Staying positive with language learning. Fighting off negativity and self discouragement?

Do you ever have moments where your language just seems like an impossibly long, endless task?

This is a subjective problem:

I am starting to feel better about Japanese grammar, at least a little bit, but the writing system is seeming impossible right now. There are so many characters, so many readings and meanings, so many homonyms. It starts to feel overwhelming.
I can recognize about 230 characters, but that isn’t much help at this point. The goal of getting to around 2300, being able to identify them within many, many different words and meanings continues to scare me, as well as the cultural difference of expression. It’s just so different. I keep having to fend off the thoughts that creep into my head that are saying it is impossible, it’s too difficult, and you will never get there. I also keep having the fear that I will be a year later, having spent an hour a day studying, and still be just as lost as I am now because I am not actually learning.

We all know that a positive attitude is essential, and somewhat ironically, the main factor in improvement. Basically, I am asking for anyone who has had the same fight with self doubt, if any of this sounds familiar. And if you have had this, or had any eureka moments of success in the face of doubt, please share as well.

This is actually one of the reasons I want to keep pushing on with Japanese. I want to be able to look back at something that used to look impossible and successfully having climbed over that mountain.


I have those thoughts on a regular basis! The mere thought of all the characters I have to learn frightens me; there are so many! I have been stuck on a beginner to low intermediate level for over a year now and I’m incredibly unhappy with my understanding of the language.

A few weeks ago I figured I’m never going to get to the point I want to be in the language unless I work at it. So what I did was starting to appreciate what I already could do in the language, and not yearn for what was yet to come. I started to watch some Chinese movies and TV shows and understood a lot more than I thought I did. I have read Youtube comments in Chinese and understood a great deal, and this is all an immense confidence boost.

Later this summer I was fortunate enough to come across a native speaker standing in a food booth and selling spring rolls. I managed to talk to her for quite a long time and I had an awesome time because I realized I knew a lot more than I ever gave myself credit for.

I also surfed the web for new content because I was getting bored of the courses already available. I found a lot of great stuff and now I enjoy the process far more and I’m also not in such a hurry anymore.

So enjoying the journey is crucial. I guess that’s all the advice I can give you. Good luck!

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It’s like the coyote when he runs off the cliff. He is running just fine until he looks down, then it’s over and he falls right then and there.

As soon as I start thinking of the monumental task ahead or things that seem so unclear… It’s over.

I’d recommend using Heisig’s “Remember the Kanji”.
I’m going through it for a second time, and I find it’s very good in regards to having a definitive path through the general meanings of the kanji. Hope that helps at least with the characters’ part.


The number of Kanji in common use is 1945. Why do you aim at 2300? Just wondering. :slight_smile:

Because that’s how many my book has, and has recommended as being the most useful.

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196 new kanji were added in 2010 to the 1,945 list - but I’m going for the 2,200 characters of Remembering the Kanji - the number has a nice ring to it :slight_smile:

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I’ve had this in French, but overcame it with due time. One day I found I could just read texts without thinking, which is where my French really took off.

This is one of the reasons I didn’t try to learn Korean before now. I tried to learn it for a couple weeks about a year ago, and failed miserably due to this “self discouragement”.

I believe a lot of it stems from not meeting our expectations on how quickly we would learn the language.

It’s only now, after almost three months of Korean that I am starting to understand things in songs, when reading, etc. and this is what is keeping me going and motivated, because I am seeing this progress, and unlocking more and more native material that I can profit and learn from.

This is where LingQ helps the most, and it is that I can track my progess with the known words. If I see the words going up week after week, then I know I’m making progress.


I found that the best thing to focus on improving process as you keep calm and carry on.

Also be honest, if you do not need to learn Japanese for work, and you are not enjoying it, there are literally millions of other options for your time. Knowing Japanese will not make you a better person any more than knowing a programming language or knowing Argentinian history for example.

if you let it go for a while… and it comes back to you… then you will also have more gas in the tank to continue refining your processes and accumulating experiences with Japanese.


Yea, I am thinking of taking a break. It just feels like work where as other languages. With russian and german I just enjoy it. I can listen to or read interesting stuff and it doesn’t even feel like studying. With Japanese I feel so stressed about not making any progress. It just isn’t fun.

I really wanted to learn because I had a job opportunity in Japan next year and I am really interested in Japan… but I’m not going to get to any sort of competent speaking level by January. I’m just not.

The biggest problem, or the root of all the problems in japanese for me personally is the lack of sounds. Everything sounds the same. There aren’t spaces and it just sounds like running code. Words just don’t seem to stick in my head. And it’s also why they need kanji because it would be unreadable with just the alphabet… maybe if they used spaces it would be different. I will never understand that.

I don’t believe a positive attitude is essential to improvement, so in a somewhat ironic sentence it is my opinion that:
One should not let the lack of a positive attitude bring oneself down :slight_smile:

I think attitude counts a lot for motivation and how easily one gives up, but if I look back on my other experiences in life then it seems that attitude was not a great predictor for their success rates.

While I am barely scratching the surface of my own language learning, my attitude has varied over the months. Yet I progress. When I began I could not imagine myself being able to hear spoken Korean and have it make sense without internal translation, but I’ve been able to accomplish this to a limited degree. So belief in myself has not been a crucial factor either.

Actually time on task and preparedness are clearly the winners with other contributions reduced in importance.

I have many days when learning Korean seems insurmountable. The more I learn, the bigger the mountain seems to become. All the words are just so similar. It feels as if a mispronunciation in English would be a non-word that sounds a lot like a word, whereas a mispronunciation in Korean is likely an entirely different word!

I’m a guy who likes napkin math even if its so ‘ballpark’ that it’s next to useless. I won’t bog this post down with useless made-up numbers, but the short of it is: Unless I decide to start studying word lists (as is popular among many language learners) it’s likely to take me years to know enough nouns, verbs, adjectives, expressions, etc. to consume adult material in Korean.

News broadcasts are like a pipe-dream I don’t know will ever materialize!

But I tell myself that if I can conquer this and reach a point where my language practice is simply reading the news sites, listening to documentaries and such… then it will be a significant and proud achievement for me.

So - yeah I hear you! Self-doubt. Check. Wavering attitude. Check. But take time to look back at old content which has, over time, become easier for you. Its a great motivational boost to get out of the “I just want to take a break” mindset.


“I don’t believe a positive attitude is essential to improvement, so in a somewhat ironic sentence it is my opinion that: One should not let the lack of a positive attitude bring oneself down :)”

Very, very well said, although it probably won’t sway many young kids on the internet these days. It seems to be all about instant gratification for them. (I’m not saying the OP is one of these; just making an observation)

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Might be just semantic confusion. How cheerful you are does not equal how positive your attitude is in my opinion. I can be ‘down’ but still have a positive attitude toward learning. I can be ‘up’ and just not care about learning.

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I want to clarify: It don’t mean so much staying positive as I do Not being negative and self discouraging. That can legitimately be very detrimental to making progress.

Yes, I was originally hoping to get through the basics of japanese by this winter for a potential job, but I have realized that isn’t going to happen. I took a break over the weekend and when I came back I decided to go real slow, go through the beginner material and study kanji at my own pace without worrying about how long it takes. Even if I still feel like a beginner 6 months from now it is fine. I have the feeling that eventually I can get the hang of it.