An Important Lesson From My First 6 Weeks Of Seriously Studying Japanese

I’ve only just begun my Japanese learning journey, but I’ve learned something important that I want to share.

Before school started, I was casually listening to Japanese podcasts and watching television in Japanese for exposure, especially since I learned The Game-Changing Language Learning Advice That Eased the Pressure.

When school started, I started studying in earnest. I found myself getting frustrated then learning important but unexpected lessons.

Here’s what I found frustrating and how I managed it.

I didn’t remember how to study.

I haven’t been in school for years, and even when I was in school, I didn’t study that hard, so I didn’t remember how to do it. If you’re still in school or have been more recently in an academic setting, you might not have the same difficulty that I did.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been experimenting with a lot of different apps, websites, and other methods to figure out what study method works for me.

But I still felt pretty unsure what to do, so I watched some videos about how to study Japanese and how to study smart in general. This video called How I Study Smarter, Not Harder warned against what he called “pseudo-studying,” which is described as going through the motions of studying without engaging the material; it’s “studying for the sake of studying,” which doesn’t help you learn or retain information. He recommends thinking about what you’re reading so you can actively learn.

I realized I was expecting studying to look a certain way and take a certain amount of time, but it can actually be pretty flexible and look like a lot of things. I also realized that if I’m getting in quality studying, I don’t have to study for hours on end, and in fact, doing so is probably detrimental to learning (though YMMV so don’t quote me on that).

I had no clear path for study material.

Not only was I struggling with how to study, but also what to study.

If I wasn’t planning on taking the JLPT, it would be easy. I’d just study for class and call it a day. But college programs don’t actually prepare you for taking the JLPT, so I know I have to study on my own.

With the JLPT in mind, normally, I’d seek out an official class or books for this purpose, but those don’t exist. You can’t even find an official list of vocabulary words or kanji you’re supposed to learn, though many unofficial JLPT study books and lists are available.

In a conversation with one of my language learning partners, I realized that I shouldn’t focus so much on the test. My ultimate goal is fluency, and I believe that if I aim for that goal, I can probably do well on the JLPT with a solid foundation in the language itself paired with test strategies for the JLPT.

I felt like I was wasting time.

Because I have a full-time day job, my time is limited. I’m planning on taking the JLPT in 2–3 years, so I am studying vocabulary and kanji more rigorously than my classmates.

I did the math, and to take the exam shortly after I graduate, I have to learn about 72 new vocabulary words per week and about 12 new kanji per week. On top of retaining the information from the previous week. I realize this is ambitious, and it’s what stressed me out about figuring out the best study methods as fast as possible.

I spent the first month trying apps, dictionaries, books, websites, YouTube, Instagram, and other methods to study. All the while, I felt super frustrated that I was wasting my precious time.

But then I realized that this is just the beginning, and I won’t always feel like I’m fumbling around in the dark. Soon I’ll figure out which study methods work for me and which don’t, and I’ll be able to fully focus on learning the content rather than what content I should study or how I should study it.

I was impatient.

This is a common problem I have as a results-driven person: I just wanted to get to the finish line. When I feel like the needle isn’t moving or it’s not moving fast enough, I feel like it’s not moving at all or that I’m not doing enough.

Learning a new language is a long-haul goal. It’s not something you can cram into a week or a month and be fluent. It’s about consistency and dedication.

So I’m learning to be gentle and patient with myself.

In closing

Shifting my focus from the JLPT to fluency helped me reduce my stress and enjoy the process more.

And sure, I’m still looking forward to the day when I can go to the local Kinokuniya, pick up a manga or other book in Japanese, and read it, but I’m determined to enjoy the journey.

Good things — maybe the best things — take time.

Photo by Frans Van Heerden from Pexels

Teena Merlan