Why you Must Move Past Cards you don’t Understand
Learning Japanese creates perfectionists out of us all. In part it’s caused by the enjoyment you first have as a beginner. Your early Japanese cards are easy. You understand them, and proceed to the next one without hesitation. What you learn builds off your previous knowledge, in a way that feels good and logical.
One day things change. At first you spend more time on cards. Then you start doubting yourself and need reassurance that you truly understood them. Then you lose confidence, get stuck, and tread water.
However, the easiest (and hardest) solution is right in front of you: just move on.
I know. It’s unsettling. You get in a beginner’s groove and don’t want things to change. But they have to. They get harder and your crystal clear understanding will get cloudy.
It doesn’t matter how you study or what you use. For me, many years ago it was with the textbook series Genki, and the piece of grammar ん at the end of a sentence. It was a significant turning point that shook me so much that I still remember it to this day. Everything before that was a piece of cake. Everything after that was not… until it was again.
In the Jalup deck series, the reactions from users are always the same. Towards mid to end Jalup Beginner, and then especially for several hundred cards in Jalup Intermediate, you will go from that great feeling to one you don’t want to accept. But if you listen to this one piece of advice, your world will look different.
70% understanding is okay. Lack of confidence is okay. A nagging feeling that you are going to screw everything up is okay. You aren’t creating a house with a faulty foundation. You are setting yourself up for the most amazing thing you could never imagine would happen.
Things just get easier
Not only do things get easier, it happens without you even doing anything. No work required on your part. I often tell people that as you see more cards with words rearranged in different positions and with other grammar, in native immersion and beyond, things start to really come around. This is still all very true. But even without any of this it happens.
Ever find it strange why some people who take an extended break from Japanese and suddenly come back, understand things they didn’t before? Cards that troubled them suddenly got easier, without any effort.
Your brain is continually working with all that language input you’ve fed it for so long, and is slowly breaking it down into what makes sense to you. Some people take longer than others, but the process is the same and the brain is always working. When you have trouble with a card, a week or even a month later your brain has fixed the problem.
You need to let it go
By letting things go, you let your brain do what it’s best at in an environment and mental state it likes. You know what it hates? When you are stressed out and frustrated about what you study, and repeatedly doubt yourself every step you take. It’s like trying to recall something on the tip of your tongue. It’s only when you stop going crazy about it that your brain finally is prepared to give you the answer.
Have you let it go?
When you finally decided to always keep the momentum moving forward did you notice big, positive changes?
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 don’t have a lot to add, this article perfectly sums up my experience in many ways. Around the second half of beginner things get a little hazy preparing you for intermediate. Intermediate hits hard. I would go ten cards some days and not know what it was saying. Using Google to help would confuse me as much as give clarity.
It wasn’t until card 500 of intermediate I swore off Google. After that things slowly started clicking better. I might still not know ten cards but by the next day I had a better idea. By the time I got to advanced everything was so much easier. I had gotten used to reading definitions but even more important I had gotten used to the hazy feeling and I had confidence that over time things would click because I had seen it happen again and again.
I still have cards that I can barely understand from time to time but I can live with that and move on. It doesn’t bother me anymore.
Thanks for sharing your experience.
Sometimes it can be helpful to others just to know that this is all normal and that other people who feel the exact same thing eventually make it out okay.
I really needed this post. The last 100 cards in Jalup beginner keep escaping my memory. But now I feel I have permission to move on and try Intermediate, even though it seems impossible now. Thanks for the encouraging words.
Yes, you definitely have permission to move on. You will feel great once you do, and everything will work out.
This month I’m going to finish Jalup Advanced, I came all this way without looking at the English definitions. I also don’t have anything to add to this article but as everybody says the first intermediate cards are difficult, but if you overcome the urge to see the definitions you’ll pass and it gets easy from that point. I still have some fuzzy feelings about some words but immersing yourself is the key point, there was a few words that it clicked me when I saw it on different context immersing myself. It really sticks in you because in your brain you always remember that fuzzy feeling about that word but when you understand it creates a better connection to the meaning that it’s now difficult to forget.
Yes, immersion definitely helps with those fuzzy feelings, especially when you want to speed along the process.
I definitely remember the moments I’ve been confused on some word use in a card, and then maybe a few weeks or months later I’d find in reading or listening to something a similar situation that made that word use stick and make sense. That first a-ha moment then tends to strongly attach to the usage in my head, and I use it to refer to later occurrences and even the card that was so unclear before.