I recently received an email from someone who had hit a slump in his study of Japanese. Specifically, he had already gotten through all the newbie and beginner seasons of JapanesePod101.com and knows around 800 kanji, but didn’t know where to go from there. He considered buying Genki or TextFugu, but would that be a waste of money, considering where he’s at? Sentence mining also seemed a daunting task to him, so would that be worth his effort?
It sounds like this reader is suffering from what I’d like to henceforth call the intermediate blues. As I responded to his email, it suddenly dawned on me that it would make a great post and an excellent opportunity to elaborate on this subject, as everyone hits this point in their language study, and this is the spot where most people drop the language and go on back to their monolingual selves. Fear not, this stage does go away!
A big reason for this is that you feel like the same amount of effort isn’t giving you the results you were first having. When you start learning Japanese, everything is new, and every step you take feels like a huge leap. Then, you start to get into the dreaded intermediate stage, and you feel like it’s easier to mess up, and huge steps come farther between. In other words, you’re no longer a child, but a teenager, and those years suck.
Once the intermediate stage sets in, you might suddenly feel like you’re not ready, or that your foundation in the language isn’t strong enough yet. In the world of self-taught people, you might not know where to go to move forward, and the moving forward seems a lot slower than it did before. It’s not that you’re dumb, or lazy, it’s just that you’re at that stage where you have to persevere and keep it interesting for yourself.
Unfortunately, a lot of people, regardless of what they’re learning, have the intermediate blues. That’s why there’s only a few really go NFL players and a lot of lousy ones, and why my mom can cook like an Iron Chef and I just boil ramen noodles. That’s also why people stop learning Japanese.
Here’s the good news, though. It’s actually not that hard to get past this stage in your study! There’s a lot you can do to help yourself get out of this stage move on to become competent in the language.
First of all, motivate yourself. If you’re learning Japanese to watch anime, then find an anime series and start watching it. Remind yourself that one day you won’t need those subtitles to understand. Or, try watching it without subtitles, get frustrated, and go back to studying! That’s what always kept me motivated!
Second, assess where you are, but don’t obsess over where you are. Does that make sense? Figure out where you’re weak, and if you have to go back and review, do it. A word of advice, though, don’t go buying beginners’ products just to review. As much as I love Genki, it’s not made for review, and it would be a waste of money. Head over Tae Kim’s Guide to Japanese Grammar instead, and, for a much cheaper price than any textbook, I recommend All About Particles for particle learning/review. In short, do the review you need to, but don’t spend a lot of money (or any money), and be prepared to move on to the next step.
Second, I recommend giving sentence mining a try. I’ve talked about this before, but you can read about it in-depth from AJATT. I know I’ve talked about how everyone has a different way to learn their language, but eventually everyone is going to have to delve into native material. The only difference is whether your form of study practically revolved around reading and understand native material, or if this is just a supplement to your textbook or tutor. By the time you reach intermediate, I recommend that everyone try dabbling in this. If you haven’t done this from the beginning, then you may have to start with small sentences, because native material is different from your textbook. Start small and work up, is what I say.
Remember to pick interesting sentences, otherwise it’ll seem boring and the intermediate blues won’t get any more bearable! Find sentences that strike a chord with you and that you’ll be glad to encounter. Just because a sentence sounds useful, doesn’t mean you have to force yourself to come into contact with it day after day.
Finally, keep persevering. The rewards will be great, even though it can be a huge pain once you break out of the beginner stage. Keep things fun and interesting, try new things, and remind yourself of your goals when you need a motivator.