JLPT Journal #6: lack of motivation

It is normal to go through phases of lack of motivation, and if you are studying Japanese for some time, you know that your motivation will come back eventually, even if you don’t actively try to restore it.

This is what happened to me this last two weeks. I was not as motivated to study for the JLPT, but I knew that it would not last, that I would be on track again in no time.

The real problem is not the lack of motivation

The problem is not the motivation in itself, but the fact that I will not review or study during this phase. When the motivation comes back, I have to face another problem: reviews left undone, huge Anki, flashcards that I cannot even remembered having written myself. All my study material looks unfamiliar and far away. Every time I set my eyes on them, I think:

  • It’s been a while since I’ve opened this book.
  • I’ve certainly forgotten half of it if not more.
  • What a shame, I was doing well, but now it feels like I have to start from scratch again.

And if I find the courage to start my reviews again, I keep stumbling across words or grammar that I cannot remember. For the more recent ones, I cannot even remember having studied them before. For the older ones, I am depressed because I have forgotten them although I knew them well before.

After a while, I feel depressed and stop my reviews. I have bad feelings associated with them:

  • Guilt: I have left my books and flashcards untouched for too long.
  • Depreciation: I know that I have forgotten everything anyway, I am not good enough.
  • Discouragement: If you have already left your Anki untouched for some days, you know what I mean.

If this happens, I will feel bad every time I see my study material so I will end up putting them on my shelf, forget about them and decide that I will not take the JLPT after all.

The problem is not a lack of motivation, it is the bad feelings associated with my studies. I am sure that I am not the only one who sometimes have feelings of guilt towards all these study materials I bought or made myself and who end up depressed by it, instead of feeling pushed forward.

To solve it

If you have ever had the same experience, what you must do to solve it is:

  • First of all, accept that there will be times when you are not motivated. It might even last one or two weeks. It is normal and it is not something you should worry about. Your motivation will come back eventually.
  • The most important things is: keep reviewing during this phase. Even if you don’t learn new things, keep reviewing what you have done so far. Adopt a slow pace, but stay in touch with your study material.

More concretely, what you can do is stop learning new words in your SRS, but continue reviewing your deck. If you really don’t feel like studying, you can at least go through your cards and watch the answer immediately. Then decide whether you would have known this word or not.

For grammar, re-read at least the example sentences of the rules you have already learned. If your goal was to review 2 lessons per day, you can only review 1 lesson. In any case, even if you lower the amount of review per day or per week (depending on how you work), open your book and read it, don’t leave it alone.

What I personally do is:

For vocabulary: I study with the 日本語単語スピードマスター. It has a red card that covers the pronunciation and the meaning of the words, which is very useful to review. When I am not motivated, I don’t use the red card, I just re-read the words with their pronunciation and meaning visible.

For grammar: I am using physical flashcards. When I am not motivated, I just read the front and then look at the back immediately. I have not actively recalled the grammar point, but I have read it at least.

If I use my physical flashcards regularly, I feel both proud to have made them and glad to hold them in my hand. On the contrary, if I don’t, I will start feeling guilty towards them or even irritated to have spent so much time creating them for nothing.

If you keep reviewing, even at a slow pace, you will be all set to go forward when your motivation comes back.


People often say that motivation is key, but I think that diligence and assiduousness are even more important. You won’t be able to stay at the top of your motivation every single day, and you cannot really control how you feel. What you can control however is what you do: go sit at your desk, open your book and read it. It is not complicated, you have no excuse. Just make yourself do it, even if you don’t want to. When your motivation comes back, you will be happy to see that you didn’t let everything go astray.

14 thoughts on “JLPT Journal #6: lack of motivation

  1. Also you could draw the conclusion that it’s not working and complete change the strategy.

    I think you’d be better off reading books on a kindle ( u can look up grammar and readings), watching Japanese tv( something with audio so you remember stuff effortlessly ), learn how to write the kanji ie rtk or at least learn the stroke order .i thought it made no sense for you to make the Anki cards for differentiating kanji… I thought you’d be better off using that time to learn how to write it. Even if you forget how to write it, you still read much better knowing what’s going on in that block

    as far as I could tell the test just keeps asking which of the following have you never read or come out of a Japanese person’s mouth and it’s obvious what the answer is since I’ve read all these books, watched all this tv while using Anki and focus on having fun as in seeking the most interesting tv shows etc..

    If you’re interested in Japanese tv I can share a site that d link but I can’t post it as a comment. There are transcriptions that go with the eps so you can learn what they say beyond the text they put on the screen

    1. Yes I see what you mean, I know that having fun while studying is more efficient than learning all these JLPT targeted things. That’s what I did last year (read and enjoy, I mean) and I will do it next year too. I think that I want to do this “JLPT thing” this year, and play the game. I don’t mind going through boring phases, I know it won’t last, and the JLPT is a personal challenge.

      As for the kanji, I know how to write them (stroke order and so on), but I don’t know how to write most of them by memory (lack of practice). True, the JLPT questions are not that useful or practical, it’s not something you are confronted with in real life… but I still enjoy doing those exercises, haha.

      I am not much into TV shows right now, but it is surely a good way to improve listening. Thank you for the proposition! Can I find the link on your blog?

      1. actually I think I can’t dm you on twitter. you have it set off. if you want the info give me your email or turn dm on on twitter

  2. I think you shoudl focus on having fun while studying ie anki because it’s much easier to remember words while having fun versus while being bored to death.

  3. Great post about important elements to long-term language learning!

    I myself have been through lulls in my Japanese study, in the worst case taking a break for a month or more.

    After many years of study I have learned to not be disappointed when I forget how to read a kanji, or how to say a certain word. I just look it up if I can, or do my best when speaking to describe it with other words.

    I think the best thing is if one can integrate language study into their daily life without making it a chore, and learn to enjoy it (at least most of the time).

    When still at the stage where one needs to use things like textbooks to learn, it can be frustrating since textbooks are generally not that exciting. However, the more you get into reading actual native-level material (like the books I see you are reading), I think it’s easier to maintain motivation.

    1. Thank you very much for your advice. Yes, reading books has been a great way to slowly improve my level without feeling discouraged.

      I think that taking the JLPT N1 will help me take the next step and be able to read literary fiction from time to time. This is why I want to force me a little and be sure that I don’t give up.

      Also reading your blog is always a source of motivation, thank you!

  4. I can relate to this post 100%! And I totally agree with you, we can’t rely solely on motivation. Motivation is the spark the keeps the journey interesting, but it’s diligence and discipline the truly keep us going.

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