Tips or a pick-me-up? (18 months of learning, slow progress)


I am hoping for a little pick-me-up or guidance about my Japanese language learning.

I started learning Japanese in June 2017, and go to a 90 minute class every week during term time (~30 weeks per year). Our course textbook is Japanese for Busy People, and we’ve just moved on to book 2.

I’ve booked flights for Osaka in June, and am really trying to redouble my efforts and make lots of progress before my trip. I wouldn’t say I’ve been lazy so far… but it is tough for me to do much outside of work, so I haven’t given my learning as much attention as I’d like either.

It all feels like really slow progress at the moment.

Here are some of the tools I’m using at the moment to help me learn:

  • Anki: I have decks for the adjectives and verbs we’ve studied in class
  • HelloTalk: I try to write a short diary entry a few times a week
  • Podcasts: I tried JapanesePod101 but I really hated the people on it. I’ve listed to a couple of Learn Japanese Pod episodes and I prefer that, although it’s still on the tricky side.
  • NHK Easy Japanese news: I just downloaded the app for this. Again, the level is still too hard but I get the gist.
  • WaniKani, obvs.
  • Japanese For Busy People and classroom resources
  • TV: I watch at least one episode of Japanese language TV each night (albeit with subtitles)
  • Can I pretend that playing 太鼓の達人 on the Nintendo Switch counts as studying…?

I am considering BunPro, but at the moment, I feel a little unfocused. I worry I’m flitting between too many platforms and although the last couple of weeks I seem to spend a couple of hours or more each day doing something Japanese related, I am concerned that I’m relying too much on things ‘just sinking in’ rather than being more systematic and focused in my learning.

I’m not really sure what I’m asking, here. I just wanted to share where I’m at in case anyone has any great tips or advice - particularly in advance of my trip.

Thank you.


I’m sure someone else is typing a more comprehensive answer as I speak, but i find less time on active learning is better than more time on passive activities like subtitled anime. Maybe try picking up some simple manga like Yotsubato?


I would say that what you need is more comprehensible input (i.e. reading and listening that you can understand) at your level. For reading (and listening, as they come with CDs and the mp3s are available online from the publisher), I can’t recommend enough these graded readers. There are multiple levels with three sets per level. You can buy each set individually as well, if you want to try them out.

I’ve never used the textbook you’re using, but if there are listening activities and readings in there, I would read and re-read them (and listen multiple times!). You could also put those sentences into your Anki decks for reviewing.

For NHK Easy Japanese news, and for the Japanese language TV episodes that you watch, I would re-watch the same episodes / re-read the same articles multiple times. Each time try to understand a little more. The goal would be to where you can understand an episode or a reading with ease (i.e. without having to look up things / rely on subtitles). If you get bored re-reading or re-watching something, put it on rotation where you re-read / re-watch multiple things throughout the week and rotate through them.

Also, realize that language acquisition is actually a slow process, so don’t beat yourself up too much if it takes time and ‘seems slow’. If you keep focusing on comprehensible input, eventually you’ll reach the point where you can read and listen to more challenging things, and then eventually you’ll be able to practice your speaking because you’ll have this large built-up base of input.

For more information about language acquisition, feel free to check out the following two videos. The second one is more oriented towards language instructors, but still great for anyone!

Hope this helps. Happy to answer any questions you may have!


A couple thoughts in response to your post:

  • I wouldn’t sweat it too much that you’re using a lot of different platforms. For me personally, I found that jumping around between a variety of resources kept me engaged and moving forward. And they layer over each other well, too.

  • I think it’s just important to make sure you’re doing a little bit in each category you care about (i.e. grammar, vocab, reading, speaking…) each day. In my case, the thing I cared about most in the beginning was learning to read, and I needed to build up my kanji/vocab knowledge and grammar for that. I think Wanikani + BunPro reinforced with reading through a textbook (in my case, Genki) roughly once a week built me up to the point where I was ready to start reading native material, and that opened up a whole world of things to practice with.

  • Specifically for preparing you for your trip, you might like Mango Languages (and if you live in the US, it’s probably free using your local library card). It’s all prompts that get you practicing speaking out loud in survival, daily-life phrases that are helpful for traveling there.


It seems that your sense of a lack of focus comes from the lack of a tangible goal of what you want to do with Japanese. It is difficult to feel progress when there isnt something specific to progress towards.


  • Drop podcasts

  • If you like writing diary entries, maybe Lang-8 is a better platform than HelloTalk. If you are going to use it a few times a week, consider premium.

  • Use WaniKani a lot more. You have the time if youre spending a few hours a day with Japanese things. The linked guide should help with setting a schedule that works for you.

  • Use TaeKim’s guide to supplement/reinforce classroom learning. Start from the beginning and read a chapter or two a day.

  • Read out loud something with native speaker audio so you can practice producing the sounds. Graded readers on physical or digital form. Satori Reader is another possibility.

  • Drop any passive input that you wouldnt do if it was in your native language. For example, if youre watching a certain TV show just because its in Japanese. Probably better to play more 太鼓の達人 instead.


I would definitely second this! When you’re trying to get input, reading / listening to topics that you actually find interesting is WAY more motivating!!


That’s interesting. I love the main guy that runs it, I think Peter is his name. His passion for Japanese makes it interesting to listen to. But a lot of the newer courses with other employees I find entirely dis-interesting.

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I highly recommend for you to pick a graded readers series. Mostly because that will help with the transition from material solely made for teaching you the language (textbooks) and content aimed at natives, which eventually you can try as your level improves .
Some of those series come with the audiobook, so they double as a listening resource … They are pricey, so you wanna make the most of them :wink:.

About watching with english subs, well the benefit there it’s marginal. So, don’t count that much as a tool for learning (brain is lazy, and will put attention mostly on the comprehensible stuff available… Subs in that case).
That been said, you can use the content you watch to passive listening some if that content . Rip the mp3 if possible (or have the video playing in the phone while just listening) , and listen that over commuting or idle moments, that way you’ll actually try to follow the dialogues, while the plot will be already taken care of .

One last thing , set some goals. Reading a book, watching a show jp subed or unsubbed are really good goals if you’re not much into the race for jlpt .:+1:


Thank you for the Bill VanPatten video. Googling around for TPRS Japanese led me to, which many people here may find useful.


My pleasure! I’m a big fan of VanPatten’s work. If you’re more interested in his SLA stuff, he has a great podcast (now ended) called Tea with BVP. There’s a website and you can listen to each episode there. Just thought I’d mention it!

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Unfortunately there isn’t one good resource, so using multiple resources is necessary. I think it’s important to see where you feel you fall short. If you need to improve your grammar then give Bunpro a shot. If you feel your vocabulary is weak then learn more vocab. If your speaking is bad then consider getting a tutor or finding conversation groups. If you want to improve reading, then I agree with graded readers. If you want to improve listening, then listen to more material…but I think this can be difficult early on.

In the case of being prepared for going to Japan…If you have the time and money I would suggest getting a tutor to go over speaking and what you might need to know when you go to Japan(greetings, ordering food, signs, trains). Alternatively you can consider shadowing. Pronunciation is important. Before going the focus should be on real life scenarios you will encounter. I’m assuming this is a vacation. If it’s for school or a permanent move then you might want to consider talking to the tutor about living in Japan (groceries, laundry, Japanese apartments, etc.)

If you are feeling overwhelmed then cut out what’s not necessary or what’s not working for you and work on where you need to improve and what is effective for you. For example if reading NHK Easy is too difficult then cut that out and focus on keeping up with WaniKani, Vocabulary and grammar. Once you feel more comfortable give NHK Easy a shot again. For me I found NHK Easy overwhelming and decided to focus on those things I mentioned. I feel like I’m finally progressing. For others they found that reading NHK Easy, reading manga or watching Japanese shows and putting words into Anki helped them. You have to figure out what is effective for you.

Learning Japanese takes time. Trying to learn while managing a full time job can be difficult. Don’t beat yourself up over your progress. You want to make sure you don’t overdo it and not learn or overdo it and burn out.


Thank you everyone for your responses. I really do appreciate it.

Lots of people have mentioned graded readers - are there any recommendations that are free or less expensive? I have looked up a few and they seem unaffordable to me at the moment.

A couple of people have also distinguished between active and passive learning, which is a fair point - although that being said, if I only watch one TV programme per day, it might as well be in Japanese, right? Even with subtitles, I pick up bits and bobs, even if it’s just intonation and things like that. Similarly with podcasts, they’re good to listen to while I’m cycling to work, when I can’t do much that’s active.

@SoraR The TaeKim guide is a good shout - thank you.

@Krispy I need to be careful what I say here, but I found the JapanesePod101 stuff sounded very scripted and false - I think that might be partly his accent (I’m British).

@Juichi Yes, I’m going for a holiday - only a couple of weeks - and will be getting a tutor from April to help me practice exactly the things you suggest. And thanks for your kind words about not burning out.


Well, I’m quite sure it’s scripted to the letter :rofl:

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The video on input that @nbeck0212 supplied is amazing! I believe Rosetta Stone follows essentially the same type of pattern. They want the learner to associate images with sentences. My Japanese is not that good, but I can see how a lot of the strategies mentioned in the video can help improve.

My biggest struggle when I visit Japan is listening. It’s hard for me to decompose a sentence into individual words. In addition, dialects differ depending on location so Osaka dialect is different from what is spoken in Tokyo. For me, I feel like shadowing will most likely help me improve the most.

Also, don’t be afraid to say the wrong thing when you’re trying to learn. I make mistakes constantly, but everyone is able to learn from their mistakes.

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Glad you enjoyed the video! Also, yeah, Rosetta Stone’s method seems to align real well with second language acquisition research. It’s just unfortunate that it’s so expensive.

Some people around the forums have recommended different strategies for listening practice. For example, if you’re watching a video or listening to audio, maybe you can slow the playback speed. Or maybe there are subtitles / captions available. Shadowing is a great strategy as well! Also, trying to do typed dictation while listening can be helpful for some.

Listening is by far the most challenging thing, for sure. I’ve started listening to the audio for these Japanese Grader Readers and it’s definitely way different than reading from them.

I use, which is a paid site, but well worth it. It has lots of listening, speaking, reading, grammar, writing, culture, etc. It is fun and has lots of reinforcement activities. You really learn quickly if you work at it, and it has pretty much all you need, especially as a companion to WK. They have three free lessons you can try as often as you want. I love it, and my Japanese friend has said that I have made lots of progress, and I guess she would know. HA!

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If you have Android or iphone, you can try the White Rabbit graded reader app. They have a sample and sell stories individually. I would recommend getting level 2 or level 3. They seem to be more worth it as the lower levels ones that Ive read are quite short.

Yes and no. Yes it is better than nothing but it is inefficient and largely ineffective relative to the time spent. The vibe from the original post seem to be that you felt your time and effort spent on learning Japanese was bearing very little fruit. Dropping or reducing passive learning for a while (until it becomes more comprehensible) is a simple way of increasing that ratio.

Of course, if you enjoy these activities irrespective of you learning Japanese then by all means but I would mentally not count them as a Japanese studying related activity and categorize it similarly to how you would time spent playing Taiko.

Podcast you might like for your commute:
Abroad in Japan Podcast with Pete Donaldson


I’m gonna go against some of the other advice in this thread and say you need less theoretical and more practical.

You’ve already got a good system; your current textbook.

I think you’re gonna get too overwhelmed trying to juggle classes, work, and all these extra resources that are being suggested. If you spread yourself too thin across too many, you’ll never have time to really learn them properly.

Even with Wanikani, the kanji aren’t gonna be too useful to you till at least level 10 or so. But you can chip away at that slowly over time.

Focus on your textbooks and really internalise all the vocab and grammar you’ve learnt so far. Maybe even go back and revise any parts of book one that you can’t remember. You can probably find some Anki decks for your current textbook, so that you can start learning the vocab ahead of your current chapter. Then you can focus more on the grammar during the lessons.

The main thing I think you’ll be missing from your textbooks, is casual Japanese. Which something like Tae Kim might be useful for.

Find some language exchange groups in your city and start practicing your speaking and listening. You’re already using Hellotalk, which is great. Also, do you watch Terrace House? This is great for hearing more casual phrases. I’ll often write down phrases I hear on the show.

You’ve got a deadline of June. You’re not gonna be able to read a lot of signs, menus, etc due to the amount of kanji. You’re gonna be interacting with native speakers from Osaka as well, who will speak a lot faster and more casually than your classroom environment. So focusing on pronounciation and listening will be a lot more use to you I think.


Random comment here; I don’t mean to hate on the guy too much, but that Peter has been bugging me for months (ever since I’ve started listening to JapanesePod101), and I couldn’t share this annoyance with anyone up until now :sweat_smile:

Still, I think it’s a solid resource, especially the newer seasons, which are not hosted by the same guy, and have less of the fake small talk I think you’re referring to. Check out this guide for a potential path using the best courses they have, it’s helped me out a ton.

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@SoraR Thank you for the White Rabit app and the podcast recommendation. I appreciate it.

@kenmasters Thanks for your reply. You make a good point about the casual Japanese - my class and textbook focuses entirely on the polite form so far, although I’ve picked up some of the key differences from watching TV. I started watching Terrace House, but it didn’t grab me straight away. I’m not too worried about the June deadline for learning more Japanese, given that I got by pretty OK over a year ago. I just feel like it would be more enjoyable to know just a little more, and it’s quite motivating.

@Andivagyoken Yeah, it’s the fake small talk, fake jokes… all of it. I don’t mean to be mean-spirited, but I find it pretty unbearable actually. I get that it’s necessarily scripted but they’re just such bad actors! However, I agree that the content is good and it’s nice to know there’s a little less of the bits I don’t like in the newer seasons.