Study really hard, put in the work over a number of years, and eventually you will become fluent… This is the optimistic way of thinking. It makes sense. Japanese is just a foreign language. Many have learned before you. Many will learn after you. Everyone acquired fluency through a mountain of effort. So as long as you put in that mountain of effort, you will eventually and unequivocally get there.
Except you might not?
These statements can be surprisingly problematic:
Study hard and you will become fluent.
As long as you keep studying, eventually you will become fluent.
There you are studying hard, and you’ve been studying hard for a long time. Yet you aren’t fluent. Are the above statements false? Am I going dark here again? Not quite. I want to show you again why realistic positivity is sometimes more powerful than anything else.
The first statement you need to focus on is the reverse of the above:
If you don’t study hard, you won’t become fluent.
This is a nearly undeniable fact. Please ignore the online unicorn saying “I just had fun and learned the language through watching anime without any effort,” This person is either consciously or unconsciously exaggerating, or just recalling the good moments while conveniently forgetting the bad ones. I’m not saying that you can’t have fun studying. You will. But there’s way more to it.
The next statement you need to focus on:
Studying hard will dramatically increase your chances of becoming fluent.
This is like everything in life you are trying to be successful in. You could be the hardest worker in the world. Doing everything right, putting in more hours than anyone else, sacrificing everything, and still not be successful. Hard work doesn’t guarantee success. Hard work can only increase your probability of success.
For anyone who has worked hard and failed at something, you can attest it sucks. It’s not fair. It’s just not the way it is supposed to be. You can either complain and curse the world for not getting what you want despite feeling you deserved it, or do what is the only alternative:
You fight for the chance of success. You fight for the chance of fluency. Because if you don’t fight, you definitely won’t win. It’s the only option.
I once asked everyone what victory percentage would be enough for them to learn Japanese. The obvious positive response is “I’d do it regardless of the percentage, because I want it that bad.” This is a great place to start, but not a good place to continue. If your chance of success of fluency is 1%, it’s pretty unlikely you’ll win. You must raise this percentage.
When you begin learning Japanese, you start with a different initial success percentage. This varies greatly depending on your:
1. Friends, family and who you surround yourself with
2. Living situation (money, responsibilities, time, etc.)
3. Good or bad experience with other languages
4. Learning abilities or disabilities
5. Motivation and your why
6. Teachers/mentors/people you look up to
7. Chosen methods/tools to learn the language
This isn’t the place to start making excuses that you can’t succeed because of any combination of the above. That’s dangerous. However the above is going to absolutely contribute to your initial chance of fluency.
The ultimate trump card, which can drastically overcome any low chance of success, is studying hard over a long period of time. You may start with a 10% chance of success, but due to working your ass off, you raise it to 90%. Or the opposite. You may have everything perfect, and according to your circumstances you have an 80% chance of success. But you never put in the time or effort. You can watch that chance of success drop to 5%.
The big challenge comes in the fluctuations that occur as you continue to study. You might think that as a beginner, your chance of fluency is highest. You are filled with unparalleled enthusiasm, and that should equate to whether you will make it to the end. That energy is important, but there is a reason why that the amount of beginners in a language is probably several times the amount of intermediate, advanced, or fluent speakers. Beginners often study hard… until they don’t. Just because you once studied hard doesn’t mean you always will. That’s why there is no guarantee.
Your chance of reaching fluency slowly goes up over time. As you reach major hurdles that threaten to cause you to quit, your percentage dips. But as you overcome each of these, your percentage shoots up. Until it gets so high that you are almost guaranteed a win.
Probability more motivating than a guarantee
Thinking that studying hard only gives you a probability may not feel very uplifting. But I think it can be the opposite. You knew going into this there were no guarantees, so you didn’t expect to be able to control the outcome. However, knowing that you can control the probability can be just as empowering. It’s more realistic and you actually feel it.
Do you remember the point where you thought, “I’ve come this far. I can do so much. There is no way I am quitting. ” That’s you reaching the probability threshold where your chance of failure becomes slim.
A guaranteed game isn’t a game. Play it the right way.
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.