Just as the title says, I’ve finally managed to reach level 60 after just under two years. I can rarely keep myself motivated for a long time and so reaching level 60 is nothing short of miracle for me. While I don’t visit the community very often, I still have you guys to thank for the tips and insights. With this post, I hope I can give something back.
So how did I do it? Let’s start from the very beginning - why I decided to start learning Japanese
It’s simple. I love the Japanese culture, as I’m sure most of you also do. Anime, manga, games, music, and anything in between. But I have been consuming those media for years before I started learning Japanese for real in late 2019. My turning point was when my friend invited me to go on vacation to Japan. Since we bought the airplane ticket months in advance, I thought I could use this as a motivation to start learning Japanese. And so I did.
Where did I start?
Google, of course. I didn’t remember what the keyword was, but long story short I found Tofugu’s guide on learning Japanese and of course, WaniKani. When I first started, I thought Japanese was easy. I’ve memorized katakana and hiragana in just about a month. Little did I know that there’s still this monster called Kanji. I was discouraged at first. I mean come on, over 2000 characters just to for me to be able to read? And that’s on top of the grammars that I still have to learn. It sounded absurd. It felt impossible. But since the Tofugu guide (obviously) recommended trying WaniKani and the time of vacation was drawing near, I decided to start WaniKani right away.
I started WaniKani in late October of 2019 while my vacation was scheduled to be in January of 2020. I had only about three months to learn as much kanji and grammars that I can and by the time January came, I had learned little. At that time, I’d only reached level 7 in WaniKani and only 50 pages in on Tae Kim’s Guide to Learning Japanese. I expected myself to at least be able to ask for directions but seeing how far I’d learned, I doubted that I could even speak Japanese with any confidence.
Wait, how did I get myself motivated again?
Well, there you go. That was my initial motivation, I bought a ticket to Japan so that I could remind myself that I have to learn otherwise I wouldn’t be able to interact with the natives by the time my vacation comes. I think it was effective. Reaching level 7 in 3 months is not fast by any means, but I keep doing it consistently every day. And speaking of doing reviews every day, I remember the emails that WaniKani sent every time I level up. I vaguely recall something about doing your reviews every day even on your birthday. For some reason, that message stuck on my mind, and I think it also helped keeping myself motivated. After that, I resolved to do my reviews no matter what even if it’s just one item.
Okay so back to my initial motivation, what about next? What about after I went back from Japan?
To add some context, I’m not a native English speaker. My native language is Indonesian and while it’s not related to Japanese, I think it has similar phonemes to Japanese so I might have an easier time pronouncing Japanese words. Alright back to the topic.
I actually got my next motivation from my trip to Japan. When I was there, I just tried to speak what I can from what I’ve learned so far combined with my years of watching anime. Yeah, I know, I must have sounded really funny back then. But I had no choice. It was my first time going to a foreign country and I don’t wanna get lost. Surprisingly enough, whenever someone speaks, I managed to understand the general idea. Me speaking is another matter entirely, of course. But I think my pronunciations were okay enough that most people understand what I meant.
I started shy, but my confidence in speaking gradually built up as I speak to more and more people. I asked where the exit is, I exchanged my tickets, I bought some stuffs, and it all went quite smoothly. Later, I even went to a bar, talked quite a bit, and made some friends with my broken Japanese. To add the cherry on top, most people I spoke to often said “日本語は上手”.
I get that they didn’t mean that I’m actually good at Japanese. I think it’s more like “Cool! You can speak my language!”. But that was enough for me. that was the thing that keep me motivated to this day, that feeling of appreciation from the native speaker. That appreciation felt like a reward for my hard work. And so, I resolved to make that statement actually true, I wanted to actually be good at Japanese. Every time I felt too lazy to do my reviews, I tried to recall those people that said “日本語は上手” and I would get some of my motivations back.
So If you ever need some motivations, go to Japan and just try interacting with the natives there. But we live in an online world now so perhaps finding some Japanese friend online could do as a substitute. Plus, at times like these, going to Japan isn’t exactly practical with travel restrictions in place. But really, if you can, you really should go to Japan. I’m sure it’ll be quite an experience.
Are there any other practical ways to motivate myself?
There are! Well, there is. This is going to be the last one and that’s progress. But before that, I think I have to be transparent here and admit that I haven’t actually learned anything else besides kanji in the past two years. I initially do my reviews on top of some grammar from Tae Kim’s guide. But as reviews kept piling up, I didn’t think I could dedicate any more time and so I decided to finish my kanji first.
So back to progress. What I meant by progress is checking how far I’ve been from time to time. As I do my reviews and leveled up, I also tried to expose myself to some Japanese. I started from simple things such as song lyrics, random reading from google search, and watching videos. As I learned more kanji, I can feel that I can read more and understand more and it felt like I’ve made progress. That made me wants to read/watch/listen more and in turn learn more. That itself forms a virtuous cycle and I think that also keep my motivation in check.
To sum it up, here are the things that has been keeping me motivated that might hopefully help you guys in getting your motivations:
- Going to Japan. Specifically, setting a target before my trip and interacting with the natives.
- Reading my level up emails. Yeah it’s automated but there’s one or two words that stuck and adds to my motivation.
- Checking my progress from time to time.
Hope it helps! Good luck for you guys who are still working hard to reach level 60!