Reaching The Japanese Payoff Point
You are struggling. You are having problems enjoying your studying. Your fun is limited. You feel like you have been going at it for long enough, but aren’t happy. When is your Japanese ability gonna get better? When are you going to be satisfied that you decided to start studying in the first place?
Will you ever reach your Japanese Payoff Point?
It can be hard to visualize. Because you aren’t good at Japanese and can’t enjoy everything you want to, what the feeling will be like when you do get good and can enjoy everything is hard to imagine.
So I want you think to anime (c’mon you probably were going to anyway).
Think to a series that got great reviews and a friend recommended to you.
1. You start watching it.
However you soon realize that it just feels “okay.” Nothing special. No real excitement. You give it a few more episodes hoping it gets better, but it still doesn’t provide any additional entertainment. You temporarily stop watching it.
You ask your friend: “Why did you like this? It’s boring. Nothing happens. I don’t really care about the characters.”
Your friend replies: “You gotta give it more time. The beginning and development are really slow. But once you get to X saga, it will all be worth it. Trust me! You will absolutely love it.”
2. You go back to whatever episode you left off of and continue.
Still feels the same. You’ve given it a bunch more episodes. There was a small interesting point here and there, and maybe a slightly good fight scene. But really? This is what everyone loves? You are already a few dozen episodes into the series. Your friend must be wrong or the anime just isn’t your type. You stop again and go back to your friend.
You: “I have no idea why you liked the series so much, but I couldn’t get into it. I tried, and watched up to episode 25. It’s not worth it to keep going.”
Your friend: “Just give it a little longer! You are about to get up to Y part. Once you get there, you will never look back. Trust me!”
3. Now you have two options at this point:
A. Stop watching the anime. Your friend is wrong. It is overrated. Or it just isn’t for you. It’s better you move onto something else.
B. Give it just a little bit longer, hoping for the best.
You continue with a few more episodes. Your faith is fading fast. You “know” it’ll get better. That’s what everyone tells you. But that doesn’t help your feeling towards it now. Ugh. Time to find a new friend.
And then it hits. The payoff moment.
The moment where all that character introduction and plot development come together. That moment where your jaw drops and you get a chill down your spine. That moment where you realize this is freaking awesome and one of the most amazing things you’ve ever seen.
The anime has finally paid off.
From this point on you absolutely love the series. You can’t wait for the next episode and have many multi-episode binges. This is one of the best series you’ve ever laid your eyes on. What were you thinking almost giving it up?!
You start telling other people how great this anime is and why they must try it. You even start repeating the advice your friend once gave you.
This is studying Japanese.
You will reach your payoff point. While my words may feel meaningless now, they won’t be when you get that first “oh my god” moment.
Work towards the payoff. Don’t give up before than. Otherwise you’ll never know what you missed.
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.
And the cool thing in this case is, you’re going to have lots of smaller payoff points as you conquer various things along the way.
For me, I have a special game I set aside at the start of this whole thing – an opponent that I’ve been steadily preparing to challenge. When I finally manage to do so, I think that’ll be a really satisfying moment. However, even just clearing the smaller milestones in the lead up to that has been really exciting :)
I set aside a special game too! I went through the hassle of importing it, waited a month for shipping, then realized about 10 minutes in that there was just no freaking way I was good enough to play it yet. So… now it sits on my bookshelf, taunting me… until the day I can pull it back out and dominate it. I think that day might end up being one of the best days of my studying career.
I also have a special game I want to play eventually, though it’s not out yet (ゼノブレイドクロス). I guess I probably already am good enough to have a decent shot at playing it, though I’m sure I’d still miss enough stuff that I’m happy to have some extra time to level up before it comes out. Playing that game is probably the hardest concrete goal I’ve ever set (things like “reading novels” and “playing visual novels” being a bit vague).
But you really don’t need to come anywhere near your highest goal to get some serious payoff, and some of that can come from stuff you didn’t even knew existed when you started studying. For instance, I’m currently 15 volumes into the ハイスクールDxD novels, which are a weird blend of the 少年 genre with other stuff. Before I started that series I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a 少年 novel, but now I think they can be even better than 少年 manga and anime, so there you go…
I definitely agree there are many small payoff points on the way (which you should and will enjoy), but there is also one major one where everything changes for you.
I ended up buying Zelda Ocarina of Time 3D in Japanese before realizing I would also have to buy a Japanese 3DS. It sits on my shelf, but next summer I will be visiting Japan. I plan on buying a new 3DS there. By then I should be at a level high enough to play it while I am in Japan. It is going to be amazing! I’m also going to buy Majora’s Mask 3D and possibly the latest home console and the latest Zelda given they are out by the time I am in Japan next Summer. ゼルダの伝説！
Thanks a lot for this post, it’s pretty motivating.
Happy to hear that!
When does that anime reach the payoff point?
I’m kind of biased since it’s one of my favorites, but IMO it gets interesting almost immediately. The best part is definitely the last few episodes, though. I recommend having some tissues on hand if/when you get that far >_>
Half way through is when it hits. I could barely keep my friend watching it until then and now he says it’s one of the best anime ever.
As for me it is exactly from the 13th episode. Before that episode I was tempted many times to stop watching it, but thereafter it become one of my favorite anime ever.
Okay, now I’m tempted to try the series again. I gave a few episodes a try a few years back and never got into it. Time to follow my own advice.
I was waiting for the Steins;Gate comment, lol. It’s pretty notorious for being slow and character-heavy in the beginning and then getting awesome after pushing through it. Did you ever return to watching it, Adam?
Alas… I have not. But it’s on the to-watch one day list haha.
Haha, gotcha. It’s also worth a read! The VN is fantastic and gets a lot more science-ey than the anime, if that’s your cup of tea!
It’d be interesting to see around what level you’d say the payoff point is at. I’m nearly 3000 sentences in and I’m not even a third to fluency. Would you say the payoff is around level 65 or is it different for everyone?
Nah, it’s definitely not that high. I would say closer to 40. That’s where everything starts to just make sense, and you start really having fun with everything you are doing.
It’s around 40 alright. I have just hit it during the last few weeks and the change is incredible. Suddenly most native sentences are approachable and it no longer feels like most of the words I encounter are unknown. It is very gratifying.
I just wanted you to know, Jesper, that this comment is the one comment I always come back to. I have this page bookmarked for it. Why? Because when I first read it about a year ago, it gave me a huge boost of motivation and still does. When you see someone who has made the journey themselves and backs up what is being said, it just makes it that much more believable!.
I feel I’m right on the edge of this moment (I hope so!) and can’t wait for it to happen. Of course, 2 years later, you are probably dramatically improved compared to when you made this comment right? Keep up the great work.
Andrew, I’m really glad to hear that my comment had that effect.
Now 2 years later my knowledge has obviously improved and I can understand much much more now, but that was still the pivotal moment where it became clear to me that this method is working. Before that point I was still in danger of giving up, but all the energy I got from that moment has fueled my studying since then. I could never imagine giving up Japanese now.
You are in a frustrating period right now, where you can feel how close you are, but still you will come across sentences where you understand next to nothing. This is perfectly normal and something you just need to get past. The way forward is to just keep doing what you are doing, but you are definitely on the right path. So just keep going and you will soon start to get the payoff.
Thanks a lot for the info! I’m glad to hear how far you’ve come.
If you don’t mind me asking, around what level are you now? Also, do you do new cards all the time even if you don’t finish all your reviews? And lastly, did your listening ability jump at that tipping point or does that work differently? I find I only understand about 30 to 40% of what I listen to if it’s around my level. (Unless I listen to it a ton). I listen during work about 6 to 8 hours a day, and some at home. And understanding what’s going on instead of just words and phrases is still hit and miss. I’m hoping Jalup situations will help with that.
Another problem is I don’t have much time for immersion reading (except the Japanese subs on Terrace house). I bet you did a ton of reading.
When it comes to Clannad, I’m that annoying friend! :D
Second season is totally worth it, I swear.
Meanwhile, I just got to the real meat of Gintama. The slow start was actually a lot like learning Japanese- They had to introduce all the characters and show what they’re like before they could tell hilarious stories with them. Hopefully learning Japanese will end up a lot like Gintama, too :P
Even better than Gintama.
How much stars would you give Gintama? (difficulty rating)
I would say 3 stars.
I just have a couple questions regarding this topic if anyone doesn’t mind answering them:
In regards to hitting this 1 moment, around how many cards does it take? Is a large amount of immersion reading involved vs anki reviews? And if many of my card word meanings(from expert and such) are still hazy, do they suddenly seem to become clear?
I’m consistently thinking about this moment in my studies because it’s a large source of motivation. The biggest actually. Thanks!
For me the payoff was when I was able to enjoy manga with a reasonable level (80%?) of understanding. It came fairly suddenly and it is not clear to me what triggered it. I returned to some materials that I had put aside about a month earlier in frustration and all of a sudden I could read them. It felt really great and turned my studies from pure grind into something that makes me better at something I can already do. It was the point where I realized that now there is no going back or quitting. I have not had a single day of considering giving up since that, which makes it a lot easier to grind through my daily reviews.
I still have plenty of hazy words even where I am now around 11000 sentences, but those are mainly new words. The words from the Jalup 5000, even expert, feel quite obvious at this point. I sometimes think back on how confused I was by some of them when I was first learning them. It is kind of amusing how they have gone from hair pulling frustration to trivial without any real effort other than grinding reviews and immersion. This is actually one of my sources of motivation – I know that anything will become trivial given time. You have probably had these experiences yourself. Think back to the Jalup Beginner and Intermediate cards and think about how some of them seemed really hard when you were first learning them. How do you feel about them now?
Just keep going. If you have made it to Expert, you have already made it much further than where most people give up and are on the right path. Fluency is ahead… so I keep telling myself :)
Thanks a lot for the reply! Yes, you are right, I look back at Beginner, Intermediate, and even much of Advanced and most of it seems super easy now. Actually, I finished Expert a while back and then sadly gave up Japanese for about 5 months because I was trying to learn something else. But I love Japanese and language learning in general, so I came running back and had about 4000 reviews to catch up on (I had finished close to 4 stages of Immersion too and most of my kanji cards needed to be reviewed). Finally I finished all of my expert reviews and am now working on the Immersion ones and kanji. It’s very draining catching up on reviews! :D This is why I struggle finding time for reading immersion, which is wrong and I see I need to change that. Thankfully I have a huge amount of time for listening immersion. Thanks for sharing your story, it’s very motivating! By the way, what level would you say you are now?
I stopped thinking in levels a while back, but let me venture a guess :)
Reading is definitely my strongest skill as this is where I have spent most of my effort. I have a very large vocabulary, but grammar and slang can be tricky and that is probably the main thing holding my reading back at this point. I think I am in the mid to high 40s overall, as I would not be able to function in a Japanese workplace, yet, but I am way past 40.
My immersion has been focused on reading for most of my studying and I took way too long to include enough listening in my routines, so I’m hopelessly behind on listening comprehension and can have trouble understanding even basic spoken stuff at times. It doesn’t worry me however, as I’m convinced I will catch up as soon as I give it more attention, and increased immersion over the past year is beginning to pay off here as well.
Speaking? Never done it, so even worse off there :)
Finding time for immersion is the hardest challenge for me. I have a million hobbies and Japanese it just one of them. I use the monthly goals to make sure I am always progressing by setting the bar for how many cards I should be adding and creating, but at times I have found it hard to do more than that, and that usually means immersion goes out.
Next time you feel like quitting, I would just turn off new cards and do your daily reviews. The time spent will quickly fall, and it assures that you will not lose your current level while you are “away”. In fact, you will still be improving a little while doing this, so you will probably find that the cards turned easy while you were on a break :)
I have not had a break myself, but I have studied at different paces depending on fluctuations in my level of interest. Currently I dedicate roughly 2 hours per day to reviews and creating cards, which means I can still maintain other hobbies and family life. During the first year I spent closer to 4 hours per day.
Thanks a lot for the replies! I’ll return to them for motivation and reminders.
I was just reading a light novel and suddenly this post came to mind. I completely forgot/ neglected to post here when it happened to me.
Very quick background:
I learned about Jalup and bought the decks. They were amazing for making the transition to monolingual. Gradually I became an anki slave and am surprised I didn’t burn out. I did more research on the method but before taking action I decided to learn programming. That took 1 year and hurt my progress severely. After that I came back to Japanese. I was then distracted again with the desire to learn Spanish. That took 7 months to reach a very high understanding. That proved the method to me. About 5 months ago it was back to Japanese hardcore with far less anki and far more active immersion. I made my own cards at this point. (The Jalup decks were an amazing base). I’d say it’s taken about 1.8 months to reach this level, and I’d say I would be baseline fluent if not for those breaks. Nonetheless, I can feel it quickly approaching.
I realise now that I reached the payoff point probably during my Spanish studies. It’s like my mind was working on what I had learned before that during that time. Either way, for anyone who wants/needs more proof or motivation…it is definitely real. It feels amazing. A few months ago I realized that everything was much much easier than before. Books are much easier to understand and so are shows. Much of the time it’s just “understanding” instead of translating. Now I would guess I’m at about… level 50 reading and listening. I did the Jalup reading test a while ago and passed 50 I believe.
Keep going. Keep fighting. It’s a mind game; you have to beat your own doubts and other peoples negativity. Time + Dedication = Ability. Immersion is your best friend.
I’d like to thank some people here for their amazing motivational posts and encouragement. Off the top of my head those are:
Adam ( of course :D )
Thank you very much.