How to overcome the existential dread of learning Japanese?


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.


I agree. I don’t think they were trying to be mean, nothing that they said sounds mean to me. :blush:


Learning a language is a lifelong process. Try to take joy in the progress you can see, and keep going.


First, I totally understand the feeling. I often contemplate about my Japanese studying and sometimes also have the feeling of “wow I really don’t know much, huh.”

HOWEVER, to echo a lot of the thoughts here, having a goal can really ease that worry. I also want to add, having a goal and having easy methods to track that goal can ease the worry. Just having a goal, for me at least, doesn’t work. WaniKani makes it pretty easy to track progress, but you can extend some of it’s methods to your studying in other places. For example, since I’m a very visual and physical person, when I track the kanji I can read AND write, I literally write them out on a piece of paper.

Also, you could try teaching what you know to someone else, or at least telling someone else what you know. A friend, your parents, anyone who would be willing to listen. I find that if you can explain what you know to someone else or try and teach them what you know, that’s when you know you know it. If you can’t, you go back, figure out exactly what you don’t know, and try again. At least for me, I feel much better about my progress or how much I do know afterwards.

Hope any of that helps! Good luck and I hope you find some advice in this thread that speaks to you :slight_smile:

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Am 24 now and started at 22. Keep all of your old notebooks. Write lines and lines and lines of example sentences until the grammar is drilled into your head. Then put that filled up notebook in a drawer and look at it a year later. Then two years later. If you ever feel like you haven’t made any progress, you will be stunned.

The second big thing is just immersing yourself in Japanese for as many hours of the day as possible. I’m biased because I live here, but the more you listen to Japanese, the better you can pick up flow and sentence structures that you wont find in a textbook. Memorize the lyrics to songs that you like, stick labels on random objects around your house until you can remember them. I did these things when I first moved here (I knew absolutely no Japanese) and now I’ll be doing the N3 in July with the eventual goal of achieving N2 by 2021. I thought I was inherently stupid and incapable of doing this, but if you just grind and slug through it, you’ll make progress, guaranteed. Not as fast as you’d like to, but progress nonetheless.


Don’t know if you’re just playing coy or not but I’ll bite.

The less arbitrary your objective is the more clear-cut success or failure is. If you have a vague goal like ‘get good at Japanese’ then there’s never a point where you can feel like you succeeded or failed. There’s only a point where you can arbitrarily say, “Okay, I guess that’s good enough.” A ‘real’ goal has a concrete starting point and ending point. Setting a time limit tells you whether or not your day to day activities are sufficient for reaching your goal. Setting a measurable goal gives you an indicator as to whether or not your goal is realistic given the methods your using.

As to what’s ‘proper,’ that’s entirely semantics. I would consider a proper goal one that can be reached, and one which you would know whether or not you reached. “Get good at Japanese” is not a ‘proper’ goal because ‘good’ doesn’t necessarily mean anything - are you good now? will you be good after you pass JLPT N5? ‘Finish the core 6k and read a book by Haruki Murakami’ is a proper goal because it has beginning and an end. There are only two possible results, success or failure. You either accomplished those two items or you didn’t.


Only one of those is a problem.

I started learning Japanese last year, the first language I’ve ever tried to learn, - at the age of fifty one.

I’m not a natural language learner, very little sticks to this old shrivelled brain of mine, but with WK, lots of reading (Yotsuba mostly!) and plenty of hard work, I’m making progress.

Your age, @NervousJ, is one of your main advantages, all you need do is find the motivation to study really hard.


Once you get over the mental hurdles of knowing that the language shares little in common with the logic of your native one (provided it’s English), and that you’ll mess up a lot, it’s smooth sailing. I mean it’s smooth sailing in terms of being able to study and improve. You’ll still mess up a lot.

Learning language is shit-hard and yet people of all ages do it out of either interest or necessity all the time. It’s just a race to make the most mistakes, and to learn from them the best you can. Comprehension and communication will be hard-earned, but that’s what makes them satisfying.