Beating The Mid-Level Blues — 52 Comments

  1. That would be me right now, and yes absolutely the listening comprehension is the most frustrating part. Although Twitter is pretty frustrating too. Very colloquial, and little context, means I often read a tweet knowing every individual word and not a clue what was being said.

    It’s simply a problem of time. There is no reason to think that methods that have worked till now will cease to be effective. The only real cause of this frustration is impatience. Impatience isn’t altogether bad though; it’s excellent motivation.

    I think, as adult learners, we often let ourselves down needlessly by expecting to be able to do the same things in the second language that we do in the native language. When writing, for example, we think of what we’d like to express, which often involves some reasonably complex concepts and language constructs, and then realize that we can’t say that exact thing (or maybe not even anything close) in the second language, and get frustrated. Or when listening, we’d like to jump straight into that historical drama because that’s the kind of thing we’re interested in – but the apparatus to deal with it just isn’t in place yet, as easy as it would be in English. Kids learning their first language don’t have that problem because they haven’t been over that ground yet at all.

    Looking forward to part two.

  2. I feel like I’ve been stuck in the blues for a while (-_-). I see people who can just fluently express what’s on their mind with little to no mistakes and I feel so envious (and yell at myself for feeling that way). Because I feel excitement too when I can read a manga and understand a drama. So why can’t I speak like them? When will I get to that point?

    Ha, I don’t know when my blue period will end. I feel like I’m going to start coming out of it soon though, because I definitely see myself progressing.

    I’ve been noticing lately that listening is definitely an issue. However, it’s not the active listening. It’s just when I’m caught by surprise and my brain didn’t pick it up. Such as when I’m focused on something before Japanese class begins, and then my teacher tells me something I didn’t expect. It just goes by me. When I’m focused, I do fine. But I’m not so worried about listening. I know that once I’ve experienced this kind of unexpected listening more often, I’ll adjust to it. More so than listening, speaking is really what gives me the blues.

  3. I’m more in the beginner stage; I’m really happy that I can understand any manga at all, dictionary diving seems like magic when it works, and it doesn’t really bother me that I don’t understand the spoken Japanese. What I’m asking myself is, “Is listening to stuff I don’t understand on any repetition accomplishing anything? Or will it only be productive once I have a more solid knowledge of the language? Or do I need to somehow more specifically train my listening skill?” But I don’t really need answers to these questions. It doesn’t matter if my time spent listening is wasted because I do it during time that isn’t good for anything else anyway. If I reach the point where I know I’d understand it pretty well if it was written and it still doesn’t seem to be doing anything for me then I’ll consider doing other things to learn to hear, but I don’t need to worry about that unless it happens.

    It is encouraging to hear that people more advanced than me have trouble understanding spoken Japanese; that makes it less likely that it’s something I can’t learn the normal way.

    Is there anyone who started the listening around 1000 sentences or earlier (IIRC the timeline on this site recommends it around 500 sentences) and has gotten the the point of understanding significant amounts who can say something about how valuable the early listening experience was for them?

    • I started listening while I was doing RTK, which I finished before I started sentences. And to clarify, I didn’t know any Japanese other than the kana before that point. While I wouldn’t say I understand a whole lot, if I’m actively trying to figure out what’s going on I can probably get about 15%-30% of it, depending on the material. There are some things which I understand much better than that, maybe up to about 80% or so (usually just simple conversations in a show) and then there are things which I just get completely lost in and know very little of the vocabulary to where I don’t really get any meaning out of any words I pick out (if there were any..) at all. =p Really though, if I’m not actively paying attention to it and trying to know what they’re saying, my comprehension becomes much much lower.
      Based on some of your posts, I’d say we’re probably fairly close in how many sentences we’ve done. While I can understand some of what’s going on in the media, I still definitely struggle through it — and my output is much worse than my comprehension. After listening to Japanese audio in most of the moments I have available to, I have definitely noticed an improvement in my comprehension though. At first it was all just noise to me. After that it was all just noise except for a few words I could pick out. Then I started to be able to recognize the sounds of other words I didn’t know. Doing this, I’ve been able to look those words up and add them to my SRS, or in some cases even just infer what it meant because it came up so often. Of course this is just for select words, there are still large strings of words and phrases where I won’t even be able to pick out a single word.
      While my listening is behind my reading, I’ve definitely noticed huge improvements to it in the last few months.

    • I don’t understand… you mean, it’s recommended to not actively listen to Japanese until you have at least 1000 sentences (what does this mean? on anki?) Avoid that route!

      Start focusing on your listening right away. Watch dramas without subtitles, have Japanese playing in your car, constantly listen to Japanese music. Use a dictionary to look up unfamiliar things you hear repeated often. Transcribe what you hear. Listen with a script then without a script.

      I started an intense study on listening right away. In fact, my reading lagged behind my listening for a long time. I could read hiragana and katakana and some kanji, but my kanji didn’t really catch up until I got into school and had to learn kanji for quizzes (I self taught myself how to easily memorize kanji through breaking it into radicals). Then, I started reading manga and sending lots of tweets and emails in Japanese. And now I feel because of that, my reading is better than my listening.

      Even before you study the grammar and vocab of a language, it’s important to listen to it to get used to the flow and have it become less of a blur.

      • No I’m not recommending anything in particular. I’m asking if anyone has had an experience similar to mine but is farther in the process and could tell me how it worked out for them.

  4. Oh… I thought this was where I was at (mid-level blues), but I realized it’s not really my struggle. I’ve been studying for 4 and a 1/2 years and am pass this stage. I’m happy with where my listening is at. Actually, I just feel in the past couple of months, it has really progressed thanks to listening to dramas and anime in the car (most my time is spent in the car, so it increased my listening time by a lot).

    The problem is speaking. Could this be another kind of mid-(upper)level blues? Could you do a blog post on tips for speaking? I’ve been starting to shadow my CDs in the car more often, especially since I can understand a lot more than I used to be able to understand. I think that may help. As well as the weekly Skype sessions I have with my mother-in-law.

    Do you think I should make more of an effort to speak Japanese to my husband? I’ve asked him to speak more with me, but he doesn’t really. He told me its best if I initiate first since he’s not used to it.

    People always told me, “You wouldn’t jump into the middle of an advanced level tennis match, would you?” when I mentioned the immersion method for listening. But it’s totally different. Going to noise to clarity I feel is really the way to go. So, I’m using that way to teach the girl I babysit Japanese. It’s working well with her too. Better than relying off of my imperfect Japanese after all.

    • I have a bit of a backlog of posts I need to write, but I’ll definitely add it to the list. It’s an important area I haven’t addressed yet.

      As for you and your husband, you might want to set a day (or at least a specific time) where you will only speak to each other in Japanese (for example dinner). And try to strictly abide by this. I’ve done similar things in the past. If you just try to speak to him in Japanese, and he responds in English, it can be frustrating and halt the conversation.

      And while your conversations in Japanese probably won’t be as good or as deep as they were in English yet, don’t be tempted to switch back to English for a difficult part of the conversation. Stick with it, and continue with what you can.

      • We’ve started setting times for talking in Japanese only!! This is great… Wonderful feeling. It actually encourages a more even flow of Japanese throughout the day.

        We’ve decided that we’ll talk in Japanese at least once a day (for the whole period of time) while going out for a drive, showering or going to bed (so if we don’t go for a drive together that day, we’ll talk in Japanese before sleeping). We started last night, and fell asleep talking in Japanese. While, we forgot this morning on the way to church, I remembered on the way back and we continued there. For one moment, when he told me to go straight and I was confused because it wasn’t the usual way, we slipped into English and then quickly out of it without even noticing (code-switching). Then, at home while cooking lunch, I spoke a lot of Japanese and he initiated a lot of Japanese as well. So exciting!

        I really like our plan to speak in the car because that’s where I listen to my Japanese CDs and speak to myself in Japanese. So, it works well with the flow.

  5. Good points, and encouraging.

    Would you have any suggestions for helping listening catch up to reading?

    I’ve been doing incremental reading of podcast transcriptions and then listening to the podcasts; and also watching anime/drama with Japanese subtitles. This has already helped quite a bit. Anything you have both the audio and text for is pretty much worth its weight in gold at this point.

      • “san” is a honorific suffix reserved for other people’s names.
        using it after your own name will make you come across as arrogant.

      • The podcasts I’m mainly working through now are Miki’s blog from japanesepod101, which has the transcripts on the site, and ふぁんた時間 podcast which does not have transcripts but many of which you can get from Aozora Bunko.

  6. One tip that helps me a good bit when I’m going through sentences is this: I try to imagine that the sentence is being told to me by a Japanese person and I am expected to understand it. So if if I’m presented with a sentence that says something like “Please turn off the TV” or something similar, I picture in my mind that I’m actually being asked this exact thing by a Japanese person in Japan. I even go so far as to imagine myself answering ”はい、分かりました!” afterwards to subconsciously reaffirm that I’ve understood the idea that the person was trying to get across at the time (but only if I’ve truly understood the sentence.) It sounds a little silly, but I feel like it forces my brain to comprehend the sentence more strongly than if I was just going through the sentences like a zombie and zoning out on each one…

  7. I have the mid-level blues at least once a month but end up being better after every slump. I’ve gotten past the really long depression I believe.

  8. Im 2 years in n still get the blues from time to time. Its not a continous thing anymore since i can do certain things. I just gotta tell myself, “hey sometimes youre gonna watch something and not understand much, but there will be other shoes where you understand most of it”

  9. My real problem is have this really big fear that I will never learn Japanese. For some reason I am sacred that I will not truly understand. And to the you the truth at sometimes I believe it. I know that I should not have started learning a 3rd language but i did start learning Spanish again in college because it is required for my major. But I feel that I am doing something wrong with my Japanese. I feel that no matter how many sentences I put into anki or how much I listen I am not learning and not making any progress. I feel that I have been in these blues for a while and can’t see to find a way out.

    • As long as you continue to put in the work, use good methods, and enjoy Japanese culture/language, you absolutely will learn Japanese. When you get down, I recommend watching inspirational Japanese Dramas such as ドラゴン桜.

    • I encountered this when forced to learn French in high school (-_-). I tried to ignore the dilemma by faking an interest in French, when my grade showed my obvious lack of passion for it.

      If you have the passion, you can do it (^_^). Just hang in there!

  10. You know, it’s funny how I felt some mid-level blues but not with listening and reading but with speaking. I’m in Japan for goodness sakes and have been for a year but still can’t speak a lick. I feel like a mute. I understand what is being said but can’t respond quick enough. I do say short sentences here and there but man oh man, is my job preventing me from practicing speaking. Reason why I’m not staying there after my 2nd year is up. Anyway I’m not really worried about it. I’ll eventually move up but my mid-level blues did happen…for one weekend. Maybe once a month I get frustrated. Meh, in due time right.

  11. I feel like I have premature mid-level blues. I’m not mid-level but I have been studying Japanese for more than a year now. The only problem is, for most of last year until September I was using awful methods, watching everything with English subs and didn’t know how to use Anki or what RTK was. I only started learning Kanji properly in May and that began slow because of exams. So basically, I’m a bit blue because I feel like I’ve wasted a lot of time and now I have to work very hard to progress, and the novelty of discovering new methods in September and getting new books in May has worn off. Perhaps, it’s because I’m no longer at school so I can spend as much time overworking myself and dwelling on my Japanese study as I want, which is a bit too much time.

    • I tend to get like that with a lot of things…”oh, if I had only been doing X since Y” and “I’ve wasted so much time”…and it’s silly and accomplishes nothing.

      What I say to myself when those voices get loud is this: “that money is already spent”. Feeling bad about it, getting sad about it won’t bring it back. It’s gone, forget about it. Instead of looking at where you would have been, look at where you are now.

      Instead of “I’ve only been doing Kanji since May”, it helps to phrase it as “I’ve been doing Kanji since May!” Even if you only know 500 Kanji, that’s 500 Kanji you didn’t know before. 500 sentences you didn’t know before.

      The problem with language is that there’s a lot of investment in the beginning and the payout doesn’t come until later. So I know how daunting those middle bits can be…around 1000 Kanji and 500 sentences is where I started to get really down in the dumps. If you can power through it, the reward is incredible though. When I sit down with Yotsuba and realize I can get through a chapter and understand what’s going on? The high I feel is almost physical.

      Just keep doing those reps, day after day. Don’t worry about the past, it’s passed.

    • I struggled with a little of this recently. In particular, I’ve been blazing through sentences, but RTK is exhausting for me and I’m REALLY lagging behind on progress. I’m lucky to have a job where I get to be very creative, but when I come home the last thing I want to do is use my imagination for anything. Then RTK study time rolls around and I find myself looking for any excuse to get out of it…

      I was beating myself up about that slow progress quite a bit, until my wife pointed out that I really have no reason to make a race of it. Sure J-J will be slightly harder if I’m only at 1100 RTK when I start, but it’s not worth stressing myself out over. If I’m not enjoying my journey, then what’s the point?

      You’re basically your own game master for this adventure. The job of a game master is, first and foremost, to keep the game enjoyable for the participants. Adshap has given you an awesome game kit, but you can and should adjust the rules to make it fun for YOU. If that means shifting goals around, or letting yourself lean on certain crutches a bit longer than prescribed, or taking a break from hardcore study to have a “fun day”, then you as the game master are well within your rights to make that call.

      And as StereotypeA points out, focus on what you can do now that you couldn’t do before. Try to read a chapter of よつばと!, or go pick a fight with the N5 sample questions on the JLPT website, or open up the Statistics panel in Anki and marvel at that glorious pie chart that shows just how many hundreds of new things you’ve already mastered. And man, next time you’re doing reviews, stop and look at some of those sentences. That stuff is crazy complicated – and YOU can READ it. As far as I’m concerned you deserve a box of Jaffa Cakes (and ship me a box, too >_>) just for making it as far as you have.

      Not only that, but you’re already able to contribute and teach others. I took the plunge on that whole ドラマ thing on your recommendation, and it was a great experience. I’m sure making time for that in my study routine going forward will be a big help. So thanks! :)


      • Thanks, guys.

        On the subject hating and avoiding long RTK study time, I’ve been reading a series of surprisingly coherent articles on AJATT about timeboxing and I’ve been trying it out for the past couple of days. I have to say, it makes Kanji learning a lot easier! Basically, I’ve been timing myself for 20 minutes every hour, on the hour to do as many kanji as I can and I’ve averaged at 6-7 kanji in that time, which is much better than the 10 in an hour I used to do! I also managed about 35 in the day doing this when I usually manage about 16. Today I’ve been doing 15 mins just to see if I can make it any smaller with similar efficiency to try and reduce reluctance towards the end of the day (I’m more of a morning person) and at an average of 5-6 each session I think I’m doing well.

        This also means I’ve been breaking up my study with some more fun Japanese stuff which does offer motivation as you said. Before I would say “Okay study for 3 hours and then you can watch a drama and be happy” but now I can say “Study for 15 mins and then you can rest, watch a drama and come back in a good mood” which is much easier to do. I might have a long manga reading session later, because that’s the thing that I most end up cutting out for study.

        I’m still not liking the amount of time these kanji is going to take in days and weeks and months but I do like the extra comprehension that Kanji gives me, so I’d prefer not to cut them down. The main thing that motivated me to learn Kanji nearer the beginning (about 150) was reading Naruto 1 for about the 10th time, which was a regular and awesome benchmark for my progress, and realising my further understanding in that read through was due to Kanji knowledge. I need to get my hands on more fun kanji-full manga because at the moment I’m reading Doraemon I borrowed from a friend, which has quite a few words kana-ed.

        Maybe I should buy some Jaffa Cakes… I literally ate a sandwich with no filling this morning because I couldn’t be bothered to make anything and was really hungry. I’ll make a much better sandwich for lunch. Anyway, it’s great to hear that taking the drama plunge has worked for you Matt! I love my dramas. I also like to watch interviews of my fav Jpop/jrock stars, mostly the girl rock band Scandal because they’re cute but still cool and often very funny. I watch a Pokemon X and Y movie promotion show this morning with them on it and with lots of other amusing features and it’s put me in a good mood XD.

        Wow, that was a rant.

        • I keep noticing similarities in our study methods and difficulties! I had considered mentioning time boxing in my previous comment, but decided against it. In an effort to counteract my severe ADHD, I’ve started micro-timeboxing. I now do 3 minutes of Anki, 1 minute of TV/anime/reading/etc. and just keep alternating back and forth like that until I’ve finished. It definitely seems to cut through the massive stack of cards quickly. And two hours in three minute chunks seems to go by a lot faster than in hour or twenty-five or even fifteen minutes.

        • Ok that’s super interesting. Your approach is quite different from mine, and I’d like to know more about it.

          I sit down for ~1-2 hours doing a block of ~15-30 all at once, then reviews for 30-45 mins after that (both my daily reviews and the new ones at the same time, so they’re mixed in). I just assumed that was how it was supposed to work.

          When you’re doing them just a few at a time, multiple times throughout the day, how are you handling your reviews? Do you wait until the end of the day? Or do them alongside each mini-session of 5-ish kanji?

          • Stereotype A: Sounds like you’ve got a good system going. Despite seeing the benefit of timeboxing, I hate being interrupted too regularly so I don’t think I could ever work on anything for only 3 mins and I definitely couldn’t bear to watch anything for only 1 minute. I even hate the idea of stopping songs before they end. That’s why I stick to 15 mins, but obviously, you have a more pressing reason to stick to smaller amounts and that’s the beauty of timeboxing; it can adapt to anyone.

            Matt: Reviews don’t bother me that much so I usually do it at the end of the day in one block but I’m going to change that. I’ll probably add a 5 min slot onto my 15 mins as you’re saying because it’s sort of bad creating such an efficient timebox system and then just neglecting my reviews to a big lump. I just hadn’t got round to organizing the reviews properly yet because that wasn’t what was bothering me.

            • Stereotype A: One exception to what I said is not related to Japanese but it’s guitar chord changes which I practice in 30 sec slots and aim for 60 changes. The teacher said to do 60 changes in a minute but I couldn’t bear to do a minute straight so I made up for the shorter practise by setting a higher target. (Also, I wanted to challenge myself because I’ve played other string instruments before).

            • 60 changes in 30 seconds? That would be something to try. I’ve always been super clumsy at changing chords…or chords in general.

              It’s something to note that my attention seems to go in phases where I’ll suddenly start to prefer 15-25 minute bursts to the micro-timeboxes. So, like you said, adaptation is essential.

    • The point, as I understand it, is to immerse yourself in stuff that’s interesting to you without worrying about the difficulty. The idea is that the more exposure you get, both active and passive, the more you’ll start to “get it”, even if it’s material that’s above your level.

      For example, what if you’re Level 15, but really excited about Naruto? Dive on in. Sure, you might only be able to understand a small fraction of the dialogue at first. But over time, you’ll start to pick up more and more. You’ll hear the same common words repeatedly and you’ll start to hear them more clearly and get a better sense of what they really mean. You’ll get used to the characters’ voices speech patterns and find it easier to parse what they’re saying. At some point, it’ll suddenly occur to you just how much your understanding has developed, and when that happens it’s really satisfying.

    • I realize that the Immersion listeners vs. Regular listeners section may have been confusing, as now I always say “find what matches your level.”

      I mean that regular listeners find artificial material that matches their level (textbook CDs, podcasts, learner videos), and immersion listeners start from native material (which can feel like noise). Immersion listeners should also find what matches their level, but it needs to be native.

      As Matt said, you it helps to find the “native” material that you can enjoy as this is your primary motivator.

    • In the effort to prevent Jalup from being a mess of difficult to navigate articles that accumulate over the years, I spend a lot of time on reorganization on the site.

      First I combine articles. Articles that were in parts, or have similar topics that could work better as one full article.

      Second, I remove older articles that I don’t like the way they were written or my opinions have changed and I now disagree with my former self.

      Usually I try to update anything that links to these changed/deleted articles, but due to the size of the site, I end up missing some links. So thanks for pointing that out.

  12. Reading so much about mid level blues I believe will help shield me from them. I think I won’t have them or won’t have them severely because my aim and goals are very clear and the constant goal setting every month really boosts motivation. Plus I am already experiencing 20-30% comprehension but it doesn’t matter because I believe I can get there. I know no one cares but I have 2 long term goals, take JLPT N1 and AP Japanese (much easier than JLPT) and ace/get really high scores on them by december 2017, a little under 2 years, but I believe I can do it. What are some goals to make after JLPT N1 and hitting 10k anki cards? 20k anki cards? After that? I don’t want some vague goals because then I wouldn’t know if I passed them or not. Any suggestions? I know I am getting way ahead of myself but I want kind of want some future security.

  13. Yep! That’s me! Just set in a few days ago. These lines describe me “You are only understanding 10-20% (THIS!!!!!!) of what you are listening to. There is too much kanji(OMG THIS) you can’t read, and you struggle through books and manga. You speak slowly (don’t have this), make too many errors (not too many), and can’t say what you want to (THIS).” That described me perfectly. However, I am just really really really really ものすごく frustrated due to my lack of comprehension. I am watching Doraemon, a one-star anime. However, I only understand 10-20%. In the line group chat, I keep getting jealous at people being able to play Japanese games, watch the shows the want, etc. However, everyone stated that I can get to that point after finishing Jalup Advanced which is calming, but I am still wayyy too frustrated. My current plan is just keep chugging at it until I finally reach that point. Currently level 25~

    • I used to feel same way about many others on the site(they can watch whatever they want, and I can’t even understand level 1). Al I can say is that initial months are the only tough part, and it DOES get better.

      For extra motivation I recommend reading these:

      Pick one person (using the search function), and follow them along throughout the months. See how they started off with 1 starred media and January, and consumed 4 starred in December.

      Here’s for “Goals”
      A girl struggling to finish RTK in Japanese and thinking of quitting in January, finished the Expert series by the End of December. Pretty motivating stuff.

      • That’s a great idea! Also good motivation to track your own progress, whether through posts like those or just some kind of mini-journal.

        It’s easy to take your own progress for granted…

    • The mid level blues are really tough. For me it really snuck up on me and was extremely frustrating. It was the only time that I questioned my study methods. But then I realized that it was not my methods, I was just feeling the blues hard.

      Look at it as a stage of progress. It something we all have to go through and move past. Feeling the mid level blues is a sign that you are clear of the beginner phase. Just keep doing what you are doing, and it will be over shortly. Think about all the great things ahead. They are close now.

    • Turn that frustration into motivation! Every time you try to watch something and find yourself getting frustrated at your lack of comprehension, take that energy and do 5 more anki reps. It’s completely natural to feel this way, I think nearly every Japanese learner goes through it, and the only way past it is through it. Also, if you are understanding 10-20%, it’s a good sign that it’s time to start increasing passive immersion, etc. Maybe time for some comprehensible reading too.

  14. The mid-level blues the mid-level crisis or Intermediate depression(my original name), when you inevitably hit this particular wall in your Japanese Journey, like Adam was writing about do not slow down with your studying, You should actually study way more than you did before using the SAME methods, because look 95+% of all Japanese learners stop right at the beginning of this wall. If you before this only studied 45-60 min a day, now you need to study around 2-5 hours, this massive block separates the weak unwilling sorry souls from actual mastery of self-control and discipline, you will feel insanely good afterwards. And one more thing: continue studying/immersion at the rate that made you capable of completely destroying the wall that I call the intermediate depression. So push through, YOU WILL GET THERE SO CONTINUE STUDYING, DO NOT GIVE UP!!!

  15. When you hit this wall,what you should do is study way more than you ever have done in the past, if you did 30-50 min you should do at least 2 hours, the reason? Well for starters because it is extremely difficult and pushed through it would feel amazing right? When you feel like you can’t do it just remember the fact that 95+% of Japanese learners end it here,meaning that it completely separates you from everyone else…go on study more.and another thing is that not feeling progress means that you are already really good,So instead of being sad,frustrated about it,celebrate the fact that you are GOOD at the language now because you can’t feel progress.

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