Should I give up?

I have been doing WaniKani and Duolingo every day, absolutely every single day, for over two years. I have added hundreds of words to my Kitsun deck. I have been trying to read all kind of manga (those I can find in both Japanese and English). And it was all for nothing.

I still can’t recognize the kanji I burned. I keep messing even the hiragana even though I use them absolutely every day. I can’t read anything because there are tones and tones and tones of kanji and words I didn’t learn yet, and those I learned I just can’t recognize them. And the kanji I don’t know I can never find in the Jisho because the search system is so stupidly insane.

I have always been bad at remembering visual things. Even the words in my mother tongue (French) I can never remember how they are written (but I don’t care because I have spellcheck).

Is there anything else I should be doing? Anything else I could do to help me learn? Any tip I didn’t think of? Or should I just accept that I’m just a piece of shit who can never learn anything and just give up already?

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You are not a visual learner. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s natural for people to learn in different ways. You may be an auditory learner. If so, try making up short songs or even just a short sung phrase about the kanji and their meanings. Maybe you are a kinesthetic learner. If so, try writing the kanji and their meanings in color or paint them on big pieces of paper.

Try this test to discover your learning style:

or this one: Learning Styles Quiz: What Type of Learner Are You? - BJU Press Blog.

Once you know your style of learning, you can find out various ways to
deal with that style. Good luck!

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I love both Duolingo and WK.
It’s thanks to WK (and the great people here at the forums) that I’m able to read mangas and novels today. I’m able to read the simpler stuff but still, it’s a huge motivation to keep going.
WK is focused solely on kanji, so there’s no grammar, reading, comprehension, etc etc.

Duolingo is fun, and for me it works mostly to practice words and some set phrases.
Duolingo is, for me, a good quick practice while on the queue, transit, etc. It’s not great for learning Japanese as a whole.

Maybe what you need is more structured learning so you improve on other areas of the language. And as such, I’d suggest for you to look into Genki series or Minna no Nihongo, for instance.
They’re solid bases to get you started on the language and then move on to more advanced stuff.
Does this make sense to you? :slight_smile:

(Also, it’s normal to forget burned kanji! Happens to everyone. We more easily remember what we see more frequently through exercises, reading, immersion, etc)

Cheers!

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I think there’s no way to retain knowledge other than applying it in real life, no SRS system can replace it. “Real life content” might be overwhelming, so maybe using a reading website that offers support to learners can help you get there. Have you tried Satori Reader?

Also, I use an extension called Language Reactor on Chrome that helps learning with subtitles on Netflix shows - they have furigana, a built-in dictionary feature, you can watch with both Japanese and English subtitles somulteanously, you can blur the English subtitles, etc.

You can also try learning the vocabulary from a given show before watching it with the built-in vocabulary decks on jpdb.io.

Maybe using the jitai extension on Wanikani to get used to different fonts… When I began using Anki I got a lot of words that I supposedly already knew wrong just because of different font + different context.

And maybe focus on handwriting can help too, there are Anki decks for handwriting practice for both kanji and kana and I even use one ordered according to WK levels.

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Hi MadWatch,

I’m sorry you’re struggling with these feelings around your study. I’ve got a few thoughts:

First, you’re definitely not a piece of shit and your studying is not all for nothing. Honestly, doing those things every day for two years is amazing, and I think you should see that as a towering achievement.

Second, I’m wondering if you have expectations on yourself that are just very high? I expect waaaay too much from myself and really have to keep an eye on it, because it usually makes me not see the good things.

I do think that WaniKani’s marketing about learning kanji in a year means some people think it’s the norm, but it’s definitely not the common experience, and a lot of people talk about it in the forums, so you’re in the right place! Personally, I tried going hard and learning as quickly as possible, but I burnt out, and I also wasn’t learning properly, and that’s because that’s just not how I learn. I’m now taking it much slower and my recall and learning is a lot better.

I also think it’s worth remembering that even if you’re learning via an institution, it still takes YEARS, and that’s with external things like teachers and tests etc. Manga is probably too advanced for now, which isn’t a reflection of you! If you found a Japanese university textbook (you can get them secondhand pretty cheap) you’d likely find you can read a lot more than you thought.

I do think you’re right in your ask already about thinking different learning methods will help - it’s way more likely that what you’re doing now isn’t working for you, as opposed to you not being good at those methods. I find only doing online learning doesn’t work for me, so if you can find/afford a tutor, Japanese textbook, or a learning group you could join, you might find it helps, or you could get a university textbook and teach yourself. Duolingo is also notoriously tricky for learning languages - I found I was good AT the app, but took nothing with me into the real world.

Also - remember that you’re already speaking more than one language, you can definitely learn another!

My final thought is if you’ve always struggled with retaining words, it could be worth looking into dyslexia or even ADHD, but that’s a very private matter and up to you. I will say that getting an ADHD diagnosis a few years ago has contextualised so much in my life and helped me be so much kinder to myself.

Even if nothing I’ve said resonates with you, I think it’s great you’ve reached out here - it takes a lot to ask for help sometimes, and I think shows how important this is to you.

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it looks like you don’t have much grammar knowledge. that’s probably why you are having trouble looking up words in Jisho. you don’t seem to know where a word start/ends.

trying focusing on grammar for a while and read content that is suitable for your Japanese level. even if you were lvl 60 on wanikani, if you don’t have too much reading practice, it would suck for you just the same

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You have been pretty consistent with WK and Duo, but maybe after 2 years it’s time to let go of the SRS if it does not work for you and find a new approach. I’m also wondering how you go about grammar?

Have you tried finding out what you actually enjoy about the Japanese language? Or Japanese (Pop) culture in general? Maybe integrate more of the fun things into your passive learning and try to step back a little from trying to hammering in Kanji and Vocab through apps that at this point only seem to frustrate you.

What helped me was rewatching movies and shows I already knew. When all of the Harry Potter movies were on Netflix, I turned the audio and subtitles to Japanese. I practically knew the original lines by heart as well as the story and context, so at this point i would encounter a lot of phrases and vocabulary and retain them way easier because I actually enjoyed the movie. Sure, HP is a bad example now because it has a lot of useless fantasy vocab, but I still learned a lot of new stuff from it and it didn’t feel so overwhelming.

Maybe you are into video games and want to replay games you already know? Or maybe you can look up content that’s connected to you hobbies, this time in Japanese.

Language learning is a long journey and you already invested some time into it. Maybe your current study method is way too theoretical and abstract with standalone Kanji and Vocab that you haven’t seen in a greater context.

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I recommend you get some online/in-person lessons with a properly trained Japanese as a second language teacher. Language is ultimately about relationships so talking with a native in the language you’re learning who is skilled at facilitating your entry into that language can put the fun and meaning back into learning that language. I’ve used Japonin and Cafetalk in the past. While I’ve found some excellent Cafetalk tutors, the Japonin group classes are really well organized.

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I agree with @kalfritz mentioning grammar. That should be near the top of the list.

Here is what I wrote for first-time readers planning to join the Absolute Beginner Book Club, with regards to grammar:

Grammar

I think this is most commonly an artifact of not reading enough. I saw this based on my own experience spending two years learning (and forgetting) vocabulary before I got into reading manga in Japanese.

What ways do you use hiragana daily?

When I started reading manga in Japanese, I was looking up every word. Over time, that reduced, as I learned more words.

One of the manga I read earlier today, I have to look up roughly one in ten words. Sometimes more, sometime fewer.

But it took a few years of reading manga to reach this point.

Learning the basics of Japanese grammar gave me the biggest initial boost for reading. Then I re-learned the basics as I read through manga and needed to better understand the material.

There are other manga I’m reading that still require manga vocabulary look-ups. It will probably take me a few more years to get better at more intermediate difficulty.

Focus on reading material with furigana until you are more used to the vocabulary.

Join us in the Absolute Beginner Book Club, or read through something we previously read. There are discussion threads talking about a lot of the grammar in the material.

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As someone else said earlier, maybe you are more of an auditory learner? Have you tried listenting to Japanese music or podcasts, watching Japanese films/series/anime with Japanese subtitles? Talking to a native speaker? These are all good ways of learning that provide meaning and context to what you are learning - which makes it easier to remember!
Of course, formal lessons are usually the best, but if they are not available/affordable for you there is still a lot you can do at home. Maybe try one of those app where you can talk to native speakers for free? I’ve heard good things about those.

What is your end goal of learning Japanese? Do you want to be able to hold a conversation? Read manga at home? Maybe try setting some smaller goals that are easier to achieve (which boosts confidence and motivation, which is really important!) and eventually those smaller goals will lead up to your final goal.
(I study linguistics with a focus on second language aquisition at uni, so I know a little about this topic)

Don’t give up, you will get there eventually! I’ve been studying Japanese formally for 8 years and I still forget words for everyday objects :sweat_smile: Reading manga after two years is pretty good actually! Even my teachers who’ve been studying the language for 40 years admit to reading translations more often than the Japanese original… It’s a difficult language.
And I think you don’t actually want to give up, otherwise you wouldn’t be asking for advice here :wink:

PS: French spelling makes no sense, you’re not alone. I learned it in school up to B2 level. But I love how some other languages spell French loanwords phonetically.

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Think of it this way, OP–how long did it take you to learn English? Your English is basically perfect, but I bet it took a while, with a lot of exposure, before it got to that point. Moreover, French and English are very closely related with a lot of overlap in vocabulary. Japanese is about as dissimilar to either language as you can get. With that in mind, two years isn’t very long at all. Maybe there’s a better learning style out there for you, but there’s also the simple, frustrating fact that learning a foreign language takes a lot of time and effort. It’s not a reflection on you or your abilities.

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So, if I’m not mistaken, the whole “visual-learner” “auditory-learner” stuff that has been brought up in this thread is a commonly believed myth, but has actually been debunked. Here’s a video for those who are as curious and as surprised as I was when I found out (especially considering this was something that was brought up in university when I was getting my degree in education and teaching license…)

Anyways, about your post. Should you give up? I don’t know honestly. I’m going to say outright what might have been apparent by looking at all the questions by above commenters: You haven’t given us nearly enough information to provide you with any useful or insightful advice.

What I will say is that everyone is equipped to learn this language and results are merely a reflection of the work you put in. Thus the issue can only lie in one of two areas.

  1. The work you are putting in
  2. Your expectations of what the results “should” be.

I just can’t tell you more than that without getting a lot more information. If you want, you can add me on discord @.vanilla_ and I’d be willing to take a deep dive into where you’re at level wise, what you’re trying to do, and how you’re studying to get there to help calibrate your expectations and what sort of routine will get you to where you want to be. Maybe you’ll walk away and be on your way to achieving all your goals, or maybe you’ll realize its really not that worth it.

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I also recommend the Coursera course “Learning How to Learn”.
It introduces a lot of approaches and knowledge with some scientific background.
SRS is one of them.
Recognition only (like using highlighter on a text book) as not being good compared to testing yourself often by doing, is another.
There is also ‘intensive learning’ and ‘diffuse learning’.
Exercise breaks and fitness…
Checking the learning in different scenarios, locations and formats.

I notice some of these come up often on the community boards here -
SRS does its thing but intensive and extensive reading are recommended (I’m not doing much of either myself so far :blush: ).
How did you get to Wk level 36? That is an achievement that a low fraction of starters make it to.

There is plenty of good advice from others above.
I haven’t written up my own study goals but they are to plod along (durtle) WK, do a few iTalki classes to speak more, do some shadowing with MikuRealJapanese, and anything else is a bonus. I read of people doing >2 hours study a day. I currently don’t have the time or energy for that with a stressful job. Maybe in the future. I’m still learning. Slowly.

Bonne chance!

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Never give up, you can do this! :muscle: Think of what you’ve already managed to accomplish, and getting to level 36 is definitely an accomplishment!

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Hi @MadWatch! Firstly I would like to offer you a big virtual hug :hugs: :people_hugging: unless you don’t want one of course :blush:

It sounds like you are being quite harsh on yourself. I also struggle with self-criticism, high (or impossible) standards, comparison with others, low self-esteem, and similar things. Those voices can get real loud and real convincing sometimes. But actually, you are doing remarkably! Consistently studying Japanese every day for 2 years, that’s a big achievement! Well done you! :star2:

I first got excited about Japanese and started studying when I was a teenager, maybe 14 or 15. I am now 32. I would consider myself an upper beginner / lower intermediate level - I just took the JLPT N4 last December and passed. Sure, I had big breaks along the way, but my point is - it’s not a race, and everybody is working at a different pace, with different mitigating factors. There’s nothing right or wrong about your progress at the 2-year mark. If you are getting frustrated, perhaps it’s time to try switching up your study routine, and/or your expectations/attitude towards the process.

Finally, in answer to your title question: you should only give up if you want to. If you have lost interest in Japanese for whatever reason, you are under no obligation to keep learning it. But if you still want to get better at it, you should absolutely not give up! :green_heart: You have just as much ability to learn a language as anybody else. You can do this :muscle:

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A lot of people here have some really good advice, I just want to pitch in two things that help me when thinking about my japanese study:

Should I quit: If you’re not enjoying yourself and you could be using the time for something else you enjoy, sure, but if you like Japanese and are just frustrated with progress

Think about your timeline: Two years is a long time, no joke, but language learning is a life long journey. In that context, two years is just a drop in the bucket. I’ve been studying Japanese off and on for a long time and have only just broken into the lower intermediate barrier. This could frustrate me, but when I think practically, the nearest time in my life where I would need Japanese is in two years time. Another two years worth of time to keep studying and practicing. In that context, consider your goals at a micro level. Is what you know enough to do what you’re trying to do every day for studying? Currently, it sounds like no. Mitigate your expectations a bit. Give yourself easier material. Let yourself feel proud of what you’ve accomplished so far, and keep moving forward. You will forget stuff you learned in the past and that’s fine, it will make learning it a second time all that much easier.

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One thing to watch out for here is the difference between this kind of self-directed learning that we’re doing here and the classroom learning that the studies both originating and disproving learning styles focused on.

Like the theory for learning styles is that if the presentation of the material aligns with the student’s learning style, then recall will be better given the same amount of learning time. This (as with much of the soft sciences :frowning: ) has been unreproducible.

There is a tendency among the language learning community to read way more into that in terms of “best” learning methods than there is. In particular, people then tend to use that as an argument that everyone should adopt their preferred method (e.g. SRS because of its general effectiveness in studies - though see the aforementioned poor reproducibility of educational science, or immersion because they or others had success with it).

The big difference with this kind of self-driven learning compared to the short term study experiment or e.g. college students, is motivation. For most people in this community, there is no extrinsic push to keep up their studies. So if some learning method is demotivational, then some number of people are going to reduce their time or stop altogether. And that arguably contributes much more to failure than some learning method not being optimal.

e.g. SRS can be motivational for people for whom the stats and gamification encourage them to get going, but demotivational for people for whom the lack of practical usage just ends up making it feel like a chore. On the other hand, immersion can be motivational for people because they get the reinforcement they can actually use the language, but for others it’s demotivational for the lack of measurable progress and the slower pace.

So that’s why I think finding the methods that work for you are important, and this is not the same as the “you’re a visual learner so you should learn by doing X” that people often combine that idea with. After all, there were plenty of people who managed to learn Japanese by starting with those 70s/80s business learner textbooks that I don’t think anyone considers optimal anymore.

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Since you wrote this thread in English and your mother tongue is - as you said - French, you seem to have already learned another language. Thus you are definitely not “a piece of shit who can never learn anything”.

I struggle with Japanese majorly as well. For years I couldn’t comprehend anything, although I embarrassingly possessed a bachelor degree in Japanese studies and should have been on a JLPT N2 level kanji, vocab and grammar -wise. My brain always just fogged up when being confronted with a page of kanji or any spoken Japanese. I think this happened for me, because I always tried to translate anything simultanously into my mother tongue instead of just operating/staying in the J-mode. In my experience this just took too long and was too demanding for my cerebral capacities. For me it is generally easier to just absorb Japanese content without trying to translate it and be okay with what I automatically understand. After I don’t know how many years I also stopped comparing my progress with that of other people, since I had already won the medal for the slowest learner in the galaxy anyway. =P

But this way it finally became possible to enjoy Japanese content - even if I only understood like 20-30%. And it slowly started to “click” or rather is clicking atm. Now I can at least follow a story, whether its a Harry Potter book, the One Piece anime, Stranger Things in Japanese or even unkown J-dramas.

You need a basis of vocab, a general idea of the grammar and (if you want to read) a fair amount of kanji. But in my experience the repetition and recognition work is more effective in context while watching or reading and having a good time without worrying about your progress.

But in the end it’s your decision, if you want to quit your Japanese journey or keep on pushing to a level you are fine with. Some people have it easier - some people have a harder or rather need more time learning Japanese. insert Shia LaBeof Just do it.

PS: To put things into perspective: An anecdote from my university days.
We started with just about 300 people in the first semester and in the end only ~25 people finished their degree. 90% quit the Japanese course, because of the language and especially because of kanji. And tbh of that 25, maybe 10 can really speak Japanese. So you are definitely not alone with your struggles.

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Obviously you can learn a language - you already know two…

The mantra is “you get what you practice”. Some people can apparently move from memorized words and grammar rules to reading relatively easily, most people cannot. I certainly couldn’t, it took hours of painstaking decoding day after day, re-reading, looking up words and grammar for months. After 3 years, I still have to look up words, I still come across grammar I don’t know.

Apps can only ever be additional tools for learning a language, never the main process. Some apps will take your time and mental effort and give you very little in return.

Personally, I think the best route to learning Japanese is:

  1. Learn hiragana and katakana by reading text made up from ‘words’ written in them. Meaning is strictly optional.
  2. Start on the most basic graded readers with audio. Read, listen, re-read, read aloud along with the audio. Move on to harder grades, then proper books / manga.
  3. Watch Japanese content in Japanese, listen to podcasts in Japanese.
  4. Shadowing. Preferably structured with grammar and vocabulary.
  5. Once you feel you have enough input, talk to native speakers.

At some point, if you can see deficiencies that can be fixed by memorization, add SRS apps (WK / Anki / Bunpro / whatever) to help.

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If you’re still having trouble with hiragana I would definitely back up and spend some time on review, because that’s your basic foundation for everything else.

Would also recommend you graduate to an actual textbook (Genki, Minna no Nihongo, etc.).

Maybe also skip the manga for now, in favor of more accessible options like graded readers or NHK News Web Easy articles.

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