Fluency is the holy grail of language learning. Everybody knows that, even the dudes that aren’t learning a language. In fact, that’s the only thing anybody starting Japanese cares about. Man, they didn’t start learning Japanese so they could have all the fun of reading grammar books all day! And nobody decides to learn a language so they could spend an hour a day reviewing Anki cards.
Everybody wants to know when they’re finally going to reach fluency. “How long is it gonna take me to learn Japanese?” Because of course, once you’re fluent, you can do just about anything you want.
Man, when you’re fluent, you can watch TV all day long without having to strain your eyeballs reading tiny English subtitles. You can send sweet love letters to your hot Japanese girlfriend without sounding like an idiot. You can even read the ingredient lists on those crappy コンビニ foods and figure out what they actually put in them. Everybody’s focusing on the finish line. The studying is just the means to get you there.
But the problem with always focusing on the destination is that you’ll never be happy
What happens when you reach the end? Will you finally be happy? Achieve inner peace and go on an anime binge? Sounds nice, but that doesn’t happen. There will always be a next destination, and you’ll always be dissatisfied that you haven’t reached the next one yet.
What happens when you find you’re finally able to understand your first manga? Great! But once you’re done with that, you’re not going to be satisfied if you’re always thinking about the ten thousand manga you can’t understand. The cycle continues. Maybe you’ll be satisfied when you can understand all of them.
But then you realize still can’t hold a conversation about the state of the Japanese government without getting tongue-tied. And Japanese politics are important! What happens when you finally reach “fluency”? Are you gonna be happy then? Maybe your language-learning woes are over, but there will always be the next destination.
Instead of living in the future, be content with the present
I’ll be honest, things aren’t always that great in the present. Maybe you’re slogging through 5,000 Anki cards and you don’t seem to be getting any smarter. Maybe you’ve just grown to hate studying Japanese. Here’s my advice: If you’re not happy with where you are right now, take steps to change that.
Sounds all right in theory, but what the heck is that supposed to mean?
Do some things that will make you happy with where you are. Here are some ideas.
1. Focus on the good things
When you don’t seem to be getting any better, I find that it always helps to take a minute to remember all that you can do right now.You’ve probably come an extremely long way.
Maybe you can read entire books of manga cover to cover. Maybe you can have a ten-minute conversation in Japanese. Maybe you know 200 kanji.
Think of how much you could do when you first started Japanese. Basically NOTHING! I could say sayonara and sushi. That’s about it. It’s so much fun to beat yourself up over how much you can’t do, but when you stop to think about what you can do and what you do know, you’ll find that you’ve come a long way.
2. Do things you enjoy
I like having fun. You probably do too. There’s no reason to wait until you’re fluent to do what you enjoy.
Maybe you’re lonely and you just want some nice old Japanese women to talk to. There’s no reason not to do that right now. Find somebody over Skype, a language partner or just another lonely Japanese person.
You’ll probably make a lot of mistakes. But there’s nothing wrong with that. Watch an anime series you’ve had on your to-watch list for a while. Maybe you won’t understand every joke. That’s fine. It’s a lot more fun than waiting until you’re “fluent”.
3. Connect with others
Japanese-learning can be a pretty lonely adventure at times. It’s always nice to find some kind of friend and fellow Japanese-learner to talk with, discuss goals with, share recommendations and encourage. Find a study forum or join a JALUP hunting group.
4. Slow down
Learning Japanese isn’t a race. No, you’re not a bad person if it takes you ten months to Remember the Kanji. Sometimes life can get too busy and you just don’t have the time to balance everything and still spend three hours a day on Japanese. It’s OK to slow down. It works a lot better than stressing yourself out.
No need to always dream about the future. You’ll find there’s plenty to enjoy in the here and now.
Do you enjoy studying Japanese where you are right now? What could you do to help you enjoy the present more?
Written by: Eric
A writer for Japanese Level Up, a part-time graphic designer, and purveyor of fine Japanese art (which consists mostly of anime, manga and weird music). When he’s not wasting time in Japanese, you can usually find him making pretty pictures or studying something that sounds interesting.