5 Steps To Stop Yourself From Quitting on a Bad Day (Japanese)

Today was one of those days where I literally felt the stress rise from my toes up to my brain. I skimmed through a book I printed quite some time ago, a self-organized word list of the first 5,000 high frequency words. I glanced at  a random page and felt frightened by the number of words I still didn’t know. This is impossible! (I said to myself) having gone through so much so far. I felt sour, like moldy ice cream long forgotten in an abandonded playground. I’m telling you, this isn’t a great feeling, and is probably the most disastrous feeling that will hit you during your language learning journey. However, make a note of this very important thing:

This feeling happens to EVERY language learner. At some point, regardless of your level, irregardless of how many words you’ve learned, how many hours you’ve put in, how much shadowing, training or conversation practice you’ve had, whether you use your own methods or others, you will see the “wall”. Man I saw it today. I saw the huge, looming wall of more and more words I had to learn, the seemingly endless stream that I need to unlock deeper and deeper ability.

Fortunately, there IS a way to counteract this feeling. When this feeling comes and boy when it comes it is bad. I am not talking about a day you feel “stressed”. I am not talking about a day you feel ” a lack of motivation”. I am talking about the absolute worst type of feeling, where you are filled with fear that you are failing, that all your efforts were wasted, and you have a mindless void of “endless words” “immersion” and an “unknown outcome” waiting for you. This is a real ‘do or die’ situation. This feeling is so bad that you could quite right on the spot, walk away from the language and never return.

How To Stop this Feeling Immediately

Firstly, this feeling has always come at a point of general life frustration. It usually isn’t just Japanese that is stressful, but other things are adding up, and the ‘stress’ of learning something that requires a bit of stress to learn, the brain will eventually try its best to reject. So I do 3 things very quickly.

  1. I ask myself “Am I actually in a bad place”? — the answer is no. I can watch Japanese movies often with or without subtitles, I am reading a novel presently and I am leagues beyond anywhere I have ever dreamed of going with Japanese.
  2. I ask myself “Have I recently gauged my progress”? — if the answer is no, that means i’m losing perspective because i’m just going and going. The human brain likes to work towards goals, to complete things within certain timelines, and generally dislikes repetition that feels “as if it is going no where”. So if i haven’t checked my goals, etc. The brain can fall into this bad place.
  3. I ask myself “Is what I don’t know crippling my progress?” – the answer is no, because if it was I wouldn’t be able to do any of what i’m doing now. In language, there is just always going to be a TON of words to learn. This means that even though I still have a ways to go, the words I don’t know (even though they are very common words, some quite low level), I rarely seem them in my reading material! Eventually, I’ll cover everything.
  4. I ask myself “Are you human?” to which I asnwer – yes. I have life, stresses, problems, personal issues, the works. Studying 100 words per day is not feasible consistently in a ‘real life’.
  5. I ask myself “Do you really want to stop” – the answer is no. I say to myself this is just a feeling, a bad one, but it will pass. I look at my progress, recheck my goals and then keep moving forward.


I checked.

JANUARY VOCAB WORDS – 559    PAGES READ OF NOVEL 95   HOURS OF IMMERSION 90+ SHADOWING 15+ HRS (measured @28mins a day) Anki reps 10-12,000

FEBRUARY WORDS (SO FAR) as of the 7th 2023


So in reality, in the first five weeks I’ve almost crossed ONE THOUSAND new words, plus keeping a pretty solid schedule of other mixed activities while doing literally thousands of spoken reps (via shadowing) and thousands of mental training reps with Anki. I was quite surprised when I looked on this from a “top down view”. Learning any language is not an easy undertaking, but as I keep saying in my essays, the NUMBER ONE HURDLE YOU WILL FACE IS YOU.

(before you ask  – I do shadowing usually on a daily walk that takes around 30 mins, or when i’m driving somewhere. So I can easily clock 25-30 mins while just running errands. For immersion i usually have things playing throughout the day when i’m working , so I’m hafl-watching, sometimes full watching, but I try to keep it relatively high, so on my iPad i’ll be playing Japanese dubbed shows like Star Trek all day, or i’ll just keep watching a playlist with “longer Youtube vids” from guys like Hikakin TV. Depending on the day, I can hit 6 hours without much effort, but on average I do about 3 hours a day if i’m not distracted. 3 per day equates to 90 a month (which is actually a bit low but hey, life) it just isn’t easy to be reading, learning words, immersing all at the same time. My craziest immersion month was probably 250+ hours. I will make a post on this another time.)

So that bad feeling I had today? My perception of “where I was”, was waaay off. What was off, in reality, was just my psychology.

Without a robust psychology, the perfect strategy, the perfect Anki deck, the perfect learning systems are useless if you don’t have the mental tools to continue. Sure you can probably put in a hardcore first 3 months, but can you do a consistent 6? 9? 12? 18? Can you keep working and trying to climb the mountain even when you know the top is so far away? I knew it would take me 3-4 months to work on the Kanji BEFORE I started words, meaning I would probably hit 6 or 7 months before I knew i’d have any real reading ability!


For me, I’ve made sure to get insanely better at gauging my own progress and not shutting myself down. I make sure to remind myself that I am human, that life has its own stresses and that Japanese is one of my few outlets that I do not see as a stress and should not become one. Everything takes time. Language requires building pillars that are heavy AF. Thousands of listening hours turns you into a listening monster, but you can’t “shortcut listening”. Vocabulary is pretty straightforward, but requires mental energy. Learning 50 words a day can take 2-3 hours of mental energy ON  TOP of regular life.

You can’t be a mindless Anki robot and have any fun. I started reading a novel because it was different, challenging and interesting. Sure I could have just dedicated to mindlessly studying 100 words a day in a complete void, but that could have been absolutely mentally disastrous. Discovering new words, and getting better and reading has been far more interesting than clocking Anki Reps (which I do everyday anyways).You see, in this process it is just me. Sitting somewhere for hours, learning words, training them, forgetting them, reading them, testing them, trial and error, over and over and over. Just me. I’m not winning any medals, i’m not getting any special recognition. No fans are waiting at my gate. None of us serious language learners get any recognition for this type of work. I call this “the crazy people obsession” because it requires so much fortitude. What do we do?  We must feed on the dreams of our victory. We must get excited with all of our major leaps. Remind yourself of were you actually are. Remind yourself of when you were frustrated because you couldn’t understand spoken Japanese at all! Remind yourself when you started day one, knowing NO WORDS and had to struggle reading simple sentences because you had zero vocab. Now you are ploughing through tweets, reading Netflix movie descriptions, writing the occasional text in Japanese and reading a goddamn novel! Wake up! Feeling stressed? dial it down a bit, but your efforts are not wasted, and you are no alone.

This is  a sport. Think of leveling up like qualifying for higher tier events. Novel reading, watching Youtube without looking things up, all take incredible work but only get as interesting as you make them. I’m rewatching all 7 seasons of Star Trek the Next Generation because I went through them early in the journey before I really had the vocab or listening ability to follow everything. I finished all 7 recently, and then just started playing it back, and now I have the benefit of watching it with far more understanding than before. Will I watch all Seven seasons again? Maybe not, probably just 3 or 4 but you get the point. This is ‘leveling up’ and it is interesting (to me). I’ve watched all of TNG, most of Deep Space Nine and a bunch of Voyager (among other series). I’m watching more Anime as well, reading along with the direct subs and seeing how well I can keep up. So far, I’ve recently watched Spirited Away, Naussica Valley of the Wind and i’m working through a few others. Remember, Japanese people have the benefit of an ENTIRE LIFETIME of building their various skills.

So it will get stressful because the more you level up, the more you want. The perceptual stress comes from the fact that the more you want, the more each area requires. You can’t read better without reading more books, articles, tweets, etc — which takes times —. You can’t speak better without speaking more  — takes times — you cant’ dive deeper into Japanese films and media without dedicating more time to them — time time time — so it really is a mental strategy after a while. You can’t do “everything at once”.

So my general goal now is within the first 6 months to cross the 10K word barrier. I’ve committed to being “word heavy” moving forward. Not sure if this is even possible ( look at what happened today!) but I will probably need a “word exclusive  month” where I’m literally barreling through 100+ a day just to cut down word matter. I estimate presently i’m somewhere around…. 5000+ words. Can’t measure it exactly, but currently a mixture of general and advanced vocabulary. It’s quite fascinating actually. I will effortlessly remember a word like 金融 きんゆう (circulation of money) and struggle sometimes with a word like 瞼 まぶた (eyelash). 

So i’ll figure it out. Either i’ll have to go word robot for a while, or do something like aim to read 10-15 novels in the next 6 months, which could probably take me to 10K naturally through word encounters via reading. Since reading about 120 pages of a 350 page novel gave me 800+ new words, it isn’t inconceivable to think that I will learn about 2000 (or more)  new words from this book alone!

Anyways, i’m rambling. To summarize: Block the mental breakdown before it happens, look at where you ARE versus where you WANT to be, or were you WERE and you will breathe a little easier. I’m very very far from zero in my journey, and based on wherever you are in your journey, i’m sure you are quite far from ‘zero’ as well.

God speed!



About marcusbird

Writer, Designer, Filmmaker
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