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I've been studying Japanese since about January using the Genki second edition workbook and textbook. I try to get in an hour session each day but I have been a little on and off with it; I think its a bit difficult in general to stay motivated when self studying. I've finished 3 or 4 chapters by now and have began learning kanji.

My issue is, I feel like I'm not retaining as much as I should be after each lesson. I think its mostly the raw vocab, as I can usually remember the grammar principles and sentence building pretty well as well as the base kanji to some extent. I find that I just can't seem to pull a certain word/phrase from my head once I hit around the half-way point of a chapter, especially for "list/series" type of vocab such as months, numbers etc.

For reference, let me give a quick overview of how I learn a chapter. The first couple days I write the vocab on note cards and try to learn/retain as much of it as I can. Usually there are a few terms per card with the kana on one side and the English definition on the other. I usually learn around 10 or so at a time by trying to recall them and writing them down. Then I move through the rest of the chapter questions. After that, I go to the reading section and learn the kanji in a similar way to the vocab, completing the exercises to drill it. Finally, I do the workbook section, trying to use the new kanji as much as I can to reinforce it. As far as immersion, I listen to Japanese music quite regularly and watch subbed anime movies from time to time. I don't think I'll be able to make consistent contact with a native speaker anytime soon, but I'm open to other ideas if anyone has them.

I do feel in general that I am enjoying learning the language and somewhat making progress. I can even sometimes form very basic conversations in my head and recognize a few words here in there from anime, packaging, etc. I am approaching chapter five of Genki I now and I just feel like at this point I should be feeling a little more complicated. Maybe it is just a consistency issue, as I often find myself missing a few days of study here in there. Is this normal when first starting out, or could there be something wrong with my learning process? Or is it just a matter of being more consistent? Has anyone had a similar experience and gotten out of it?

EDIT: So after a few days of on and of study, I feel like I've better pinpointed this issue. Its really the fact, I think, that either I am learning very slowly or creating an illusion in my head that I'm studying way less than I actually am (telling my self that I'm studying more often and being more focused than I actually am). I think maybe it really is a consistency issue, but the issue is, I feel like because I feel like I'm learning so little, its hard to stay motivated to study often. I'm guessing my study methods are fine based on these answers, but I feel like once I've gotten to the next section I've forgotten the others. I've gotten through chapters, yes, but come to think of it, it has taken me over a month to complete each. I really want to continue studying Japanese, and I love the feeling I get when I actually have a productive session. Maybe, if I try really hard to study EVERY DAY for 2 or 3 weeks I'll see results. Or, is there still a problem with my methods or mindset? Please indicate if I need to add more info.

While both the answers to this question were great I'm hoping to get some updated answers based on the recent edit.

Thanks in advance.

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    Are you doing review work of previous chapters or only studying new material? – Hatchet Jul 28 at 11:27
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    I feel like Genki does a pretty good job upon building upon itself, so I guess I haven't given that much thought. I do go back and review things if I've forgotten something. – NeonKraken Jul 28 at 12:58
  • The best thing you can do is seek out lots of authentic input. By that, I mean, watch Japanese-language shows online with Japanese subtitles. Invest in manga books with furigana (kana provided over the kanji). Don't worry if you don't understand most of it and don't get caught up looking up every unfamiliar word. Just be mindful of the few words you do recognize and their contexts. As you get more proficient, reread and rewatch them. Also, if you live near a big city, patronize shops, restaurants and churches that serve the Japanese-speaking community. – K Man Jul 29 at 23:10
  • Thanks! I'm really into manga but I only have English volumes of My Hero Academia and Fullmetal Alchemist (though sometimes there is Japanese on signs, packaging, etc.) Is there any manga you would recccemend that's easy to read in Japanese (and when would I go about starting that)? As I'm more of a manga person, usually I only watch anime movies, but I make sure to turn the subs on rather than dubs. Are there any interesting YouTube podcasts that I could watch in Japanese that have short episodes (less than 10 minutes)? – NeonKraken Jul 29 at 23:16
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I took a semester of Japanese in college and we did use the infamous Genki textbook. I would recommend taking your time to learn each chapter's content in depth. If the exercises are not sufficient, do a Google search of each Kanji to learn the vocabulary in context. Find an online language partner to practice the dialogs and questions with and try to make up your own. Find Japanese-language dramas on YouTube and listen for vocabulary you have already learned. In short, make the Japanese-speaking world your textbook; Genki should just be a jumping-off point to guide your studies.

  • Thanks, great info! I do listen to Japanese music pretty regularly so hopefully that helps with immersion. Would you say what I am going through is normal? Do I just need to be more consistent or do you see any errors with my study routine? Thanks. – NeonKraken Jul 28 at 15:25
  • Listing to Japanese music is a good idea. Also try karaoke if you get the chance. – K Man Jul 29 at 22:29
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To add on to the answer already posted by K Man, Genki is a good jumping-off point to guide your studies. I would recommend learning just about everything that the first and second books have to offer. Especially while you're just getting the hang of things, I would recommend you find a native Japanese teacher or at least speaker to help you along if at all possible. Before you're done with the Genki series, you're definitely not at a point where you are able to tell whether the Japanese you produce is correct.

Here is how I would detail your study practices:

  • Vocab. Each Genki chapter doesn't contain so much vocab that you shouldn't be able to learn it in one or two days. Make sure you don't just learn the vocab in a vacuum, though: make sure you understand the usage by looking at the dialogs and example sentences. Keep all the flashcards you make and review them regularly until you know a word inside and outside, forwards and backwards.
  • Kanji. Get used to them quickly, because Japanese in real life isn't just kana. It is really hard and annoying at first. I recommend learning kanji in conjunction with at least two words that use each. For example, if you're learning 参, learn 参る and 参加 while you're at it. Absolutely, every single one of the kanji in the Genki series you should know how to write in the correct stroke order.
  • Songs. There are a lot of ways this could go right, and a lot of ways it could go wrong. As with English songs, Japanese songs don't exactly follow the same rules that everyday conversation does. You'll encounter unique vocabulary, improper grammar, and phrases like 口が裂けても言えない, where the meaning may not be immediately clear. Basically, if you don't understand something in a song, be quick to move on and forget about it.
  • Exercises. Always do these last. You're a beginner, learning on your own, and you need to know what correct Japanese looks like before you can produce your own. In the case of Genki, the dialogs are fairly short and simple. My recommendation? Memorize them. The books come with audio CD's anyways. Listen to them maybe 3-5 times, then try to speak along with the recordings. This will help you gain a semblance of a feeling for what correct Japanese is like.

When I did the Genki series, I also found the counters pretty intimidating. Don't sweat it. You'll get used to it. It's not as bad as it looks.

As far as self-study consistency and motivation goes, don't worry about missing a day. That time is gone. Worry about studying now. You may feel like you're never going to be good enough at Japanese. Unfortunately, that feeling may not go away. Instead, focus on learning what's in front of you. Once you finish the Genki series, believe it or not, you should be able to pass the JLPT N5 test, no problem. That is significant progress, and a goal to work towards.

Biggest takeaway: Find a native speaker. This could be over some sort of internet language exchange platform, on Reddit, on Discord (there are lots of Japanese language learning Discord servers out there), through your university or school, via some sort of meetup, or at a Japanese cultural festival, if you can find one near you. Express interest in them and their culture. Don't be shy, because you'll be making embarrassing mistakes in front of this person if you become language partners. You'll be making lots of embarrassing mistakes.

  • Thank you so much, this is extremely helpful! I'll agree, I still struggle with numbers even though they were first introduced a couple of chapters ago. For vocabulary like the numbers that I constantly trip up on, should I devote a few minutes each session to reviewing those even if it was from a few chapters ago? – NeonKraken Jul 29 at 13:12
  • Also, you mentioned really making sure you learn the vocab and even the dialogue well. How long would you say learning the dialogue and vocab should take? My method for learning vocab is trying to recall the English definition from the kana/kanji by saying/writing it down and then trying to recall the Japanese from the English. My notecards usually consist of a list of the Japanese vocab on the front with the corresponding English definition on the back. Is this okay? I haven't really tried Anki/Other digital memorization mostly because I don't want to stare at the screen too long.Thanks again – NeonKraken Jul 29 at 13:18
  • Keep reviewing even your old flashcards. If you're struggling, for example, on the pronunciation of 一日 et al., yes, review them regularly, but not obsessively. Really, it depends on the person. How long should learning the dialogue and vocab take? Again, it depends. I would listen to the vocab and dialogue audio tracks on repeat just as background noise when I walked to class. Your other questions may be answered here: languagelearning.stackexchange.com/q/37/85 – Hatchet Jul 29 at 13:41
  • Thanks! I have a couple more follow up questions. Again, I know it varies from person to person, but about how long should each chapter take? Also, are there any more immersion options that we didn't already cover; I don't think I'll be able to make regular contact with a native speaker anytime soon. – NeonKraken Jul 29 at 15:00
  • With one hour a day, maybe two weeks per chapter max. Unfortunately it's been a while since I did those textbooks so I don't remember the contents or difficulty very well. I would say err on the side of spending too much time, but don't overdo it. Other immersion options: I don't know your situation, who you are, where you live, etc., so I can't give you better advice than: If you have the means of transportation, check community events, clubs, tandems, or classes. Any decently large college probably has a Japanese learning program. Otherwise, you can find something on the Internet. – Hatchet Jul 30 at 4:37

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