How Many Times can you Quit and still Succeed at Japanese?
People quit learning Japanese. People return to Japanese after quitting. People repeat this cycle, over and over again, for years. Most people don’t make it all the way to the end on their first run. Some people quit for a few weeks, a few months, or even a few years. But if you keep quitting and returning, will fluency ever truly be in your grasp? How many times can you quit and come back, and still expect to become fluent?
The good news about quitting and returning
If you quit Japanese, you probably had a number of reasons. You were overwhelmed. You didn’t like the studying. You became too busy with other things in your life. You wanted it, but not enough to carry you through. So you quit.
Then months or years later, your desire to learn Japanese creeps back up on you. This is most likely do to your original motivation for learning the language. Maybe you are still watching anime, reading manga, or playing Japanese video games in English. Every time you see something Japan or Japanese, you wish you didn’t quit, and wish you could have made it further. You work back up the motivation and leave off where you started.
When you quit and come back to Japanese, you get a nice reassurance that you really wanted it. Otherwise you wouldn’t be returning in the first place. You have regret. You have unfulfilled desire. And over time, it grew strong enough to make you come back. Sometimes people who quit want it even more than those who never quit at all. Because you’ve been there. You know what it’s like. You know what it’s like to not have the Japanese you craved. This can allow you to go harder and stronger than before.
The bad news about quitting and returning
While you may be motivated and truly know what you want, you face a disadvantage. You already quit once. This leaves an unconscious thought in your mind that you can always do it again. It is an escape that you’ve prepared for yourself if you end up in the same overwhelmed situation where you feel you can’t do it anymore.
From what I’ve seen, those quitting and returning have a much higher chance of quitting again. This gets worse with time and the amount of quits. If you quit half a dozen times over a decade, you have some large hurdles in front of you compared to a fresh learner.
How to quit and return properly
In order to focus on the good, and avoid the bad of a quit and return, there are three main things you need to check.
1. Check your motivations. Make sure you understand the true short, mid and long term reasons why you are studying. Set new small, achievable goals.
2. Check your way of studying. Do you base study sessions on time rather than amount of material (ex. 1 hour vs. 50 reviews)? Do you spend too much time in one session rather than breaking it up? Do you study at night when you would have done better in the morning?
3. Check your study material. Were the textbooks, websites, apps, teachers, classes you were using suited for you? If yes, try adjusting how you use them. If no, drop them completely and give something else a try.
It’s all about doing a refresh of yourself when you come back in. Don’t return exactly where you left off years ago. Otherwise you end up in a hard to escape cycle.
How many quit-and-returns and still fluent?
I’ve seen it all. I’ve seen people who easily fail on their first return, never to touch Japanese again. I’ve also seen people who have quit and return a half dozen times over 20 years, and still make that final glorious return, and gain fluency.
The latter end of the spectrum is hard. But it’s possible. You make it possible. If you are in a situation of frequent quits, you need to ask yourself whether you will have serious and lifelong regret as you get older.
Have you made a quit and successful return?
Or maybe multiple? What did you do to make sure it worked out the second, third, or forth time around?
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’ve also seen people who have quit and return a half dozen times over 20 years, and still make that final glorious return, and gain fluency.”
I’m headed this way. It’s been about 4 years.
Making it back in the end, and finally getting that fluency you’ve always wanted, is all that matters.
I think I’m like 6 years into this process. Definitely still want it, I’m just bad at making a habit of studying and I get overwhelmed when the reviews pile too high.
I will never truly give up though.
I have found a great cure to reviews piling up. When I have over 50 reviews, I put the app into vacation mode and keep working at the reviews until they’re down to zero. If they pile up again, I just go back to vacation mode. Maybe that’s cheating, but those pileups of reviews don’t overwhelm me any more.
Damn it’s so spooky that you’ve posted this article because today I briefly caught 10 minutes of some documentary about Okinawa on TV, which sparked something in me to start learning again, today! It’s been a couple of years since I browsed here so I’ve just discovered the new app and I’ve bought the max package and started from scratch.
Each time I’ve went back to studying I’ve discovered you’ve streamlined the process of learning Japanese, and this time with the app it’s even more streamlined and awesome. It’s like each time I’ve come back I have a higher chance of staying focused haha, so hopefully I stick to it fully this time, and achieve greatness :D
I find that I never truly forget everything and it comes back quickly too!
Welcome back Jeff. I’m looking forward to hearing how things go on this second, revamped attempt. And I’m here if you have any questions or need any support along the way!
Timing works weird like that. But it’s a great way to start (or restart) things.
I’ve quit 2 or 3 times, but came back. I think once you get to the point that you can enjoy media (nor necessarily understand it all) is when quitting becomes easy to avoid. The last time I wanted to quit Japanese I just stopped “studying” from Anki and textbooks and just watched Japanese tv shows daily for 2 months, since they took no effort to watch. I eventually regained the will to use Anki and study actively, but I didn’t have to quit Japanese to take the study break I really needed. Surprisingly I actually learned some Japanese during that time through pure exposure- not a lot but it helped me to actually understand how a lot of grammer points were used as well as standard phrases used in conversations.
That’s a great point.
Though sometimes it can be just as hard when you understand Japanese media, because it’s easy to think “I know enough to understand what I want to watch, I don’t need to get back to studying.” I know that’s happened to me!
My first attempt was good, but only lasted a few months and then it fizzled out.
When I finally returned 10 years later, I had that in the back of my mind. This time I needed to find a way to stick to it. It shall be no secret that Jalup has been one of the key components that has put the necessary structure into my studies, but the main thing that prevented me from quitting again was the memory of my first failure. That was now 3.5 years ago, and I’m still going – sometimes fast, sometimes slow, but I’m done with the quitting (never stop doing reviews!)
Failure can sure be a powerful motivation, especially remembering how it made you feel.
Yes, as long you keep the reviews going, you never completely turn off the Japanese faucet. It’s only when you turn it off completely, that it gets rusty and is harder to turn back on. Okay, that metaphor may not work, but you get what I mean ;)
I have never given up on Japanese.
I think one important reason for this is that from the beginning, studying Japanese was not some sort of obligation I placed upon myself, something that I “had” to do. At the beginning, it was just something that I dabbled with from time to time whenever I felt like it, and I didn’t put any pressure on myself to do something in a disciplined way and therefore didn’t feel like I “should” or “ought to” study it. That doesn’t mean I didn’t do things that were “study”; I did and still do, but with some exceptions (for example, going through some study materials leading up to taking the JLPT), I did not and still do not put any pressure on myself to study Japanese, although now my job involves using it. (I also have done and continue to do a lot of things that are “use of” Japanese rather than study, like conversations with native speakers, going out and exploring when I lived in Japan, or tackling Japanese media, but of course I wouldn’t have been able to start doing those without a foundational ability to put together sentences, read the writing systems, and so on, gained mostly through study-like activities.)
Had I ever felt like Japanese was something I “had to” do, I probably would have stopped. That in fact happened when I stopped taking French classes after high school and felt like I “ought to” keep up with it but never did (not because I don’t it, though!)
Psychologically, that is just how I am. I have a horrible time “making” myself do anything that I feel like I “have to” or “ought to” do. As soon as I tell myself I “have to” or “ought to” do something, the likelihood that I actually will do it dramatically plummets.
Not everyone is like this, so a lot of people (most?) fortunately do not have this problem. But if there happens to be someone out there reading this who has this same problem with not being able to force themselves to do things they think they “ought to” do, it might be helpful to try reframing things: think about your feeling of “wanting” to spend time with Japanese and to try to avoid putting pressure on yourself to do it or beating up on yourself mentally if you don’t.
I study two languages, Japanese and Chinese. So I study one of them for about 3-5 month then switch to the other. It’s been working well so far.
I don’t use Anki, I use another flashcard program called “Flashcards Delux” which has a wonderful feature “Push back due dates.” So after, for example, I had a pause in studying Japanese, say, for 4 month, I resume the deck I stopped before and push the due dates 4 months back. After that it’s like I paused only yesterday. Of course, during the 4 months pause I forget things. So there’s a small overhead anyway, but the forgotten cards become due not all at once, but over a certain period of time. So I just deal with them one by one. Sometimes I have to ban, say, 50-70 cards, and then unban them gradually during a month’s time. I had no problems with this method so far.
Interesting about switching back and forth. I’m guessing that you still keep up reviewing one while focusing on new stuff on the other?
Sounds like the vacation mode feature on the Jalup App :) I never meant it to be a major feature, but people really seem to like to pause the reviews piling up when they get busy.