How much time till fluency? How many hours of listening? How many vocabulary words? How many pieces of grammar? How many sentences? How many kanji? How many Anki cards? There is no answer to these questions, but ask yourself this: would knowing exactly how much of each is required for fluency make life easier?
We love specific numbers because it creates concrete goals, and how to achieve those goals. Not knowing how much is required causes self-doubt in whatever you are doing. How much should you do? How much till success?
Picture a heavy door before you.
You try to push it open but it won’t budge. You are not one to give up easily, so you keep pushing it over and over again. On the other side awaits treasure. You can’t stop now, otherwise someone else will get it.
2 different wise sages give you advice on how to reach the treasure
Sage 1: “Push the door 1,000 times, and it will open.”
Sage 2: “Keep pushing the door with all your might, and if you work hard enough, it will eventually open.”
With Sage 1, you know exactly what you have to do. As long as you push it 1,000 times, it will open, and you will have your rewards. Every push brings you closer to that goal. You know how much you have left. You know you have 100 pushes left. Now 50. Now just 1 more. You can make it to that last one. The door is open!
With Sage 2, you don’t know the amount of effort required. You will keep pushing at it, over and over again. You don’t know if it will take you 10 pushes, or 1,000. You are filled with uncertainty. Every push is bringing you closer, but by how much? This door may never open. You may run out of energy and die before ever opening it.
Learning Japanese is a mixture of both
You aren’t blindly being told to study, and eventually, one day you will open the door. Here on Jalup and other sites, you have all kinds of numbers to act as guides. However, everyone’s situation varies, so the numbers change depending on your circumstances. You really can’t know how much you have to do till you can get to what you want. This is where you need to believe in yourself and that one day that door will open.
Let’s say I said it took 750 pushes to open the door to fluency. Close to the 1,000 required but falling short. You work hard to push that door, and when you finally hit 750, every push after that discourages you. Will this door ever open? You put in the required effort, and listened to the advice, yet have achieved nothing.
I could have overestimated the required pushes to be safe (and account for everyone), and said it took 1500 pushes. But you might have seen that large number and decided that was too many pushes and it isn’t worth your time. For example: I say it takes 3 years to fluency. This is not possible for many people, but it’s a nice motivating number. What if I said instead that if you study 3 hours a day, 10 years straight, you have a 100% chance of becoming fluent. This is true. But hearing 10 years may prevent you from ever starting.
Door pushing solution
Your only option is to keep pushing. The door absolutely can be opened. You don’t know exactly when. But remember this: it may only take one more push. One more push and that door might have opened. You thought it was 750 according to my advice, and you somehow managed to motivate yourself all the way to 999 pushes. You’ve had enough, and decide to give up. All it would have taken is one more push to open that door. The difference between people that give up and those that succeed was just one push away.
While reaching fluency isn’t sudden like a door opening, reaching your payoff point is. Continuous pushes will get you there. You won’t know exactly when it will happen. And even before it fully opens, as you continue to push you can see the other side through the cracks. You can feel the treasure. The door doesn’t have to be completely open before you can enjoy the excitement that awaits.
There are no exact numbers. Remind yourself that opening the door may be just around the corner. Don’t stop pushing that door short of victory.
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.