Why Can’t I Learn Japanese?
Have you been studying Japanese for months or years and feel like you’re not improving at all? Or do you feel like studying is pointless because you don’t really learn anything useful? If this is you (and I’m sure most of us have felt this way studying Japanese), there is a reason why you just can’t learn Japanese.
You absolutely SUCK at learning!
You heard me right. If your Japanese isn’t good, it’s because you haven’t been studying and learning in the most efficient way possible.
However, it’s probably not your fault.
If you have received a traditional education (public or private schools, especially in America) then you have been trained to be HORRIBLE at learning languages.
The good news is that this can be fixed, and you can learn Japanese faster and better than you ever have before. So let’s get right into it.
Here are the 5 most common mistakes that people make when learning Japanese, and how to fix them.
The 5 Biggest Mistakes Everyone Makes Learning Japanese
1. Fear Holds You Back From Learning
We all can relate to this.
If you ever felt shy or were too afraid to speak a word of Japanese to someone, then you probably were thinking way too much. You’re trapped within your own mind, and it’s seriously holding you back from learning Japanese in the fastest and best way possible.
Image this: You meet someone from Japan and they start to talk to you in Japanese. They ask you a question, and you just freeze up. The fear and nervousness takes over your body, and you can’t even think straight.
Believe it or not, this is not because you are shy or nervous.
The reason this happens is because you FEAR MAKING MISTAKES.
You’re so afraid of making a mistake and thinking that you’ll look like a fool that your body literally shuts down on you.
Blame the System
Don’t feel too bad about this. It’s not your fault.
If you have strict parents (anyone else with Asian parents out there?) or went to school for your education, you have been trained (brainwashed) to not make mistakes.
We were either punished or given negative reinforcement whenever we gave the wrong answer in class. Some of us were even laughed at or teased when we said something “wrong.”
After years of this, it’s no wonder why we have a hard time putting ourselves out there and being proactive learners.
This is probably the biggest reason why you can’t learn Japanese as fast as you can. Taking action and using the language is the fastest way and best way to master it. This means speaking, reading and writing in Japanese to communicate with others.
Yes, it’ scary, but it’s also necessary.
Mistakes Are Awesome
What many people don’t realize is that mistakes are actually necessary to learn. Making a mistake means you’re just about to learn something new. Mistakes can teach you things better than any teacher or book ever could.
Learning is the process of making mistakes, realizing what happened, and taking steps to correct it.
Mistakes = Learning.
Plain and simple.
You absolutely, 100%, CANNOT learn Japanese without making lots of mistakes.
You can’t learn how to ride a bike by reading a book. You have to get on and actually ride it. You’ll probably have lots of trouble in the beginning and even fall a lot. But if you pick yourself up, make some corrections and keep pushing forward, you will be riding that bike in no time. It’s the same exact thing with learning Japanese.
The more mistakes you make, the faster and better you will learn Japanese. Period.
How to Get over the Fear of Making Mistakes
As native English speakers, we make tons of mistakes every day when we speak. People often use the wrong word or don’t use the correct grammar.
But when do we ever notice? Hardly ever. That’s because it’s not a big deal.
Why should it be a big deal when we’re speaking another language? If anything, it should be MORE accepted since it’s something completely new to us.
3 Ways to Get over the Fear of Making Mistakes
Here are 3 ways you can face the fear and get into the habit of making mistakes and start learning.
1. Make a Decision and Go For It
The fastest way to rid yourself of fear and to gain confidence is also the most difficult. You need to make a decision to put yourself out there. Once you make a decision, commit yourself to follow through and just go for it.
It will be rough in the beginning. But once you make few mistakes, you’ll see that it’s really not bad at all. You’ll get comfortable making mistakes the more you do it.
2. Knowing How to React to Mistakes
One of the reasons we fear making mistakes is because we don’t know how to react. If we make a mistake, we don’t want to look embarrassed or have people judge us.
If you do feel embarrassed, hiding it only makes you stand out more. It’s okay to admit if you’re embarrassed or not. There’s a lot of power in just saying the truth.
However, the best way to get over the fear of making mistakes is by changing your attitude. You have to realize that making mistakes doesn’t make you less of a person.
When you do make a mistake, don’t be hard on yourself. Instead, take it in stride. Then immediately focus on how to improve.
For example, if you mispronounce a word and someone corrects you, your attitude should be like, “ahh, that’s how you say it. Okay, got it.” Then immediately repeat the word with the correct pronunciation. Remember that making a mistake is a lesson, not a punishment.
Imagine a baby learning how to speak. When they can’t pronounce a word, they don’t feel embarrassed and give up. They keep saying the word over and over until they can pronounce it perfectly. When you say something wrong, be like a baby. Pick yourself back up and immediately focus on how to improve.
3. Changing the Game: Making Mistakes Fun
Another way to change the way you see mistakes is by making it fun. That’s right…making mistakes can be fun.
Make a game out of it. If you’re talking to someone in Japanese, use words you just learned and see if they can understand. If they can’t understand, then great! You just learned something new.
Also, get your friends involved. Making mistakes with your friends is both fun and comforting. You can challenge one another to see who can make the “biggest” mistake.
If none of your friends study Japanese, go online to Japanese forums and post comments there. You’ll be anonymous, so go ahead and make tons of mistakes. When you start to realize that making mistakes is the secret to learning, you’ll start to put yourself out there more.
If you are willing to make lots of mistakes and correct them, you’ll be one of the few people who become AMAZING at Japanese.
For More Information
Check out our “How to Speak Japanese If You’re Shy” article for more insights and advice.
2. Trying to Learn Everything at Once
This is very common when you first begin to learn Japanese. You don’t know where to start and what to study, so you end up trying to study EVERYTHING, at the same time.
Maybe you’re learning hiragana and basic grammar, but your friend tells the book he’s using to learn kanji is awesome. So you buy the book and start learning kanji.
Then another friend tells you the app he’s using to practice reading is fantastic. So you end up buying that too.
Eventually, you have a shelf full of books and an iPhone full of apps you don’t use.
No, no, no!
Just concentrate on ONE thing at a time.
This is an easy trap to fall into because buying a new book, app, or program feels like it can give you the answer to learning Japanese.
The only real way to learn Japanese is by putting effort and time into it, and focusing on one thing at a time. You’ll find that by mastering small sections of Japanese at a time, you’ll not only learn faster, but you’ll also have a deeper understanding of the language.
3. Not Being Consistent
I’ve studied Japanese for many years along with many of my friends and colleagues. I have probably met and studied Japanese with at least 300 people so far. Out of all the people who I’ve studied Japanese with (classmates, friends I met in Japan, coworkers, etc.) only about 3-5 of them became really good (very fluent) in Japanese. That’s only 1%.
The overwhelming majority of people (probably around 90%) study Japanese inconsistently, not committing themselves at all. As a result, they learned some Japanese, but they never could get to the next level. Their Japanese stagnated, and they never got really good at it.
Now there are many reasons for this, but the biggest is lack of consistency. Studying on a consistent basis will guarantee your success in becoming fluent in Japanese. No matter how hard it is or how many challenges you face, if you keep working at it consistently, you WILL master Japanese.
Intensity vs Consistency
Of course, how intensely you study Japanese (how many hours per session and the type of studying you do) is important as well. However, consistency is much more important than intensity.
In other words, how often you study is more important than how long you study per session.
It’s much better to study for 1 hour, 5 times a week than to study for 5 hours, once a week.
Having shorter, but more frequent study sessions is not only easier to do, but it helps your brain to learn and retain information. You’ll be able to focus more and won’t get burnt out.
If your study sessions are very infrequent (once every two weeks, once a month, etc.) you’ll forget what you studied and will have to relearn the material. That’s just a waste of time.
Walking every day for a week will get you much closer to your destination than trying to kill yourself by running as fast as you can for 1 day.
Create a Study Plan
To be consistent, you MUST create a study schedule. Plan out the days and times of when you still study. Stick to this schedule for at least 30 days.
Even if you only have time to study for 15 minutes a day, do it. If you do this for 30 days, this will slowly start to become a habit, and you’ll be more likely to continue until you reach your goals.
For More Information
For more strategies on how to reach your goals, check out our how-to guide on mastering Japanese.
4. Not Using the Right Materials for Your Needs
Finding the best material to learn Japanese is very hard to do. There are so many books, programs, and apps that it’s frustrating to find something great. It takes so much time to find and research different products.
So let’s make this as simple as possible.
In my opinion, the main goal of Japanese should be speaking, especially if you’re at a beginning to high-intermediate level.
Because more often than not, you’ll use speaking more than reading or writing.
If you’re a translator or writer, learning how to speak Japanese improves your reading and writing skill as well.
Speaking is also the fastest and best way to learn Japanese, at any level. It helps your brain organize all of the random vocabulary words and grammar that you learned so you’ll be able to use it.
You’ll use your speaking skills if you visit Japan or if you meet Japanese people anywhere in the world. A great way to practice speaking is by finding an online teacher or tutor at sites like italki.
That being said, reading and writing Japanese is also important. In fact, speaking, reading, and writing all work together when learning Japanese.
Learning how to speak, read, and write Japanese should be fun and easy to understand.
If you want a learning program that has it all (audio/video lessons, PDF files for reading, learning tools, etc.) I highly recommend Japanesepod101. It is the best program I have used to improve my Japanese.
The material is great, and there is so much information on their website. The best thing about it is you can access a lot of their lessons for free. You have to sign up with an e-mail, but you’ll have access to dozens, if not hundreds of free lessons. Their video lessons are good, but their audio lessons are amazing.
For More Information
For a complete review listing all of the pros and cons of Jpod101, check my review here: Japanesepod101 review.
If you are a complete beginner, check out our free guide to learn Japanese here: Learning Japanese for Absolute Beginners: A Complete Guide
If you want to know what you should study at your level of Japanese, check out our guide here: What Should I Study to Learn Japanese?
5. Not Enjoying the Process
Let’s face it. Unless you’re really into learning Japanese, studying can get boring. This is especially true when you study things that you can’t relate to. It’s important to find the best materials to study for your level. However, it’s more important to find things you enjoy studying.
The most important thing you should do when choosing what to study is relevancy. Look for material that you can relate to and use.
If you want to improve your reading skills, find material that you are interested in. If you’re interested in manga (Japanese comics), why would you want to read boring political articles in Japanese textbooks?
Find books or blogs that interest you. Study them by looking up any kanji or words that you don’t know. YouTube is also an awesome way to learn Japanese. There’s lots of videos you can watch with English subtitles.
Reading blogs with a dictionary in hand is great for learning grammar, vocabulary, and nuance. I like food, so I would often read blogs about food in Japanese, and even recipe sites. I would look up the words I didn’t know and write them down. In just a few weeks, I remembered tons of new kanji and vocabulary words without feeling like I “studied.” Learning Japanese through context is a great way to learn while having fun.
Learning Japanese doesn’t have to be only about studying, drilling, and memorizing.
You should have fun and enjoy the whole process.
Here Are 3 Ways to Enjoy Learning Japanese
1. Study Material You Love and Can Relate To
If you love Japanese movies, watch them with a dictionary at hand. Look up words you don’t know and write them in a notebook. If you like Japanese music, you can do the same with the lyrics. No matter what your interests are, there are probably lots of books or blogs written in Japanese about them. Study what you love and it won’t feel like you’re studying at all.
2. Find People to Speak Japanese With
If there are no opportunities to meet Japanese speakers in your area, no problem. There are tons of sites online where you can meet Japanese people. Or you could just hire an online tutor to speak with. At first, you might feel nervous speaking to someone online. However, most people start to love it, and their Japanese improves a lot because of it.
3. Plan a Trip to Japan
Nothing will motivate you to learn Japanese more than experiencing Japan itself. Research places to go and food to eat online, in Japanese.
If you’re already living in Japan, do the same thing. Search for things to do or amazing food to eat in Japanese. You might find some awesome places that you will want to visit one day.
If you want to learn Japanese, focus on learning one thing at a time, and try to communicate with people as much as possible (in real life or online). Make as many mistakes as you can, because every mistake you make will improve your Japanese.
Enjoy learning Japanese, and most importantly, be consistent with your studying always keep pushing forward!
How has your experience been learning Japanese? What has been the hardest thing to learn? If you have any insights, let us know in the comments!
*Disclosure: Some of the links in this article may be affiliate links. This means that at not cost to you, if you were to click on these links and make a purchase, I would receive a small percentage of the sale. However, every resource I recommend in this article are ones that I have personally used and have gotten benefit from. I will never recommend any learning Japanese resources that I don’t believe in.
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