Tactics

How Often Should You Study Japanese? Every Day and Here’s Why:

There are many questions that people ask when they want to learn Japanese. Should you learn kanji first? Should you use immersion? Do you need to live in Japan? Today I’m going to answer one question that often gets asked: How often should you study Japanese?

The obvious (and correct) answer is that you should study Japanese each and every single day.

But why?

Is it just because it sounds nice? Actually, no. There are some really profound reasons why people who study each day learn faster than people who don’t.

I think most people understand that learning Japanese takes time. Perhaps too much time for some people’s liking! But most people aren’t aware that you can actually reduce the overall time it takes to master the language when you’re involved with it day in, day out.

I’m going to go over a couple of the reasons why you should be learning Japanese each day. If learning Japanese isn’t already one of your daily habits, then this article will make you want it to be!

The Behavioral Reason Why – Daily Habits

“We first make our habits, and then our habits make us.
-John Dryden

Think about some of your daily habits. Some of the most common ones are:

  • Brushing your teeth
  • Taking a showing
  • Eating breakfast
  • Watching some TV

Some of the less common, but extremely beneficial habits some people have are:

  • Exercising
  • Meditating
  • Educational reading
  • Making dinner (as opposed to eating out)

So here’s the point I want to make when it comes to behaviors. Everybody is heading a certain direction in their life. Some people are headed towards becoming smarter, healthier, and happier. Others are headed towards becoming fatter, poorer, and more stressed out.

It is rarely any one event in our lives that causes us a major success or a major failure. But rather, it is the little things that we do each and every day that add up over time into something really good, or really bad.

The reasons why most people do anything in their day, is because that is what they are used to doing. That is their habitual way of living their life. Probably 95% of the things you do each day are the same things that you did yesterday, and the day before that.

So if you want to learn Japanese, you need to establish it as a daily habit so that you to it today, and tomorrow, and the day after that. This will guarantee that you succeed in learning Japanese given enough time. Let’s use learning kanji as an example.

Do you believe that you can learn five new kanji each day? That’s not all that much and would probably only take about 10-15 minutes each day.

I believe that anyone (you) can do this and that it’s not really that hard either. The only thing is that, it’s not really all that exciting either. Most people say they want to learn 10, 20, or even 50 kanji each day! But then they get overwhelmed and burnt out. The end result is that they quit completely.

The math says that if you only learned five kanji per day, you would learn 1,825 after one year. After two years you would know 3,650 which would allow you to read  anything and everything in Japanese!

In other words, a small daily practice builds up into an incredible powerful ability! This is how you harness the power of time. You do something small, every single day, and then eventually you reap a huge reward!

The Neurological Reason Why – Your Memory

“After three sleep cycles, consider a memory gone if you haven’t recalled it.”
-Michael Campbell

Your brain is designed to forget stuff.

You take in an incredible amount of information through your senses as you go about your life. These sights, sounds, smells and so on are all taken in and examined. Then when you sleep, your brain goes over the information from that day and organizes it if it’s important, or throws it away if it’s not.

You can probably remember what your family member said to you that hurt your feelings 5 years ago, but not the food you ate on that same day.

Your brain gets rid of the unimportant details so that it doesn’t go insane with information overload. Imagine if you could never forget anything! There have been rare cases of people who are like this, but in general humans are designed to forget.

This is a problem when you’re trying to learn Japanese! You need to remember the information so that you don’t have to keep reviewing it every time you come across it.

Thankfully there are a lot of techniques that you can use to make new words and phrases more memorable, more important, and therefore easier to remember. But the one I want to impress upon you today, is the use of daily study.

So you learn a new word or phrase, and then you put it into a system for review (such as Anki) so that you see it the next day and retain the new memory. You want to review it most often, right after you’ve learned it (1-sleep cycle later), but once it’s in your long-term memory you won’t need to revisit it as often.

The Procedural Reason Why – Muscle Memory

“We don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.”
-Archilochus

Here’s the thing about language, it’s like shooting basketballs.

You can read all you want ABOUT shooting baskets (and language) but that can only take you a little bit of the way to mastery. At some point you have to actually get your body involved and do something!

But you can’t just speak and read Japanese all day, at some point you’re going to become fatigued and have to stop to rest. That’s where sleep comes into play.

Your body and your brain need to take some time away from consciously learning and using Japanese so that they can “heal up” so to speak.

But then you come right back to it the next day. And the next, and so on. What this does is it takes the Japanese that you’ve been practicing from an active, conscious skill and it turns it into an unconscious one.

I’m sure there are many things you do now without thinking about them. Things such as:

  • Drive your car
  • Watch TV and understand it 100%
  • Throw a ball around with a friend
  • Swim

All of these things were tough when you were in the process of learning them, but after lots of repetition they eventually became a part of you. Now you don’t have to think, you simple engage in the activity spontaneously. This is the point you want to eventually reach with Japanese.

If you want to be able to use Japanese at the speed of thought, and yet without having to think about it yourself, then you’re going to need to use the simple process I’ve been talking about. Here it is again:

  1. Learn & Use Japanese
  2. Rest at night
  3. Repeat the next day

The best and fastest results that you can get are going to be when you are involved with the language every day.

The Recreational Reason Why – Having Fun

“I turned my work into play, and I had fun every day.”
-Anonymous

Here’s the thing I’ve noticed about studying Japanese each and every day: You end up really enjoying it!

Most people know that you will naturally want to spend your time and energy doing the things that you already love and enjoy. But what most people don’t know, is that when you are working towards achieving something that is important to you, and you give it your all, you eventually come to a point where you have a lot of fun engaging in the process.

If you see your daily Japanese study time as a sacred part of your day, and you think about it in a positive frame of mind when you’re doing other things, then you actually turn learning Japanese into a fun event for yourself. It might sound weird to some people, but it can be more enjoyable to learn Japanese than watch TV.

Certainly there are additional modes of studying (with manga, video games, etc.) that you can utilize that are inherently more fun than going through a normal language course, but even you daily Reps in Anki can be a pleasant experience if you approach it the correct way.

Here’s what you have to realize, for the most part, people decide if they enjoy learning or not by the way they habitually think about it.

When you let yourself be amazed at how different (and similar) Japanese is to English, you begin to gain a level of appreciation for Japanese, and also a sense of excitement when you learn new words and grammar patterns.

When you feel a sense of pride and accomplishment at all that you’ve learned so far, it fills you with motivation to learn even more!

What I’m trying to say is this: Change the way you think about studying Japanese. Make it fun, something you look forward to. Then you will naturally want to study it every day, and then you will not only make more progress then you ever thought possible in a short amount of time, but you will enjoy every moment of it as well.

A Final Look at Daily Study

When you study Japanese each and every day, you will:

  • Make more progress with the language
  • Reduce the overall amount of time to mastery
  • Turn it into an unconscious skill
  • Change it from work into play

These are the incredible benefits that you receive when you engage in a ritualistic like habit of learning and using Japanese every day of the year.

These are the things that I’ve learned from listening to others on the subject, and also my own experiences and revelations added into the mix.

The two most important qualities that you can have as a person when learning Japanese are:

  1. A never give up attitude
  2. A daily-level consistency with learning

This article today has been all about that consistency baby!

Let this be your secret weapon when it comes to learning Japanese in all of its various forms. Without it, you are doomed to struggle. But with it, you will become unstoppable.

Share your thoughts below. I’d love to hear them!

6 Comments

  • Giedrius

    Hello Nick!

    Awesome post! To be honest, I am one of those people who are learning japanese through manga and anime (This is my closet hobby, don’t tell). I don’t really take it seriously and at first I did it only for my own enjoyment, but as I watched anime (with subtitles) and read manga everyday, I realized that I am gradually subconsciously growing to understand their language and culture.

    This one time, my friend, who is also an anime lover, sent me a website that is meant to practice japanese and there was a voice audio file with an introduction. Now one thing you should know is that I never consciously learned japanese, I only learned it by watching anime with subtitles and perhaps along the way I started associating some japanese words with the words I saw on the screen. Anyways, I listened to that audio file and to my surprise, although I never consciously learned japanese, I could understand that audio file by only listening to the voice. That file was merely an introduction of elementary level (stating your name, age etc…), but I have first-hand experience on how these daily habits pile up and can benefit you even subconsciously. Just image what I could have learned if I actively learned japanese along with watching anime daily! I could probably speak japanese by now!

    Anyways, this was a well-written, logical post and I highly recommend people to start doing this daily habit. Learning is important, but it shouldn’t turn into a job! You should take pleasure in learning new things and you know how they say, “Rome wasn’t built in a day”. Take it slow and you will definitely make it. Very good advice, Nick!

    • Nick Hoyt

      That’s pretty cool that you pick up a good amount of Japanese through watching lots of anime. I feel like the majority of people who want to learn Japanese are already big into anime, so it’s a really nice way to relax and have fun, and yet still be involved with Japanese somehow.

      There’s a lot of people who say that languages are actually learned unconsciously in your brain by receiving lots and lots of exposure to them, especially in different formats. It looks like you’ve experienced it first had though! 

  • jasonscott

    Awesome points in here Nick! I completely agree with you that the small, consistent steps we take each day are what lead to success, and I love the way you broke it down into numbers (5 kanji/day), as it clearly illustrates how attainable this goal is!

    I remember hearing Tim Ferriss discuss the way IBM sales reps crushed the competition each quarter because the company had set the quota so low that the reps weren’t afraid to pick up the phone and make calls. They’d see that they had already met the (intentionally low) quota, and so they’d be motivated by this success and sell even more. You’re exactly right that the same tactic can work with language learning-don’t set an overwhelming goal, or you’ll never practice consistently!

    Have you ever read or listened to any of his material? As you are both Japanese learners/speakers, I bet you’d find it incredibly interesting.

    Thanks for the great information!
    – Jason

    • Nick Hoyt

      Oh yeah, I’ve been reading some of his stuff for a while now, and picked up a few Japanese learning techniques as well!

      I always thought he had a unique approach to learning since he looks for the minimum amount of work that he can perform, and still get the maximum benefits from it.

      I admit that I hadn’t heard about that IBM quota tactic, but when I reflect upon it, it’s quite genius! Besides the excellent points you made yourself, I think there’s at least one more that’s worth mentioning: Momentum.

      Just like the law that states “A body in motion tends to stay in motion.” When a person starts a small study session, and then hits it with ease everyday, there’s a good chance that they’ll want to continue learning since they’re already engaged in the process.

      Thinking of it that way, you might intentionally set yourself a smaller study time (say 30 minutes) that you have to hit each day, but then schedule your day so that you don’t have anything to do right afterwards, so that when you’re feeling good it is an simple decision to keep learning more.

  • Jacqueline

    As someone who loves to learn languages, I found this post interesting.

    I can read Biblical and Modern Hebrew and speak in the latter.

    The principles you’ve mentioned:Learn & Use, Rest and
    Repeat the next day, really do work. When studying Hebrew, I did a little each day, then I rested and found that when I rested for longer periods when I saw written Hebrew I could make sense of it without even thinking about it. It becomes second nature.

    Japanese looks like a very interesting language to learn. I might look into this as I love the cartoons and the creativeness of the Japanese.

    What was difficult for me when studying Hebrew, was finding someone who I could converse with on a regular basis.

    What would you suggest I do to gain more experience in conversing in a language?

    Thanks

    • Nick Hoyt

      Yeah that’s a great question, there are a lot of different things that you can do in order to get in some more speaking time in a language you are learning. The most common nowadays is using the internet to connect with native speakers all over the world.

      There’s two ways you can do it. One is to pay a tutor to speak with in your language and have them help with any mistakes that you’ve made. The other way is to find someone who wants to practice your native language and you switch off with them, so that it’s free for both of you.

      Depending on the route you prefer to take, I would simply type in “online language partner/tutor” and then whichever language you are looking to learn from.

      Perhaps the most reputable website is http://www.italki.com

      But it actually doesn’t HAVE to be with a live person! If you use your imagination, you can do a couple things:

      -You can hold imaginary conversations in your head and speak both parts out loud.
      -You can listen to someone talking on TV, and then reply to them as if it were in person.
      -You can listen in on other people talking in your native language and try to translate what they’ve said into the target language you’re learning.

      My point is that, with a little creativity, you can practice conversations no matter where you are at.

      I hope those ideas help!

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