Everyone would like their Japanese journey to be perfect. But it won’t be. No matter how hard you try. And there may come a point when a powerful feeling starts to overwhelm you. The crushing “why am I doing this?” The figurative (and sometimes literal) throw the textbook across the room. The frustration and anger followed by sadness and dejection.
I get the feeling that some articles on this site like Level 40 In 8 Months and What does your Anki deck say about you are creating the opposite of what they set out to do. For some people they may motivate. But for others, they are causing self doubt and pressure into “why aren’t I learning that fast” and “do I really have the necessary passion” to learn Japanese?
I thought this would be a good opportunity to show the weaker, non-passionate, face that I don’t usually show on this site.
If you’ve read about my experience, you’ll know that I encountered numerous failures. In the end I bounced back and learned from every experience. This makes it look like I am super strong, have some eternal fountain of internal motivation, and take on never ending challenges with a massive smile on my face.
But this isn’t true.
There were times when
1. I was ready to give up and came close to abruptly stopping my journey.
2. I despised the thought of studying or seeing another word of Japanese ever again.
3. I was in tears and couldn’t stop thinking whether everything I had done up to this point in learning Japanese was a waste of time, and a waste of my life.
Part of the reason why I have mixed feelings about writing posts that show you how unbelievably fast you can learn Japanese, is that while in theory, you can, in reality, life and struggle is so complex that it makes obtaining such power so quickly out of reach for most people. I’ve talked about the dangers of saying you can do X in only Y months for this very reason.
So what causes the urge to give up?
I’ll talk about it personally, and maybe you’ll be able to relate on your own. I’ll also include tips with how I battled with these triggers.
1. You realize something disillusioning about Japan or Japanese culture
Yes, you may think you love Japan with all your heart, but there will a come a time when you will find something you dislike, and will seriously go against your personal beliefs. We’re all just people, but culture goes deep.
Tip: try as hard as you can to see it from their perspective first. Take a calm and analytic look at the environment and way of thought that led up to this, and see if that can change your way of viewing it. Changing your personal beliefs is hard, but I think it’s only fair to at least give it a chance. And when that doesn’t work, you accept the difference. You don’t have to share the same personal beliefs as Japan.
2. You meet a few nasty Japanese people
You thought just because it’s Japan, people would be nice? People are people, and the country they come from doesn’t change that.
Tip: Don’t draw conclusions on a culture or race based on some encounters. You know this is bad. Just stop.
3. Unintentional Condescending comments
While the standard “日本語は上手ですね” is fairly harmless, hearing it over and over to infinity, followed up by comments like
“You can read kanji?”
“Why can you speak Japanese?”
“Japanese is impossible for foreigners”
can start to bother you after a while.
Tip: The intention is misplaced. Hopefully this article helps.
1. Anki frustration
Anki works as a way to set up efficient memory recall. “Forget forgetting.” Then why are there cards that you can’t remember even on the 20th time? Why years later are you forgetting the same cards. Why can’t you produce anything in your decks. Why is this kanji so freaking stupid!?
Tip: Anki is not perfect, regardless of whether you use it perfectly. When you read a sentence or kanji, the way you relate to it varies. That card may unconsciously connect to an emotion, an experience, a feeling or something else within you that makes it easier to remember. On the opposite side, that card may have never hit any connection with you. Avoid the urge to scream at Anki (like me).
These things sort themselves out in time, no matter how hard it is to see in the current heated moment. Don’t focus on getting cards wrong. I don’t care if it has come up over and over (and over). A connection will be made when the time is right. After 10 years I still get cards wrong. I get cards wrong that are already on several year intervals. It doesn’t matter.
2. Never feeling good enough
You want to listen, read, say, and write whatever you want with no obstacles. You are waiting for that satisfying moment when you can.
Well satisfaction is very hard to grasp for years even when you are great. Whatever you know there will always be more to know. Whenever you feel like you are getting good, you then feel like you are not.
Tip: You have to enjoy the pursuit. Don’t focus on what you don’t know. Think back to being a kid. You couldn’t understand lots of things. You couldn’t watch the news or read advanced books. But you didn’t care. You enjoyed what you could and never worried about what you couldn’t.
3. The confidence crusher
You were able to read a whole manga without much trouble. Watch an anime with enthusiasm. Have a smooth conversation like a pro. Then the theme changes and you can’t do anything. You went from a high to a major low in a matter of seconds. This sudden shift can start to weigh down anyone.
Tip: Just keep telling yourself that you will have highs and lows. Don’t let yourself get too high (keep yourself grounded) and you won’t feel so bad on your lows. Learning Japanese is an emotional roller coaster where your sanity will be tested.
4. Fatal Comparisons
Someone is doing it faster, more efficiently and way better than you are. Someone got to level 20 in 2 months and it took you 2 years. And it’s not like you weren’t trying.
Jalup unfortunately tries to take a balance that causes some people to suffer. I need to show you that Japanese isn’t impossible, that you can get good in a reasonable amount of time, and if you work really hard, you will be surprised at how good you become.
The purpose is motivation. The side effect is de-motivation. If you aren’t coming anywhere near these expectations, you feel like your worth dropping.
Tip: I’ve written about this before. Stop comparing yourself. Everyone studies differently, with different priorities, different obstacles, and different time frames. If you work full time to support your spouse and 3 children, don’t expect to be at the same pace as someone who is single living alone and is dedicating their full time to studying Japanese. Work the best with what you have. Whether it takes you 2 years or 20, you still get to bask in the same glory.
Competition can be good. But compete with people on similar grounds. Don’t compete on a bicycle when your opponent is on a motorcycle.
The Breakdown moment
Many people will reach a point, where due to a combination of any of the above triggers, they will experience some serious Japanese depression that just won’t go away. You seriously feel like this is it. No more.
When this happens, you need to take a short break. Stop Anki. Stop RTK. Stop whatever it is that is frustrating you. Drop it and go do something enjoyable, completely unrelated to Japanese. Take some time to reflect. Don’t worry about your Japanese suffering from a break. If you don’t take a break intentionally, a break may be coming anyway (a permanent one).
During that break you may want to remind yourself why you fell in love with Japan and Japanese in the first place. If that involves a marathon of dubbed/subbed anime, then let yourself free not even thinking about the Japanese language.
And then come back.
With new thoughts, new motivation, new goals, new approach. Make changes to remove whatever negativity was bogging you down.
One warning: do not take too long a break. The longer you are way from your Japanese study habits, the harder it is to get back into them. A weekend (Fri night to Monday morning) is usually a good length to refresh. If you start to see yourself going further, you may want to introduce a little bit of Japanese back. Even if it is just listening to Japanese music, or watching a little anime, don’t keep Japanese out of your life for too long.
Why shouldn’t you quit Japanese?
Everything on this site shows you why you shouldn’t. You will be missing out on an infinity of awesomeness. Do you really want that?
There are people out there reading this article right now (maybe even you) that are considering quitting Japanese. In the comments, leave why you think they shouldn’t quit Japanese and how you’ve coped with feelings of frustration.
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.