Ever wonder what your Japanese skill progress and improvement actually looked like? You study more, you get better faster. You study less, you get better slower. You stop studying, your Japanese gets worse. Sounds simple enough. But how come sometimes you study more, and you feel your Japanese getting worse? What causes this phenomenon?
These are the most common views that I think people have about how their Japanese actually progresses:
Straight line, ascending: Steadily improve over time.
Exponential: Progression starts slowly, gains momentum, and then increases exponentially.
Declining Exponential: Progress very fast at first, then slows down.
Plateaus and ascents: Progress ascends, plateaus, and repeats.
I don’t believe any of these are accurate. I think the following is most realistic:
Zigzag: Progress doesn’t continually go up, but actually zig zags, with every peak and low point slightly higher than the previous peak and low point.
Assuming that you are continually studying, why would your Japanese go up and then down? All of a sudden you feel your Japanese is getting worse. For a few days, you are constantly forgetting new things you just learned, missing things you knew well, and making frustrating mistakes that you never made before. It can be depressing and destroy your motivation. But if you continue, all of a sudden your level not only returns, but improves, and is higher than before.
I have a few hypotheses on what causes this:
1. The language portion of your mind gets tired. You aren’t getting worse, your mind is compensating by taking a break. Once you get past this break, your language mind is rested and ready to go to the next level.
2. As you learn more complicated concepts, they start to wrap themselves up into the simpler concepts you already know, causing what you already know to get hazy.
3. You start to realize areas that you were doing wrong all along, and you are fixing and adjusting them, which causes temporary drops in your level.
4. The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know. This means that the more Japanese you learn, the more you understand the vast depth of Japanese there is left for you to learn, which puts your original mindset of your progress into a different perspective.
Why is it important to know what your progress looks like?
Everyone goes through lows. You feel like your Japanese not only isn’t getting better, but is actually getting worse, and no matter how much you study, you will never get good at Japanese. This visual will hopefully remind you that you may be just going through a low point right now. If you can just overcome it, your Japanese will rise to new heights.