Motivation: Find something that exists only in Japanese

Among the usual advice given to language learners is the idea that one should pursue one’s field of interest in the target language. For example, if you like history, try to read history books in Japanese, if you like cooking, try this Japanese recipe, and so on.

I am following this advice, of course, but even if it makes the learning process more enjoyable, it does not prevent me to feel demotivated from time to time.

For example, I am interested in Japanese modern history. What I can do is buy a History book for children with illustrations and try to read it. If I want to learn more about a historical event, I can try to understand the Wikipedia page in Japanese. But to be honest, I think I would finally give up and read what I want to know in English.

This kind of method always leaves me with a demotivation phase after the euphoria of the first days. I think that there are two reasons for this:

  • either I don’t really want to understand the content of what I am reading, I am reading it only to improve my Japanese (this is true for example when it comes to books for children or contents that I already know),
  • or the information I want to obtain can be easily accessible in English, so why bother? (I always try to read the Wikipedia page in Japanese but I soon switch to the English one)

But there is an even deeper reason why I experience demotivation: I am using what I like as a tool to improve my Japanese. The language, because I am learning it, becomes a goal in itself. But that’s strange because languages are only tools that convey information, that allow us to communicate. The language should be the tool that allows me to understand this Wikipedia page in Japanese, not the other way around.

Of course, when learning a foreign language, there is no choice but to read or listen to a lot of various material in order to increase one’s language skills. But if you do only that, you may experience demotivation and lack of interest.

To re-boost your motivation, I suggest that you should choose something you really want to understand, something for which you have a great interest and, more importantly, something that exists only in Japanese. Do not concern yourself too much with level. Even if the material is far too complicated for your actual Japanese, it doesn’t matter. The idea is not to understand this material but to want to understand it. This desire will refuel your motivation. If you can, try to study this material. You will see that it won’t feel like studying at all, it will be a lot of fun. If it is really too difficult, try to recognize at least the words you know, and you will see that you can figure out some of the contents. Keep that material for later and in the meanwhile, think that you are studying to be able to understand it one day.

Confront yourself from time to time with material you choose for their contents only, not for their ability to teach you Japanese.

We could sum-up with this scheme:

study vs motivation

I am reading all kind of things in Japanese to improve my Japanese: this is the regular studying course.

It is only when I realize that I need to improve my Japanese in order to read things (I really want to read) in Japanese that I refuel my motivation.

To give an example, some days ago, I came across a radio program about air-raid on Japan at the end of World War II. I really wanted to listen to this documentary (which was, in fact, an interview) and I listened to it again and again until I was able to thoroughly understand what was said. It took me a lot of time and efforts but I really enjoyed it. For once, I wasn’t studying Japanese, I was using it. At the end, I was not able to understand everything, but I was more motivated than ever. If I study hard, next year, when Japan commemorates the end of the Pacific War, I may be able to understand radio programs without even think about it.

My actual motivation source is the novel「シャーロック・ホームズ対伊藤博文」by 松岡圭祐 that I received as a present some days ago. I would not have bought it myself since it is way too complicated for my level, but I am very glad I have it, even if I can’t read it now.

As far as I can tell, this novel tells the story of how Sherlock Holmes, during the three years of disappearance that followed the Reichenbach fall, went to Japan and met Ito Hirobumi. Together, they worked on the Otsu Incident. As I love the adventures of Sherlock Holmes and am interested in Japan modern history, I can’t wait to read this book! At first, I was shocked by the idea that Sherlock Holmes went to Japan and met Ito Hirobumi, but now I am just very impatient to know what will happen. This is really a novel I want to read for the story it tells, not to improve my Japanese. Unfortunately, I tried to read the first chapter and I am overwhelmed with unknown words. But as I said earlier, the desire to read this book is more important – in terms of motivation – than actually reading it. I put the book on my Japanese shelf and every time I spot its cover I am motivated to learn more and more words to make my way through reading fluency. I know that some day, I will pick up this novel and realize that I am actually able to read it!