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Dec 28, 2010

Remember the Reason for the Journey

I've mentioned a few times now that I will be taking a Japanese placement test at my university, and as I've been thinking about and preparing for it I've realized some interesting things about self-teaching. Throughout my time teaching myself Japanese I've always done it purely for my own benefit and with myself as the only judge of my progress. This has been pretty great, because there is nobody around to punish me for missing assignments or to force me to do things that I don't want to. Keeping Japanese as a personal goal has also kept me from ever worrying to much about being "right" - my focus has always been on enjoying Japanese. But now that has begun to change.

In thinking about this test I've started questioning myself - do I really understand Japanese? How on earth could I understand what all of these crazy squiggles mean? My doubts started piling up and I felt like I'd been spending all of my time only to gain nothing at all - keep in mind that I haven't even taken the test yet. So with these things in mind I did perhaps the best thing I could do - I tried to become better. I'm actually rather happy with that outcome, because now I've discovered some great decks available for download on Anki that have helped me continue building my knowledge. Even though I was doing my best, I was still feeling incredibly worried about my abilities - which led to another revelation.

During my time worrying about how good I was at Japanese I'd started to forget to simply enjoy what I was doing, so when I sat down one day and started reading to pass the time I realized what is most important. It doesn't matter what a test tells me about my abilities or if the professors I talk to think I have the most ridiculous accent they've ever heard, because I didn't learn Japanese so that they could be graced with my perfect pronunciation or my boundless vocabulary - I learned it for myself for my own enjoyment. When I remembered why I was learning Japanese, the pressure to do well on the placement test melted away into nothing.

Should you ever find yourself feeling stressed about where you are in your own Japanese studies or feeling as though people around you are judging you based on how much you know, simply remember to do these two things. First of all, remember WHY you are learning Japanese. Then, secondly, find out what you can do to get closer to that goal.

For example, suppose you were learning Japanese so that you could read novels. Instead of worrying about grades, tests, or any sort of external measure of progress just grab a book and try to read it. If you can't, then grab another one and try it. Keep trying until you find something you can read. Think about what it is that is stopping you from being able to read those other books and then work to build that area. If you just keep moving forward and making small improvements where you can, then you will be able to conquer anything.

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  1. Good advice. Easy to lose sight of one's goals.

  2. That's really good advice. If stress starts to pile on it really screws with people's original intentions for learning.