Humans are great at avoiding their weaknesses. It hurts to think about them, and our brains are wired to try and take the easiest route. It's your perseverance that prevents you from doing what's easy all the time, though. Because perseverance is a limited resource, you have to pick and choose what you spend it on to have the greatest effect. If you want to get better at Japanese, I hope that you spend it right here:
Contemplate on your Japanese for a few minutes. I want you to pinpoint your greatest weakness. What constantly holds you back? What trips you up? What kinds of things do you have to look up the most? What do you hate studying the most? The longer you've studied Japanese, the longer this contemplation will take and the more you'll have to consider. But in the end, I want you to come up with just one thing. The "worst" thing. If you were to rank your Japanese language weaknesses, this would be #1.
After you figure it out, it's time to come up with a plan that will turn your weakness into a strength. To do this, you have to drop everything else and focus solely on your weakness.
Think about the great professionals in the world. Baseball players, figure skaters, chess masters, computer programmers, etc. The reason they are great (and not just so-so, like everyone else) is primarily because they focused on their weaknesses. A figure skater isn't going to spend all their time focusing on what they're already good at. It'll make them feel good about themselves, sure. But they won't get any better that way. Instead, they're going to work on the spinny jump that gives them the most trouble. The one that causes them to fall the most. If they can improve this one aspect of their skating, their entire routine will improve.
It's the same for language learning (and everything else, actually!). The easiest example of this is kanji. It is many people's weak point. Say you're studying with a textbook, learning some Japanese grammar. You have to read the example sentences, and almost every time you come across a kanji, you have to look it up. Or, every time you come across a word that uses kanji (which is like, ALL THE TIME), you have to look it up.
When you have to look something up (that has nothing to do with the grammar you are studying), it will pull your focus away from what you're actually trying to study. When you get back to the grammar, you have to refocus again. Moments later, you repeat this routine and keep repeating it, over and over again. This is very taxing on your brain. It ticks you one step closer to stopping for the day. Your brain only gets so many complete focus changes like this per day before it needs to shut down and rest, which means you won't be able to study as long or as effectively.
But, imagine if kanji was one of your strong points. You would hardly need to look up kanji. You could study longer without needing rest. And, you could focus on the grammar, the actual thing you are learning.
The same is true for every other weak point as well.
Not all of you will be able to do this (because maybe you are studying in school). But at this point it's best to drop all other Japanese study and focus only on your weak point. If it's kanji, you would drop all grammar and only focus on learning more kanji, solidifying the kanji you know, and learning vocabulary that uses those kanji. You could, for example, decide to learn 200 kanji and 500 words (or just get to level 8ish on WaniKani) before coming back to your regular studies. When you do, you'll be amazed at how much of a relief it will be. Studying will become fun again! You'll progress much faster. Even though you take a step back in the short term, you'll now be able to get to fluency faster than before.
So, what is your Japanese weakness? What will you do about it? And how will it help you to progress in your Japanese language ability?
If you haven't yet, watch the video, and then get started right away. Turn your weakness into a strong point in your studies. In a month, let me know how it helped you improve your Japanese.
P.S. In case you're having trouble coming up with weaknesses, here's some that I see a lot:
- Verb/Adjective/Noun conjugations
- Transitive/Intransitive verbs (intermediate)
- Reading Japanese names (advanced)
- Gendered language (advanced)
- Formal Japanese (advanced)
- Just plain making sure you study a little bit every single day (habit forming)
- Japanese particles
- Hiragana reading speed
- Katakana reading speed
- Writing and/or stroke order
- Typing in Japanese
You'll know what your own weakness is, if you give it a think. If you don't know what your weakness is, chances are you just haven't been studying long enough. Be sure to come back to this concept in a few months.