The Game-Changing Language Learning Advice That Eased the Pressure

Teena Merlan
4 min readSep 6, 2021
Photo by Anthony Nielsen of ようかい sculptures in Kyoto, Japan.

My first post about learning Japanese talked about how I switched schools to earn an associate’s degree in Japanese, but I don’t think I mentioned that the new school term starts a month later than the original one. I was excited to use the extra time to focus on what I need to improve the most: vocabulary.

Especially if I’m going to take the JLPT in a couple years, I’ll need to know thousands of vocabulary words, including kanji and conjugations, so I wanted to get started on that right away. But I was nervous because, while memorizing new words is technically straightforward, I found it difficult to learn and retain the meanings, even when I was learning new English words as a kid.

Hoping to find tips to help with this issue, I did a little research about learning new languages and stumbled on this 5 Weirdly Powerful Tips on Learning a New Language You Probably Never Thought Of article. It totally changed how I’m spending this month before class begins.

Instead of using the extra time to memorize vocabulary, I decided to simply:

In my article about watching Japanese Dubs on Netflix, I said I want to focus on content made for children because it would be easier to follow, but this article took my theory one step further. The author says that when we’re learning our native language as babies and children, we spend the first few years not talking — we’re focused purely on listening. That’s how we naturally learn our first language.

This simple fact shocked me. I’d never thought about it before, but it makes sense that the listening phase is the critical first step of learning a language. I thought I should know more vocabulary before I started watching TV in Japanese, but when I read this advice about listening, I realized I didn’t have to know everything.

I can listen at any level.

So I stopped worrying and started just watching.

Here’s what I’ve discovered after watching at least an hour of TV in Japanese each day for the last few weeks.

たのしいです。 (It’s fun.)

You’d think watching a TV show without understanding the dialogue would be frustrating, but it’s actually a super…

Teena Merlan

Expert in my lived experience. Truth teller. Self-changer. Lifelong learner. Explorer.