Help me teach myself Japanese.
August 18, 2006 4:39 AM   Subscribe

How do I get over learning-a-language block? Specifically, at a point when I've "plateaued" and can't find the motivation to keep climbing uphill...

I've lived in Japan for a few years and I can get by with simple phrases and words, but I don't have true fluency yet. I feel like I've plateaued and it's hard to get to the next level. Most of the time, subconciously, I think I tell myself that I can't learn the language, that I'm too old, not motivated enough, etc. Logically, though, I know that's wrong, that if I work at it I can certainly improve it. Plenty of foreign friends of mine are quite fluent.

Have you been in this situation in which your insecure subconscious tells you you can't learn a language...but then did? Self-hypnosis? How can I motivate myself?
posted by zardoz to Education (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I learned english through TV and friends. It's a really good way.
Watch japanese tv, ask your japanese friends to talk to you in japanese and ask questions about it.
Also go back to japan and learn more.
posted by PowerCat at 5:10 AM on August 18, 2006

It helped me to surround myself by people that would only speak german to me. The motivation for me was the desire to communicate and express myslef.
posted by Slenny at 5:15 AM on August 18, 2006

The easiest way is certainly to acquire a girlfriend who will speak the language with you (though with Japanese, there's a downside if you wind up using the "feminine" forms and speech patterns). Short of that, you just have to put yourself in situations where you're forced to use it; the more time you spend with it, the better you'll get. I know what you're talking about—with every language I've studied, I've gotten to the point where I could read simple stuff and form basic sentences, and getting to the next level seemed like a huge amount of work. I've only done that for a few languages. You just have to decide how important Japanese is to you.
posted by languagehat at 5:40 AM on August 18, 2006

And there are plenty of people who aren't. I've seen many people of the opposite case (Japanese residing in the US), and even after several years the people who struggle at it, stay that way. They do, however, manage just fine.

Be confident in your current abilities. You're not underperforming in comparison to any other foreigner.
posted by Muu at 5:52 AM on August 18, 2006

I had a few plateaus in my Japanese learning. Not in order, but I've been pulled up from plateaus through:

Reading Crayon Shinchan (I don't know why, but I've found that every single foreigner I've met whose Japanese is good has, for some bizarre reason, gone through a Crayon Shinchan phase).

Only speaking in Japanese outside of work (all my friends were Japanese with little to no English ability)

Studying for the 日本語能力試験

Watching insane amounts of TV

Put all together, and what you've basically got is (unplanned) a natural study system: reading, speaking, listening, and grammar. The only thing that is missing is writing, and while writing is damn useful, that's a plateau for another day, I think.
posted by Bugbread at 6:25 AM on August 18, 2006 [1 favorite]

When I studied Japanese I would often feel like I hit a plateau (usually about once every 3 or 4 months). I was also studying incredibly hard, for hours daily. Whenever I encountered these road-blocks, I would usually take a day or two off, but ultimately end up slogging through my feelings of self-doubt by heading back to my desk, or heading out for a conversation with someone.

Japanese is a language where the more you know, the more you realize how little you know (maybe that's true with most languages), and it can also seem unending, as the more Kanji you unlock for yourself the more frustrated you become with reading (as you move to harder materials).

I feel like honestly, the best solution for you is to surround yourself with people who will force you to speak the language, and to somehow cultivate a keen interest in at least one of the forms: writing, reading, listening or speaking, and to focus on that. When you begin to improve in one area you may feel as though you have broken free of your plateau. I always preferred studying Kanji for this. It was something concrete I could do quietly and see gains at nearly immediately. It also improved my vocabulary markedly. Plus it's just fun! Try and take pleasure in learning it and you're road-blocks will break themselves down.
posted by dead_ at 6:29 AM on August 18, 2006

What bugbread said, too. Insane amounts of TV.
posted by dead_ at 6:30 AM on August 18, 2006

I'll third (fourth) the suggestion to put yourself into situations where you don't have any choice but to speak Japanese. This can be difficult in Japan, where pretty much everyone speaks a little English and is eager to practice it with anyone who isn't Asian (often whether or not they actually speak English). If nothing else, you can always pay someone to converse with you in Japanese and only Japanese. And ask questions every time you don't understand something completely, resisting the temptation to move conversation forward with what you do understand.
posted by scottreynen at 6:44 AM on August 18, 2006

You say you're plateauing but are you really? In my opinion, if you don't yet know most of the 2000 kanji, plus a few hundred grammar forms, plus a few thousand words, then you're not nearly ready to start "plateauing".

Try and get yourself a private teacher. The ex pat magazines usually have listings and they're usually quite cheap, between 1500 and 2000 yen per hour. Make sure you get someone who's qualified, who knows their grammar back to front.

Do you have a text book? If not go and buy Genki I and II. How about kanji? They're not really that scary you know. Go out and buy 'A Guide to Remembering Japanese Characters' and 'Remembering the Kanji'. Google the titles for the authors.

Watch lots of Japanese TV, especially doramas. You can actually download J-doramas with English subtitles from fan sites devoted to subtitling foreign TV shows. Watch the dorama and try and figure out why the translator translated it in such a way.

One last bit of motivation - remember the Japanese in general think that their language is the most difficult and unique in the world, an impenetrable code almost. So it's fun to play with their minds at times to show how easy it actually is, especially when they constantly stumble about with English. When I first arrived in Japan I was told by some nihonjinron type girl that to reach "upper-beginner" Japanese would take 10 years. Oh how I'd love to go back and throw my "lower-intermediate" Japanese at her now, after only 18 months :)
posted by Jase_B at 8:03 AM on August 18, 2006

I'm currently living in Japan and I'll seventh the "be in Japanese only situations" advice. Depending on work and friends this can be hard since many expat's have a pretty heavy support system in place to make it easy. I'd say pick some part of Japanese culture you are really interested in, seek out a master and start learning about it. You're vocabulary and usage will blossom. Not to mention cultural literacy.

I watch craploads of Japanese TV, and frankly I don't really pick up much language from it (but lots of pop-culture literacy, which is useful.) It's not interactive enough. Having to communicate effectively with a master of something you're interested in will give you good motivation.

( Jase_B: The "plateau" isn't that the poster has mastered the language, plateauing is a common language learning phenomenon that happens when a person transitions between learning quickly and learning slowly. This can happen a good dozen times in the process of learning a language.)
posted by Ookseer at 9:17 AM on August 18, 2006

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