Intermediate hump for self study

Good afternoon!

So as you all can see I’m new here. Basically I’m trying to reboot my Japanese learning.

So to give a little background I’ve been in Japan for about 10 years. I’m married to a Japanese and have two kids enrolled in Japanese preschool. I used to work at a Japanese company that helped support the US bases. My level of Japanese is kinda… uncatorgorizable.

I passed N3 pretty easily a few years ago. But I feel low level. Basically most of my study is just Japanese to live and work in Japan. So I know a lot of complex words and grammar but completely struggle on stuff traditional students mastered as beginners.

I’m having a hard time really pinpointing weakness. From the Iknow and other placement tests I’m sitting at intermediate to advanced (n2+) but I don’t feel that way.

Plus I have a nasty habit of fixating on stuff I don’t feel (whatever that’s supposed to be) is cemented. And I will always start over from basic and boring stuff like これは本です。and enevitably get bored of it. So it’s hard to start from the bottom again and it’s hard to study piecemeal.

For instance I was looking at the "I speak Japanese " thread and although I could accomplish the speaking tasks some users generated I struggled and it sounded bad but my husband and mil understood me.

Generally I don’t have much problems on being understood should I know the subject matter and associated vocab.

It just sounds like crap.

Sorry for dribbling on.

But anyone else know the feeling? Perhaps some other self study long term residents with Franken Japanese may be able to understand?

And if you felt this way how do you pick yourself up? How do you go from blah to yah?

I really need to improve



I definitely know the feeling. Although my situation is a bit different. I studied Japanese in college came to japan almost 2 years ago and realized that my Japanese has plateaued at the “useful” or “necessary level”. Meaning that the Japanese that I use day to day for living in Japan has gotten quite good but other than that I always sound like I barely study (I’m about the same level as you, studying for N1). And I’m not required to know Japanese for my job (ALT) so it makes it even more limiting. I know a lot of vocabulary but not the nuance of when to use it. My passive skills far outweigh my active skills. As far as how to change this situation… I’m not entirely sure. I guess it depends how committed you are and what your final goal is. When you reach the advanced stage you kind of have to choose an area to focus in on and commit most of your time to. As for me, Once I pass N1 I’ll be devoting most of my time to really solidify my conversation skills. I can have a pretty smooth conversation now but I know the Japanese people I talk to still feel the need to use easier words and phrases for me, making it harder to grow. I want to be able to fully enjoy movies or a deep conversation with a friend in Japanese… So I guess you just have to pick you battle haha. It’s all Japanese so it’s all challenging and rewarding in it’s own way. Just know, there are plenty others who feel the same way that you do and are struggling to see a path forward. But let’s keep trying! Even if it’s only a little bit at a time let’s always have a heart to improve!


I definitely know the feeling. Since I saw you in another thread, you probably already know that I’ve been in Japan for 10+ years (well, 12 at this point, but who’s counting). I came here with roughly N5 and had classes up to N3, which was the highest level available locally. Then I self-studied all the way to N1. The main problem with that being that I focused a lot on comprehension rather than production (i.e. I sounded like crap, when I was sounding at all) and that my knowledge was very patchy (same as you).
I got better over time, but I don’t know if that’s going to help you (or anyone else for that matter):

  • my job is fully in Japanese, so over time I just notice things I’ve been saying wrong forever or better ways to express things. I also read a lot, so sometimes I will get something from there. But it’s a very slow process.
  • I’ve been helping in the various bookclubs on this forum by answering questions about grammar or vocab, which has forced me to get a better understanding of what I was talking about, or simply learn stuff that I had completely missed.

So, again, I don’t know if that’s going to help, but I have seen some progress thanks to those over the years (emphasis on the time scale)


I started using wanikani to improve my kanji (I’m around 1000 and change). I’m using bunpro but I’m not sure if I like it. It seems very unpolished for the price as opposed iknow and wanikani.

Due to Corona virus I lost my job so money is a little tight.


Yup that old law of diminishing returns. I can probably get to N1 after a year and change of studying. Mostly I’m looking to be get decent enough to have a job in graphics by 2022. My previous job was an English Japanese mix. Our customers were American but the staff and work language was Japanese.


I definitely intend to join the book clubs!


To be fair, Bunpro really should be used as reinforcement not where you are solely learning the grammar from. That’s why the ‘paths’ exist.


I saw the paths but I’m not sure I like it’s system. For me it doesn’t seem very intuitive. But that’s just my opinion. I bet other people can use it very well and get a lot out of it.

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Now I’m nowhere near your level of Japanese but as a non native English speaker I can tell you how I improved from rusty school English to “sounding like a native” according to the people I’ve asked.
Listen and read, a lot. I know this might be more challenging for a parent but you have the advantage of being in the country of your target language so maybe it balances that out.
For me not a day goes by without listening to a podcast or an audio book in the background or just watching regular videos or movies, there’s plenty of free stuff on YouTube. Or playing games or reading books, whataver works for you. What helped me a lot in the beginning was shadowing what I had heard and also rambling aloud about whatever came to mind. Doesn’t have to be perfect right away, but being in the comfort of just talking to yourself you’re more likely to let loose and practice without fear of being judged for mistakes.
Immersion might not be the fastest way to improve but over time I believe this to be the best way to really get used to a language and all Its nuances.


I also have a similar struggle with a very uneven amount of skill sets. For the past few years I’ve lived in Japan and to keep myself motivated, I follow the ‘good enough’ system; that if I can communicate what I want, even if its not grammatically correct, that’s still a success. This was to help me break out of my fear of speaking and it did help me a lot. But I noticed I’ve gotten very lazy when it comes to output like speaking and writing. Lately I’ve been trying to transition from ‘good enough’ to ‘almost perfect’.

One suggestion I have that has helped me is to practice shadowing! It really forces you to focus on both comprehension and output. I use an app called Jalup but there’s other programs out there. I listen to the sentence without looking at the text and try to repeat it verbatim. Keep listening and keep trying to repeat until I’ve got it down perfect. Really helps me notice things like: oh I always say this word wrong, or I keep forgetting this particle. I feel it’s really helping me get through this intermediate hump


Do you mean pitch accent or sentence structure?

Compared to others my accent isn’t that bad. It’s not great but not bad. It’s more of a “I needed to learn how to communicate quickly so careful measured practice with feedback went out the window and now I’m left talking like this forever…” kind of problem.

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Your Japanese is probably better than mine, but here’s my experience with languages in general since Japanese will be my 4th. Pretend you’re in a college English Lit. class. That means two things: input via lots of reading and output via lots of writing.

The reading doesn’t need to be “high class” literature, it just needs to be written well. Just like a real class, it’s mostly to expose you to different ways of expressing thought. Whether it’s novels, manga, or whatever, just make sure to read as much as you can. Japanese audio books that you can listen to as you do other things may be a good alternative.

Think of the writing as notes for a speech. Pick a topic, it doesn’t matter what it is. Just go on Google and search for speech writing prompts. Then write a paragraph and deliver a speech to yourself in the mirror in the morning after brushing your teeth. Short is good since it forces you to be brief and it’s easier to fit into your schedule. Just accept the fact that it will suck in the beginning. :wink: It always does for anything you try to improve. But it does get better. :smiley:

Hope that helps.