Why are you studying Japanese? To understand anime/manga? To get a job in Japan? To appreciate the music? To play video games in their original form? All fine goals. But eventually you come to a strange crossroads. You’ve accomplished what you’ve set out to do.
The Mid Level Blues (usually around level 20-30) is that downer phase between having a strong foundation of all the basics, but being unable to make that leap into actually enjoying what you set out to do. You reach a plateau. A seemingly impossible to climb wall blocks you.
The high level blues (level 45-55) is a much more complex phase. A phase that most learners may be jealous that you get to experience, but a major struggle nonetheless.
Your Japanese isn’t perfect. It’s not fluent. But it’s pretty damn good. Good enough to do everything you wanted. You don’t need 100% Japanese to have fun. 85% is enough.
Two emotions emerge:
1. Complacency: the feeling that this may be good enough. You are able to bask in the rewards of your labor. Why suffer any more?
2. Lack of direction: where to go from here. You’ve come this far but feel like you aren’t making the same progress anymore. Is this what fluency is like? Is there really anything else you can do?
The high level blues is a game changer. The sad truth about Japanese learners is most people don’t make it past this phase. People too easily make a conscious decision that this is good enough. An unsurprising coincidence is that level 50 is around the level required to pass the JLPT N1, which causes many learners to feel they have peaked.
However this is Japanese Level Up. No one on this site is stopping at 50s. I won’t allow it. This site is getting you to fluent or beyond. Nothing less.
Is it really worth it?
I suffered the high level blues at the worst time possible. Right after I came back from living in Japan for 3 years. This was a rough time, as I was used to having an in your face need to improve your Japanese all the time. A drastic change of environment can hurt.
I persevered and fortunately discovered that there is a major difference between “advanced” and “fluency.” They are worlds apart in what you can see and what you can do. It’s hard to explain, but it’s the same divide in feeling of going to Japan for the first time when you speak little Japanese and going when your Japanese is good. You appreciate more, you feel more, you connect more. Sure 85% feels great, but it’s that last 15% that makes things truly special.
So how do you get it through it? There are 4 strategies I developed that allowed me to push through.
1. New grand goals
When you’ve met goals, you have to set new ones. Immediately. Otherwise your pace falls flat. I know you’ve been at Japanese for probably a few years now. But it’s time to sit down like you did when you first started studying, and make a new list of things you want to be able to do, short term and long term.
2. Connect with other Japanese learners who are where you want to be
The high level blues bring with it some arrogance. Your Japanese is great and you’ve earned it. If you’ve ever run into a high level Japanese learner who is being arrogant (for example on a forum), there is a good chance they are in the middle of this phase.
Making friends with learners who are much higher than you does something important. It shows you how much better you can actually get. It puts your level in perspective, showing you that you still have so much more left to achieve.
Don’t have any direct connections? Use fluent foreigners that appear on variety shows as your role models.
3. Whatever you were doing at the peak of your levelling, bring it back, and take it further.
Has Anki turned into mostly just reviews with few new cards added? Get back into the habit of adding new cards like you were in your level 20s. Used to watch hour after hour of Japanese TV show? Are you still doing so or has English programming been increasingly creeping in? Did you used to go out of your way to talk with everyone in Japanese, whenever and wherever you could? What happened to all those people?
Read a new novel a week or a few volumes of manga a day. Step up your pace. Reignite the flame. Don’t let it slowly burn out.
4. Use more challenging native material
Always watching or reading the same type of material gives you false confidence. You get too used to it and you don’t feel the necessity for improvement. You need to expand into new genres and formats you’ve never engaged in with before.
Push yourself out of your comfort zone.
Experience with the high level blues?
I know there are some people on this site who have faced this, are currently facing it, or have it just around the corner. What problems have you struggled with? How have you overcome/hope to overcome it? Have any strategies to add to the list?
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.