Feeling stuck or stagnant in your language journey? Here are 5 questions to ask yourself to overcome a plateau at any level.
- Do I have high quality resources?
Whether your resource is a book, a website, or even a tutor/class, it is important that it is of quality.
An example of a poor-quality resource that I’ve encountered was a Japanese language class that I took in college. Despite there being a Japanese native-speaker as the professor and an excellent textbook (Genki) as the “entrée” source of information, the execution of the course and lack of effective supplementary material reduced the quality of the class to nearly zero. Many of the students left the semester with minimal kana recognition, minor vocabulary retention, and poor native or slow-paced listening skills.
If you’re stuck, it might be because the resources that you’re using are lacking in quality. The good news is that this is a fixable issue. Even in the example that I gave above, the quality of the resource could be enhanced by introducing additional supplementary resources to one’s study regimen. (i.e. students using flashcards or YouTube videos to memorize or deepen one’s understanding of learned materials.)
- Do I have a solid study plan or sense of direction?
One of the most common questions that I see and receive from people who want to learn Japanese is “where do I start?” Alternatively, intermediate and advanced learners get stuck in the web of “where am I going?”
This common dilemma occurs when you’re learning Japanese in an unorganized manner. The solution is to follow along with an existing resource; a textbook, online course, etc. You simply need a path to follow, even if you are already familiar with some of the content. This will allow you to do what I refer to as “building momentum” in my book.
- Am I moving at a reasonable pace?
First, what are your current language goals? Second, what is the timeframe that you’ve put on these goals?
The solution is to break your goals down into smaller, time-bound goals. This allows you to create a realistic and effective timeline/workload. In my book, I walk you through the steps to doing this using the S.M.A.R.T. goal setting method .
The idea is to not overload yourself, or conversely, not spend too much time on one concept/one-set of information. These burn up a considerable amount of study momentum and lengthen the amount of time that you’ll take to reach your goals.
Also, your pace should be based on your needs. So don’t compare your pace to others or take on more work because someone else did. What worked for them may not work for you.
- How am I checking my progress and periodically reviewing?
A frustrating component to growth in any realm is progress tracking. This habit holds you accountable and forces you to be aware of the times and ways in which you are slacking. But despite the painful reality of doing so, you should be tracking your progress in some way. If you are stuck and have 0 ideas about why, it’s likely that you don’t have a system to measure your progress/highlight your shortcomings.
Also, you should periodically review relevant previous materials. This enhances your mind’s ability to store it in your long-term memory. Not doing so makes it more difficult to practice what you’ve learned, which then makes it even harder to remember.
- How often am I using what I’ve learned?
As I mentioned above, not practicing takes you further from long-term retention. You don’t have to practice every day, but at least once per week. You should practice the things you’ve studied in a combined effort, to save time and maximize your results.
There are a plethora of ways to practice. My personal favorite is the Genki textbook strategy, which is basically a lot of repetition, using grammar and vocabulary. My second favorite is creating summaries or “cheat sheets”. You can also practice by speaking with a language partner, writing social media posts, and even by teaching what you learned.
I wish you luck in your journey! Remember, learning Japanese is a marathon, not a sprint, if you want to truly remember and deeply connect with the language. Baby steps will take you far!