I'm trying to learn Japanese, and I know quite a bit already (I used rtk to learn the meaning/ stroke order or about 2200 kanji, know over 1700 vocab, listen and watch a lot of videos constantly everyday for fun, read to get used to it and listen to not-too-difficult audio on repeat to let my brain catch things without help from a script.)

Technically I've been studying for almost 2 years, but I spend the first year basically solely on kanji, so actually I've really been studying for about 9 months now.

However I feel like my progress and ability are still really lacking. I know I shouldn't expect to be at an expert level within the first couple of years or anything but it still feels like I'm barely N5 (the lowest level).

I tried doing an N5 test online (listening and reading) and I kinda sucked. I really am not sure in my study techniques, and I'm even more anxious because I'm not outputting (speaking and writing). The former because there's really nowhere private in my house to actually properly practice (especially connected to internet), and my family would make fun of me if I did it out in the open. I also don't have anyone to converse with, and I can't really talk to tutors. The latter is again because of the no tutor thing so I can't get my writing corrected, and I have this fear that if I send my text on any forum (lang-8, discord, HiNative, etc) it won't get corrected and I'll be sitting there feeling worried that my writing isn't correct and I won't be able to move on until someone corrects me. There's also the fact that my writing can get so bad that I don't understand the corrections people make, and don't know how to properly apply them. It also happened often that I ask a lot of questions and try to ask them "so how about this, or like this?" to the point where they eventually just stop replying. So I'm left again anxious about this writing I did that's wrong and nobody is around to fix it, and once again, I can't move on from it.

I only feel like I make real progress when I output and get corrected, or solve questions, because when I read I only barely get what the text is trying to say, and trying to break down the text word by word until I understand the ins and outs of everything genuinely takes me hours for a short piece of text, usually extending into several days so I can search all the grammar, ask questions if I need to, make sure I understand everything, etc. So once I finish one text I end up procrastinating starting another one because the process is so exhausting.

But I feel like extensive reading isn't doing me much either.

I now search up a grammar point when I encounter it, try to understand its usage in that specific context, then move on when I'm extensively reading, because the other option is me obsessively reading everything about the grammar I can, writing it all down until I can get it down pat, only for me to forget all the details like two days later because my memory sucks. So I just look it up quickly, read, then rinse and repeat, even for the same grammar point again and again if I have to, only writing down an explanation when I feel like I really need to let it sink in or I find a useful tip/ explanation.

But that "quick search" technique still makes me feel like I'm barely doing any grammar progress. Especially since I'm not writing any sentences using the grammar I'm learning, since that would result in me posting the sentence somewhere to be corrected, then being anxious that nobody will reply, and if they do I'll probably have questions, then once again I'll have to write another sentence to confirm that what I did is correct, then send it again, rinse and repeat.

So even though I'm interacting with the language a lot, trying to listen a lot, watching a lot of videos, trying to watch grammar videos, using Anki to learn vocab, etc etc. It still feels like after all these months I'm still barely qualified to call myself N5. Especially after trying those tests and struggling so much. I get confused and caught up in things so easily, and when I read without doing intensive research it constantly feels (and usually is the case) that I'll completely misunderstand a sentence. I study every day, searching grammar, watching grammar videos, reading and trying really piece in my mind what something means, listening to songs with Japanese lyrics on screen constantly and trying to understand the lyrics, trying to listen to songs without reading to the lyrics, then writing down what I hear and trying to understand each line, reading posts about grammar questions people have, trying out new resources, reading from different places, repetitive listening, etc etc. but it all feels null, like I'm working all the time, constantly in study mode, but not conjuring up anything.

I felt like I post something like this somewhere every other month, but I never feel like I improve, even though I tweaked and changed my studying so many times.

Any help please?

  • What is outputting? Speaking?? Maybe NOT doing grammar and just practice repeating what you hear EVEN IF you don't get every word. It's repetition over time that brings improvement, not watching grammar videos. :) Find some graded dialogues (that get progressively harder) and do those. Gradual and progressive are the watchwords for learning a new language.
    – Lambie
    Commented Feb 17, 2023 at 16:29

2 Answers 2


Though I am not a Japanese learner, I found that creating imaginary characters helped me overcome the problem that I am a solo-learner. I did this by printing various portraits of people with different expressions (happy, sad, angry, etc.) and people with different genders and ages.

For example, in the language I am learning, both verbs and nouns change based if I am talking to a male or a female as well as plural/singular. I look at a picture(s) and talk to that picture(s) as if it is a real person. Instead of doing flashcards and just repeating the translation, I use the vocabulary word in a sentence while looking at the various portraits. Changing gender, singular/plural and tenses.

Using the vocabulary word in sentences cements the meaning of the word in my brain in a way that just providing the translation does not.

Additionally, I do the following:

  1. I watch Arthur & other cartoons re-dubbed in the language I am learning. I downloaded them from YouTube. The slapstick comedy style of most cartoons helps to put context in what I am hearing. Additionally, I am hearing the correct pronunciation by a native speaker. Another helpful thing is that, at least in the language I am learning, there is closed captioning the language as well. This makes looking up words easy.
  2. I read children's books in the language I am learning. Dr. Seuss books are especially valuable because the books intentionally limit the vocabulary and the style of writing is highly repetitive.
  3. I do not limit myself to 1 grammar book. I use the indexes in the back of the grammar books to look up a new concept. I make a point to read and do the exercises for a particular grammar concept in 7 different books so I end up reviewing the concept in a different way daily. I have found this far less boring that re-reading the concept in 1 grammar book over & over again to memorize it. Additionally, learning the concept from various teachers/perspectives helps cement it in my brain. I have 1 book that I use as my main/first book and do a chapter in that book on Monday. The rest of the week is reviewing in other grammars.
  4. I review grammar concepts by "teaching" them to a teddy bear. I explain to the bear in great detail the concept. I do not move on to the next concept until I am comfortable teaching the concept.
  5. As I am doing various chores throughout the house, etc., I talk to myself in the language I am learning. I state what I am doing or that I am hungry, etc. I live alone, so I can do this without too much embarrassment.
  6. I pretend to be proficient in the language. Not to others as in lying, but in my mind. I have found that pretending that I can only speak in the language I am learning both encourages me to be consistent in studying but also helps me cement the language in my brain by using it throughout the day.
  7. Don't worry about output being incorrect. Consider yourself a toddler speaking. Toddlers start out by pointing and saying one-word sentences and grow into fluency from there. Allow yourself to grow into the language instead of demanding perfection. If all you can do is point at the bed and say "bed" in the other language when you are sleepy, then do that. Use the language at whatever level you have obtained daily and as often as possible.

Hope this helps


I am not learning Japanese, but here are some general suggestions:

I highly recommend the Polygloss app for practicing short writing. It is particularly useful for people who are beyond the Duolingo stage but nowhere near fluent yet. And it's pure active learning.

Contrary to what you believe, research suggests you do not learn much from obtaining corrections. Of course, a teacher could spot some repeated errors and explain misunderstandings, but most errors students make are pretty random and disappear when the student gets more exposure to the target language. BTW, babies also stop making most errors without being corrected.

Here are some strategies often mentioned by polyglots:

  • When you walk around, imagine you're accompanied by a Japanese friend and you're talking to them.
  • Write your diary in Japanese.
  • For each new word or grammar point you encounter, write down your own sample sentence. Or rather three.
  • Use language exchange sites - find a Japanese person who is learning your native language and exchange lessons over the internet or "snail mail" (i.e. traditional postal service).

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.