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

motivation - ups and downs 1

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.

motivation - ups and downs 5

Why do I learn Japanese?

motivation - ups and downs 3

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.

motivation - ups and downs 2

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

motivation - ups and downs 6