I think that the biggest question about learning Japanese isn’t, “How do you learn Japanese.” That’s just the same as learning anything else – you do it little by little. No, the real question is, “How do you stay motivated to put in the effort to learn Japanese?”
Motivation is, in many ways, the key issue. You can find study plans and textbooks and software, but you still have to face up to digging into the language every darned day, and how do you make yourself do that?
Good question. Let’s see if we can find some good answers.
Nobody else can motivate you to do the work. You have to find ways to motivate yourself. If you are learning Japanese just because you want to, that will help. If you have a love for or fascination with the language and the culture, the mere fact that you are actually learning may help to keep you going, but there will be days when it won’t be enough, believe me.
Here are some ideas.
1. Make studying Japanese a habit.
Human beings are creatures of habit. You and everyone you know have all kinds of habits that you probably aren’t even aware of. You may have pet phrases that you like to use. You might sit in the same place at school or work or church or while waiting for the bus even though there are other fine places to sit. You might have certain clothes that you wear at certain times, or things that you do every morning or every weekend. Whatever they are, you have lots of habits. It’s time to make studying one of those habits. Do it at the same time every day or in the same place. Do it while you drink your morning コーヒー or お茶. Build it into your day. You’ve built all kinds of things into your day unconsciously. Now it’s time to do it on purpose.
2. Set yourself up to achieve very short term goals.
Perhaps you use memrise as a study tool. Memrise let’s you set up a daily goal (such as, study for five minutes a day) and will keep track of how many days in a row you meet your goal. Keep an eye on that number and use it to motivate yourself. If you have studied for 8 days in a row, make it a goal to reach 10 days. When you get there in a couple of days, pat yourself on the back and feel a little smug. You’ve reached that goal. Now it’s time to set the next goal. Study for 15 days in a row, or 13 or whatever, but make it a goal that you will reach soon. Then be pleased with yourself for reaching it. You can set all kinds of simple goals with memrise, with anki, with how many vocabulary words you know…find them, but always make them very short term and be glad when you reach them, then head for the next. You aren’t looking at how every many hours of study you need to prepare for the JLPT N1, you’re just looking at getting to a certain number of vocabulary words in a few days. Make the goals easy to achieve and then achieve them and set the next goals.
3. Use the embarrassment factor.
Tell people what you’re doing. Tell them you are learning Japanese. Now, if you quit, what will you say when one of the people asks you how the Japanese is going? The original reason I started this blog while I was studying the kanji was to motivate me. I never wanted to go online and write, “Well, I didn’t study today…” This seriously helped to motivate me to study every day.
4. Set up a calendar where you write down what you studied each day.
Not, what you intend to study, but what you have actually studied that day. You won’t want to look back at a blank day when you didn’t study, will you?
5. Reward yourself for studying.
If I study Japanese for one week without missing any days (or even, “if I study Japanese today”, I get to have ___________________, I don’t know what should go in the blank, but you probably do.
6. Punish yourself for not studying.
If I skip a day this week, I don’t get to__________________________.
7. Make a bet with someone that you will study every day this week or this month.
I have a buddy named Brad. Our standard bet for things is a 5 dollar footlong sub at a certain sandwich shop. “I bet you a five dollar footlong that I will study every day this month.”
8. Get yourself a tutor in real life or online through a site like Cafetalk.
If you are meeting with a tutor on a regular basis, say each week, you will want to be ready for the lesson, and this will help motivate you to get your studying done.
Do these all sounds like tricks? They are! That’s right. I’m suggesting that you trick yourself into being motivated for those days when your own desire isn’t quite enough. Now, if you are learning Japanese for the fun of it, that’s an advantage because, on some level, you want to do it. It is also a disadvantage, because there isn’t really a penalty coming from outside you if you slack off. (You won’t get an F on the test because there won’t be a test, right?) Most days, the motivation will come from your own desire, but, for those days when it doesn’t, you need to find something kind of outside of yourself to push you for that day.
If none of these ideas do it for you, figure out what will. You know yourself better than I do, right?
How about this? Start today, whatever day you are reading this. I challenge you to study for at least 15 minutes a day for the next thirty days. Comment on this post to let me know that you’ve accepted the challenge and then comment again in 30 days to let me know if you succeeded. Everyone who reads the comments will know and will celebrate your name if you succeed, and they will all boo and hiss and if you don’t, and you don’t want any boos and hisses, right? It’s much nicer to have people celebrating your name.
I’ll announce it for myself right here. I WILL STUDY JAPANESE FOR AT LEAST 15 MINUTES A DAY, EVERY DAY, FOR THE NEXT 30 DAYS, AND I WILL POST HERE WHETHER I MET THAT GOAL OR NOT.