What I Needed to Hear as a New Language Student

From the perspective of just having finished my first year of community college learning Japanese

Teena Merlan
4 min readJul 14, 2022


Photo by Anthony Nielsen

When I first started on this journey to learning the Japanese language, I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I was super eager and impatient to just be fluent already, and I did everything I possibly could to race to that perceived finish line.

Welp, I’ve survived an academic year (3 quarters) of Japanese classes, and I have learned a lot of things about myself, my learning style, what it takes to successfully learn and study a language, and so much more.

Here are a few things I would have told myself when I first started my classes and this journey in general.

There’s no substitute for time

As much as I dreamed about a shortcut to learning, a la Rocko’s Modern Life, learning a new language simply takes time.

When I first began studying, I wanted to learn as much as possible as fast as possible. I researched tips and tricks for studying, bought several tools and books, and was generally in a big hurry to learn. But it simply doesn’t work that way. No amount of study hacks, tools, or anything else could help me learn as fast as I wanted.

Learning a new language is a long road, and time is a valuable part of the learning process. If I had accepted that sooner, I would have saved a bunch of money and frustration.

Start with small habits and build on them

When I first started studying, I studied as much as I felt like. Turns out “as much as I felt like” for an obsessive person like me meant hours every day. But because the brain can only take so much, only a small portion of that time was actually productive.

What I found most effective were the little things I did each day that helped. Using a vocabulary app a few minutes every day, tutoring once per week. Consistency is not only the most important of studying, but it’s also more sustainable when…



Teena Merlan

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