fairly instantaneous choice to study the language. A part of me thought that I might get over Japan, but realistically that was never going to happen.
I actually wanted to learn Japanese for a long time, started back in High School buying some cheap learn Japanese books. But I really never stuck on seeing it through, with having years of here-and-there studying.
Then just one random day last June, I was bored and looking at my apps and decided to open up Memrise. Haven’t opened the app maybe for a year at that point. I was looking at all the courses available for Japanese, and thinking there’s so much resources out there but here I am not doing anything about it.
So yeah, right there and then I decided to take the JLPT that December to help me motivate studying. After completing some goals on Memrise that day, I never stopped using it up until today. Of course I supplement it with other materials like Genki, Kanzen Master and Youtube.
Having that somewhat-long term goal (JLPT) and short term goals (setting the daily goal in Memrise and not breaking the streak) helped me stick with studying everyday and developing the routine. I failed the N3 last december (by 10 points urgh) but it didn’t fazed me one bit. I mean, I went back to studying the day after the test. For now my goal is N2 this December. I might fail it again, but I really don’t need the certificate rightway anyways so no sweat. I can always take a retest if ever.
My aim really is to be able to read Japanese fluently. That goal of being able to play Sora no Sen/Aoi without having to look at a dictionary every 10 minutes is what keeps me going through the hard times (laughs).
This is an old post but I want to comment anyways. I honestly don’t remember how I made the decision; one day I was aimlessly going through college, listening to kpop… then flash forward a week later, I had quit college and I was studying japanese (both of those events completely unrelated btw haha). I don’t even know how I went from “yay korean music” to “man I love Japan”! But somewhere in that missing week of memories, I found out about japan, that a lot of the games I had played came from there, and that the few “cartoons” I had watched were in fact anime from japan. So I guess it was a split second decision! And while I am still here 5 years later, I really havent made much progress because I am a serial restarter… I really need to manage to stop quitting!
Honestly what drives me to learn Japanese at first was to be a translator, you know it right it’s a TRANSLATOR-san but over the years I always run at the moment of studying Japanese and I barely do reviews that mostly I forgot to re-check it again and back it again but somehow in this moment when reading this article I found the crucial reason why I want to study Japanese and it take me over 3 years(?) which is a pretty simple thing which is “I want to read more books” which is my primary hobby since I’m a kid. Pretty thankful for awakening me at this moment but after this I will never have regrets.