Revelation: The only way to learn is to study!

Hi everyone,

I am new here and would like to introduce myself.
I am a native english speaker who has been attempting to speak Japanese for about the past 9 years with little or no improvement.

I started learning in one of the usual ways by listening to some Pimseuler tapes that my older brother gave me, (he had been studying Japanese for a year when I started.) Because I am an audio learner, (and a sound designer by profession), I was able to pick up the accent fairly easily which gave me an immediate boost of confidence. I soon bought the “Let’s learn Hiragana” book and picked up the alphabet while I was at it. It seemed very easy and I could actually read some Japanese!

I asked my brother for a book recommendation and he told me about “Essential Japanese” by Berlitz as it was the book he used. I bought this book and dug into the first chapter. This is when I started to slow down. I was fine reading the dialogs and learning the patterns and phrases, but as soon as I got to the fill in the blank test portions my brain froze. It probably has something to do with some anxiety I have from grade school. I moved ahead of this portion learned a couple more dialogs and then hit the part about counting and telling time. Brain freeze again. Now this I know is related to my grade school days as math was like torture for me, and since then numbers in any language make my brain go all hazy.

So it was about that time I quit the formal study. I tried to carry on poking around other bits of the book but I seemed to just stop learning. Then I moved to L.A. with my brother and lived in a house with a Japanese family. They would rent the rooms out to Japanese students. This is where I started learning around the house Japanese, greetings, phrases, familiar and casual talk. Also met some girlfriends there who taught me more japanese albeit mostly feminine. Over time I began watching Japanese movies, traveling to Japan, and watching some online lessons. All the while picking up words and clever bits of trivia to startle the natives but never really learning how to speak Japanese.

Very recently my company sent me to Japan to work for about 6 weeks. I knew it was going to be bad. I thought I would at least be able to get by but boy was I sorry I didn’t study all these years. After the 6 weeks my japanese did start improving as I was carrying on conversations about things I liked, (talked about music with a guy in a bar for about 3 hours in Japanese), and converse with coworkers mixing in Japanese english all along the way, but I was still deeply depressed by how much I had failed to learn. When I arrived back in the U.S. I knew I needed to start studying again.

The hard part is how to go back and look for the missing bits of the language I speak, (er, sort of), while enduing the torture of running over the same old ground which I speak quite naturally. Some of my japanese is so natural in fact that Japanese folks are amazed and think I am fluent based on the sound alone. I attribute this to the living situation which has included Japanese friends or roommates, girlfriends, for about the last 9 years. But of course beyond the most natural sounding greetings and phrases I might manage, (I instinctively say “ittai” instead of “ow” when I am in pain), my language falls apart quickly and I have to say in my very native sounding Japanese accent, “I’m sorry but I do not speak Japanese well.”

So after lurking about here, reading the posts, and watching all the polyglot videos on youtube, I finally decided to start over! I actually put in four hours of study tonight. Thats more than , ever I think. I broke out my JLPT 4 book and started from the beginning. I copied sentences that I understood but but knew contained grammatical mysteries, then I probed for possible questions whose answers might solidify these words and phrases into some kind of foundation on which to begin rebuilding my Japanese. This took about two hours.

Just at this time a Japanese Skype friend of mine called and I thought, “Hey! Now I have someone who can answer my questions!” We then talked inside and out of the many possibilities of saying “I did something” versus “this is the thing which I did”, things that should be simple but for me were unknown all these years. I have to say that after the two hours and much note taking I feel like I have already put a sizable dent in my Japanese re-learning.

Becoming a polyglot is a nice thought but I think I need to re-learn how to learn first. In the future I am interested in learning Spanish, (I was raised with it a bit), Russian ( I was amazing at how much I already knew at 16 after reading “A Clockwork Orange”), and Quechua, (What can I say I am a sound designer and therefore a “Star Wars” nerd). First things first! Anyone out there speaking or learning Japanese please share your wisdom. I think my situation is not so normal but then again maybe it is. Would love to hear everyones experiences.

Great to be here and great to be tackling my L2 proper!



Hi and welcome.

What finally helped me overcome years of bad methods was finding the below…

I also found AJATT very helpful. I majored in linguistics and was trained as a language teacher, but I was still too focused on trying to learn patterns and then try them out on people. I knew that input in class needed to be comprehensible, but I didn’t understand the importance of comprehensible input. It took AJATT to really drive that home for me.

Finding that website was like a spark for me, and it made me really think about the importance of input. I was living in Japan at the time, and trying to self-learn, so after that I started using an SRS and trying to expose myself to input, even if I didn’t really understand it very well. I made a rule that I would only watch Japanese television shows, and only listen to Japanese music, etc.

I would also recommend this series of graded readers:

Some people dislike material specifically written for language learners, and if you’re one of those people, then you probably won’t like the books. I think it’s important to find material (be it books, audio, TV programs, podcasts, etc.) that is entirely in the target language, but which is at a level that you can basically understand with a little effort. Everyone’s different, but I don’t like reading things that are way beyond my level.

When I started trying to teach myself through an input-based approach, I could read Level 2 (of those readers) comfortably and struggle a bit with Level 3. Level 4 seemed really hard. But eventually I was reading Level 4 comfortably, and then I was watching dramas with difficulty, and then with greater ease, and then finally I watched a drama series from start to finish without pausing, repeating, or using subtitles, and I followed along pretty well.

From your post, it sounds like you might be doing what I did in the beginning, and trying to remember phrases, preparing for the JLPT exam, etc, but not exposing yourself to enough input. Studying grammatical expressions and whatnot isn’t bad (I think it’s helpful), but comprehensible input is king. Remember - comprehensible doesn’t mean 100% clear, it just means clear enough to be understand fairly well. In fact, you want your input to be a little bit unclear. That means you’re being exposed to new things.

Thanks to you both for the advice. I have looked over AJATT many times and am unsure where to begin and how to effectively adopt some of the techniques. I find it difficult to listen to something or watch something that I can not understand. I tend to watch movies or dramas with sub-titles. I have attempted to listen to podcasts in japanese only but i lose interest quickly. Of course I could just be disciplined about it, setting time aside to specifically bombard myself with barely intelligible input. Would this help?

I looked at the graded readers. I was able to hang on through level 2 a bit but then it started getting difficult. Of course I am positive there are bits of the basic levels that I should know but simply don’t on account of my patchwork approach to learning in the beginning.

I guess my next question would be what is the best place to begin, (particular threads, posts) with AJATT?




If it is any comfort, I do not like doing any kind of fill in the blanks or other exercises in language books, and therefore don’t do them. I just look at the answers, since these represent a collection of examples of whatever pattern the book is trying to test for.

I find numbers difficult in foreign languages, and have trouble sticking with uninteresting content.

To me, language learning is mostly about acquiring words and phrases and getting used to the language. This means lots of listening and reading, preferably to content that you find interesting. I find that reading at LingQ, on the computer, or on my iPad, helps me, as I get to see the words and phrases I have saved, highlighted in yellow.

If you need to improve your speaking, just speak. You can also try saving more phrases, and then making sure the English is correct. Then flash card them with the English on the front and try to say the phrase in Japanese.

Good luck. Explore, enjoy, relax, put in the time, and it will come.

Content Edited.

Not sure if you’ve ever tried this book: Of course having a native speaker to answer your questions really helps.

I used to watch cartoons with English subtitles and found them a lot easier to understand than the movies that were in the video rental store (like samurai movies). If you are in CA maybe they have a Japanese video store there. Then there is Ninja Warrior on G4 but being a sports show the range of vocabulary will be somewhat limited.

Does anyone know, do you have to live in the US to have an kindle account?

I notice that American Amazon has a lot more Japanese books available on Kindle than UK Amazon.

”I guess my next question would be what is the best place to begin, (particular threads, posts) with AJATT? ”

Here are some of my favorites.

After reading those have a browse of the section on comprehensible input. Khatz puts a lot of emphasis on the SRS as a way of getting used to the language. Myself I still use one for Japanese and Chinese (though not for German). I think it is a very useful tool, but it can also cause a lot of unnecessary stress if you are not careful.

Khatz can sound a bit hyperbolic at times (I quite like his old school posts from '08-09) but the basic point he is getting across is that you need to focus your attention on securing a habit that makes contacting the language a part of your daily life.

For this you need to think about what is immediately around you, your environment, as something to be ‘Japanicized’ with lots of enjoyable things in the language. Make use of technology like the SRS or an iPod to help with that conversion. Perfectionism always loses to persistence. Don’t worry about if you are doing it ‘the right way’ until you have put in real amounts of time (thousands of hours) listening, reading and relaxing in the language.

If you read forums on Koohi and such you will find quite a few Khatz haters. However, thanks to that blog I was able to seriously break into the fluency zone, something I never managed to do despite years of university classes. A few months ago I passed the entrance exam into Kyoto U. (Japan’s #2 uni) as a regular post-graduate student (funded on a Japanese government scholarship). It is thanks to me following Khatzs advice that stopped farting around and got serious about building up the skills necessary through huge amounts of reading and listening. It was also one of the craziest and funnest things I have ever done.

Actually I have been writing a bit about this experience in Japanese. If anybody is interested my blog is at…