Feeling stuck in the learning process

TLDR; What do you do when you start feeling stuck and it feels like you aren’t making much progress?

So I’ve been studying Japanese for roughly 10 years now. Granted, not all of that time has been spent actively studying, that’s when I started this crazy journey. I took 3 years in college, took a break, then repeated year 3 and took another year on top of that. The rest of the time has been self-study. My grades in college were good. The lowest grade I received was a B in my 4th-year class. I’m currently living in Japan (arrived in August of 2018) and I can get around ok and have basic conversations with people, but I still feel lost a good amount of time. I work at a Junior High School and I always feel left out of conversations among teachers and at Enkais when I understand maybe 50% of what’s going on and struggle to reply even when I do understand. It’s frustrating. I feel like given the amount of time I’ve spent studying I should be further but I’m not…

Obviously, I need to study more. I recently started Bunpro and I feel like that’s helped me brush up on some of the grammar I’ve forgotten or gotten rusty on. I know I’m making progress but it doesn’t feel like it… I know there isn’t a quick-fix solution to becoming 上手 and I’m not looking for one. I’m more just wondering if anyone else is/has been in a rut like this and what you do about feeling like you aren’t getting better.


I remember being in a rut around this February, when after ~18 months of learning I realised the methods I was using to study, which were the KKLC and just reading to learn grammar, were not working for me. I realised I was doing too much work to learn too little, so I took a break, and then moved on to WK and Genki for grammar. There’s always the possibility that you’re pushing yourself too hard or your expectations for how fast you can learn and how much you can retain are skewed. Sometimes, just letting go of the feeling that you’re not good enough can help!


Unfortunately I’m in a similar boat so anything I say can only be taken with a grain of salt.

I think the biggest issue for me is consistency, I’m so erratic and so fixated on coming up with study plans, trying to utilise all different resources when the most important thing is doing the work whether it’s WaniKani, listening to a podcast, a language exchange or a textbook. The most important thing is just doing it.

My second issue is fear of failure/anxiety when speaking. I know basic Japanese. I can do self introduction, I can communicate purchasing something. But actually in reality, the situation comes up, I’m like uh, uh. And sometimes someone says something I know and I’m apologising and then 5 minutes later, I realise exactly what they said. The only way to get over it is actually practising speaking.

I am more consistent when it comes to studying for an exam so JLPT might be a good goal not just for the employment prospects but it is an external factor to stick to a study plan.

I came to Japan a month ago and I thought somehow I would progress a lot quicker. Nothing is progressing because I’m just not studying daily. Or maybe you might be having tough expectations on yourself and studying too hard?


There’s really 2 main things that you need to get straight when you want to progress in a language (in pretty much all other skills too).

1. Consistency (goes hand in hand with motivation):
It’s been mentioned above, but you NEED to be consistent. You mentioned that you have been studying Japanese “on and off” for 10 years. The worst thing you can do for progress is study “on and off” because as soon as you stop, your level will get lower and lower everyday that goes by without studying. Then when you pick up again you’ll have to pick up at a much lower level than you were before, which completely kills motivation.

You have to find your comfortable study zone, where you’re studying everyday as much as you’re able to: study too much and you’ll burnout, study too little and you’re not being as effective as you can be.

2. Study material
What you use to study is the second most important thing. Ask yourself these questions to find areas where you can improve your study material in order to progress more:

  • Am I covering all of the bases? (Reading, Writing, Speaking, Listening, Vocabulary, Kanji, Grammar…)
  • Is my material too easy? Should I study at a higher level?
  • Is my material too hard? Should I study at a lower level?
  • Am I getting enough practice? Am I actually doing exercises?
  • Is my material pushing my learning capabilities?
  • Am I cheating? Do I look at the answer key too often? Do I use a translator too often? Do I avoid speaking?
  • Am I working more on what I’m bad at? Am I only working on things I’m good at to feel better?

It really helped me to talk with native speakers. Unfortunatly, I don’t live in Japan and I don’t have Japanese friends, but it really helped me with my French. Maybe you can ask a co-worker or a Japanese friend to sit down with you once a week or every two weeks and just talk with you, maybe also to help you a bit with grammar you don’t understand.

Take a little book with you every day and if there’s a word you don’t know, write it down! That way, you will learn new words that the people around you use every day. Of course, you can’t write down every word you don’t understand, but just 5 words a day make 35 new words in one week!

Reading books in Japanese or watching films might also help you. And it’s generally better to study a little bit every day than two hours a day once a week.

Lastly, it’s important to see your progress and to stay positive. You might not speek Japanese the way you want to right now, but you can get there! Thinking about what you’ve accomplished so far can help you to not give up and to have a positive mindset when studying.

がんばって! :star:


Considering what you (post owner) write, for me Iizuki advice to talk with native speaker is the best.
This way you can get confidence in conversation and will fill less and less “outside” :).


I’ve been doing the Japanese for about 7 years (I’ve quit a load of times) Now I’m just studying for fun. I have no goal with it now. I’m just happy when I can spot a word on a Netflix show nowadays. Doing that has taken the pressure of me to ‘learn’ and ironically now, I’m probably learning more. Don’t sweat it, just go with it! and enjoy Japan!

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What are you doing when it comes to immersion and conversation with native speakers and fellow learners?

Seems you have already studied quite a lot.

What about trivial things, do you do much of those in japanese? Read a book for pleasure, watch a show, a hobby maybe, something you can binge and make you use japanese but not focused on learning japanese, just as a mean to another end. What about spending much time with other expats maybe?

Maybe making a routine that involves japanese actively might help. For example tandem partners; that’s a nice way to connect with people and get out of your regular conversations. Those kind of activities can make you relax a bit and realize that in a more loose interaction there’s more that you can do than what you actually give you credit for. So at least can help to pump you up a bit.

I’ve just arrived to Japan this month, and while some activities are really easy to get by (service related mostly) others have proven me that my level is quite low still, and while discouraging maybe, I found it really challenging too, cause I get to see how a lot of effort dedicated into one area can have huge impact quite soon. I don’t undertand my clasess… then I pick a shitload of videos related to that topic, binge over those, rip the audio, listen to that, that for a couple of weeks… and 3 weeks later, I kinda understand somewhat better the explanations they give me… Still much more to do, but hey… some weeks and I can see progress. At least is a situation where I have a clear problem, so it’s somewhat easier to find a solution… :man_shrugging:

So in the end, I guess just don’t get discouraged. Don’t take shelter in your gaijin bubble either. Most likely you should immerse more in the language, use other activities too to get you feeling comfy about it, and then point in the direction you’re lacking skills still.:muscle::muscle:


OP lives and works in Japan so I don’t think immersion is a problem unless you mean something else?

You would guess so. But it can be extremely easy to get by with all too basic japanese in Japan. Is super easy to get a lot of things with a minimum of comunication.
Depending on the job you can avoid quite a lot of japanese I would imagine, so you’re only left with how much of a problem you see in improving or not your level.

I usually listened my mp3 player while commuting in my country (for at least 2 hours a day), now in Japan I decided that I would just walk and “immerse” myself in the sounds of the city… little did a i knew… turns to be that japanese people con be really quiet in the streets :man_shrugging: … so I ended up doing a lot less passive immersion than before.

Once you get into a routine, things can get really automatic and you can really manage to do things with you current level and stop working over getting better, 'cause, probably tired after work and on weekends, people usually try to enjoy themself, they put a those movies in english, they tend to speak with people that don’t require effort to communicate with, go over the internet using english websites, etc…

Anyway. I’m just in my first month, there’re people here that can probably talk with much more knowledge about this, but so far that’s the impression I’m getting. :sweat_smile: Japan with no japanese → doable.

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Everyone is different and can struggle with the language in different ways. That’s okay. Sometimes you will hit bumps in the road, but you’ve got to keep going.

I second these recommendations: finding consistency, reviewing study materials to determine if you’re using the right materials and writing down useful/common words and phrases you encounter.

At what level do you feel like you are at with JLPT? While JLPT is not accurate for fluency it’s really one of the few ways to determine your level. While I don’t think the JLPT is necessary or needed for everyone it might be worth looking into if you feel like you need more direction and you can’t take classes. Which brings up another option…you can take classes, find a tutor or find a language exchange partner. Even though you’re in Japan, you might need some kind of lessons to guide you (I understand. I have studied on and off and had to suck it up and take classes to finally stick with it…I have already picked out schools in Japan to study at when I move there). I think it’s important for you to figure out where you are at and where you might be missing holes so you can focus on learning in those areas.

I get you. My cousin taught English for 5 years in Vietnam. Knows about 10 Vietnamese words


Although I think it can also depend on which area of Japan you live but I absolutely agree that surviving Japan without Japanese is entirely possible. I met some people who’d been here for like 2+ years and they didn’t speak any Japanese. I was pretty shocked.

Yes there’s Kanji everywhere but most things are written in romanji too (like station names, exits etc). Many restaurants have picture menus or even English translations. I think owner operated little Izakayas or smaller restaurants are more tricky as they are more unlikely to have English menus or speak English but there’s chain Izakayas. Also Google translate has a function where you can just show it Japanese via your camera and it will translate for you.

It can be nice sometimes like when you are in the supermarket, exhausted from a long day and the language barrier is feeling daunting because there is so much kanji on everything and you have dietary restrictions. But it can also make you a little less motivated.

There’s also been a surge of tourism here and things that tourists need are very accessible (food, hotels, shopping, sightseeing) but I feel that other things still need Japanese (going to a doctor, going to city hall, going to the bank, all these I assumed there’d be English speaking staff but it’s not always the case).

I think you can get by without Japanese for sure, especially in cities. But I still think there’s a lot of things that are so much more challenging without it if you are here longer term.

Also if it makes you feel better, I have been studying on and off for 19 years, I started in primary school (elementary). I studied in high school, I did a diploma alongside my degree back in '11. I did 10 weeks at a University last year part time after work at their highest level. I second the whole every time you take a break, your level drops alllll the way back down.

My guess is that you don’t just learn a grammar point/word/kanji by studying it once, you’ve got to be exposed to it a fair few times and that doesn’t happen if you keep taking breaks.

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