Stay motivated: look back!

Take your measuring tape

To stay motivated, measuring one’s progress is essential. Even small progress is worth celebrate. No matter where you are now, one thing is certain, you are further than when you started, you have a knowledge you didn’t have before you started Japanese. Measuring those progress and celebrate should punctuate your learning adventure.

mesurer ses progrès
The day I learnt how to say “this is a book” in Japanese made me so much richer than what I was the day before

But as we look forward, staring at our goal, we sometimes forget where we come from and we don’t look at that path we leave behind us. And one day, it happens. The goal we set for ourselves seems out of reach, it stands so far away we can hardly see it. In those moment, we feel like we are getting nowhere and want to give up.

regarder devant soi
I realize that the measuring tape I am using to measure my progress is not even long enough to get to my goal.

That’s why it’s important to look back and to be proud of what we have done. I think I should set a reminder in my calendar: “time to look back and appreciate the distance covered so far”.

regarder derrière soi
Looking back, I see the “me” of before starting Japanese. I see what I have and what that “me” doesn’t have and I am quite happy and relieved to stand where I stand now.

Ideas to measure one’s progress

Write a blog

Some days ago, I would have said: keep a diary. Both are okay, the important thing is to put in writing your actual level from time to time. You can write for example:

  • today I learnt this or that grammar point
  • I tried to read this article but couldn’t understand a thing
  • I tried to listen to this program and understood …%
  • I got … points at this JLPT drill
  • and so on

There are a lot of ways to write down what your level is. As for me, the reading notes I make serve a double objective: I hope they will help me improve my reading skills but I also know that, in some months I will read them again to measure my progress (and I hope I will laugh and think: “what?!? I didn’t understand that? But it’s obvious!” or “can’t believe it, I looked up for this word?”)

Keeping a blog instead of writing a diary has several advantages. First, you can share it, if not with the world, at least with people you choose and who can encourage and comment on your posts. But you can also choose to keep it private and use it as a personal diary. You can easily add media (for example, you can add a youtube video to your post and write down how much you understood. Go back to this post some months later and watch it again, to see if you do better. You can use the comments to record your progress). Another advantage is the “search” option, I personally use it when I see a word that looks familiar in a novel. I search my blog to see if I haven’t noted it already.

Have a measuring tape

Your measuring tape can be a book, a text found on the internet, a film… It should be something that is beyond your current level (I have a lot of books I bought in an impulse of faith in myself which are far too hard to me). Try to read it, or listen to it regularly (not every week though! you see the idea) and note your progress.

For example, I love the Ghibli studio films and watch them regularly. Every time I see one of them there is something I understand that I hadn’t understood last time. It makes me happy and proud each time I understand something new and it boosts my motivation to keep going!

Compare yourself if you want to

We are bound to compare ourselves to others… Even when we know it’s no good envying others or depreciating ourselves because that guy speaks Japanese fluently, we can’t help it, can we?

Well, if you must compare yourself to others, don’t just look at all those people who speak Japanese fluently or live in Japan or speak Japanese at home, look also at the overwhelming majority of people in this world who don’t speak Japanese and will probably never do. Think of those family members who said “Learning Japanese? But, why on earth?” with a snigger, and later “so, how is your… Japanese… going, not fluent yet?” with contempt. You have something they have not, and if that something makes you happy and proud of yourself, then you are much better than your aunt (or your uncle, or your grandma, or whoever it was).


Imagine your are on a diet, make sport and do all your best to loose twenty kilos. Let’s say it takes one year to reach this goal, would you really go through a whole year of working hard on yourself without measuring the progress? If it was me, of course I would weigh myself once a month at least to see how well I am doing, to encourage myself, to feel that I am getting closer to my goal.

Learning a language (or anything else) is the same thing, we need to turn back from time to time to see the path that lays behind us.