So, I’ve been studying Japanese for a while now. Mostly grammar. Only recently in April or so, did I decide to take up Wanikani and start learning kanji. However, one of the biggest issues I’ve been facing for these past couple of months, is what I would call “language learning anxiety”. Now, I don’t know if there is an actual term or something for this, but when it comes to learning a language (in my case), I constantly worry about whether or not I’m doing “good enough”, if that makes sense. Not only that but I frequently worry about forgetting something or whether I’ve learned the contents properly. I would say this is just me being a perfectionist, but it’s affecting me pretty badly and it’s one of the reasons I frequently think about or in Japanese (e.g. constantly constructing sentences in my mind, etc.).
I just wanted to know if anyone else has been through something similar and what they’ve done to deal with it. Thank you.
My first sensei here in Australia was studying the effects of anxiety on students brought on by learning a second language. I recall at the time she politely asked if we would allow her to ask us questions about anxiety in the classroom, while learning at home and while speaking Japanese. It was so long ago I don’t exactly remember any of the questions. She clearly had an interest in knowing more about learning anxiety.
These days I definitely have anxiety sometimes during class which comes from feeling under-prepared. I feel most comfortable over-preparing for everything I do. For example, I used to run marathons and the same thing applied as I liked to train at least a year before a race.
Best thing for me has been learning at my own pace.
I used to have a sensei who quizzed and tested us (small class of adult learners). At first this was fun but the novelty wore off for me. Maybe that kind of quiz / test feedback would help you. ?
Not necessarily with Japanese (or languages), but had this during my studies. Found myself dreaming about information I needed to know and realised it was wearing me down so much that I started sleeping worse. Eventually I realised I had to let go of the idea that I’d get to know everything perfectly, and take my time enjoying what I was learning. To be honest, that moment significantly improved my happiness in general because I could become interested in what I was studying instead of trying to absorb even the bits I couldn’t give a shit about.
I don’t know what your goal is with learning Japanese, but the absence of a deadline for me significantly eases any worries I have. I can take my time learning the language, and if I get things wrong, they’ll be wrong and I can work on it to be better. This isn’t school, you won’t get a grade at the end of the road, fluency is something you work on the entire time (even in your native language) and I find it comforting to recognise that I’m slowly but surely getting better at understanding Japanese.
I’ve had this feeling a lot, especially in my childhood.
The turning point was when I was taking driving lessons and this anxiety to make mistakes made my mistakes a lot worse, shocked my instructor real good when i switched gears wrongly and stalled the car in the middle of a busy road or almost backed into a car behind me.
I realized making mistakes is part of the process and if I’m gonna make mistakes anyways, I might aswell just let them happen and try to learn from them.
Unsuprisngly with that anxiety gone, i made less mistakes instantly, my driving instructor was completely suprised after the lesson after I changed my mindset and commented on it. (He told me right then, he thought I wasn’t actually going to make it before).
Seeing this instant change opened my eyes, you need to try to let go of this perfectionist mindset and embrace mistakes, forgetfulness, all of that and learn from them.
Especially when it comes to learning languages, it’s not like learning something like math, where you perfect the basics as much as you can and build up your skills in a very straightforward manner, when it comes to learning a language you can’t really memorize all the vocabulary and grammar in a vacuum and immediately be able to read, listen or speak perfectly, there are countless of points and structures that you just need to see in the wild so to say, you need to work with incomplete knowledge and thus making mistakes is unavoidable.
I know this isn’t too useful, it basically boils down to “just don’t be anxious bro”, but if you atleast consciously try to adjust your mindset a bit, it might help.
Honestly, this is something that constant immersion has helped me with. I started studying Japanese after spending about a year and a half heavily immersing myself in Japanese pro wrestling, which I was able to enjoy despite not being able to speak the language at all. So any amount of progress that I make, no matter how small, gives me new insights into what I’m watching that I didn’t have before. Even if I forget things or lose some of the knowledge I’ve gained, I’m still learning far more things than I’m forgetting! It’s really encouraging to me to see just how much progress I am making. So if you’re able to, I recommend finding media to immerse yourself in so that you can see how your studying actually has a tangible effect.
Of course, the stakes for me are fairly low. I’m not learning Japanese because I need to be able to talk to other people in the language, and I don’t have a desire to travel to the country or get a job there. So if my self-taught education is horrifically lacking in some major way, the worst consequence will be that I won’t be able to understand some media as well as I would like. But even then, I think most of the people you meet would be forgiving if you occasionally make mistakes!
I think it’s inevitable that we’ll forget a lot of things and have to relearn them, or that we’ll learn some things slightly wrong and have to be corrected. The only language I speak fluently is English, haha, and I’ve had plenty of teachers correct me over the years, and I have to look up words in the dictionary all the time because I’ve forgotten them. But as long as we’re learning more things than we’re forgetting, I think we’re okay.
But even if you stop using Japanese and forget a bunch of things that you have learned, it’s always possible to pick them back up again when you resume your studying! This forum is full of people who have been trying to learn Japanese for many years, some of whom just came back to it after a very long break. And the good thing is that it’s generally a lot easier to relearn things a second or third time than it is to learn them initially. So the problem of forgetting things is a fixable one.
I think part of learning a language is learning how to learn that language. And that itself is something that will evolve and change over time for you. You might find new methods or resources that work better, or find more efficient ways to budget your time and regret having taken so long to figure it out! But that messiness is a part of the process that is nearly impossible to skip, because even the most “efficient” methods aren’t universally the most efficient for everyone, so you have to learn how you, specifically, learn.
I think instead of aiming for perfection, I’ve grown kind of attached to the messiness of language and language learning, haha! There’s something charming about the fact that we’re able to somehow reach an understanding despite struggling through it. Human communication is always going to be a little messy. Celebrate and delight in the things that you’ve learned, and learn from your mistakes as best as you can (and realize that the mistakes themselves are part of the process, which makes them important learning tools themselves), and don’t worry too much about optimizing your study path, because time spent “inefficiently” still isn’t wasted, and you’ll eventually find what works best for you.
So much! Perfectionist tendencies can be so difficult.
TL:DR - Anxiety and perfectionism suck - learning coping strategies is important - everyone who has issues with those things has different ones - here are some of mine in case they give you ideas.
I used to get into this kind of frozen state where I couldn’t start things in case I wasn’t going to do them perfectly. I still have significant issues with starting new things (spoiler alert, my older brother has ASD, and I definitely have some tendencies) - for example, I have a tough time starting new movies/books from unfamiliar authors etc in case I don’t like them, because then I’ll have wasted time that could have been spent with something I know I’ll like.
One thing that really helps me is to define my expectations really clearly for my learning - since I tend to worry about whether I’m doing something ‘right’, I go for specific and only moderate sized - e.g. will read for 15 minutes; will do my WK reviews at 8 pm; will practice 1 grammar point - once I’ve finished that, I’ve done the thing ‘right’, and can check it off my list.
Also having a list where I mark off that I’ve done the thing helps my bring down the anxiety about whether or not I’m ‘doing enough’ - if I checked off the box to follow my plan, that must be enough because I decided it was when I came up with that plan earlier this week (or month).
I also try to treat learning more like ‘work’ sometimes - in that when I unplug from it, I make a conscious effort to stay unplugged. This is probably a bit controversial, because lots of people go for the ‘all immersion, all the time, as much as you can’ perspective, but in terms of managing my emotions and expectations for myself, I need to set up deliberate times that are not for Japanese and redirect myself during them to other things - the same way I’ve gotten better at consciously choosing not to pick up/look at my work email on the weekend. I find it helpful to have a ‘default’ response when my brain starts to think too hard about the thing I’m consciously not doing - that way I don’t need to think about what to do instead to get my mind off of it. Depending on what else I’m doing in life at that moment, it’s often something like picking up my cross stitch and doing 5-10 minutes, grabbing a book, cleaning up part of the room… I want something that always can be done so there’s not much decision making power needed.
Definitely pretty key to realize that language is inherently messy, and even if you have all the ‘rules’ down, you’ll hit things that are unfamiliar, that are exceptions, that are not super clear - because apart from how perfect your understanding is, there’s the question of how perfect the other person’s expression is - even native speakers say/write things that are a bit vague, unclear, or confusing, and I’m sure we’ve all had a moment where someone said something and we didn’t get it.
There was a quote I heard when I was in university and learning Spanish.
A man was asked if he spoke Spanish and all he knew was 2 words which were “a little” and he was so proud of that and said:
" Be proud of every word you know because it was a word you didn’t know before."
So now I just go along and just collect words
Yes and no. I got quite triggered when I tried reading the preface to Tobira, but then realized the lesson content later is way easier . I sometimes get worried when I can’t quite yet understand everything on the radio or streamed news, but I keep telling myself I still have time. We’ll see in around a year when I won’t have that much time left anymore .
Yes! With me it started after I had been learning for a significant period of time because I felt like there’s expectations of a certain level of proficiency after a number of years. So I feel pressured sometimes to do better, to be better. Sometimes I’ll struggle to read something in English (my native language) just because it doesn’t make much sense and I think “if this was in Japanese, I’d be blaming myself for a lack of reading ability before I’d ever think to blame the text itself for being vague or illogical.” Sometimes I’ve found it helpful to try stuff that was way above my level that I could “fail” at without feeling any self-judgment because I knew it would be a struggle from the beginning. Other times I just return to my comfort zone for a while and try to build my confidence some more with stuff I know I can do well at.
Thank you everyone for the replies, I really appreciate them.
Attempting to change my mindset is very crucial and setting the right expectations is probably just as important too. Another thing that I’ve understood from some of your replies is that experimenting is essential as well.
Now, if only it wasn’t so tough
I think one of the underlying reasons I feel this way is precisely the feeling of obligation I have towards learning the language. Basically, I really want to make a good amount of progress before this year ends.
Regardless though I’m going to keep giving it my all and see how I can learn how to do what we call language learning.
Thanks to everyone again, really!
I feel like this Bojack reference is on point here
I’m with you – I don’t think it’s impacting my ability to learn, but I am constantly fighting it back. I would have probably started Japanese ages ago if I didn’t have the feeling that I’d never be able to do it, which took forever to get over. It’s quite normal, and I too always have concerns that I’m doing something wrong or not doing enough, but the piece of information that I cling to is that any decently reputable resource or method works, they all just take loads of time and effort. The most important thing to do is to stick with one unless it’s really not working for you at all. So maybe you and I both aren’t doing it the best way possible, who knows, but we’re almost certainly doing a way that will work. Best to roll with it.
But certainly the doubts have to be pushed back. I have weird intrusive thoughts that are patently absurd and nonetheless kind of frightening. I feel like somehow I’m just going to look away from Japanese for a few hours too long and the whole language will just disappear from my head. Or, like, somehow I’m going to hit a point where I’ve learned “too much” and it’ll all congeal into an incoherent mass in my brain that I can’t distinguish. None of this is even slightly possible, but brains are mean sometimes!