5 Ways to Defeat Japanese Language Learning Depression

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When we decided to visit Japan for the first time, it was going to be the first country we had ever traveled to where we didn’t know more than two words of the language.

For that reason, I hit the books hard and attempted to do a three month crash course on the learning the language. It was during this time that I often suffered from what my wife termed as – my Japanese depression.

I was constantly being frustrated by trying to jam as much knowledge into my head in the least amount of time, which lead to me forgetting words and sentences, which in turn lead to further frustration. A few weeks before leaving I suffered a mild Pimsleur meltdown while trying to learn how to say “Would you like to play tennis” in Japanese. Why would I ever want to ask someone if they wanted to play tennis? I hate tennis! And I hate you!!! RAAAAR!

It wasn’t pretty.

After returning from Japan, I took a few months off while deciding if I really wanted to invest the time and effort into learning another language. During this time I realized that I was going about learning the wrong way. I was rushed and impatient and wasn’t enjoying what I was doing, so I decided to slow down and approach Japanese from a new perspective.

I’m happy to say that my new methodology worked, and while I still refuse to learn how to ask someone to play tennis in Japanese, I haven’t suffered from Japanese depression in over two years.

1. Don’t Go Full Tilt

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It’s true that people have learnt 2000 Kanji in two months, but why would you want to? I can’t image anything like that being enjoyable or sustainable over the long term.

Instead, take your time to learn. Don’t rush and burn yourself out. If you only have three months to study, be reasonable with what you expect to learn. You’re not going to be fluent in three months, so don’t study like you are.

To illustrate: a car has a maximum RPM level where the car will operate without blowing out the engine. That doesn’t mean, however, that you want to always run your engine at that level. So don’t run full tilt while learning Japanese, speed up and slow down as the mood and your circumstances dictate.

2. Set Short-term & Long-term Goals

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Part of learning anything new is knowing where you’ve been and where you want to go. Short-term and long-term goals help you map out your progress.

But setting a goal like ‘Learn Japanese’ is way too broad. You need to set smaller and more easily attainable goals that will get you to your big goals. For example: Learn 100 words is a good small goal that could be part of your long term goal of Learn all 2000 critical Japanese Vocabulary.

Always remember, a goal that isn’t written down is just wishful thinking. Keeping a record of your goals also helps you when you need to look back and see all you’ve accomplished, especially during times when you start to feel frustrated.

3. Know How the Human Brain Works

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The human brain is crazy, and scientists are still trying to figure the thing out. Something interesting that they have learned about the brain and memory is that people seem to peak around 6 months intervals. That means that for about 6 months you won’t feel like you’re getting anywhere, but when you hit that plateau you have your Eureka moments!

So while we’re constantly learning in spurts, we don’t seem to put it all together until we reach our learning plateau and things starting sinking into our long term memory.

So start looking forward to these plateaus by saying “Boy, this seems hard now, but I can’t wait till my 6 month peak!”

4. Learn the Culture

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So much of our language is made up by our culture. The way we say things has as much bearing on the people around us as it does on the words that we use. So don’t forget to learn the culture as you learn the language.

Take some time to learn about Japanese culture and watch Japanese films to get a better idea of the people and the rich history. Not only is it a nice break from cramming vocabulary down your throat, but it’s a lot of fun, too.

5. Find a Reason to Use the Language

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It’s no fun learning a language in bubble, so find reasons to try it out in the wild.

Find a favorite sushi place, attend a Japanese meetup, or plan a trip to Japan. Look for reasons to use the language. Even if you can only say a few phrases, try them out. It will make you feel good about yourself and remind you why you’re learning the language again.

Share Your Language Learning Tips

Do you have a method for keeping positive while you learn Japanese? We’d love to hear what it is in your comments!

5 Responses to “5 Ways to Defeat Japanese Language Learning Depression”

  1. Sonya  on April 19th, 2010

    I just discovered and love your blog! These are great tips on language learning. My language experience has taught me that learning the culture is vital.

  2. Travis  on April 19th, 2010

    Thanks Sonya! I hope you visit here frequently.

    Learning any language is tough work that we seem to give up on too easily. I always remind myself that it’s better than time wasted playing video games :)

  3. Quaal  on November 15th, 2011

    Playing video games in the language you are learning might also give you the feeling of relief from studying… while still studying in another medium :)

  4. Travis  on November 15th, 2011

    That’s an idea I can get behind. Now to find games that I can get that are worth playing :)

  5. Quaal  on November 18th, 2011

    DS is region free. You can import any games you’d like. Other systems need to be modded (or you have to purchase the Japanese version of them).


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