I used to be a bit of an OCD. When I played video games, I always thought I had to do every single thing there was to do. The first time I played a Pokemon game, I took it seriously. I really did catch ’em all. I remember walking through fields for hours to find a rare Pokemon and slogging through the caves to get my puny Pokemon to evolve.
When I played through Fire Emblem for the first time, I got every character to the maximum level. Even the ones that I didn’t like. When I played Paper Mario, I collected every single badge, including the ones that were completely useless.
I felt pretty accomplished until I realized how boring it was. I stopped hoarding and found out that it was a lot more fun when you don’t have to do every single thing.
Unfortunately, I took the old philosophy with me on my journey to learn Japanese. I had to understand every single word of a manga before I moved on, I had to understand every single sentence before I turned off the English subtitles, and I had to know every synonym before I used a monolingual dictionary. It didn’t take too long to realize that was no fun, either.
The problem was that I had set my standards too high. In my head, I had expectations for myself that I couldn’t achieve. It’s dangerous to have unrealistic expectations of yourself. Instead of concentrating on my accomplishments, I was constantly stuck on my deficiencies. This was not only bad for my studies but also for my mental state. I’d get depressed looking at all the books and movies I couldn’t understand.
I’ve come to the seemingly obvious conclusion: I’ll never understand everything. I’ll never know every word in the Japanese language. Heck, I don’t even know anywhere close to every word of the English language. Nearly every day I find myself looking up a word I don’t know or searching Wikipedia for something I’ve never heard of before.
That’s okay. Instead of obsessing over what I can’t do, it’s much more fun to keep the emphasis on what I can do. I can read whole volumes of manga! On some pages, I can’t understand a thing the characters are saying.
But I keep reading, and I can understand the next page, and the page after that. Sometimes I’m watching an anime and I can’t catch a single word. But I can understand the next sentence, and then somebody uses a word I just learned so I can feel smart. It’s great fun. (It’s also incredibly satisfying to name your rival rude words.)
Don’t strive for perfection. You’ll find that learning is much more enjoyable when you don’t have to get everything right.
Written by: Eric
A writer for Japanese Level Up, a part-time graphic designer, and purveyor of fine Japanese art (which consists mostly of anime, manga and weird music). When he’s not wasting time in Japanese, you can usually find him making pretty pictures or studying something that sounds interesting.