An Overdose of Japanese Learning Positivity
Work hard, and you’ll be rewarded with language domination. Practice Japanese every day, and you’ll achieve your dreams. You can and will do this. All you need to do is open the door to Japanese greatness. Ever heard something like this? Here for example?
Positivity towards language learning is of utter importance. You need to keep yourself motivated to study, and being positive about the experience enables that. You want to know that your work is paying off. That you can actually do it. That what you are doing is worth it. That what you are doing is making a difference. You read positive messages to reinforce that.
Positivity works. That’s why I try hard here to motivate you through every post I write. However, positivity also has a dark side.
It comes in two problematic forms:
1. Unrealistic Positivity
Become fluent in Japanese in 1 year! Japanese is super easy and fun, and you’ll be a master in the blink of an eye! Just like me and billions of other learners!
I’ve talked about how people play down the difficulty and length of time involved in learning Japanese to get you inspired to actually learn it. This type of positivity is fine in the beginning and in very small amounts. But the second you don’t start meeting the standards you have read about, is the second you start to take major hits of despair.
If unrealistic positivity is bad, then how about just focusing on realistic positivity, like I try to do here?
2. Realistic Positivity
I don’t set you up for unrealistic expectations. I fully believe that everyone can do it, and while it requires a lot of work, it’s going to be one of the most enjoyable journeys of your life (see… there I go with the positivity again).
I’ve given you stories of failures and subsequent rises to success. I’ve shown you my personal experience to hell and back. I’ve made it no secret that you are going through the hardest trials of your life, but it’s worth it.
So what’s wrong with this type of positivity? For the most part, nothing.
Until you aren’t winning.
Having unrealistic goals and not achieving them is one thing. Having realistic goals and not achieving them is another. You know which one delivers the venomous sting.
What happens when you are following all the advice here and on other sites? You know the amount of work it is, and you are putting it in. You are doing your reviews every day. You are adding cards. You are immersing. You aren’t looking at subtitles. You are in J-J mode. You are following the recipe for Japanese success. But it’s not working, and you aren’t succeeding.
Just be more positive?
In this moment, what happens when I tell you “don’t worry, you can do it. Just keep following the path. You’ll get there.”
It pisses you off.
When you reach darkness, which I guarantee that most of you eventually will at some point, you’ll feel like giving up. Reading about other people’s struggles, and the positive message at the end, isn’t going to help you. It’s just going to make you more annoyed.
“Great Adam and other people on Jalup. You did it. You worked hard. You struggled. You overcame. You were victorious. I get it. I didn’t. I tried to do what you did, and I failed. That’s it. Your positivity is meaningless to me right now.”
It’s hard to be positive when you’ve done everything you were told would work, and it didn’t. Being told more about what you should do only results in further frustration. At this point, what are you going to do? Read more failure/success stories? Hear more about how Japanese is easy to learn and you’ll be fluent in no time?
The best step to often take here is just simply… walk away.
Not from Japanese. But from positivity, and the Japanese learner community in general (yes, I’m telling you to stop visiting Jalup). Anything more you hear right now is going to be counterproductive, and compound the above feelings. You need a break.
Everyone has taken a break at some point. Whether that is a few days, or a few weeks, or even a few months. During this time, no reading positive things. No discussion about why you can do it. Just some time off. Time to reflect. Time to remember. Time to realize why you liked Japanese.
Positivity when you’re low doesn’t work sometimes. It can have the opposite effect, pushing you further away. Rather than be given positivity, you need to find your own.
Because it’s you who is learning Japanese. No one else. No one is learning in the same way you do. No one has the same schedule you do. No one has the same memory you do. No one lives the same life you do. Advice only gets you so far. You need to understand yourself. And to do that, you need a break to give yourself time away from what is frustrating you.
If you really like Japanese, you’ll be back. Try to keep your break shorter than a few weeks (where possible), but if you have to stop for a few months (or more), and you are back after that, who cares. That’s you. That’s what you are doing.
How do I end this?
It would hypocritical of me to try to end this on a positive note… because if you need this advice, you don’t want the extra dose of positivity. So I’ll remind you of one important message. Don’t focus on what other people have done. I know you think the world is full of fluent in a year (or even 2 years) Japanese learners. It’s not. These are unicorns.
The bulk of people struggle, never meet the “standard goals,” fail their short/medium/and long term goals, take way longer than they thought they ever would, and want to set everything related to Japanese on fire at some point.
Don’t set things on fire. Leave them for now. They’ll be there waiting for you (not burnt to a crisp) when you return.
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.
Really really insightful read that explained what I went through in my 6 month break from Japanese. I finally realized why I stopped and it is because I couldn’t achieve the goals I wanted to while everyone else was successful and living the Japanese life. I think this break helped me to readjust and this article reassured me. Thankfully it was just a break not something more.
I’m glad it helped, and I’m happy you are back. Be careful not to repeat the same comparison mistakes. Focus more on yourself, and things will be better this time around.
Glad you made it through a 6 month break! Not sure if this happened to you but when I come back from breaks I always feel like I have a stronger understanding of the material even though I haven’t touched it lol.
Yeah I feel like your brain maybe had a break from so much Japanese that it had time to sort out and organize all the Japanese you learned. Like right now I still have an okay comprehension level and my grammar is fine even though I’ve been gone for 6 months and forgot a lot of words
Why should i stop saving up for a lamborghini just because someone else already has one?
You shouldn’t stop saving for a Lamborghini (if it is indeed something hypothetical you wants) because the only thing you have to worry about is whether or not you have the discipline not to spend the money you saved. So long as you save for long enough and have the capacity to continue saving, you WILL reach your goal. It is not hard to see that this is the case. It is really easy to see that your work will pay off.
Saving for a Lamborghini is not the same thing as trying to do something that is really difficult to do. Sometimes there is doubt involved in whether or not a person is capable of learning a skill, in this case, of learning a difficult language. This doubt can prevent someone from believing they can even get anywhere. And when their experience seems to confirm their doubt, it gets really discouraging. When they see that someone is else able to do something they are having such a hard time doing, shame begins to set in. One starts to feel ashamed that they are not as capable.
By asking the pointed question “Why should I stop saving up for a lamborghini just because someone else already has one?” you are saying that no one should feel ashamed that they are having a hard time learning something because someone else isn’t having a hard time learning the same thing. However shame is inevitable when the realization comes that you aren’t doing as good as someone else. This shame cannot just be shrugged off. It has to be confronted.
Now you may say, “Why compare myself to others?” So, basically, you are saying anyone who does compare themselves to another person is doing something wrong. This may be true, but sometimes, we need encouragement, and seeing that someone else can do something makes us feel like we can do something too. That comparison doesn’t come in until we start to doubt that we TOO can do it.
When we doubt ourselves, we start to ask, “What makes us different than the other person? Why are they able to do it and I am not?” This is where the shame comes in. Again, learning a language is not the same thing as saving up for a physical good.
And it doesn’t matter how they got their’s either. Yours is going to be different.
Most of the time I love reading success stories. They give me this cozy feeling and I can dream of the future that awaits me. But there are definitely moments were the “dark side” shows as well… “Why can he do that and I can’t?” It usually ends with me being pretty unhappy with myself. Granted if I can draw motivation out of that to change the situation that might even be worth it for a while. But if it results in me being unhappy for a longer time, it’s time for the emergency break.
For another hobby of mine I was active in an online community for a few years. In the beginning it motivated me quite a bit, but after a while I started to compare myself to others way too much. “Measuring progress” also became a thing, even though there were some inherent problems with that. But I wasn’t doing particularly well on that arbitrary number game either (such a loser, right?) and it got me down even more. The community was actually pretty nice and everyone tried to encourage each other but… there was just a point where I couldn’t bear it any more. It started to annoy me SO MUCH. “Just keep at it!” “Look at how far you’ve come” yeah yeah, I get it, whatever. And then I just took a break and shut myself off. I felt like a loser for a while, but it took a huge burden off my shoulders. And then it just became “okay to give up”. Sounds depressing, but it was alright actually. Surprisingly (or maybe not?) by now I’m actually back at it. Turns out, I still like my old little hobby. I still suck and sometimes get depressed about it, but as I don’t see what others are doing all the time it’s not keeping me from enjoying what I do anymore as often ;) I sometimes even sneak a peak in the community forums, but bad habits die hard and I start to compare myself again, so I try to keep myself from doing that all too much.
Yeah, I’ve experienced this in other things as well. You can also feel that dark side when you watch too many motivational videos on YouTube on whatever you are trying to pursue.
when I read about guys like Khatz and others who have followed in his footsteps, I can’t help but expect that I should be able to get to a similar level within 2 years.
I know I am setting myself up for disappointment but having that deadline helps motivate me to keep going.
It’s a two edged-sword. Deadlines are great to motivate you, but when you don’t meet an “unrealistic for you” deadline, it’s a challenge to remain strong.
Good stuff Adam!
I try to please :P
This strikes home for me pretty strongly. I’m just recently picking myself out of a slump that started around the time I started participating more in communities full of this positivity. People meeting goals that, honestly, I just can’t do. Hearing people blazing through cards at 50 is fine, it’s great, it’s inspirational. Then you do it for a month and when you can’t keep up, it’s incredibly frustrating because hey, they did it, didn’t they?
I’ve reset myself all the way to JALUP Intermediate and am going through J-J on NEXT now, because I honestly felt that my grasp of everything through the end of Expert was weak at best. I’m going at 10 cards a day and just trying to listen to podcasts and play games from my childhood in Japanese, and I’m enjoying it a lot more. I think I had a lot of personal pressure I was laying on myself because I started studying in college 8 years ago, but if I’m being honest with myself there is so much “blank space” devoid of honest studying in those years that the number becomes meaningless.
I’ll go ahead and cut the rambling here. Thanks for everything you do here, Adam. I still look forward to articles here, and I’m loving NEXT. Keep it up!
I know where you’re coming from. For February I tried to do one of the monthly goals that Adam always posts. I thought “hmm, I’ve never done it, why not give it a try, everyone else always seems to have a good time with it.” So I set a goal, but then when I started to realize that I wasn’t going to meet my goal I just slowly stopped studying altogether for a few days, and then the reviews started piling way up and made me not want to study even more. I’ve come back from that and gone back into my usual study methods which seem to be best for me at this point.
It was something I started noticing both here with an increasing number of users on Jalup and in my own personal life (on another endeavor). So I felt it was time to talk about it.
Good article. I enjoyed the monthly goals here for a while, but I found I was getting depressed by missing my own when others were achieving far more ambitious things. So I just decided to go back to low pressure studying. I have a target I want to reach every day. But if it doesn’t happen, I just let it go and treat tomorrow afresh.
Ironically I think I’m progressing better now and I’m enjoying myself more.
Periods of pressure are good, but periods of recovery are also good.
I feel what you are saying here. Sometime I need to recoup before getting ambitious again. I have been going slower with my Japanese studies too so that I don’t get overwhelmed. But when school break happens I tend to pick up the pace until it gets to be a little trying and then slow down again.
This is a great reminder that each of us will make our unique Japanese journey (and journey through life). What helps me the most is having pretty modest expectations and not rushing myself. I’m having so much fun doing Jalup Next because I focus on the daily fun, with no thought for the future.