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Reflections

My Japanese *Stopped* Improving After Moving to Japan: Here’s How I’ll Save It

By February 2, 2024No Comments

I kinda expected that this might happen, and it did happen.

My first impact with Japan was very satisfying, and I have indeed picked up some vocabulary after coming here. But I can now announce it officially: my pace of improvement in Japanese started to slow down as I approached the date of moving to Japan, and after being here a couple of months, it has completely plateaued. I no longer feel like my Japanese is improving week to week, and at this rate, I’ll leave Japan not being much more fluent than how I entered it.

The good news is that I know exactly why this happened, and I know exactly how to fix it.

As I’ve said before, there are no plateaus in language learning other than in our own heads.

The only things that really improve your ability in a language are active reading and active listening. It should be fairly obvious — it’s physically impossible to learn new words without acquiring new words. To acquire new words, you either have to read them or hear them. And it has to be active input, meaning that you’re paying attention to the word and trying to “get” its meaning, because you could listen to a foreign language passively all day and never pick up a single word, because none of it would make sense to you.

As I arrived in Japan, my study focus shifted greatly from active to semi-active listening. The data shows exactly what happened:

As you can see, words of reading per day dropped dramatically. At the same time, listening hours went up by 194.

In the top graph (purple), you see how as a result, my cumulative known words gradually plateaued over the last 3 months. And my “daily” newly learned words dropped to a minimum over the same period.

The reason for this is simply… laziness. I was so focused on other aspects of my life, that I began putting the bare minimum amount of effort into Japanese learning. I’d keep doing it everyday, but without the energy that I put in over the last year. I stopped following the plan.

When you stop doing the things that got you amazing results, you stop getting any more amazing results.

Here’s what changes I’m going to make now to recover my lost momentum:

Reading > Listening. Semi-active listening has proven to be a dangerous trap, because even though it doesn’t work as well as active listening, it still works. It lulls you into a false sense of productivity and progress. I’m now going to measure my Japanese learning time ONLY by how much time I spend reading, not listening. I’ll still listen, of course, but listening hours will not be the main metric.

That’s it. That’s the only change I’ll make as of now. Language learning isn’t complicated.

As for the longer plan I wrote in October — as Mike Tyson said, “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

I’m no longer actively learning kanji. I’m no longer actively practicing speaking or writing through scripts. I get several opportunities to speak and write while being in Japan everyday, and I’ll just profit from those.

My life has been altered in a way that I simply don’t want devote the same level of intensity to Japanese learning as I did last year. The plan I wrote in October was assuming certain circumstances, which have now changed, so the plan must change too.

I must also announce, with a heavy heart, that I finally broke my daily streak of 373 days on LingQ. I could save it, but I’ve decided to give it a fresh start.

Feb 1st marks a new day: time to begin another streak, and this time, the goal is to get to 330 days — meaning, the end of 2024. Let’s see how many breakthroughs I make in Japanese.

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