Struggling, really need advice

Perhaps my problem is unique, I dont know, but I really need advice. For most of you I am probably in your dream situation. I live in the country where I want to learn the language. However, my problem is I have a mental block to the language. I live here due to marriage. The marriage was in my home country so I did not marry thinking I would ever come to this country or need the language. But as life has many twists I have been here about 16 years and still dont know the language because I got very turned off by the language due to some bad experiences. Not knowing the language became my defense mechanism. I found if I could not understand then I could not be hurt and it was a useful defense for a period in my life, but now the hurtful people are out of my life and I would like to become a part of society and be able to communicate others but I find whenever I try to study I automatically block the language from entering and there is still fear of the ugly side of the language that prevents me from moving forward as well.

I listen to Steves videos on Youtube and really agree with everything he says about language learning especially finding things you like, but my problem is theres nothing that really interests me in the language. I want to learn for the benefit of my children and because I will be here probably the rest of my life I want to know it for practical reasons and there are some people who are really nice who I would like to communicate with, yet none of these reasons are strong enough to overcome my past experiences with the language.

So my question is does anyone know how to motivate oneself to learn when one deep down one does not have a strong desire to learn yet one needs to learn for life. I guess it is like the kid in high school who hates math and does not want to take math classes but he has to to graduate so he`s learning for necessity not pleasure. In my case, the language is not a fun hobby, it is really a chore and need. Maybe other immigrants can understand.

I`d really appreciate any input. Thank you.

Sounds to me that, despite not liking the language, you have significant motivations for learning it. For the most part, you seem to have made it past the defense mechanism barrier and I think that is a great step. I’m not a psychologist so I don’t know about the process of eliminating the auto-blocking part. I can say that it probably won’t just disappear at a particular moment; it will fade gradually. So don’t get discouraged if it reappears from time to time.

With enough reason to learn, the idea that you are progressing can be pleasurable in itself. My suggestion is to think about and track your progress. The road to learning a language is a long one and the markers along the way can help you take pleasure in your learning. Without markers, it’s a never-ending sea of unknown words.

It may be hard for you to find good content because you don’t speak the language. Considering that you have supportive people around you now and that they know the language, perhaps they can direct you to content that interests you. Here at LingQ, you can import all the text and/or audio that you can find. I can’t believe that there isn’t interesting content in the target language. If you are looking for specific suggestions you might want to consider naming the language and listing a few of your interests.

From your profile, it seems that you are learning Japanese? There’s tons of fantasically interesting stuff here - I’ve found lots of television drama series that I really like. There are also lots of good movies. And there’s no shortage of fiction.

And the last few years has seen an increase in the quality and quantity of learner material at the beginner and intermediate level.

Why not start by watching Japnese movies and TV series with English subtitles? Or reading Japanese ficion/comics in its English translation? Find some media that you really like - maybe it’ll give you a goal.

Bortrun, I think TV and movies are a great tool for learning. My husband went to America not knowing English and in one year he was speaking fluently. Now Americans think he is a native English speaker because he has no accent. What he did was watch TV, read Readers Digest, only associate with Americans and he put himself in American cultural situations like going to church, football games, etc. which he never did in Japan, but this helped him learn the language broadly. I also know a Mexican man who went to America and he just watched TV and became fluent. So I know the TV method can work. The problem with this for me is I dont like TV or movies. Even in America I did not watch TV much. When I first came to Japan I did buy a monolingual TV so I could learn the language, but because I dont like TV by nature, I just could not get interested in any of the shows. As for reading, I do love to read, and there are many Japanese books I would be interested in reading, but I dont know kanji. Of course, that could be a big motivation for me to learn kanji, but it is not because I can get the book in English and bypass having to learn Japanese. I guess my real question is how do I motivate myself to learn when I have a slight distaste for the language?

Kcb, you made a good point that getting past the defense mechanism stage is a great step. I think you are right about that, and I also think that is why I now have a little interest in learning, but I am not so removed from the past that having the safety net of ignorance to run to for shelter is not completely out of my mind. I think this is why I still find myself blocking out the language, but I think you are right that gradually it will fade. But where I am is at just timidly dipping my toe in and taking it out. Where I want to be is to just dive in, but mentally I can`t right now.

" I can’t believe that there isn’t interesting content in the target language". Well, that really would be unfair of me to say. Actually, there are lots of interesting things in this country, culture, and language, so its not that theres nothing interesting. The problem is personally I find it hard to get interested in the language because I experienced some very harsh things from the language. So the language that once had a beautiful ring in my ear, now has a nagging, whining, sharp, condescending sound. Its not pretty at all. When a language sounds this way, it is hard to want to study to sound that way too. This is what I need to overcome, but I think it can be overcome like the student who hates math. Years ago I met a woman who hated math because she hated her math teacher in JHS, so when she looked at a math book, she associated math with that teacher, but when she went to college and had to take math she discovered she actually liked it so much that she became a high school math teacher, but that was because she had a college professor that gave her a very positive association with math. So I know my feelings for the language can change, but I somehow have to figure out how to change them. Therefore, my problem is not a lack of interests. I have oodles of interests. My problem is overcoming a bad experince with the language to the extent that it made the language somewhat distasteful to me. Maybe thats my answer!!! Maybe I need to put myself in situations where I can find people that can give me positive associations with the language. I have a fear of that because some of the bad experiences came from people I really trusted, but maybe I have to put myself out on a limb because I don`t know how I can make myself motivated enough to learn at this point with the associations I carry with the language.

Thank you Bortrun and Kcb, I really appreciate the input from both of you. It is very helpful in helping me sort out what I really need to do.

One possible way is to start learning another unrelated language(s), and then associate learning Japanese with language learning as such. I find that I do that anyway, because I find that with every language there will be people that you don’t like, and you need to make the language your own project, independent of the native speakers. If you have another language project, it might be easier to come back to Japanese as just another language project. That’s worked for me when the natives where a turn off.

You have the interest and motivation to look for more motivation which is great. Maybe you just need to find your way,and for sure you will find, if it´s reading or whatever you enjoy. Think about the language separated from the people or experience you did not like,the bad experience was not the language fault. To learn a new language is not only as a necessity but a challenge. Settle a goal apart. After you will learn that language, when someone start a diet because he or she want to feel better, more energized etc. Starting to study a new language can help, develop yourself,enhance your creativity a lot. The idea of studying other unrelated language(s)is a great idea!

Elpolaco, the idea of focusing on another language I can see as a strong possibility. There is a deaf Japanese woman who lives near me and she asked me if I wanted to learn sign language. I said no because I figured my first priority should be Japanese. However, if I learned sign language with her and other Japanese it might be a back door to reassociating positive things with the Japanese language. The more I think about it, I think I really need to get a more positive association with the language otherwise everytime I hear it, I get turned off so I can`t move forward. Your idea is very good and one I never would have thought of by myself. Thank you.

Gpnsa, “Think about the language separated from the people or experience you did not like,the bad experience was not the language fault.” I completely agree with this statement, but this separation is part of my problem I think. In order not to have bad feelings about the people, I placed all the bad feelings on the language. Maybe that was not such a good thing to do, but it was part of my defense mechanism to guard my heart from having bad feelings for the people. The result was I got turned off from the language, but have no hard feelings towards the people and I prefer it that way. I dont want to have hard feelings towards anyone. I love Japanese people actually, and I realize a few bad apples dont represent all apples, and I also realize this language hurdle is my personal problem. Its not a problem to do with the people or language. Its about my own personal fear/weakness which I have to overcome. So I think you are right that part of overcoming this requires me to look at language learning from a different perspective. I have to shift my mind from seeing it as a dreaded chore to a challenge that enhances both mine and my family`s quality of life. Intellectually I know the result will be this, but I have to convince my emotional side that is true. Thank you for pointing that out. It helps remind me to put things in the right perspective.

Maybe I’m giving bad advise but I think that if you can’t get motivated or don’t feel like learning the language, you won’t. You need to do something to make the language interesting for you.

I have tried to learn Spanish several times in the past. I stopped/started, but never got anywhere. Everytime I tried to, I felt bad headaches, thinking about experiences I’ve had in the past which simply blocked it out. Learning the language felt like doing algebra or something (Unless you enjoy doing this ;-)). My mind resisted it, and I couldn’t remember anything

However this all changed when I decided to go on holiday to Spain. The people I met when I was there were all really nice, and I started to get a strong passion to learn Spanish. For the time that I was there, I picked up a phrase book and learnt a few phrases. I have now started quite happily going through Spanish and I’m finding it very interesting and I’m really enjoying it. I’ve set myself the goal of saying that when I go there again, I want to be able to do various things.

Spanish isn’t my first “second language”, I have also been learning Polish for a few years, but I couldn’t of done that without having huge motivation to do so. Pretty much, I was surrounded by NICE Polish people, my girlfriend is Polish and of course getting Polish citzenship was also a huge motivation for me.

Some people can just seem to learn a language because they find them interesting, e.g. Latin or Klingon. I couldn’t do this, I need a good reason to do so and some sort of experience/s to motivate me.

I’m not sure what your personal bad experience was in Japanese, so I apologise if I’m not understanding correctly. But maybe trying to get out and about and travelling around Japan, once you’ve had several good experiences you may begin to build up a passion for learning and want to succeed. Don’t force yourself, you need to make yourself want to. I’d love to spend time in Japan and learn the language, it’s a fascinating culture and language and you are very lucky in that you live there and have the language on your doorstep.

Wiewiorka, I think your advise if very good and on target. Your second paragraph very much describes my present experience when I try to study Japanese. I literally mentally block it out and find no pleasure in learning it at all.

As for travelling, since I have been here for about 16 years, I have had the privilege of traveling quite a bit. So I am aware of the wonderful side of Japan and the Japanese people, not to mention my husband and children are Japanese so I do have an appreciation for the country and people. In fact, Japan ironically is my home and I just might live the rest of my life here.

However, there was a time many years ago I was very eager to learn Japanese because I wanted very much to communicate with some people in my life. So I was listening all the time. I carried a note pad with me and scribbled down what I heard and did not know, and then I would stay up late into the night learning all about these words and phrases I had picked up during the day. At that time, I was absorbing Japanese very rapidly because I was only around Japanese 24/7 and I passionately desired to learn. Unfortunately the very people I was so passionately studying to communicate with are also the people that hurt me. The more I learned, the more I realized what they were saying to me and it was very verbally abusive. But because I had to be around these people, I realized I could listen to this every day and be hurt every day or I could flush everything I learned out of my mind and block learning to not get hurt. I chose the second choice. So now, even though I know the good side of Japan, there is a fear within me that if I start to learn again, I will be hurt again and there is also the habit of blocking out what I hear. As for the fear, intellectually, I understand this is a little irrational fear because most people are not verbally abusive, but it is still my fear.

Anyway, despite having this fear, I realize I need to overcome it because it is not good for my children to see me socially withdrawn. Ive noticed lately both of my children encouraging me to get friends and speak Japanese, and to me that is not good. I am happy and comfortable in my safety zone but I now feel I have to get out of my safety zone for my childrens sake. Also, I realize if something happened to my husband, I would be in very bad shape because I cant read, write or speak Japanese and as we get older I realize it needs to be a priority in my life to learn Japanese. There are just certain life skills people need to function in life and if you live in another country as your home country, knowing the language is one of the basic life skills. So even if I cant create a passion to learn, I have to overcome my fear to drive me to accomplish what I know I need to do and desire to do. The desire is there but the fear overshadows the desire to make the learning a miserable and seemingly impossible task, but there is something inside of me that tells me this fear can be overcome, and Steve`s videos on Youtube really encourage me because he says an older learner can be a better learner than a younger learner and I fit into the slightly older catagory. So I used to wonder if because of my age (41) I missed the opportunity and it is now too late for me to learn, but Steve has encouraged me to realize that is not the case. I can still learn!!! I found his Youtube channel a little over a year ago when my interest in learning started to reawaken so slowly I think I am creeping out of my cave of fear. I wish I could just hop out and run with it, which is why I made this post to find ways to push me on out and I am finding the responses to be very beneficial. So thank you for sharing your experience and advise. It has encouraged me!!! And good luck as you continue your language learning journey. I think being around positve nice people really helps the learning process!

Hello PJT
I reply to your message because I totaly understand what you mean,I can assure you first of all there is not age to learn or improve,I’m older than you and I surrender in English for some time I also wanted to stop several times but luckily,I did not,it’s not easy to learn a language but it is very rewarding, enriching,naw I understand that being in a country that is not hers,it’s on it has not been easy but must persevere even if slowly you improve yourself,your children will be proud of you.
Take it easy

Thank you Nanou. It`s very encouraging to read your post and to hear from someone else who has struggled along but finally made it!!! It is hard, but I do want to press on for myself and my children. So I will make an effort. Thank you again for your kind words which I appreciate very much!

Hi there PJT! It just so happens I also live in Japan, and am also (I guess) a Japanese learner. I say ‘I guess’ because I am fortunate enough now to be in the post-fluent stage. It has been a long journey to get this far, but funnily enough I covered most of the distance in a single year, after I found and followed through with Khatzumotos recommendations. I recommend visiting the site and having a look at the table of contents. Khatz has written numerous articles about motivation and attitude regarding learning the language. For example,

A few things I will say myself…

You can do it!
You don’t need to spend money on any classes!
It can be fun!

I think that having made the choice to decide to learn is the biggest step. Once you start getting deeper into the language I think it will become easier to disassociate it from particular negative experiences. After all, we have all had negative experiences with people in our native languages, but that doesn’t make us hate our own language or culture in most cases. The more the language becomes simply like the air you breath, the more fun things will reveal themselves, and the more negative things will withdraw into isolated elements.

In regards to content, a lot of the best TV shows and movies ever made are from Japan. Maybe start by googling the top 10, to 100 of whatever kind of thing you like in English, and begin hunting for something which meets your own interests?

For example,

Best of luck with your new endeavour! Please message me if you have any questions.


Daniel, THANK YOU!!! I am going to check out the sites and take your advice. Its interesting to know Im not the only one who has wanted to abandon a language due to bad experiences. I look forward to reading that article as well.

Kyoto, thats where my Japanese family is from so Ive spent a lot of time there! Its a lovely place! If I spoke Kyoto-ben it would make my husband very happy. He likes it when I throw in a word from Kyoto or even Osaka every now and then, but my aim is standard Japanese since I dont live in Kansai.

Anyway, once again thank you. You have pointed me in a very good direction!

No problem!

I know Khatz can come across as very hard core sounding with his ‘all the time’ position. Realistically though it is better to interpret it as ‘as much as possible’, and ‘as fun as possible’. As Steve points out, there is just no need to put yourself through years of uninteresting grinding before you get to the interesting stuff.

Even while you are still at an early level, watching some great TV shows and movies with English subtitles could be a good way to help build a sense of connection and enthusiasm for the language. (English Dubbing is a no no) Developing positive feelings for characters/actors who you can at the same time identify as being Japanese might really help you feel better about the language as a whole.

I abandoned my first attempt at learning a language. I don’t regret this now though. Now, I’m studying 3 languages, I’m getting close to being advanced with one of them. In that first language, I spent almost a year and was stuck in an early beginner level. It’s not that I didn’t try, didn’t love the language (I still do to this day)…it’s that I didn’t know what to expect and how to work on the language.

After I get my Dutch up to a nice advanced level, Yiddish and French up to a good intermediate - I’m going to study it again. Next time, I’m going to succeed. No doubt in my mind.


And what is that Language…??

It’s too embarrassing. :smiley:


Hell no… I don’t study artificial languages. :slight_smile:

Daniel, thank you again. I have started reading Khatzs site. I find it encouraging especially considering I can relate to what he says and his experiences in Japan. That makes the language more palatable to me. However, in his introduction he stated "then you will not just learn Japanese, you will become Japanese". This is a wall for me too. I am not at a point where I want to "be Japanese", I want to maintain my own identity and sometimes I have to remind my children of this that Im not Japanese so they must accept that. Fortunately my husband has never asked me even in the slightest way to be more Japanese. He totally accepts me and married me as an American and I really appreciate that in him so likewise I never ask him to be more American. I totally and completely accept him as Japanese. However, I realize part of his great success in learning English was when he went to America he basically became an American. He thought, spoke, and acted like an American. He did not throw away his culture and people that he loved, but he did basically become a regular American by immersing himself in the culture. I can`t recall a single time I ever heard anyone say “what country are you from?” because he spoke and acted just like a regular American. He dived in culturally not just linguistically. On the other hand, I know many Japanese in America who are now elderly and have lived in America all their adult lives yet still have heavy Japanese accents and limited English vocabulary, but they are also the ones that did not want to let go of their Japanese identities. They kept their Japanese culture even down to removing the shoes when entering an American home. So I wonder if to truly learn the language, I have to accept dropping my identity and accept becoming Japanese?

Imyirtseshem, thank you for your reply. I can relate to your statement of trying but still not succeeding due to not loving the language. But like you I believe that can be overcome, and I believe you can succeed in your next attempt. It sounds like getting away from that language for awhile will allow you to come back to it with a fresh new determination and perspective. Although I shut my target language out for YEARS, I am also trying to come back to it once again with a new fresh determination and perspective. I`m not fully there yet, but this thread has really helped me open the door much wider so I truly appreciate you and everyone else who has responded. Each person has given me a good perspective and encouragement!!!