I just came back after a break and feel lost. What do I do?
If you’re reading this, then it may have been a bit since you logged into NativShark. Maybe you were busy, didn’t have the brain space, or some life event happened, but now you’re ready to continue your Japanese proficiency journey.
Welcome back! We’re glad to see you not giving up on your goals.
All of us on the NativShark team have dealt with breaks before as well, and it’s part of the journey, so no worries. In fact I (Ty) still find myself doing this pretty often with Korean ^^;
When coming back to studying after a break, there are some specific common pain points that are helpful to know how to approach.
These include: review avalanches, dealing with having forgotten some (or a lot of) Japanese, and a general feeling of being lost or overwhelmed.
Don’t worry though, because these problems are thankfully easier to solve than you think, we just need the right strategy to get through them.
*We basically never recommend resetting your progress. We’ll go over that in this article, but there is more information in this article as well.
Step One: Fear no avalanche
When you logged into NativShark, you probably saw a big number for your reviews. Maybe it’s in the hundreds. If you’ve gotten really far or have been away for a while, it could be more.
While this can definitely be intimidating, we can get through this.
There are a few ways to deal with this. But first, let me introduce the most important tool you have to conquer this roadblock:
Spam the smiley face button on your flashcards.
Did you know it? Smiley face.
Did you barely remember it? Smiley face.
Did you not even look at the card and only listen to the audio? Smiley face.
Did you spend half a second and see nothing on the card? Smiley face.
Did you burn the okonomiyaki you just tried to make for the first time? Smiley face.
Did you forget literally everything on the card? Smiley face.
Always press the smiley face. You will see all of this Japanese again in reviews, new NativShark content, and in your exposure.
The smiley face is part of your DNA now. Always use it.
Why? Before I answer that, there’s something important we need to talk about:
Study strats: Wide not deep
Getting exposure to new Japanese is the most important step you can take to keep improving.
This goes hand in hand with not resetting your progress. It is almost always more valuable to see more Japanese in more contexts rather than trying to memorize something perfectly.
In other words, it’s better to be somewhat familiar with a wide variety of Japanese rather than trying to understand and memorize a small number of concepts on a deep level.
In fact, moving on and seeing more Japanese will cause you to understand what you may have been trying to memorize perfectly on a much deeper level than if you didn’t keep moving.
This means we have one goal when coming back after a break: Start learning new stuff as soon as possible and practical.
If we don’t do the above, especially if we take breaks, then we get stuck in what I like to call “The Beginner Loop”:
And learning a wider amount of Japanese, by picking up where we left off, means that we break free of it:
*If you’re considering resetting your progress, I would highly recommend you read this article.
Alright, so now we know why progressing is so important.
Now, here’s how we can quickly get back to progressing:
Option 1: Spam smiley face through your reviews
The number depends on the person, but if you have, say, 200 reviews, then it could be good to just spam the smiley face button through them and pay half attention to them as you go through.
It really doesn’t matter how much you remember here. You barely even have to pay attention. Personally, I like to take 1-3 days* depending on the amount, and only listen to the audio while vaguely paying attention.
*Whenever I have an avalanche, usually I get through 100 cards in around 5 minutes. I’m serious when I say you don’t need to pay full attention, haha. That’s about 3 seconds per flashcard. In other words, that’s about enough time to play one of the audio tracks before it’s time to move on.
If you’re at a computer, then it’ll be helpful to make sure of the space bar, which will hit the smiley face for you.
From there, you can hop right into doing new Units and keeping your progress up while slowly remembering the things that may have been forgotten.
Option 2: Avalanche recovery
If you have a really large number of flashcards*, you could also take the option to use Avalanche Recovery, which is a system designed to get you out of a review avalanche.
*When I say really large number, I mean probably over 500 or so. It definitely depends on the person but that should give you a rough idea of what I mean. It’s often easier to just clear out a few hundred flashcards by spamming the space bar on your computer than having them in your reviews for the next X days, depending on the amount.
In short, this system will spread out your cards to be reviewed according to the current review threshold you have set. So if you have your threshold set to 25, and have 100 cards to review, then you will have 4 days of 25 reviews instead.
Now here comes the trick: set your review threshold lower than what you want to study before you use this tool.
Once you use the avalanche tool, then you can increase your threshold so you can work on both getting through old flashcards, while still being able to progress and continue your studies.
An example of what this might look like:
I log in to 212 flashcards and my normal review threshold is 50.
1. I lower my review threshold to 25 (from 50).
2. I use the avalanche recovery tool.
3. I raise my review threshold back to 50.
4. I spam the smiley face through the reviews
5. I start a new Unit and keep progressing.
Of course, #5 is completely optional if you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed, but it really will come back much faster than you realize, I promise.
More information on the Avalanche recovery system can be found here.
We also have an article specifically about studying while avalanched here.
That was a lot of info. Sorry about that.
Again, in short, the best thing to do is 1. spam the smiley face through your flashcards and then 2. make progress. Any path you take with those goals in mind should get most of the legwork done!
And while we’re studying through all that, there’s another step that’s pretty important as well:
Step Two: Take a deep breath
Take a second and remember why you’re learning Japanese, and why you found your way back to studying.
Maybe it’s for fun, family, enjoying Japanese media, moving to Japan, a vacation, or any other reason.
Those are all good reasons to study, so keep them close to you! And perhaps more importantly, think about ways that you can incorporate them into your learning so it’s even more fun for you.
For me, since I really wanted to play Nintendo games in Japanese, this meant I would often spend hours just playing Pokemon, Fire Emblem, or whatever other games that I enjoyed, while learning the odd piece of vocab or grammar here and there.
And while it was definitely a lot of effort at times, it was a lot of fun too. Which is important because if it’s fun, you’ll want to continue studying.
And if we continue studying, no matter how much or little we do every day, then we’ll be succeeding with this next step:
Step Three: Keep going
Once you follow step two and find something that is fun and you enjoy, then stick with it and just keep pressing the Study Now button on NativShark as much as you can!
Personally, I’ve always found that NativShark is the most fun when experienced alongside a native material I’m interested in.
Essentially, I use NativShark as my core study resource, and then I go have fun by playing a Japanese video game, watching a TV show, reading a book, or anything else that interests me in Japanese.
Doing that is a good balance of getting a really strong core foundation to your functional Japanese ability, and then you can dive a bit deeper into the specific stuff you like.
And once you’re having fun, then you just keep doing that combined with the Study Now button on NativShark. And with that, your path to proficiency is paved, which means the only thing you need to do is show up as often as you can.
Good luck! Join the community if you have questions, there’s plenty of people who have experienced coming back from breaks in there that are willing to help out!