It's not you. It's your brain!

I want to share my experience with fatigue, frustration, and a loss of momentum.

I’ve been very seriously learning Japanese for a few months, now. According to my Japanese teacher I’ve been moving at a fast speed and doing well at retaining and using new information. This was probably accelerated by my living in Japan and meeting with a language exchange partner every week. I’m sure all of you know that this feels great! When you’re doing well and everything is coming together there is no better feeling. Until about two weeks ago…

I was doing my typical daily routine of WaniKani reviews, Genki vocabulary review, and practicing grammar points through HelloTalk, but something felt different. Every time I looked at a kanji or tried to compose a sentence I instantly felt exhausted and annoyed. Any time I wanted to think of a word or attempt to read a sign while walking it was as if my brain was throwing its hands up and saying “Man, I don’t know!”

My first thought was that I needed to work through it. I kept doing my kanji reviews. I kept introducing myself to new vocabulary and grammar. I would do all of the things that normally work, but the next day it would feel like I made zero progress. I could look at my notebook page full of “ために” example sentences and think, “What in the world does this mean?”

I’m lucky to have a friend that doesn’t mind hearing about my language learning woes. I’m extra lucky that she is an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher in America. As soon as she hears about my terrible no good extra bad week, she says, “That’s totally normal.” She explains to me that your brain can literally block off new information once it feels like it has had enough. The brain can need time to process and “file away” new information. In order to do this the brain needs time. She encourages me to stop focusing on new information and play around with what I already know. I stopped learning new kanji, only reviewed existing vocabulary, and ran through all of my past grammar points.

It worked. After about two weeks I woke up one day feeling completely different about Japanese. Something was just different. I was hungry for new information. I’ve been blazing through new information for the past few days and feeling invigorated about learning.

I wanted to share this in case anyone else is in this situation. It’s okay to feel tired and frustrated. It’s okay to take a moment to reflect on where you’ve been instead of looking for where you can go. It’s okay to slow down for a moment. It’s not you. It’s your brain.


I had a similar experience recently and had to take my foot off the gas a little bit. I think your friend’s right, sometimes our brains need time to consolidate. Frustration is a big indicator of overdoing it. When I start swearing at the screen it’s a sign that I need a break.


I go through that all the time. Usually every 3-5 levels (grammar is a whole nother ball game).

I find for me its new information, retaining the new information, attempting to use new info, then after about 3-4 weeks it finally gets “filed” away.

I never actually studied or focused on polite form but one day just understood it “oh, so RU verbs just become masu” and its stuck ever since.


Thank you for this! Also living in Japan, I have had these same types of spells as well and tended to doubt myself whenever they occurred but I do pull through them and make it out alive to be happy another day. To be able to understand what I can already accomplish and move forward, diving into to new knowledge comfortably, instead of as a monotonous chore. :slight_smile:


i get that “I don’t want to brain any more!” feeling every time I try to understand spoken Japanese…


I’m glad this helps. Living here and learning can feel like treading water sometimes. It never feels like you know ENOUGH! We just have to keep doing our best. Little by little we will get there!


You are not a machine. Take it easy :wink:


Thanks so much for sharing!

Its so interesting how the brain works and these little tips hopefully help the learning process!

I haven’t completely hit the wall yet, but I kinda get the vibe you are describing - it can throw everything you have learnt into question. Gotta stay positive!


Even machines need maintenance and some cool off time!


Yes, I have to back off every so often, sometimes entirely for a day or two. Then there are those days at the other end of the spectrum where suddenly I remember nearly everything.


I was going through one of those. They happen for me from time to time. Today though I actually started getting back into it so that’s good. I had my discord “Japanese class” tonight and I got all fired up. What seems to help me is to meet in a study group either online or in person. I always feel motivated for a short while after that. I think its because studying on my own I start to feel lonely and lose track of what I want.


Baka brain, why you so lazy? PunOko


That’s why sleep, especially deep sleep is so important. It’s your brain literally doing the filing and making sense of everything you’ve enountered while awake. There’s kanji that have completely stumped me in an evening session but lept out of my brain and into my fingers come morning, I think because my brain has had that downtime to process. Time outside in fresh air and away from the computer doing something with little brainpower is so helpful too.

Often if I’m struggling with something, I notice I start watching the birds instead of my screen. So I get up, have a glass of water and go outside to either sit and watch the sheep/birds or care for my plants on autopilot. When I come back, I’m ready to learn again. If I’m still finding that the concept won’t stick, I leave it for the next day.


But aren’t you your brain

Anyway thanks for sharing, I can completely relate to this. It’s very discouraging tbh so just playing around with what you already know seems like a good way to deal with this. Thank you!


Haha I was honestly thinking earlier today about how I could explain this forum title to my Japanese friend. I often have to explain English concepts on-the-spot, but I think I might trip over the idea of self vs brain!


Philosophy of mind vs brain…
We are our minds. Our brains are what our minds lives in. Mind is software, brain is hardware.


Can I get a firmware upgrade?


Sometimes it takes even longer…I was endlessly frustrated by certain chemistry concepts in high school, but when I started building off of them a year and a half later in a college-level gen-ed chem class my brain was like “Ah yes, I have had eighteen months to marinate these concepts. I totally get it now.” One of the weirdest learning experiences of my life. Especially since I’m not a sciencey person at all (English major here).

Sleeping on stuff (or apparently, sitting on stuff for two years) is SO HELPFUL. Even getting stuff wrong and then reviewing helps out. I usually get new WaniKani unlocks wrong right after I learn them, and then I get them right the next day. So yeah. Brains are weird, and awesome.


My problem is the opposite, I keep reviewing old information to refresh my memory, but I do it even for something as simple as “desu” if I find a new source about it, I would read it again because I always end up thinking “what if this version tells me something I don’t know?”. This isn’t a bad thing because Japanese is hard to explain so it’s better to check out different sources, but it slows me down.


I found this free online course, “Learning How to Learn”, to be amazingly helpful to understand how to best learn difficult subjects (like Japanese). Some areas the course covers:

  • How “chunking” works to move what you’ve learned from short to long-term memory
  • How to overcome the challenges of overlearning and Einstellung by using interleaving
  • The two different ways your brain learns new information
  • The link between procrastination and memory
  • Best practices for retention, test taking, study groups, etc