The biggest obstacle when trying to learn Japanese or trying to learn anything is motivation. I’m still asking myself how to stay motivated to learn Japanese when I’m not living in Japan and don#t really need to use the language for anything.
Japanese is still a small niche in my daily life. It’s not like certain news sites I’m regularly using are only available in Japanese. I know it sounds obvious that you need the proper motivation to achieve something. But in reality, we always find a good reason to stop. To stop learning, to stop going for a three-weekly run, going to the gym, or meditating daily (what I’m trying to do with the headspace app but more on that later).
You need to find out how to stay motivated to learn Japanese in the long run with your own interests and passion.
No matter what it is, if you want to be successful in doing it you need to be consistent and have the willpower and devotion to pull through. To make it short, you always have the time, you just need the right motivation to use it properly.
Table of Contents
Use a focus manager (like Apple Focus)
I’m an iOS user (which you probably noticed as a long-time reader) and have been using an app called
Moment for almost a year now (defunct now because Apple Focus killed it). Unfortunately, they don’t have an Android version available as of now (but there may be some alternatives I’m not aware of, please share them if you know something).
What this app does is basically give you an overview of the time spent on your device. I’m using it on my phone and my tablet. I’m using the latter one a lot for my studies as well so 1k hours a year with my iPad isn’t as scary as it sounds. You can set up push notifications that remind you every 15,30,45 minutes (and so on) that you’re using your phone. You can even set a total time limit for each day.
Apple Focus you an overview of the whole time you’re practically wasting on your phone. Time spent browsing pictures on Instagram, writing endless chats with friends, and reading Japanese Tease. So all in all time was not well spent.
I always notice this during my holidays when I’m away and practically don’t use my phone at all. I’m not missing anything. If there is something to talk about I just make a short call. All the social media nonsense is practically always wasted time and a quick look into the news is day is more than sufficient to get the gist of what’s going on in the world.
What to make with all the newfound time?
Every week I get a push notification from Apple Focus with my statistic and time spent on my phone. It’s usually something around 10 hours. That’s nearly 90 minutes a day. Not counting my iPad time, mind you.
And now I’m the one telling myself that I don’t have 15 minutes a day to spend on my Japanese studies. I know it’s ridiculous. The time is obviously there but I choose to spend it otherwise. And it’s just because I clearly lack the motivation that keeps studying each day no matter what.
Wanting to read manga in Japanese or watching Anime is just not enough to keep you studying regularly. You need something bigger to keep you motivated and on top of your Japanese studies. After all not finding the time is clearly not the reason why we stopped studying. The time is there only the motivation is lacking.
Apart from saving time by using Apple Focus, you should work on your productivity. I wrote a whole article about using a task manager and how much this relaxes me. It’s really giving me peace of mind to know that all big tasks are collected in my task manager and nothing gets forgotten.
I have my iPad always on my nightstand, ready to read some digital Japanese manga with the Kindle App before bedtime, and always available to add some notes to my task manager (I’m using Things 3 by the way).
Think about the reasons that made you start studying in the first place
Always remind yourself about your key motivation. The one that finally pushed you to buy Genki and make a subscription to WaniKani. What was the one thing you wanted to accomplish with learning that new language? Get this reason straight for yourself.
And most importantly: Write that reason down.
And make a list of all the things your want to read, write and listen to in Japanese.
I know it sounds like all these new-age learning techniques but having a clear goal present is the best motivational tool one can have.
At first, learning Japanese will be a breeze and you can’t imagine a slowdown. But after a couple of weeks, you’ll notice things slowing down significantly. With life getting in the way and all your other responsibilities pushing down on you.
This is the time when you need that reason, that reminder of why you started out in the first place.
A list of all the things that motivated you to pick up Genki and start browsing the web for Japanese resources.
The problem with high-difficulty spikes
You don’t want to read Japanese Graded Readers forever no matter how charming and rewarding these can be in the beginning. The goal would be to enjoy things in Japanese that you can’t find anywhere else. I was pretty bad in my English classes but when I started to watch films in English (with English subtitles) things picked up rapidly for me.
Because I had a reason to stay invested in the language. Watching films where I just couldn’t find a German release (and this was long before getting into the Criterion Collection) helped me to surround myself with English and ultimately helped me a lot to learn and enjoy the language.
The problem with Japanese is that this kind of immersion is not really possible in the early stages.
Use Japanese Twitter
And the early stages are not just a few when trying to learn Japanese. What I can recommend though is following a few Japanese accounts on Twitter or Instagram. The texts are short and manageable and it’s nice to read some real-world stuff you actually care about and is not too overwhelming.
If you don’t understand something, just scroll down. If you really want to get into it and conquer that sentence that just didn’t make any sense, you can do it. The length of the texts is manageable and with that, you can also decipher it (if necessary) in a short period of time. Just a little Japanese quickie in between your normal life.
Get a Japanese mentor
Getting a mentor works in any field and is always the best and most consistent way to make progress. I went the italki route and got in touch with a Japanese online teacher for weekly sessions. Honestly, this was the best thing I ever did for my Japanese.
A few reasons why:
- A mentor (or teacher which is the same but doesn’t sound as cool) keeps you accountable.
- A mentor is always ready to answer your questions and will help you to keep up a steady routine.
- A mentor already is where you want to be (so a native teacher is not really the same) so you always keep before your eyes that it is achievable.
What are you doing to stay immersed in Japanese and what are your tips to stay motivated?