Working Hard at Japanese Doesn’t Work.

I have been on Wanikani for a few months now.  I am taking the lessons very slowly so that I don’t get overwhelmed.  It’s funny – every time I learn a new kanji or a new pronunciation, I think “how am I going to remember that?”  And then, a month later, I look at it and it pops to mind, completely unbidden, the moment I look at the word.

So I think the harder you work at Japanese, the more you’ll seem to advance, and the quicker you forget.  It seems to me that a slow, steady path of absorption seems to work much better than trying to cram as much into your head as possible.  That certainly seems to be true to me.

I don’t mean to imply that it doesn’t take time or effort.  Of course it does.  You’re not going to get anywhere by watching anime with subtitles and never studying the language – you’ll go backwards.  But I’m saying that if you’re struggling, you’re trying too hard.  It does sink in eventually, and things start to seem natural pretty quickly that didn’t seem to before.  You just have to get used to it.

I have told the story before about how I got acquainted with Japanese.  When I first heard the Japanese language spoken it was literally gibberish.  I could not pick a single word, phrase, or meaning out, and even when I started learning greetings, their accent was so different than I was used to that even if I knew a word it was difficult to pick it out of the sentence.  But now, I still have that problem, but much less so.  I still go back to that video every now and then, and I find myself understanding more and more of it.  And the thing is, I’m not really trying.  I’m just working on my Wanikani, practicing it as much as I’m able, and otherwise just letting it sink in.

That seems to work for me.

Study, but not too hard.  Work, but not too hard.  Memorize, but not too much.  Japanese is a language you have to be in for the long haul.

What I Hate About Most Online “Learn Japanese” Sites

I’ve been using Wanikani lately  I’ve gotten to level 5, and it’s actually a little frustrating.  You have to get the radicals/kanji/vocabulary right a specific number of times, spaced out over months, before they consider the item “burned”, and you don’t have to see it again.  And they dole out the lessons sparingly.  You can’t binge on them.  A cynic might make the argument that they’re just doing that to stretch out the amount of money you need to pay them to complete the program, but while that may be a consideration, I don’t think I agree with that.  They’re doing the right thing.  They have mnemonics, and sometimes I find those useful, but most of the time I don’t.  I think, though, that’s primarily because we haven’t yet gotten to kanji I don’t know on some level.

This is unique amongst online “Learn Japanese” sites.  I have used several in the past, and they promise to teach you Japanese quickly, and they make it possible for one to rocket through their courses as fast as you want to.  They sell “quick”.  Rosetta Stone, for example, promises you can learn conversational Japanese quickly, but the argument could (and has been) made that it will harm your efforts in the long run.  I’ve found probably ten to twenty sites who promise to teach you Japanese, and they don’t and really can’t.  It’s just too big.  I could see learning German in a year (I became conversational in it in nine months years ago, but I forgot most of it), and other languages that might have some commonalities with English.  But Japanese just has too much to learn, too much to memorize, too many kanji, too many yomikata, too many vocabulary words.  The grammar takes some getting used to but isn’t too bad, but it’s so different from English that it’s nearly impossible to find any commonalities whatsoever.

Japanese can’t be forced in.  It has to sink in.

So this is why I don’t like most online Japanese courses.  They don’t teach patience.  Because when learning Japanese, that’s about the best advice that you can be given, to be patient.  But they sell based on learning fast, and they’re selling snake oil.  Some learn Japanese quicker than others, but I don’t think anyone who is not from either China or Korea will ever learn it quickly.  It takes a lot of time to even figure out the basics, it has thousands of kanji, even more vocabulary words, and no similarities whatsoever with English.

I’m not trying to advertise for Wanikani.  There are some aspects I don’t like.  They teach recognition of kanji and vocabulary, but they don’t teach how to write the kanji.  That’s a rather important thing, and something you’ll have to study outside of them, perhaps using “kanji tree” or something similar.  But they’re the only site I’ve found, so far, that actually incorporates patience into their model.  There are some similar sites, such as Jalup, that offer a similar service, but they don’t dole out the lessons as carefully – you can get overwhelmed.  And that’s why I use them, and none of the others.  They may be able to deliver what they sell, but they don’t tell you the most important thing.  It’s going to be a long, long ride, and you’re going to have to be extremely committed.