How can I get back into a Japanese studies after being very inconsistent/taking a very long break?

Hello everyone! I really want to get serious about studying Japanese again, because it’s been more than a year since I’ve been able to do that. Here’s a quick run-through of how long I’ve been studying and what I’ve learned so far…

I began studying in November 2022 and graduated school in May 2023. It was a very busy time so I didn’t even start studying again until maybe late summer or early fall last year. Then, in November, I got a part-time job and started college. That threw me off a ton as far as Japanese studies and ever since then, I haven’t been able to keep myself motivated, consistent, or efficient.

It’s also frustrating me further because of how much I have forgotten. I’d say I was about level N4 when my studies started fizzling out. I’ve pretty much regressed to maybe N5 and it’s demotivating because I did spend several months doing long study hours consistently. Any tips for getting back into it effectively and picking back up what I’ve already learned (preferably without having to reset all of my subscription progress)? I’m not sure where to even start at this point haha :smiling_face_with_tear:

Thanks a ton!! <3

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I’ve always embraced dropping things and picking them up again. I stopped studying Japanese for over twenty years, and thought I’d forgotten EVERYTHING, but it was fun to go right back to the beginning and see how quickly I could move through the very first stages (much more quickly than if I’d been a true beginner).

I would say take some time to remind yourself of what you DO know. Play around with your N5 resources and then enjoy being able to move through everything much more quickly than you would if you were studying these things for the first time. Maybe take a class, too; being one of the stronger students in a lower-level class can really build your confidence!

The things you learned aren’t gone; they are resting somewhere in your brain, waiting for you to rediscover them.

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Great reply from @MarnieDEB , i don’t think you ever truly forget everything, because after a long break of not studying something, when i come back i can always re-learn everything much quicker, so don’t be demotivated by that.

The same goes for gym for example, i’ve been working out for a few years, and when covid hit the world some years back, all the gyms closed in my country, so i spent almost a year without working out, and lost a lot of muscle mass. So, when everything opened again, it was nice to see the “muscle memory” concept in action, after i restarted all of my lifts were very bad with very little weight, and i thought i would have to spend years again to recover to where i was before covid, but i was very wrong, i recovered in a few months, very fast progress.

I like to think (and i could be completely wrong on that) that this same concept works for things you have studied and stopped for a while, the knowledge can be hard to achieve for the first time, but on the second time, its just a matter of remembering what you already know.

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Yes, I often compare language learning with athletics - I was serious about yoga for quite some time, then dropped it altogether, but now it’s something I go back to from time to time; of course age makes a difference (and maybe with language learning too), but I am far more able than I would be if I’d never done it.

I’ve also experienced this with other languages. I learned French as an adult and became very fluent when I was living in contexts where I spoke only French for years at a time. I live in Montreal now, but most of my life takes place in English, and my French has weakened. However, if I travel to France or spend time at a conference where only French is spoken, I rise up almost to my old level of proficiency pretty quickly.

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The most important thing is to commit to consistency. You don’t have to show up and give 100% every day, studying for hours. But you do have to show up every day (or at least, every other day), even if it’s just for 5 or 10 minutes. Last year I cram studied for the December JLPT N3 and then dropped off and stopped studying. I set some goals and returned to study this May, and since the 13th have fit in a bit of study every single day. My Japanese has come on leaps and bounds from then.

My main tip is to find an anchor point. For me early on this time round it was Duolingo, because the streak feature is very motivating, but I don’t recommend Duolingo as a learning tool, so it may be better to find another one that tracks streaks or just use a general habit tracking app- or even just make marks on a calendar. Anything to show that you showed up that day. Colour in a square on graph paper if that’s all you have.

Take some time to assess yourself by looking up some videos that are aimed at N4 level, and seeing what you can understand. Something like this could be good:

Try out some levels of Tadoku graded readers as well- you might as well start at the lowest level and see what you can cope with. If a resource is challenging, but not impossible, stick with it and try not to get frustrated. Honestly the frustration can be the worst part of the process of trying to regain any skill. It makes our ego really angry to know that we lost an ability, be it language, fitness, or even something like drawing ability.

And remember why you wanted to learn Japanese in the first place! Ganbatte!

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Just specifically about Wanikani: I got to level 19 then had a nine month break from it, then restarted Wanikani about 3 months ago and I found it fine. Sure there was a lot that I had partially forgotten but its all cycled round again and i’ve become familiar with it again.

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Hello, IiIichai, I wanted to share a similar story because sometimes it can help to soothe a soul if they hear about someone’s similar experience. I decided to learn Japanese in early August 2023 and began WaniKani in the middle/end of August (after seeing some people on Youtube recommend it). For me, learning Japanese started as a joke for myself because I thought it would be hilarious if I yell at my coworkers in Japanese just like Kagiyama in Haikyuu!!: 「もっと早く!」 (lol… I am not actually the type of person who yells at others, so this is mostly why the idea is so funny to me).

Around the following December or January, on level 16 or so on WaniKani, I started to lose interest in Japanese and my focus switched to healing (soul healing, past life healing, current life healing, etc). I stopped logging into WaniKani for a while, and when I peeked back at the website, I saw I had something like 900 or 1,000 reviews to do.

Not even my favorite anime, Haikyuu!! was enough to motivate me, anymore. I felt kind of depressed, and I thought: “Well, that’s it. I guess I’ll no longer be learning Japanese.” But even still, I logged back in and tried to re-motivate myself by doing a few reviews. “Holy crap, I still remember these. How the heck do I still remember all of this? I haven’t been doing the reviews! How??” I was shocked that I remembered any of it, but that is a testament to the power of mnemonics and spaced repetition. But even the happy surprise of remembrance didn’t really give me much motivation to continue.

In June 2024, I discovered a movie called Godzilla Minus One (ゴジラ -1.0) and I fell in love with Japan all over again, just as I did when I was watching Haikyuu!! and the stage play of Haikyuu!!. At the same time, I was getting burned out on all the spiritual healing and so I’ve dived back into Japanese, slowly making my way through the thousand reviews over the weeks until it got back down to zero reviews. Then I made my way through the rest of the kanji of level 16, as well as some kanji in level 17. I’m still enjoying it now, and I like listening to the Level 0 books in the youtube channel, NPO多言語多読.

So, all is not lost. It can be picked up again. Just like going back to a game you haven’t played in a year—you’ll get back into the swing of things. I think the most important thing is finding a reason to learn Japanese. For me, Japan, and Japanese entertainment creatives, have inspired the heck out of me with the manga stories and anime and movies. And, I kinda want to be like the people I like, even if those people are just characters. I feel like no characters in Hollywood have quite inspired me the way the Japanese have (perhaps with the exception of Lord of the Rings), and I just feel drawn to it and I want to understand what the voice actors and directors are saying when they are interviewed. Plus, language learning provides mental stimulation that is greatly lacking in my job (I work in shipping & handling and assembly, and it’s the same boring thing, day after day, with no real challenge for me, so Japanese provides a good challenge).

This is my first time posting on these forums, so here is some information about myself: I am a 43 year old American female in Arizona. I work full-time, I live with a cat, and most weekends are spent by myself and studying Japanese on my Mac laptop. I had the chance to live in Stockholm, Sweden, for three years in my 30s and I believe that my experience with learning Swedish (and using spaced repetition flash cards and Anki) is strongly boosting my ability to learn Japanese at a faster pace than I normally would if I hadn’t had the experience of learning Swedish first. As an introvert, I greatly appreciate WaniKani because it’s easier to learn reading, rather than speaking to human beings (like through iTalki or something). I make up for the lack of speaking practice by speaking to my cat in foreign languages: 食べる?はい。どうぞ。Varsågod. Smacklig måltid! 大好きだ。鳥?大き鳥!外?暑いねー。あぁぁぁぁぁぁぁぁぁそぼ!早い!強い! And when he attacks my feet as I walk: 「コワイ!コワイ猫!」

My philosophy is: Just a little bit, day by day, adds up to good progress over time. I’m no longer in a rush to “git r done” as I was in my 20s. I am comfortable with my steady pace. And now I have the experience of taking a break and coming back to WaniKani, and I know that I’ll be able to pick it up and all that time spent on Japanese is not actually fully lost into the abyss as I had feared. Now, onto the reviews! はじめましょ!

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Hey! Thank you so much for commenting and sharing your story and giving advice. That is truly such an encouraging learning journey!! That’s wonderful that you were able to pick it back up quickly even after so many years. It’s so fascinating that the brain and body can remember things even if they’re not right there all the time, no matter how long it’s been. I’ve sorta had similar experiences with playing violin and drawing, it’s not like what I learned ever went away, it’s just resting under the surface exactly as you described. Thank you for the encouragement!!

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Slightly irrelevant to the thread but this is SUCH A GOOD FILM. Beautiful story about post war trauma and the triumph of the human spirit. Highly recommended.

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I wish you the best in your journey back into studies. When learning anything, it’s probably best to have a solid understanding of the basics, so you shouldn’t be afraid to start from the beginning.

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I’d say build a small, consistent and brainless habit. Depending on your level, that might look like one of the following:

  • Wanikani reviews plus 5 lessons in the mornings
  • 4 new cards from a pre-made Anki deck
  • 5 minutes of reading every night

Something very predictable and low effort.

You do this every day without fail. You don’t skip this for exams, for the flu, for your grandma’s funeral, for nothing.

The purpose of it is to give you a sense of success, of “I already studied today” and to keep you in touch with the language and the process of studying it without ever burning out.

On top of that base line habit you can study as much or as little as little as you want using whatever method, the only important thing is that you keep doing your small consistent habit going, everything else will (more or less) sort itself out.

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Start with curiosity. If you were able to read then pick up something you’ve read before and see how it plays. I started learning Japanese in 2017 and got really serious about it when I started Wanikani at the end of 2017 and was really serious about it until the end of 2019 then the Pandemic hit and I dropped all of it for about 4 years. When I came back to it I was sure I forgot everything and I was surprised I was able to read, so I was really happy that I was able to recognize more than I assumed I would.

I don’t see learning as a linear process, but more of a spiral where you always come back to the point you’ve been before where this intersection of the new knowledge and old knowledge creates those jumping points, so starting again didn’t feel like a failure to me.

When I started learning Japanese (and it’s true to other languages as well) everything was new and I was in a data-overload phase where there was close to no relief, so while I did learn my level of understanding was very shallow. I did reset to level 1 when I came back and started all the grammar material from the beginning and it is so much easier and faster now than it was the first time around because I have the basics, and it makes such a difference. It’s been about 7 months since I’ve returned and my foundation is way better than it was, and since I no longer struggle to read the material I have so much more bandwidth to just understand and absorbed all those little tidbits that went completely over my head the first time around because there’s only so much you can focus on when you struggle with everything as a beginner.
So in a way life gave you a gift when they interfered with your plans… You are able to come back to something you’re passionate about and have a fresh perspective since you’re not a newbie anymore and this will make your learning process less stressful and more enjoyable. It’s like reading a book or playing a game the second time and noticing all the easter eggs you’ve missed the first time.

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Fully endorse this. One reason I continue my Duolingo streak is that even when I have time for nothing else, I can do one Duolingo lesson in the morning. That way, I have studied every single day, even if it’s just for 5 minutes.

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This is my advice too - a baseline of a little every day. Every day. On days when you feel like it, you can add more - classes, films, anime, reading, whatever you like. Don’t be in a rush - a small daily habit over a long period of time can be surprisingly effective.
And if you lose your streak, forgive yourself, enjoy the time off and start again. Learning is never ever linear although academic courses make it seem that way.

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You’re not alone! I have been studying on and off since 2016 and have been thru important milestones in my life like graduating high school and college and entering the workforce full time. At my highest, I had run through N4 grammar and was dipping into N3. But throughout that time I had several breaks and set backs. Most recently I just started picking up japanese this year after taking a break from april 2023-2024 due to some family circumstances. It set me back so much all the way to N5 and I was a bit rusty on reading words in katakana lol.

The biggest pieces of advice I could give to myself and someone who might be the same boat is to not be too hard on yourself and try again! It’s incredibly frustrating to not be where u want to be or to regress down a level but acknowledge it and forgive yourself! Life is always gonna get in the way so its good to be realistic how much time u can dedicate and regularly schedule time to do it. I kept thinking I needed to be put a lot of hours a day to studying but the pressure just kept discouraging me from starting. I learned that small consistent strides are better than nothing and actually more beneficial in the long run.

So I started small and slow and found fun ways to jump back in without putting any pressure. I started first with wanikani and just did that for a few months. I started back in Jan and currently I’m doing 6 lessons a day. I know its slow but its what works for me! Then within those few months whenever I would drive to work or brush my teeth or wash dishes I would listen to a podcast or watch a youtube video. I recently picked up bunpro a month or two ago and have been reviewing that too. I’m noticing that as I review the knowledge comes flooding back much easier! It is still incredibly overwhelming but also exciting to realize how much Japanese I still remember!

Now I am also working with a tutor again once a week to reinforce previously learned concepts through conversation in addition to all of the self reviewing I am doing. Before I realized it, I am dedicating a lot of time into Japanese, more than I ever have before. But of course life still gets in the way and I can’t always do all of this. So I usually set small non negotiable ways to study so that I stay consistent such as listening to a podcast or daily wanikani. But tldr; i think the best thing is to start again and start small and slow. Ignore any comparison to others or your past self and just resume your learning journey.

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To throw something completely different out there, I restarted from level 0 after a short…10 year break. Looking to hit level 50 this week. Last week I finished all of Satori Reader (so far), and this month I completed my first full no sub game, manga, and anime series.

With how much you’ve done before, if you start from 0, I recommend going as fast/as much as you can before getting into ‘new’ territory to see where you cap out at. Find that ‘max effort’ line in familiar territory, so when you’re doing new stuff you can tell when you need to slow down before any burnouts happen. After finding that max effort line, take the initial rebound to find the slowest you can go comfortably. If you’re proper stressed leading into that, you can reliably target going back to that level or a pinch above to keep things moving through the tougher times or when you hit the point of spending more time with immersion.

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