Time is the Secret to Becoming Fluent in Japanese
I know you’ve been waiting for this. I’ve been holding out on you, right? All it takes is one thing. No more, no less. Ready?
If you study Japanese, over time you will become fluent.
So I’ve been studying for X years, why aren’t I fluent?
Because you haven’t put in enough time.
But I have!
Really? How many hours have you studied every single day, over X years in total?
Time. A one word answer.
I’m sure you are already thinking, well it’s not just time. It’s the methods and tools you use, the efficiency of them and how well they suit you, your motivation, your natural talent, your environment, your will power etc., etc., etc.
However, everything is fixed with time.
1. Using inefficient methods and tools?
● With time you will realize what is inefficient and find more efficient ones.
2. Using methods and tools that don’t fit you?
● With time you find out what you like and don’t, and what matches your study style.
3. Don’t have enough motivation?
● With time you will figure out what motivates you and what doesn’t.
4. Don’t have natural language talent?
● With time you won’t need natural talent, you’ll have developed ability, which is far superior to natural talent
5. Don’t have the proper environment?
● With time you will adjust or change your environment.
6. Don’t have enough willpower?
● With time you develop willpower.
I have never met anyone who has put in the time that didn’t become great at Japanese. It’s just not going to be the result.
How much time do you need?
It comes down to this: The more time you put in, the faster you will become fluent. Every extra minute a day is a minute sooner you are fluent.
Yes. But the simplest answer is sometimes important to hear.
Take a serious look at how much time you are putting in every day, every week of every year. Be honest with yourself. This is no time to exaggerate, make excuses/justifications, or to hold onto unnecessary pride.
I did a lot of this self-reflection in my early days. I stopped and really counted the actual hours. And it was embarrassing and hurt my pride. But at the same time was a major eye opener.
Finally, I challenge you:
After you figure your daily study time, increase it by 15 minutes. That’s it. Only 15 extra minutes a day. Making 15 minutes a day is doable for even the busiest of people. That adds up to to 91 hours over the next year. 91 hours is a significant step closer towards fluency.
You can thank me in a year.
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.
This is funny as I’ve been thinking about this recently. As I power level I spend a lot of time a day, but I’ve realized that while spending a lot of time per day is great some things have to be learned over long periods of time. Especially things that are very different form English. It took me so long to get all the uses and variations of って言う down.
Yeah, that cycle of study – rest – study – rest allows the brain to do its thing. So a lot of time, over time.
Completely agree. My Japanese learning has kind of plateaued recently and the real reason for it is that I haven’t really been investing any time in studying – I live in Japan, have mostly Japanese friends here, am married to a Japanese man and work as a Japanese to English translator so I have quite a bit of natural exposure anyway, but if I am honest with myself my Japanese could be a LOT better than it is now if I had spent an hour or even 20 more minutes per day deliberately immersed in Japanese.
Your life sounds awesome! I would’ve said I’d aspire to the same life as you, but I don’t think my girlfriend would like my Japanese husband.
Thank you! I probably take it for granted a bit more than I should really. Maybe getting a Japanese roommate instead might be a safer option than a husband ;)
Sounds like now is a good time to put in that extra hour or 20 minutes!
It’s such a simple idea too, and so easy to dismiss but man when you really get this idea it’s so liberating. I haven’t had a major burnout since I finally understood this. I’ve had mini-burnouts but just knowing that all I gotta worry about is studying today, made things so much easier.
When I first started, I used to think of the Japanese language as this huge barrier or wall that was standing in front of me. Like, it wasn’t even a mountain I could climb over it was so big. This concept of just study x hours per day completely removed that idea of a ‘barrier’. The barrier was so bad, like after 6 months I was down to like less than 10 minutes of Anki per day and wondering why I didn’t know anything (and actually now I wake up at like 5am so I have enough time for Anki before work, if you want something bad enough, you’ll do it no matter what). But, yeah, then I started thinking about this stuff and I’m flying now ^^
Gosh, it’s so simple too lol.
Anyway, I will accept your challenge of 15 extra minutes, which will bump me up to 1 hr 15 minutes of Anki, to go along with my 2 hours of listening every day (I’ve dropped the ball on Manga reading but that will be fixed when I make next month’s goals).
Time for my morning Anki.
It’s those simple things we need to remember the most. Those 15 minutes will make a difference!
Great advice to take to heart. Not just for active studying, but for input. Thank you yet again.
If anyone else has Netflix (or some other rental service), take a glance at your watch history for a potential wake-up call. I was certainly humbled by mine. It helped me pinpoint which western movies I seem to comfort-/stress-watch the most (after a long day). [These are what went straight on the list for サンタさん (夫さん^w^), to start building up a Japanese dub stash.] It also pushed me to do a better job of recording my Japanese reading and watching queues. [Instead of my random notes/scribbles (recommendations from friends) and an overwhelming number of bookmarks, I now use 読書ミーター ( http://bookmeter.com ) and MyDramaList ( http://mydramalist.com ; for anime enthusiasts, there’s an anime version, too: http://myanimelist.net ).] I also needed the nudge to create more reading hot-spots in my home (sometimes using a fabric storage caddy to keep them within reach, but not in the way).
P.S. Here’s a little mantra that has helped me stay in the game: I give Japanese ten years. Once I get to ten years, then I can think about quitting. (However, by the time I have invested ten years, if I need more time to reach my goals, I’m going to give it — b/c I didn’t waste those ten years of effort/other resources just to quit later! ;P)
Great idea about using video sites that keep track of your viewing history to make sure you are focused on Japanese material. These type of wake up calls can often be surprising but necessary.
10 years? You’ll be amazing.
Now *that* is the motivation I needed. Good post; it’s true that everything boils down to time.
I was reading through some second language acquisition books at my university and one of the chapters seemed quite interesting:
In terms of L2 ultimate attainment, most learners who begin acquiring the L2 before a certain age, typically before puberty, will develop levels of morphosyntactic and phonological competence that are very close to those of native speakers of that language. Post-pubertal learners, however, are not likely to perform in the native speaker range, and this holds true regardless of the number of years they have resided in the L2 environment.”
Ortega, Lourdes (2014). Understanding Second Language Acquisition. Retrieved from http://www.eblib.com
What are your thoughts on this? Do you feel that while it is possible to become quite fluent, after a certain age the odds of becoming indistinguishable from a native are less than someone who started learning from their pre-teens?
Curious to hear Adam’s thoughts as well, but I think the reason young kids have an “advantage” comes down to two things-
1: People are more willing to provide them with constant hand-holding and corrections because they’re little (and thus still “cute/adorable”).
2: They’re less independent, and are probably learning at the behest of their parents or other important adults in their lives. If your parents and teachers are consistently pushing you to improve, and you’re required to listen to them, there’s not much risk of becoming complacent.
There’s no special magic exclusive to kids, IMO*. If anything, adults are faster and more efficient learners. The problem is finding the time, opportunity, and motivation to keep improving your output, especially once fluency is achieved and you no longer have communication barriers to keep you motivated.
Just think of Actors and Spies. The former sometimes bet their livelihood on their ability to pass as a native of another land, and the latter sometimes bet their lives. Both are quite frequently successful. I believe it just comes down to dedication and perhaps engaging the services of a good voice coach.
*There is a legitimate case for VERY young kids (0-5 iirc?) being able to more easily distinguish different linguistic sounds, which is somewhat of a legit biological advantage. It’s hard to say how much of a difference this makes, but it’s certainly not insurmountable.
Yeah, I’d have to disagree with that type of study. I’ve seen too much from personal experience, and those I’ve known around me, and those I’ve seen through interviews/TV that go against the idea that adults can’t learn to a native level. Reaching fluent level for an adult in any language is difficult. Reaching fluent level in Japanese for a native English speaker is very difficult. Reaching native level for an adult in any language is very difficult. Reaching native level in Japanese for a native English speaker is extremely difficult. However the key word is still “difficult,” not “impossible.” And a lot of it has to do with the advantages below.
Now it is true that children have major advantages over adults. Matt makes some excellent points on 2 of these major advantages. They pick up and learn the sounds easier, mimic (and love to mimic), are constantly corrected, are expected to be able to become native level, don’t have embarrassment, or worries/fears/mental constraints holding them back, aren’t too “busy,” don’t spend time reading about whether they can do it or not or what studies say that it is possible or not, are open to anything, have more motivation, don’t have a barrage of life issues that also need to be handled simultaneously, have more patience, and try and try until they do it to death.
Adults do have a few advantages over children though. They are smarter (yay), more efficient, organized, have more money and resources (also yay), don’t have to learn concepts/meaning at the same time while learning the actual language (ex. an adult understands what Democracy is, a child doesn’t), among others.
And another big one Matt brings up is that most people don’t need to learn to a native level. As an adult are you going to spend an extra 5-10 years working on your abilities when you were perfectly capable at the 3-5 year mark?
Spies and actors do it (you don’t want to be an actor spy? or a spy actor?), and extremely dedicated people do it. You can do it. Will you do it? That depends on how much of your life, resources, and time you plan on dedicating to it.
Thanks Adam for the excellent response.
Thanks for this response Adam