Is Studying Japanese Harder than Ever?
Studying Japanese in 2021… How far we’ve come from studying Japanese in 1899. Or in 1999. No one says they wish they could study like it used to be. With all the super advanced tools, the unlimited and instant access to everything Japanese, you have it made. This is the age of studying Japanese (or any foreign language). But does it sometimes feel like it is actually getting harder to study Japanese?
Covid-19 Motivation Down
As of this article, the Covid-19 situation has significantly improved in many countries, but others still struggle. Discussing covid, and the mental and physical effect it had/is having on everyone is a whole other topic. And that really isn’t related to Japanese as much as it is to everything you do. But there is one big thing that has sapped motivation.
You can’t go to Japan
Visiting Japan is one of the biggest motivators to any Japanese learner. Both the time leading up to your visit, the time spent there, and the time after it. For over 15 months, unless you live there already, you probably haven’t been going. When you will be able to go again is still unknown.
Too Much Information
You’d think with so many apps, methods, and techniques all to learn Japanese, you would have more advantages than anyone before you. More info = more power.
With so much information at your fingertips, where do you actually go? What do you actually do? Maybe you’ll be clever and find people, posts, and sites that organize that information for you. Except now there are too many places that organize that information for you as well. You have a lot of sorting to do. Once you finished sorting, next comes…
Would you rather have 3 choices or 1,000? More choices doesn’t necessarily mean a better decision.
You’ve gained the ability to find the perfect method to align to exactly how you think. But I’ve seen way too many people spend so much time deciding what to do that they just never end up doing it. Even when they do do it, they still have all those choices, and information waiting on the sidelines. Any time even the slightest doubt of your choice pops up, you wonder if you should try one of those other 1,000 sources.
The in-about ratio grows out of control.
Japanese fluency is not as special as it used to be
It’s still special to you. But it’s losing some rarity. That’s not to say learning Japanese is easy. Or that everyone is becoming fluent. But there are definitely more fluent learners (and those studying the language) than ever.
This is good news, because it means that so many more people are achieving fluency. That gives you visual proof that you can join them. But it loses some of that “you’re the only one!” charm. While that is superficial, it does feel good to be able to accomplish what so many else couldn’t.
Even if you aren’t worried about that extra special feeling, with more fluent speakers you have a new problem.
Comparison is getting worse
The more people you see fluent in Japanese on the internet, the more you compare yourself to them. Everyone’s achieving victory now, but you aren’t? Look how good they sound. And they only spent (insert some seemingly impossible short period of time) to get there, despite you spending (insert some painfully long period of time).
Comparison is at its peak. And it hurts.
Less Japanese-only content
This could be seen as good or bad. But much more Japanese content is translated into English these days. It’s probably harder to find non-translated anime and manga. While this might be irrelevant to you, there was always a cool factor of getting access to content way in advance. You knew if you wanted to enjoy it, you absolutely had to learn Japanese.
But is studying Japanese really harder?
My point here isn’t to discourage you. Because this article is only focusing narrowly on new challenges that you didn’t have before. Most of Jalup focuses on all the other great positives that make your studying better than ever. But I like to give the full picture.
I just want to remind you that studying Japanese is hard, no matter how “easy” or “convenient” it may have seem to become. It’s always better going into battle aware of all the monsters you will face (old and new). Don’t get caught up in “everyone is mastering Japanese now, and I have all the best tools in the world, and I still can’t do it!” Everyone struggles. Don’t be so hard on yourself.
2021 doesn’t mean learning Japanese is a given. Maybe 2075, when you get that matrix-like link to you brain to upload information, things will be different. Only then will it be time to close down Jalup.
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’m thinking that analysis paralysis you speak of is a super importance piece of this article. I think that even though there are more people than ever studying Japanese thanks to all the latest apps, methods, sites etc the number of people who actually make it to an extremely high level is still minuscule.
Japanese is hard as nails. Studying it to fluency and beyond is not something you can do on the side while you chase other goals in life, it has to be sort of a life mission, at least for a few years. With the advent of the internet studying has become easier but at the same time it is harder now that there are so many tools for the reasons you mention. I think the great filter of learning Japanese is still very much in effect. Once students hit the intermediate wall, and then try to “switch methods” they will find themselves stuck in eternal student mode, destined to fight never ending losing battles.
Learning Japanese for the sake of knowing Japanese reduces the force of the argument of things being translated into the local language however in my opinion. Reading manga in English for example has a different “feel” than reading the same text in Japanese. I wonder if others feel the same. Though I am sure to an extent some students of Japanese may actually quit once they realize how hard it is and decide “welp, with all the free manga site and fansubbers around, why learn this impossible language”?
Some good points. It’s definitely true that reading in one language vs another is a different experience. And while no one wants to hear “Japanese is hard,” the sooner they accept that, the better off they are.
Super on point. The good news on analysis paralysis, I feel like it’s worst at the beginning of your journey. You know nothing, everyone is swearing X, Y, or Z is the right way to go and if you do this other method your screwed.
If you make it far enough, for me at least, this feeling receded more and more. I found confidence in judging my own strengths and weaknesses and how I learn best.
Also I feel like early on while you have a ton of options, really what matters is finding a method you enjoy. You know so little and need to learn so much that it’s hard to go wrong as long as you enjoy the method. Stop worrying and do what you enjoy, that’s the only way you will make it long enough to really learn Japanese.
Yeah, it definitely gets better with time. And agreed, the sooner you stick to a method (even if you completely change it later), the better. Any start is better than no start (or an indefinitely delayed one).
Exercise gurus always say “The best workout is the one that you do.” which means don’t get stuck in analysis paralysis but do the workouts that are enjoyable, or at least have a small activation barrier. You might not end up looking like Mr Universe, but you will get fitter.
Surely it’s the same with Japanese, the best method is the one you do and if all you do is watch drama then who is to tell you that’s wrong if you enjoy it?
You probably don’t want to look like Mr Universe (I know I don’t) and you might not care what the blue haired boys are saying in anime. In the end we reach slightly different goals and who is to say which is better?
I think a lot of people stress out because they don’t just want to get a little better, they want to be fluent enough to read manga or watch anime. So they spend a lot of excess time trying to find the method that will allow them to do that.
But yes, it does all come down to just choose it, stick with it, and then worry about pivoting later.
Which prompts another trite aphorism…”It’s all about the journey.” :)
On the flip side, I used the extra time I had from COVID lockdowns and not having to commute to the office to pick up Japanese again. After a decade of off-and-on study, never really getting past mid-beginner level, I finally am seeing real progress thanks to Jalup. Just hit my 3000th card (Intermediate 500 and Kanji Kingdom 1500), and I’ve got no signs of stopping. I think there will always be difficulties and challenges to studying Japanese, which is why I have multiple failed attempts in the past. So I think it’s a matter of motivation and self-discipline to really commit to it, as well as keeping your eye on the prize. Just gotta take things one day at a time.