I starting studying back in 2005. Information was limited. Textbooks were limited. Tools were limited. No smartphone. But 2005 still puts me in the modern era of studying Japanese. I still had the internet, and that of course is one of the biggest educational game changers of human history. There are people who studied Japanese in the 1990s and 1890s and I’m glad I wasn’t one of them.
But forget about the past. Today you have an unlimited arsenal of Japanese studying glory at your fingertips. You couldn’t be in a better position than all of Japanese learner history… except for a few things.
Try doing a Google search for any question about how to study Japanese and I guarantee you will get a precise answer. You will get hundreds of answers, sourced from every type of website and forum.
All of this information brings a new burden. Information about studying Japanese is nowhere near in agreement. It is filled with experience and sales pitches. For you, this means a lot of research homework before making any decision. And since there are no easy answers, it is easy to get lost.
Once you get past the “how” of Japanese, you get to the toolbox. These days everyone has a “learn Japanese” website or app that claims it is the best thing ever, and why every other site pales in comparison with it. New tools come out daily (hourly?)
Businesses are always chasing the next best thing. It is easy to be drawn to them. For example, Anki is an app that is over 10 years old now. Who wouldn’t want to try something new?
Opinions make information/tool research even more messy. Once you sort through the hundreds of tools, apps, and websites, next you have to figure out what people think of them and whether they are worth using.
You move from an information search to a review search. Here is where you’ll most likely end up on some kind of forum, whether that is Reddit, Stack Overflow, Koohii, or one of the other big players. Anyone who frequents these places know things can get crazy.
I dare you to go to a forum and say:
I want to use X method and Y tool in Z way. What do you think?
You’ll get a variety of answers:
Now you have to sort through all of this. When you read reviews, your mind works strangely. You can receive 9 positive comments about your question, but one nasty comment can feel like it negates everything. And you will get a nasty comment, I promise.
This is all good news
It was not “better in my day.” I would trade what I had in 2005 in a second for everything we have today. Are you kidding me? The current situation for Japanese learning, language learning, and pretty much any learning is in a renaissance. Maybe “Wild West” is a more appropriate term. But it’s a great place to be in now.
Everyone is trying to improve on the traditional methods that were mostly the same for a hundred years. That is something to be unbelievably excited about. Regardless of the difficulty of sifting through all of this, it is better than having a choice between 2 physical textbooks as your only real options.
I slightly believe that this new wave of learning sources will eventually start to settle. I could be wrong though, and innovation may keep expanding it further as technology grows.
What to do right now
To get through this maze, there are 3 guidelines I recommend:
1. Research but don’t over-research
It’s important to be informed of the methods of learning Japanese. However, you don’t need to be informed about everything. Once you compare several textbooks, methods, and tools, you can make your decision.
2. Be wary of opinions
After you nominate some methods, your next inclination is to pore over non-stop reviews. This will take your initial research conclusions and place cracks and holes all over it.
I’m not saying to ignore people’s opinions, but just be careful of the review black-hole.
3. Start before you reach decision fatigue
Research will drain you. It can make you actually not want to study Japanese anymore. Have you ever gone through a “Should I learn…” binge on Google, only to never actually start learning anything?
Starting is key. I’ve met perfectly fluent people that started on the worst choices imaginable. My first actual purchased textbook was written entirely in romaji and was awful. It doesn’t matter if you choose poorly or you discover something better. Everyone changes their own methods and tools over time and they can do this because they actually started with something.
What was your navigation like?
When you picked out your methods and tools, how did you navigate through all of the information and opinions?
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