You read the title. I’m sure this has happened to many of us. My accuracy has plummeted, despite my schedule remaining largely unchanged (even becoming more frequent) over the last few… years? I’m going to brainstorm some reasons why this might be happening for me and hopefully you guys can weigh in with your own experiences and help me find my way out of this. This might be a long post.
A bit of background about me:
I’ve been studying for about 4.5 years and doing WaniKani for about 3, all the while working full time and pursuing other time-consuming interests. I have a private lesson once a week and am just about to start my fifth textbook, みんなの日本語中級２. I have little trouble learning grammar, and thanks to wanikani my reading level is usually slightly ahead of the book, so I’m able to get by without investing much extra time into studying vocab for the book. Back in the olden days there was a pretty large Japanese community in my city and I made a fair few friends and went out and spoke to people a reasonable amount. I’m pretty shy though, and usually hesitate to take risks in conversation. Lately I’ve been having almost zero conversation outside my lessons, and don’t really spend much time reading, writing, listening or speaking. I have a Japanese girlfriend but we’ve been separated due to COVID for about 7 months. We also speak in English most of the time and for some reason I’ve always found myself hesitant to talk in Japanese with her.
Anyway, back to the study issue…
I’ve noticed a phenomenon where certain pairs of kanji or words, usually similar looking or sharing a reading, frequently get conflated with each other in my brain. I’ll see the kanji, remember that it’s one that I often mistake for another one, then assume my initial answer is wrong, and change it to the other one, which turns out to be wrong. This experience seems to reinforce the ‘wrong loop’ and make it more likely to happen next time. Sometimes this goes on for long enough that they both get shoved down to the lowest rung and become increasingly likely to appear in close proximity, allowing me to pay greater attention to the differences and correct the problem. But this is happening more and more often lately, with items that weren’t initially a problem.
Do you ever have the experience of seeing a kanji, hearing the reading in your head automatically, but assuming you’re wrong and guessing something else? That happens to me quite a lot, and it’s hard to work around because I also am often wrong in my initial reaction. But I still notice a recurring pattern where I think “ah I knew it was that!” after getting something wrong.
Overly rigid schedule
I’m a very orderly person. I rarely deviate from my routine, particularly in the morning, and don’t allow for much extra time than I need to. When I do my reviews I try to get through them as fast as possible, hoping I can enter a flow state and finish the session without too much memory strain. I rarely stop to reassess a mnemonic or a reading when I get something wrong, just quickly glance at the highlighted words and hope I remember better next time. Very rarely I’ll go through my critical condition items and try to pay some more attention to them but I’d say that doesn’t happen nearly often enough.
The flip side of the previous point for me is, if I don’t try to race through reviews, I’ll pause on something after drawing a blank, and my mind will start to wander. I’m an over-thinker at the best of times, and I have no issue conjuring up another problem to ponder at any given moment. When I’m at my worst I’ll even switch tabs and watch a youtube video or something, but I don’t even need a distraction to get distracted most of the time. It seems to me that my mind just doesn’t want to focus on this more than it has to.
Motivation vs discipline
I was lucky, perhaps, when I first started, to absorb the wisdom that discipline is more reliable than motivation in the long run, and if you can train yourself to be self-disciplined then you will be able to make it through the slumps in motivation. That certainly has helped, and I have had my share of slumps over the years, but I think this one might be particularly bad.
You know whenever you talk to a Japanese person, they almost invariably ask “why are you learning Japanese?” Well I’ve never managed to come up with a good answer. I’ll usually wade through some of the more typical reasons like being into anime, Japanese culture, music, desire to meet new people, you know the usual stuff. And while all that is certainly true to an extent, I don’t think I’ve ever gotten to the core motivation for this endeavour. I do remember learning that the older we get the harder it becomes to learn a new language, particularly within the domain of phonetics, so I thought If I’m going to do this, the sooner the better. I always envied bilingual people, and was very introverted and somewhat socially anxious at the time, and I thought this might be a way to overcome those hesitations.
Why am I even doing this?
I don’t have clear goals involving Japanese. I vaguely wanted to move there and work, but I’m lucky enough to have a good career in my hometown and moving to Japan wouldn’t necessarily be a wise move for me. However that’s not to say I couldn’t make it work, especially now that so much of the workforce has been mobilised due to COVID. I could hypothetically continue freelancing while living in Japan. It would be a challenge though, and I am quite comfortable in my current environment. Maybe that’s the problem.
I think the biggest reason I’m still doing this is that I don’t want to admit defeat. I want to achieve fluency, and be able to read at a native level, yet paradoxically I don’t have much interest in speaking or reading. Maybe this is an ego thing. Maybe it would all be a waste of time if I never did anything with it. Maybe I’m still holding on to a hope that my motivation will return and I will resume studying with enthusiasm and actually enjoying it, rather than this current pattern of doing WaniKani with as little effort as possible, showing up to class every week, doing the bare minimum amount of homework, and immediately running off to the next thing.
I can see that something needs to change here. I need to intervene and reassess. I didn’t really expect that my accuracy dropping would lead to an existential crisis, but here we are. This might be too long and scattered for anyone to make sense of, but hopefully some of you can relate to some of these experiences and share anything you might have done that helped, or even just weigh in with your own thoughts. Thanks for reading, and I look forward to your replies.