How to overcome the existential dread of learning Japanese?

I totally understand how you’re feeling! I’m 25 and only really started studying the language last year (university kept me away for a few years). I already had a grasp of the basics along a small amount of mixed vocab that I had picked up over time. The very beginnings of my learning felt like the slowest, but now that I’ve worked at it more I am seeing bits of progress quite regularly. You’ve already got an excellent resource with your Japanese friends! So really just persist for a bit longer and you will see improvements. Keep your end goal in mind, picture being fluent one day knowing that it will happen in time. always look at how far you’ve come rather than how far you’ve yet to go.

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You may a lot older than me ( I’m 12 and a half), but you’re actually younger than a lot of users I know on this site. I can name quite a few in their 30s and upper 20s, so there’s no reason to worry about your age. They’re making plenty of progress, so there’s no reason you can’t too!

But that segways into my next point: progress. If you are devoting time and incrementally improving, no matter how small that increment may be, then you don’t need to worry. If you can’t dedicate a lot of time to japanese for whatever reason, I understand how “finishing” learning can feel far away. But rest assured none of us are ever finished, we are on this journey indefinitely.

Simply ask yourself if you would rather know that “relatively little” amount you’ve progressed or know nothing at all. Obviously, you would rather know it, right? You’ll be able to ask yourself that question again, year after year. If you don’t give up, that “relatively little” amount wont be so relatively little anymore.

I always enjoy when people talk about how discouraged they are by their slow/small improvements in japanese. This is because my favorite japanese saying happens to be related to exactly that:
Even dust can become a mountain when piled up.


give up or commit to yourself

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This value changes depending on context and time of day.

On topic, it’s a feeling you’re just going to have to get used to. It’ll always be there, but as long as you try to target something just a little more difficult each day and follow along with your study methods (whether that’s WaniKani, a class, or something else), those tiny difficult things you can tackle will start to grow into random sentences, then simple conversations, and then things like the number of pages you can handle in manga, little by little.

Eventually, what you can do will make the worries about what you can’t do feel really inconsequential. And if you get used to dealing with it early on, it can become a motivator to help you find the next challenge or figure out what you need to work on.

Yeah in an hour I think he’ll be about 12.5001 years old.


Why are you learning Japanese? Is it something that’s required of you for a serious purpose? If not, there’s an answer to all your scary questions: have fun.

I’m sure you’ve heard it before, but learning a language is a journey. You’ve started too late for what? (You kind of lost me on that one.) There isn’t really a rush to get wherever you’re imagining you have to be in a certain period of time. Satisfy your curiosity and enjoy yourself. Learning a language isn’t like studying for an exam, it’s more like learning to walk. It’s something that becomes a part of you.

If you honestly feel like you’re putting in effort and seeing no results, re-examine your routine. Do you have a structure, how are you combining your study of various language skills, etc. This forum has a ton of resources that can help you with deciding what to use. Start here, maybe.

Just don’t make this a chore, or a race, because you’ll lose motivation. Have fun :upside_down_face:


I used to also always think it’s impossible for me to learn a language. I learned English when I was a kid and convinced myself that I could only do so because I was a kid, but now I’m too late.

But you’re doing it, right? As long as you continue doing it, you’ll get there eventually. Of course it’s not that simple, but as long as you stay involved, you can’t fail.

I’ve been learning Japanese on and off for nearly a decade now (I’m 28 next week!) and I’m barely at a level you could call “high-beginner.” This is partly because I’ve not dedicated as much time to it as I could have, and spent a number of years not learning it at all. However, what I have achieved is that I’ve been to Japan 6 times. One of those times was with friends and my conversational ability and ability to read the script - basic as it is - was invaluable! Another one of those times, my ability saw me through navigating a tour of rural Japan. So I’ve decided that that’s all that matters to me. I’m not in a competition against anyone to learn Japanese, so there’s no point comparing my progress to theirs. My reason for learning Japanese is so I can better experience Japan, and as long as my study is contributing to that, I’m smashing it!

Maybe reflecting on your reason for learning Japanese and then making your study work for that reason will help you find a perspective you’re happier with.

The greater question, after all, is how to overcome existential dread in general. I’m still working on that one…


I actually find that using WK and levelling up keeps me motivated - it’s a progress bar I can check and know that I have indeed progressed! I know it doesn’t cover all aspects of the language but it’s something.

I recently revisited some material I could barely start to read when I started WK, now I can read 80% of the content! (so obviously it isn’t advanced material…) That gave me a boost of motivation too.

I think what I’m trying to say is, keep taking those small steps, and find some ways to track your progress/compare to past ability. It’s too easy to compare to fluency and come up short, but it’s not the best comparator anyway (at least from a learning perspective).


Learning a new language will be full of ups and downs. I have been learning Japanese for about two years now, and the other day I delivered the sickest freestyle graduation speech to some of my students here in Japan and I took a moment and reflected that 6 months ago even if I had sat down to write a speech I could not have written something as impressive as I had just made without thinking. Then 10 minutes later someone asked me to move a chair in a way I did not understand and they just moved it themselves. Full of ups and downs.


You’ll cross the bridge when you get to it.

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There is no “too old”. If you want to do it, do it, but stick with it. Because otherwise what will happen in ten years is that you will look back to this point and think “how much progress could I have made if I just started back then?”
I’m 33, I began learning Japanese as a hobby 2005, bought all the books, graded readers etc, lost motivation, stopped. Only last year did I pick up again after a very, very spontaneous first trip to Japan and I couldn’t find my way without translator apps or awkward pointing. If only I would have kept learning…

24? Too late? Im 34 and which i had started when i was 24… :smiley:

You are never too old to learn, but start now and work it while your brain is still at is most active for taking in new information. Trust me. It really does get harder.

I’m twenty four as well. And I didn’t start learning Japanese formally until I actually got to Japan. (whoops, I was a science major) It’s a slow process.
You didn’t learn your primary language in a year. And you won’t learn Japanese in a year either. It’s just then nature of the mountain you decided to start climbing.

However, take pride in the achievements you’ve made no matter how small they seem. You’ve already got knowledge that some people don’t in knowing you kanas. That means you can read! That’s power! Trust that you’re making progress.

Anyone here telling you not to worry about progress honestly hasn’t set themself a proper goal. As with any skill, you should always set yourself an achievable target with a reasonable time limit and work towards it. Make a programme for study and divide it up so that it’s not overwhelming (i.e. If it takes me an hour to do a chapter of a textbook with 25 chapters, I’ll do 3 chapters it a week). This will help you track how you’re progressing and ultimately avoid the feeling of going nowhere. Targets like ‘learn Japanese’ are too vague to be useful and would be best divided up into a series of smaller goals (do a self introduction, memorize the days of the week, learn 20 verbs, read a bus schedule, reach WK level 15 [which is where most people quit], write a thank you note, speak about your family for 2 minutes, etc).
JLPT can be a good target as it’s 1. easy to track your progress against and 2. has lots of dedicated study material available.


Exactly as @Prokleon mentioned, learning is about setting yourself an end goal or more like a question why do you want to learn? what do you want to achieve? and when you know the answer you can go to planing how to achieve it, if someone set himself a goal to be fluent in Japanese he must set himself a smaller parts that he can achieve in reasonable time so when it all pile up he will reach his end goal while he won’t get discouraged on the way (@Vanilla Nice Saying) , from what you wrote it seems you have everything you need to succeed, so now that all is left is a proper mindset and dedication!

What makes a “proper goal” or who decides if one is?

Measurable progress and a time limit. Otherwise it’s just an aspiration. You do the deciding :wink:

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It may seem harsh but I doubt it was said in mean manner, obviously only yourself know what a proper goal is but in same time doing something for the sake of doing and not setting yourself any reasonable, achievable target yield very little to almost no result

but why is that “proper”?
I do agree that’s a good idea, it’s the “proper” part that’s got me confused.