Is Becoming A Casual Learner Of Japanese Worth It?
While this may come as a surprise, not everyone spends all their time thinking about and learning Japanese. Some people do other things, think about other things, and the desire to become the best like no one ever was before them isn’t a top priority. They go at their own pace, taking breaks when they feel like it, studying when they feel like it, and are in no rush.
The casual learner
His goal is to learn Japanese, have fun learning it, have fun using it, at whatever speed allows him to keep it enjoyable.
But can the casual learner succeed at becoming fluent in Japanese?
First, the casual learner’s goal isn’t necessarily fluency. It’s more of a hobby. A hobby has to be fun, provide value and an experience to the hobbyist to allow him to continue. As long as this is present, he’s not after the ultimate prize (though I’m sure he wouldn’t mind attaining it).
A lot of his success will come down to the type of goals
Whether you are hardcore or casual, goals will always serve a role. You have to want something out of Japanese, otherwise you wouldn’t be studying it. The size of that something will affect a casual learner’s success.
Small Specific goals
For example, maybe you want to:
– Be able to order Japanese food
– Be able to travel around Japan
– Be able to have simple conversations
– Gain a deeper cultural appreciation
– Understand a little bit about what you are watching, listening to or reading
You can casually work your way towards these over several weeks or months of non-intensive studying.
Large complex goals
It’s when the goals become large that things become tricky.
– Understand anime without subtitles
– Play X game that is only in Japanese
– Get a job using Japanese
These are goals you don’t just walk quickly into.
A casual learner with casual goals is great.
You want to experience the language, the culture and take a few steps getting to know Japan and its media better. Take your time, and experience it like you would any other hobby. It’s when a casual learner decides to set the same goals as a regular learner has that they often run into trouble.
A power learner studies several hours a day.
A regular learner studies a few hours a day.
A casual learner studies a few hours a week.
A few hours a week, even over a number of years, is not going to make you fluent.
The feeling of years (which is really only hundreds of hours when you add it up), just isn’t enough to achieve the major Japanese goals. You can however slowly improve your abilities, and always have the chance to turn up the heat from casual learner to something more.
Being a successful casual learner, or a regular learner, or even a power learner is all about knowing your expectations and what you are putting in to meet those expectations. As long as you are maintaining this balance, studying for any amount of time at any pace has its rewards. It’s only when you skew the two that you are in for a discouraging experience.
Casual learner success stories
Casual learning is appealing to certain people for certain reasons. And over the years, what you can do definitely increases, with the possibility of enjoying things like anime, manga, video games, deeper conversations, etc. to some extent. Given a long enough time, a casual learner will level up and can go far. But it’s a completely different lifestyle (learner-style) and you have to be prepared for that.
For those of you casual learners out there, please leave any experience you have in the comments. It’ll definitely help people who want Japanese as an enjoyable hobby, but don’t need it to be at the forefront of their lives.
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 used to be a very casual Japanese learner because I never knew that Japanese was so complex and required a lot of time to learn compared to French. Casual learning of French can get you pretty far in not too long of time due it’s amazing similarity to english, but it seems Japanese is a boss with fast health regeneration that you must keep attacking powerfully constantly to kill it. French doesn’t have health generation in my experience.
I’m liking the analogy.
My first couple of attempts at learning Japanese was as a casual learner. I wanted to do a lot of things, so I only had little time for each. My experience however is that if you ever want to up your game and become a regular learner (which I am now) or a power learner you will benefit a lot from your time as a casual learner. As a casual learner I think you tend to learn a little bit about a lot of things which means you will recognize a lot when you start going deeper into those things.
Definitely. The casual learning experience definitely gives an edge if a person is ready to take up his game.
I am a casual learner with outbursts similar to that of a power learner. I have trouble doing the same thing over and over again everyday for a long period of time. I get tired of it and need a change of pace, so I prefer to switch focus for a certain amount of time and then, get back to it later.
My job also requires me to learn a lot during a year and sometimes, my brain feels so saturated that I need to take some time to let the new stuff sink in before studying again.
What’s important though is that you continue to immerse yourself in the language using more passive or laid back methods. As an example, you could listen to Japanese music or continue to watch anime but with subtitles.
When I get my energy/motivation back, I go into an outburst to learn as much as possible studying in most of my free time. That cycle repeats itself and it’s ok, what’s important is to keep going even if you are not progressing as fast as others.
And sometimes all it takes you is one steady burst of energy to tilt up your game from casual to steady. But yes, going in and out of Japanese can prevent burnout for certain people.
I take this post as encouraging to long term casual learners as well. I was a regular/power learner for several years, and I have been a casual learner for many years now. I don’t want to give up other things that are important in my life to be able to master all aspects of Japanese, and I have even considered trying to give up learning completely for something more relevant to my life as a whole.
After this much time, it’s too much of a part of me to give it up lightly, but I do find it overwhelming if I don’t set realistic expectations. I decided to focus on reading novels and listening to the news. Sometimes I think, “It would be great to be able to speak like an intelligent adult”, “I would love to know who the current celebrities are and actually understand comedy”, or “It would be impressive to be able to write by hand”. However, it is most rewarding for me to narrow my focus since the time I’m willing to put in is limited.
I completely agree that setting the expectations correctly is the key to success whether you are a beginner or a long time learner who isn’t willing to put in the time to “become the best like no one ever was”. Thanks for encouraging those of us who view learning Japanese as a hobby.
Yes, long term casual learning can be great for many people, and it sounds like you’ve been enjoying this status and the fruit it bears. I checked out your linked blog, and am happy to see it even has you reading some more difficult Japanese novels.
I want to be power learner, sometimes I even think I’m a power learner, then I look at my actual numbers and realize I’m not (yet).
You can take small dips into power learning, see how it feels, and then step back into regular learning.
I alternate between being a casual learner depending on my course load. If I have a lot of class work, usually the first eight weeks of a semester, I stick to casual. Then after that I can actually go back to power leveling.
It helps that I take JP classes as part of my course load though.
College courses can definitely affect study time, but it’s great that you are able to switch between casual and power leveling so easily.
I study a few hours each day, but I consider myself a casual learner. I would love to reach fluency, but I would be fine if someone told me I’d never reach it. I just want Japanese and Japan in my life. The joy of recognizing more and more Kanji is enough. Maybe it’s because I’m taking up Japanese at age 50. I’ve learned to love the small things more, because I have less time left to reach for the big things. And I’m surprised to find, that’s okay with me. I love the peace that has come with smaller goals.
A few hours a day is enough to achieve fluency as long as you keep at it. Don’t worry about age being any kind of hindrance. There are many older learners on this site, and they are all nearing their way towards fluency.
I’ve been a casual for the past 8 years. I would study an hour a week for 5 months- then stop for 6 months then study an hour a week for 5 months.
I got accepted into the JET program in May and I want to get through world two in the next 12 months before I leave.
I studied 2 hours a week in May and June- (thinking as long as I can stay in the on part of off and on I’ll be fine) but I have to ramp it up to a regular learner to finish this zone.
So I’m now in Japan. I averaged two hours a week this past year, the same casual pace I often do. I have 850 mature kanji notes and 793 mature Jalup sentince cards. (I bought Jalup in June of 2021) so I’m still short hiting 1000 each kanji and jalup before I got to Japan. I got this far as a casual learner.
Funny seeing this article/thread get revived again… I was just telling somebody that my first goal with Japanese, many years ago, was _only_ to be able to read hiragana/katakana. Very casual, very low commitment. And for kind of a dumb reason, too: I had a friend who learned the kana and he could navigate the menus of an imported game we were playing. I thought it was soooo cool. (And of course I was jealous. アーケード… oooooh, what’s that…)
But casual interest can also act as a kind of gateway drug, turns out. First you learn the kana and then you’re like: well… what’s next? And in a way, it’s great: instead of getting frustrated at big, scary goals, you can tell yourself: I just want to take this one little step, then maybe I’ll stop. I just want to pass the N5. I just want to learn the 100 most common kanji. I’ll just learn enough vocab to introduce myself or order some ramen or what have you. But of course your “small” goals grow as your ability grows.
Sometimes commitment and passion can build over time, and of course it all compounds until eventually you’re looking at the level you’ve achieved and you wonder how you got there. (“But I’m just a casual learner!”)
It can be kind of powerful, assuming you keep the right mindset. You still wind up sinking hundreds of hours of effort in, of course, but you’re not necessarily thinking of it in that way.
Or at least I (still) try not to :D