Learning How to Study

I never really learned how to study. I wasn’t smart or anything, but I was good at taking tests and keeping class info in my short term memory, so I got through high school and college with relatively good grades. So now out in the “real world” I actually want to study but I don’t know how to start. It feels like I have the attention span of a goldfish and I can practically feel my last brain cell shutting down every time I try to make flashcards. Wanikani seems like the only continuous study that’s been working for me. Any tips?


I was similar in high school. What motivated me in college was a combination of time management and the desire to use my degree to get a job I was excited about.

My two tips:

  1. If you haven’t already, choose a goal for your studies that is exciting for you. For example: be able to read manga/watch anime, play games in the original language. For me, the original goal was to get a job teaching in Japan.

Whatever you pick, make sure it’s something that is inspiring for you, something that will keep you personally motivated. Some people might not get particularly excited about being able to read manga in the original language. Others might have life situations or other goals that make moving to Japan unrealistic. So it needs to work for you personally, and be achievable.

  1. If you haven’t figured out a time management system that works for you, do so. Get a journal, make a calendar, set goals, set a study schedule, etc., whatever works for you.

This is important because it lets you:

a. Be consistent
b. See your progress
c. Have a cohesive strategy
d. Pace yourself

a. is essential because consistent study is the only way you make real progress.

b. is useful because it is highly motivating. You can open your schedule and see all the days you met your study goals, how far you’ve come, etc.

c. is useful because by consciously experimenting with when, how, and what you’ll study, you can learn the most effective strategy for yourself, which will make your progress more efficient and less painful.

d. It can be exciting when your really inspired to study, but you can end up pushing yourself too hard and burning out. Scheduling your study and setting achievable goals can help avoid that.


I have time set aside to study, and a goal in mind (JLPT in June). But when I sit down to study, I don’t know what to do…


Ah okay!

Is it more a lack of resources?

It can help to have a daily goal for the resources you’re using. Like, identify a resource for each area of language study, decide what you want to do with that resource, and how much/how often. Then set a daily or weekly goal for each of those resources.

For example (not sure of your level, so these are just arbitrary):

Reading: read one article from NHK each day and add new vocabulary to something like Kamesame

Writing: have a chat partner from something like hellotalk, make sure you set aside time to write a response every few days or something

Listening: watch 1 video/show with Japanese subtitles each day

Speaking: have a weekly session with a conversation partner

Kanji/Vocab: stay up to date with Wanikani and Kamesame

Grammar: finish reading a chapter of your grammar textbook each week, and complete the exercises in the book

These are just examples, again. There will be things that work best for you in particular. If you need resources, I recommend looking here:

*Edit: What resources are you currently using, and how are they working for you?

You mentioned flashcards, and said they’re not working. I really don’t like flashcards either, so I’ve been using Kamesame. That might work well for you too, since it’s modeled on Wanikani, which you said does work well for you.


What has really helped me has been creating a study log here in the forum. I “check boxes” every day of different tasks, related to Japanese, that I have finished. It feels really rewarding to check those boxes and to get a visual of what I’ve actually achieved every day. It has really boosted my motivation to study/immerse myself/practice speaking so much! I used to hate flashcard reviews, but now I’ve gotten into the habit of doing even those every day, because when I’m done with them I get to check that box, haha! I’ve also finally gotten into the habit of (nearly) daily shadowing audio practice, which really helps with both pronunciation, grammar (verb conjugations etc), learning new vocab and just practicing actually speaking Japanese every day. So, yeah. My biggest tip is to set daily goals that are easily achieavable, to make your progress more visible! :smile:


This is what my weekly study schedule looks like (and I don’t force myself to do every single task each day, but at least a few of them).

WK review
Speak Japanese (Discord group, Hello Talk/Tandem, italki etc)
Japanese immersion (anime, manga, music, Youtube etc)
Study grammar (GENKI II, NativShark, Youtube etc)
Practice shadowing
Listen to Japanese podcast
Vocab SRS (Anki/Memrise)
Nativshark lessons & reviews
Italki lesson

There’s plenty of good decks made by other users. Maybe you could do those and see how you like it? :thinking:

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I am 41 and been trying to study Japanese properly for 20 years. It wasn’t until 200 days ago when I found WK that I actually properly got into Kanji.

First, set goals. Not just one goal. Goal(S). Set a big goal: JLPT N1 by 2023! Then set monthly or yearly goals. Write them down. 25 WK levels in one year! Then monthly goals. 3 WK levels a month! Or keep it in line with your year goal, so 2.5 levels which would get you to 25 for the year. Then set weekly goals - study WK for 5 out of 7 days a week. Then set daily goals.

Write them all down and track them.

The other big thing about goals, make sure they are realistic and attainable. Setting a goal of JLPT N1 by end of 2021 is probably a terrible goal (unless you are already at N2 I guess :smiley: ) because it’s unlikely attainable, and unattainable goals will demotivate you terribly.

Of course, do not be afraid to adjust goals either. I know, I just said make it realistic, why would you need to adjust a realistic goal unless you are falling behind on your goal!? The answer is, as you admitted, you don’t know how to study. You don’t know what you don’t know. How can you set an attainable goal if you don’t know what you can achieve? So when you start off, if you set a goal of 50 kanji a week, you keep at it diligently and two weeks later find you can only hit 30 a week, then adjust your goal from 50 to 30 a week. Use that goal to keep your pace and not drag you down.

Because language learning isn’t just about kanji, set goals for each piece of the puzzle. You need kanji for Japanese. You found the right tool for the job, WK. Next you need grammar. BunPro may be a good option for you if you like WK, but find the tool that works for you and the one that keeps you coming back. Then you need to listen, so set listening goals. Maybe watch one Anime or J-Drama without subtitles and just LISTEN to the language. As you level up in grammar and kanji/vocab, you will find you start understanding words and eventually, understand the gist of what is said. With enough practice you will understand 80% or more of a show.

My second piece of advice is, you will become demotivated at some point. Don’t worry about that; the WK community is your demotivation cure! :smiley:

And third, and most important, find a tool, book, video set, etc that you think works for you and STICK to it. Don’t fall into the trap of looking at every rabbit hole, trying out every app and book that comes your way. You will never find the perfect tool; you have to find the tool you can stick through to the end. Jumping from tool/book to tool/book is a recipe for never getting anywhere but the basics.

I have more, but this post got to be a LOT longer than I intended. I hope it helps you though.


How do you define smart? Personally, I don’t think you have to be smart to learn Japanese; you just have to be dedicated, consistent and enthusiastic.

There’s some great advice in this thread. Good luck with your studies.

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There’ll be a ton of completely different and equally valid approaches in this thread (and that’s fine), so here’s mine:

I also got through school without developing a study habit but ended up really clicking with Wanikani.

My approach is to just not really have goals. I started learning Japanese as a way to fill time during downtime at work and I didn’t expect anything to come of it and said “I’ll stop when it stops being interesting” and then it… never stopped being interesting.

To motivate actually doing any study I make it so that I like doing it - I do SRS in the morning (with Anki) while watching a tv show or some such, so it’s a win-win since my attention span would drift if I tried to watch the shows on their own. (It’s the same way I motivate exercising, by watching anime while doing it…) And I have enough relevant interests that there’s plenty of stuff I want to read in Japanese that would be their own reward to me.
For drier, less fun study like textbooks and listening practice (my least favorite) I just try to do a chunk when I feel like it, on lunch breaks and stuff.

Like, there’s lots of stuff I would like to do with Japanese down the line, but I don’t think of it as “I need to study to accomplish these goals,” I think of it as “I’m enjoying studying and it would be cool if I got to do those things someday too,” if that makes sense. And for me that makes it feel like a fun hobby where if I thought about it the other way it might feel like an obligation and I might not study because of it (like I didn’t study in school…)

Obviously this isn’t going to be a good approach for everyone. It also means my skills are heavily biased towards the parts I like doing, and in particular if there were external pressure I’d have to change something.
I submit it only as an example of the broad spectrum of possible approaches.

But I like that this way, I have the luxury to feel that if I learn something, awesome, and if not… oh well, I had a pretty good time. And then looking back I’m surprised at how much I really do learn.

And so if there’s parts of the process you like doing a lot, focusing on those might be a good way to go.


I feel this so much! I was one of the “gifted” kids that never needed to study before also. I have found I need something organized into “chunks” so I can set goals like “read one chunk per day”. Here is my current JP daily checklist:

  • WK Revews 1+ times per day and 20 lessons if I have lessons
  • 50 xp+ on Duolingo
  • 30mins+ listening practice (podcasts and YouTube)
  • Optional: Grammar book section, I also have an SRS deck for vocab words from the grammar book, but I only do it most days
    (This whole list takes about an hour to 1.5 hours total, if I do more on a day, it’s because I want to)

This keeps me challenged, learning, and I’ll change it as my needs change, but for me it’s been about picking the right resource that can guide me because with a topic as big as JP, I can’t really structure lessons for myself.

When I’m ready some of these will be replaced by, for example, translating sentences and reading text, but with my limited grammar knowledge, I’m really only able to understand sentences written by the grammar textbook, too much I don’t know “in the wild”.

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I make a physical list of everything I want to study that day
For example:

Wanikani Reviews
Do dishes
Anki reviews
Start laundry
10 wanikani lessons
Pick up 10 things
1 page of grammar book
Tidy room
Read 1 page
Fold laundry

Since I also have the attention span of a tanuki I take lots of breaks in between to clean the house


It seems to me that the question is more of how does one “study grammar”? as opposed to goal setting and so forth. I might be wrong, but that’s what I got from this and so it’s what I’m going to throw my two cents at. I’ve had a long day so please forgive poor wording or misinterpreting. Let’s begin.

We all say study, but really it’s how do I learn (fill in the blank). This is a big topic and new things are being understood, but in short, to learn we need to get all that new info into our long term memory in a way that is accurate and… I guess I’ll say well structured. In the example of grammar, start with one concept (from whatever source). Read it listen to it, whatever, then do some practice with using it right away. Make your own sentences. I would also recommend that you summarize the grammar point in your own words. Self-summary is highly effective for learning. As you get more and more grammar points into your memory think about other ones that are similar and try to find ways to link the new stuff to your prior knowledge. You don’t have to just write, you can talk, whatever. You can even make some question prompt flashcards to simulate having a conversation to make you think on the fly (recall memory).

What I’m getting at with all of this is to not just read or listen to something, but to make your brain work. If we read a point and understand it and then a few days read it again and it is familiar we think “I know this!”, not necessarily. It’s the brain recognizing the information, which is a different kind of memory, and it fools us into thinking we have learned something we haven’t. The key is cognition, making your brain work. When you make your own sentences and self-summarize new info you are making your brain do work at a deeper level than merely recognizing something.

This is true for anything you want to learn. But equally important is to not overwhelm yourself. I’m not going to go into the ideas of cognitive load or dual channel processing, but I will say that there is only so much your brain can process at once. Also, there is no such thing as multitasking, only doing multiple things, poorly, back and forth. Spaced repetition is also found to be useful for deeper learning, but it is doubtful that 1000 reviews a day of anything is doing you any favors. If you are the type who likes to write notes when you are reading or listening to things, take a look at “Cornell Notes”, it’s a style of note taking that is efficient and easy to use.

Oh, and of course keep practicing with the info you want to learn in ways that you will actually use the info (do things in context). Obviously this is harder and requires more support when it comes to learning a new language and it’s why things like graded readers are helpful and why grown adults might want to read books aimed at 4 year olds (in their target language). It is important to do these things though. I think with language it’s more obvious to do things in context, but you never know, so I’ll put it here anyway.

Anyway, that’s all… don’t be surprised if I edit this later. Hope someone found that helpful at least a little.

edit 1: typos (bane of my existence)/clarity/info


I love this😍

How did you do it? (Just curious)

Sounds… like you reached into my brain and narrated my memories of life with ADHD. It’s a neurological condition (not psychological) meaning the solution, for me at least, was medication. Japanese, or just functioning like a regular cognisant human being, would be impossible for me without it. Though adderall is illegal Japan so I’ll be trying an alternative prescription soon I guess…

Anyway if this brain cell shutdown feeling is a frequent thing for you while attempting to engage with most mentally demanding tasks, then consider getting evaluated by a medical professional if you haven’t already. Forgive me if I sound like an overreacting internet armchair psychologist. Your words just… vividly explain what I went through better than I’ve ever been able to explain it myself. The best explanation I’ve managed is that it feels like my Brain PC has 32GB RAM installed and the broken OS refuses to access more than 512MB.

Glad you found my rambling helpful @vspree :slightly_smiling_face:

I also want to add that I don’t mean to imply that recognition memory is bad. Both recognition and recall are needed and work together. I just wanted to highlight that recall is often overlooked when we are practicing new things and just focusing heavily on recognition is not going to get us where we want to be with our language learning journeys!

Good luck with your studies!

Yeah your tips on making my own sentences with the things I’m studying was helpful, thank you! Wanikani has made me good at reading, but since it’s very passive, my production skills are shot and I can barely hold a long convo in Japanese (despite living here… :sweat_smile:)

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I can totally relate!

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