Motivation: ups and downs

I was not very productive this weekend concerning both Japanese and English. I haven’t even read much. This made me reflect on the reasons why I sometimes feel demotivated, and I tried to find ways to snap out of it.

Japanese is hard

I start with this because I think that it is a red herring. It is easy to blame Japanese to justify our quitting learning it. But me, for example, I learned Japanese more efficiently and with a lot more fun than Spanish, although I am French. Our lack of motivation should not be put on Japanese being hard but should be found within ourselves.

Low self-esteem

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The times when I am not productive are these days when I have a bad image of myself or am not happy with what I am. Of course, low self-esteem is not intrinsically linked to Japanese, but it affects my desire to study or to do things in general. I don’t have a magic solution to feel more confident, but I found that these things have helped me a lot:

  • Blogging: writing a blog has two significant effects:
    • first, it gives structure to my learning Japanese,
    • and it makes me feel that I have created something and helps me have a positive image of myself,
  • Writing: I am writing more and more lately, and it helps considerably. In the beginning, it was more a practical activity: writing in Japanese, taking notes about what happened in the news, taking notes about the novels I read, note citations and so on. All this helped me develop a kind of personal system of note taking which has an undeniable value to me.
  • Drawing: I started playing around with a drawing software because I had not a clue how I should illustrate my posts. But it became a relaxing and gratifying activity.

Too many resources

An abundance of resources can lead to very strange feelings.

  • I have so much to do that I don’t know where to start
  • I feel committed to give each resource a little of my time, and I feel guilty if I haven’t touched one resource for a long time
  • Even if I study well on a given day, there are so many materials that I haven’t touched that I feel like I have not been productive, although I have been.

Of course, one solution is to unclutter my study and get rid of resources I don’t use or are not that useful. Honestly, I can’t do that, because I think that I have a hoarding disorder when it comes to learning resources: books, podcasts, audiobooks, textbooks, websites, magazines and so on pile up around me, but thankfully some do not take physical space.

To stay organised and serene, I have some strategies:

  • Keep track of what I study and when. A “resource tracker” has proven very useful to me (it is like a habit tracker, but I note learning materials instead of habits). I can see what resources I tend to forget and decide whether to devote more time to them or stop using them. Also, I don’t feel overwhelmed anymore, I have control over my study. Somehow, it seems okay to not touch something for 2 weeks or more, as long as I am aware of it. I know that I can set things right later.
  • Make targeted challenges. Sometimes, I make myself small challenges that are targeted on a particular resource. For example, I am challenging myself with NHK radio news at the moment. To help me write my Friday post on Japanese news, I decided to listen to at least the 7 o’clock bulletin every day. I had this resource in my podcast app for a long time but was not using it. Thanks to my mini-challenge, I am listening to it every morning now.

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Why do I learn Japanese?

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Sometimes, I am demotivated because I don’t live in Japan and probably never will. I have no connection with Japan at all. I know that we don’t need to justify why we do what we do, but I am sometimes ill at ease to say that I learn Japanese mainly to read in Japanese, not to speak it, meet Japanese, make Japanese friends and so on because I am not at all a social person.

In these moments, I remember that a lot of people out there are learning languages for the fun of it. We don’t need to have concrete reasons to learn a language, not even practical goals. I like messing around with Anki, do grammar exercises, work a textbook and take notes, do translations exercises and so on. I like the process of learning a language for itself.

But I do have concrete goals too:

  • read all the novels by Keigo HIGASHINO,
  • be able to read any novel in Japanese,
  • read great authors, beginning with Nobel Prize winners,
  • read the news in Japanese and understand political scandals and social trends,
  • read history books in Japanese to see how Japanese historians write about things that happened in the 20th Century,
  • more generally, read books about Japan History and
  • read historical novels.

Somehow, writing this down greatly motivated me!


And there are times when I just don’t feel like studying at all. It was especially true when I was preparing for the JLPT.

To motivate me, I like making a study plan and set small goals with numbers. For example, in how many days will I finish this textbook if I study one chapter every other day. I don’t always stick to numbered plans, but making them motivates me to get started.

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But to me, the best way to get motivated to studying is to read other learners’ blogs. In fact, it does not have to be people who learn Japanese. Seeing that others go on with their studies and make progress is highly motivating. I like reading about what other learners do, how they study, what resources they use, what would be a typical studying session and so on. If you are blogging about learning Japanese or anything else, don’t hesitate to link to your blog in the comments, I’ll be happy to follow!


I wrote this post a little on the spur of the moment, so it certainly is incomplete. But to summarise what I found out this far, the main four things that help me get motivated when I am not are:

  • To combat low self-esteem: engage in a creative process: blogging, writing, drawing or any DIY activity or any activity in general.
  • Make a study plan,
    • set small weekly challenges or monthly challenges,
    • also, encourage yourself with concrete goals (like reading 2 pages a day of a book, or listening to a 20 minutes podcast once a week and so on).
  • Write down why I learn Japanese and re-read or edit it from time to time,
    • don’t forget that there are no good or bad reasons, find your own way and go for it!
  • follow other learners blog or people who are engaged in a creative/learning activity

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12 thoughts on “Motivation: ups and downs

  1. how’d you get into reading in japanese? did you read a french translation of some particular work?? i’m guessing you want to read all of higashino keigo because you really like his writing? I have the same goal with dazai but I go about it in a very relaxed manner since he wrote a lot and I have other stuff I want to read and do. So i have no idea when I will reach that but I do know it will be done via my kindle since he can be challenging. . I personally don’t like higashino keigo lol.

    I learn Japanese so I can do things in Japanese that I want to do like watch japanese, read japanese books, listen to japanes music because I enjoy those things. I am particular about the tv, music, books that I consume since I have my tastes. I have no interest reading the news so I never really got into studying Japanese from Japanese news but recently I found a site that provides news articles in korean with the japanese translation so I feel inclined to learn from that site since it’s so convenient having a translation available to reference. Dictionary look-ups are especially painful and cumbersome in Korean since they don’t write stuff in hanja. So far I picked out 5 articles that sounded interesting and sent them to my kindle.

    1. Yes, I started with the Japanese translation of the Little Prince. Then I read some manga, particularly コナン that allowed me to learn some crime/investigation related vocabulary. After, I started Higashino Keigo.
      I would love to read the news in Korean but I can’t because they don’t use hanja… Sometimes I wonder how Koreans themselves understand what they read without hanja!

      1. I meant what sparked your interest in reading books in Japanese?? Did you read a book translated into french from japanese and then gained interest in japanese literature??

        1. Ah, I see! First I am interested in literature in general (it was my major at university), and Japanese literature always attracted me, but I was also left with mixed feelings after reading some French translations. I’m not saying that the translations were bad, but obviously we lost a lot in the transfer… And secondly, it’s hard to explain, but I love reading in Japanese. Maybe because I love the kanji?

  2. I think the goal of “be able to read any novel in Japanese” is too vague to the point of being impossible to reach since there’s always gonna be hard books that are even hard for natives. Also it depends on what you mean by “read,” especially since sometimes you may undertsand it fine but you are unsure of the reading of the kanji or the character’s name etc.

    Do you have interests in Japanese stuff that involves audio?? MY belief is that reading AND listening it very effective for learning a language. After all if you are reading something but don’t really know what it sounds like (ie intonation) you’re not really getting the full experience. I recommend actively listening too… Especially with history and historical novels it’s important that you have audio exposure so you know what it exactly sounds like. I remember watching the drama JIN with japanese subtitles and learning a lot from it since I mined from it. But the audio made stuff made stuff leave much more of an impression and made it easier to remember stuff. I’m currently reading the manga now and having watched the drama and having heard the edo jidai japanese in the drama (I acutally watched the drama way back when in 2009 !! ) it’s that’s much more easier to follow and read.

    by the way are you past your “studying” obligations ie jlpt??? Eventually you’re gonna have to throw away the thought of ” I gotta study” Japanese and just do whatever it is you enjoy doing it in Japanese while looking stuff up. I am totally on the side of Native material > textbooks. I don’t understand why people spend so much money on textbooks. I spend my money on actual japanese books people buy to enjoy reading.

    1. Thanks for the advice. I don’t watch many drama but I do remember that watching the film 舟を編む did help me feel the atmosphere when I read the novel. I also try to buy audiobooks when I can, but they don’t have such a wide range of choice and they are quite expensive too…

      1. I got into reading Japanese literature because I ran out of words to learn from talk/variety shows (since I reached 90-100% comprehension depending on the show/people etc so it’s just not practical to learn words from talk/variety shows since I already know a majority of them especially since I wanted to learn 50 words/a day at that time) and I knew that I had the propensity to easily remember Japanese words at that point (from the hours of immersion/vocabulary repertoire) and knew I could handle learning 50 words a day/week etc so I can improve Japanese. But nowadays it’s purely for enjoyment… as in I treat it like English. I do learn from the books I read since I look up words after reading the books if I feel like adding a lot of words to anki that particular day/week.

  3. This post really speaks to me! I can identify with all your points, specially with the overwhelming feeling of having too many resources. Like you said, I end up using a bit of everything until things start to fall through the cracks, which makes me feel guilty and even more unmotivated. My strategy for tackling this problem at the moment is to have a dedicate notebook in OneNote in which I bookmark literally every single resource (books, articles, blogs, apps, podcasts) related to learning Chinese – this way my mind finds peace and I don’t have FOMO about missing apps or articles anymore. But at the same time I focus on a couple or resources at the time and try to make the most out of them, as I believe this is the most productive course of action for me.

    Thanks a lot for sharing your thoughts on the subject! I have a language learning related blog too if you’re interested ( 🙂

    1. Thank you for your comment, I’m glad you liked the post!
      Yes, I find it easier to focus on a couple of resources when I know that I listed somewhere safe the ones I don’t use at the moment.
      Thanks for the link to your blog! I’ve learned a little Chinese too, but I gave up 🙄

  4. I’m also learning Japanese for the fun of it. I found some slang phrases online and decided I wanted to be able to use them legitimately. I’m chipping my way through my lessons and trying to keep my brain from exploding. Always looking for study tips at This was an educational and super cute post!

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