From ZERO, nibble away at kana, kanji, vocabulary, and grammar. Move on only after each little bit is thoroughly (strike, see below) mastered. There’s no point to taking on more if you are forgetting as fast as you are learning.
Lower your expectations. IMHO, studying native materials while lacking the basics takes tedious effort with little reward and great frustration. I view Japanese dramas when I am getting too cocky about my progress.
After a 20-year hiatus, six months ago I started again with Wanikani and Bunpro, reaching level 24 and finishing N3, respectively. (Studied from 1982 at UCLA extension; weekly private tutor 1985-1987, then 1992-1997; and expatriate from 1992-2000, so there was lots of review. And I’m at this more than eight hours per day.) After all this, I rate my comprehension of “first glance” native materials as “poor”.
My motivation is to keep going for as long as I find the learning process enjoyable and then accept whatever competence that results. After the pandemic is over, I intend to split my time between Japan and the United States until I have to check into assisted living.
My point is that (IMHO) it is essential to have a well thought out reason to study Japanese rather than something easier, like Spanish. That reason will be different for everyone.
One of the things that I find most fun and also incredibly productive–even as I find it very stressful because I’m confident I’m doing it poorly–is practicing output. I know you said you didn’t like Genki, which is what I use, but whatever you end up using to learn the grammar (Tae Kim’s guide is pretty good and also free), I think it’s worth taking the time to sit with the grammar points you learn and literally make up sentences to fit them. You said you previously got to level 8 in WaniKani, which isn’t super far in terms of reading comprehension but should absolutely give you enough to string together stupid sentences. (“I think about my teacher’s ancient cow every morning” or whatever, is completely made up of stuff from lvl 8 and below, and covers possessives and adjective-noun construction and time phrases and present tense conjugation, etc.)
It’s not necessarily easy, but as part of learning grammar I cannot recommend it enough. Make up a sentence using words you know (or words you look up, tbh), translate it, and then read it out loud to yourself. It’s something you can practice at any point in the day and it’s something I don’t feel like I see recommended enough, given how helpful I think it is for helping both grammar and vocabulary stick in my brain. Plus it gives you a chance to practice your pronunciation while also hearing the sounds of the language, even if they’re just coming from you.
My advice is really to not try to take on too much at once. Maybe try to get a certain base level and try to build up from there, introducing new elements as you go. To keep things interesting, switch it up from time to time. Like do reading practice one day, then do listening on another day, speaking and writing on another day. See what sticks, also what doesn’t work and then go from there.
Accelerate your learning when you feel comfortable at the current pace and slow down when you feel like it is too much. I’ve seen many people, including myself get burned out and it takes a lot of time to feel comfortable again studying with hopefully healthier habits. As you’ve said you don’t have any aspirations to live or work in Japan at this moment, so treat it as a marathon and not a sprint. If you only got 1 hours worth to study in a day, then using that every day is always better than studying more and quitting several months after.
Don’t feel too bad about this one. The super basic ones tend to be nonsensical in their grammar, like how many people speak to children. The ones that get non-trivial tend to be all over the place in their vocab. The one’s that try to stick to some sort of standard (eg. N5/N4) will probably be really boring.
Imo, Japanese has something of an initial wall (around the N4 level or having finished the new learner texbooks like Genki II, Human Japanese Intermediate, Tae Kim). Everything you do up to crossing that wall is bootstrapping and will be kind of painful. You don’t want to burn out, but I do think it’s better to cross that wall when you can since it’s much easier to take an easy pace when learning from more immersive activities are on the table. As far as getting there, basic vocab and grammar is the most important.
As others have brought up, explore your options. I think the absolute beginner phase is as much finding the learning resources/methods that work for you as much as it is learning Japanese.
I do not like the phrasing “thoroughly mastered”. I feel like that’s the kind of thing some beginners read out of context then get trapped into things like trying to understand every possible use of particles off the bat. Or maybe they get into the idea that they need to memorize every meaning, reading, and pitch accent of everything on WK. Forgetting is part of the process as well as relearning or refining what is already known (especially when it comes to J → E definitions siiiiiigh). Definitely learn the basics and learn them well, but accept that there are a lot of times where things will have to be left unclear (lower those expectations).
I would recommend checking out the thread Let’s Durtle the Scenic Route , as that ‘philosophy’ expressed there (taking it slow and steady, but especially to enjoy the process of learning) is closest to my current approach, and I’ve found it very helpful overall to maintain interest, maintain steady progress, and also to pretty much eliminate the risk of burnout.
As for resetting back to lvl 1 and radicals, yes I know the feeling of going tooo far back, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s only a couple of levels. Probably by level 5-ish you’ll start hitting things you forgot. And at that point you can slow right down to your ‘scenic route’ pace (i.e. whatever pace feels comfortable and sustainable and enjoyable to you), and before you know it, all the early stuff will go to Enlightened level, and then in a couple months you’ll be making your first Burns! Just remember to slow down to a comfortable pace once you start hitting things you don’t remember. Then just maintain (and sometimes adjust) that steady pace, and you’ll be safe from burnout forever.
Have you tried contacting the WK team to see if they can get you access to your old account? I’d assume they’d be able to help with that
As for advice: I feel like I was in a similar situation to you until quite recently, where I put in a lot of work but still couldn’t understand anything. Here’s what I would suggest:
Narrow down your goals. Of course you can still want to achieve all those things someday, but I find it’s easier to achieve your goals if they’re more specific.
I don’t know if you’ve heard of SMART goals but I find that method is a good way to see if you have clear enough goals (I think it’s a business thing?? but I’ve found it helpful for figuring out my language goals).
Basically, if you follow the SMART criteria your goals should be...
Specific (figure out which area specifically you want to improve in, e.g. reading)
Measurable (how do you know when you’ve achieved your goal?)
Achievable (how can you achieve this goal? what steps do you need to take? is it realistic?)
Relevant (is this the right time for this goal? e.g. a goal of playing a text heavy video game may not be relevant right now, but reading a graded reader may be)
Time-bound (e.g. in 1 year, in 3 months, etc.)
You can take the goals you currently have and adjust them to meet the criteria.
A goal like “be able to read” is too broad, so maybe something like “read a book with the Absolute Beginner Book Club” could be a more attainable goal. Or maybe “read X amount of graded readers this month.” Or if you want to improve grammar / vocab, a goal could be watching a certain amount of Japanese Ammo with Misa videos in the next month.
The long term goals can still be the things you listed, but breaking them down into smaller goals will make the steps you need to take more obvious. Of course you don’t have to follow the SMART criteria, I just personally find it helpful.
Good luck with your studies!!
edit: put some of this under the hide details thing since it got a bit long, sorry
Nihongo Con Teppei is an intermediate podcast, even the one that says “For Beginners”. So yeah, makes sense you didn’t understand much yet.
Non Non Biyori seems to use a lot of casual language/weird anime pronounciation that aren’t the first thing a textbook teaches you. I have no issues listening to Teppei, but Non Non Biyori is really difficult XD
This has made me feel a lot better, as in a lot of places I have seen these two as being the easiest to digest!
Just thought of something that might be helpful (at least for confidence) - I love this youtube channel - Comprehensible Japanese - her complete beginner videos have tons of repetition, visuals etc - you can pick up what’s happening even without a lot of Japanese vocabulary/grammar, which is pretty great feeling. Definitely easier than Nihongo Con Teppei (but you really do want to watch the video, not just listen.
I have been learning Japanese on and off for a couple of years now. And what is really working for me now is a couple of things:
Dont collect methods. I used to buy al kinds of books, all kinds of subscriptions, browsed all the websites etc. And never really stuck to any of it, just continued to do the beginner stuff all over the place. Pick something that works for you and stick with it.
Actually pick something that works for you. There is a lot of advice out there, and a lot of it is great and will work. But if you are not into it, then it will not grab you and it’s harder to stick to it.
Don’t overdo it. The best method, is the method that you can sustain for a long period of time. Learning Japanese, will take a while, and you have to be able to stick with it for atleast a couple of years, depending on where you want to end up. So the best method would be the one that doesn’t burn you out.
Start reading. This one is tricky in the beginning, but there are even level 0 books out there, like the Tadoku graded readers etc. (Free ones here). But for me atleast, once I started reading, not only did I make a lot of progress, but I also felt like I made a lot of progress, which is motivating on its own.
In the end, you really want to stick to what works for you. I think people get burned out a lot on following all kinds of advice that doesn’t really suit them. Or try to do the whole immersion in anime even though they don’t really understand a single word. That stuff will break you very quickly unless you have some type of iron determination and immense amounts of time a day to spend on it. Which I don’t have.
Comprehensible Japanese is amazing I think, might be one of the better resources to start with. The whole concept of natural/immersed learning is amazing. It is how I used to learn other languages as well, but I thought that Japanese would be too different from my own language or any other that I understand. But the way she does it, you can really immidiatly follow just about anything, and just watching them, and repeating a couple of times, can really get you going quite fast into understanding sentence sentences etc.
and here’s the link to subscribe to her (free) newsletter where she provides the discord link after you’ve put your email address in. I would give you the direct link but I don’t want to be disrespectful if she has people sign up through email for a certain reason Sakura Community Information
Of course! I’m using Duolingo only because I have a few friends using it for other languages and had signed up to learn Spanish years ago. I did struggle with the Japanese lessons at first and actually stopped using it for a little while because I felt there was a big gap between my knowledge and what they were throwing at me in the beginning. After learning a little more about grammar and getting my Hiragana and Katakana down, I find it much easier to use for reviewing what I’ve learned elsewhere. I hadn’t heard of Lingodeer when I picked it back up again, so I’ll have to check it out!
As for vloggers on Youtube, I really like Yamamomo’s channel although she does speak very quickly and her content is probably pretty niche if you aren’t into lifestyle/fashion/shopping vlogs. I also like Miku’s channel but she doesn’t always do a lot of talking in her videos, though she does type japanese subtitles to read from.
I did a quick google search and found this website which has a list of the top 10 youtubers in Japan!
Hope this helps and thank YOU for your recommendations!
Awesome post! Happy to hear you’re reflecting on what went wrong before and what could be done different this time. There’s a lot of good advice in the posts above, so to answer one that hasn’t been answered yet:
As far as I’m aware, there is no way to skip levels. If you did WaniKani in the past, you can resume from that level. However, I attempted this last year after being gone for an extended time and had 500 reviews of words I hadn’t heard in over a year. Even bringing it down to level 3 didn’t help the mountain much and a lot of words never stuck in my memory from being away that long.
I restarted just before the new year and have been following the fastest method for making it through WaniKani. Maintaining this pace would get you through the entire program by the end of the year, but people who do it say it gets very difficult in later levels. Still, if you have a good foundation, use it to fly through early levels of WaniKani to get into a habit and do some other Japanese studies between WaniKani sessions when you’re itching for more.
I’ve been learning Japanese on and off for years using the not-so-effective cram/do too much/get overwhelmed/burn out method. Maybe some people do really well dedicating a lot of time to Japanese everyday, but I don’t.
I find daily manageable chunks better, I think there’s plenty of study logs/study plans/daily resources and routines here but truthfully you’re not going to fit it all in. Do things in Japanese that you love. Mould it into your life not the other way around.
(…) * Start reading. This one is tricky in the beginning, but there are even level 0 books out there, like the Tadoku graded readers etc. (Free ones here) . But for me atleast, once I started reading, not only did I make a lot of progress, but I also felt like I made a lot of progress, which is motivating on its own. (…)
Most of the points I would say have already been stated, such as:
Shrink your lofty, broad goals into manageable, attainable ones (I.e. be able to read Japanese → make my way through a level 0 reader) and then focus your studies on what you need to achieve that goal.
Slow it down and find the method that’s enjoyable for you.
Acknowledge that learning a language takes time, and that you will never know everything (that’s what makes it so fun!).
I want to harp on this last point a bit. I’ve been studying Japanese for over a decade now. I lived and worked there for 4 years. I hold an N1. I still can’t understand the vast majority of Japanese songs, anime, and movies without Japanese subtitles and a dictionary. Some games are still really hard to play and fully understand. Some books are absolute terrors to get through. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
What took me the longest to learn is that these weak areas are not a sign of failure, they are completely natural. Think of your native language; can you understand everything thrown at you? Probably not, but you’re still “fluent” right? You just don’t understand because you don’t study that type of material. It’s the same with Japanese! You’ll get there with Japanese in time.
Enjoy the ride, friend. Don’t rush it. Find your method, make small, growable goals from your big ones, and some day you too will be stumbling through all of the media and content you want to enjoy, and you’ll be loving every single moment, frustrating OR easy
I think the key to language learning is consistency. Just like what others have said, find what works for you and do it slowly, but consistently.
What actually works for me is taking a Japanese class. Because of the following reasons:
I realized I can’t keep my motivation.
Many times in the past I’ve tried studying Japanese on my own but it always failed. Because it’s difficult! And continue doing it for a long period of time is even more difficult! So there would be time when I feel burst of motivation and would study for hours, and continue doing it for 2 weeks. But after that, I didn’t touch Japanese for a year and forgot everything.
Now that I’m taking a Japanese class, even on the days when I don’t feel motivated at all, I have no choice but to go to the class. I had to drag my ass down to the class. As the result, I managed to continue learning and improving my Japanese, even when I was not in the mood of doing so.
It becomes a source of motivation to be better.
When I meet other students who are good at Japanese, it triggers my competitive self and it gets me thinking, “I also want to be as good as him!” And it motivates me to learn outside class, eg listening to podcasts / do Wanikani. Motivation can easily disappear. So in this case, the Japanese class becomes a regular reminder / source of motivation to learn more Japanese.
It’s an achievement.
When I feel down and I feel worthless, I remember that I’ve been going to Japanese class every weekend for 3 years. Dragging yourself on Sunday morning to learn a new language is an amazing feat. I remind myself that it’s amazing I managed to continue doing this for 3 years.
It’s a place where you can be better than the rest.
If you are the type of person who compare yourself to people around you and you feel sad because your life is worse than other people’s, then Japanese class is a bubble. It is a bubble where you can be better than other people and feel good about it. Teachers will praise you, other students will envy you. You might be a lousy employee outside of the class, but inside, you’re a great person.
This reminds me of a book I read where many scientists or doctors were joining a cult, and one of the reasons is that in their workplace, they’re nobody. They were not appreciated. They were lousy, compared to their colleagues. But inside the cult, they’re regarded as a great person and it makes them feel good. They would contribute to the cult, and they would feel important.
So this Japanese class is the same thing, except that it won’t persuade you to do any criminal activity. To feel even better in class, you would study hard, which will improve your Japanese, which will make you even better. It’s a cycle.
It works for me, but it might not work for you. I know some people who don’t like group class because they have to follow the pace of other students. So again, the key is to find something that works for you, and be consistent.
These graded readers look like exactly like what I need right now. I’m already hitting a wall with memorization, especially for readings, since I can’t really apply any of it yet. Hopefully some low-level, “cat says meow” type literature will help me get over this.