The greatest feeling in Japanese comes from a simple 5-step process:
1. Study hard
2. Get better
3. See yourself get better
4. Be able to do what you couldn’t do before
This is your reward. This is your motivation. This is your path to success. So what happens when this 5-step process seems stuck on number 1, for weeks or months or years?
No need to wonder. Because this has happened to you, will happen to you, or is happening to you. If you’ve ever felt “I have been studying for months and am not moving an inch,” you know what I’m talking about.
This might be part of your mid-level blues, your high-level blues, or anywhere else. The feeling of improvement can stop any time, without notice. However, there is one place it always exists: the beginner.
You will never find someone who just started studying Japanese from 0, and several weeks in sees 0 improvement. It’s impossible because it’s easy to see anything above 0. Excluding this one phase, everyone will face the following issue.
The RPG Level Problem
1 -> 20
All three of these take the same amount of time to go from the left to right number.
That’s the way the RPG leveling system is designed. Easy leveling early on, more difficult leveling later. Japanese learning is exactly the same. But since level numbers don’t say much, let’s refer to comprehension percentage instead.
The Comprehension Percentage Increase
Just like with RPG levels, your comprehension percentage follows a similar path of growth.
Getting comprehension to 20% takes time, but you notice it immediately. You can feel the difference along the way. But once you get to 20% and it takes the same amount of time to reach 25% , do you feel much improvement? What about when the numbers get more significant? In the time it took you to go from 1-20%, you go from 40 to 41%. How does that feel?
These 1 or 2% increases are nearly impossible to feel. This makes the week to week, or even month to month studying results feel minimal. As time passes, even when the cumulative number starts to grow, you can’t feel the difference. It takes weeks to move up 1%. Eventually you move up a total of 5%. But since the time period was so long, you only feel the small increments, and not the grand total.
You know the phenomenon that results from this.
One day in the future, you suddenly see yourself significantly better.
It’s not that you got lucky, or that magic is in the works. This happens because you were able to escape the tunnel vision of all of those small 1% increases. You finally can see the broad increase from 30% to 40%, which is big enough to truly feel.
Understanding and enjoyment
There is another issue which compounds the improvement percentage problem. While you may have gone from 20% to 30%, and finally appreciate that 10% increase, it still doesn’t feel like enough.
A 10% increase is a major accomplishment. But in reality, if you only understand 30% of a movie, it means you still didn’t understand most of it. You’ll feel like you didn’t understand the movie as a whole, because that remaining 70% had too much important information. You needed more than 30% to enjoy that movie. You don’t feel improvement because understanding 20% vs 30% of the movie won’t feel much different.
With the level problem and the enjoyment problem combined, improvement can feel non-existent for long stretches of time. But it’s absolutely there. It’s growing steadily, just hidden out of view.
This is why you need to keep going, despite your lack of confidence. You are getting better. You are improving. You just won’t see it like you want, regardless of how rational you try to be with it.
Did you have trouble noticing those small 1% improvements over time? Did all your improvements finally accumulate at once and made you see how far you’ve actually come?
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.