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My Add1 Story: Caitlin’s Intensive 90-Days of Japanese


Full disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. ?

I thought I had good study habits.

I’ve studied Japanese for some time. I took it in college, then continued to study it after I graduated. I studied most days and even met with Japanese language exchange partners.

But… I had stopped growing in my Japanese ability. I wasn’t sure why. I kept doing the same things every day, expecting new results.

So, when I signed up to take the Add1Challenge (now the Fluent in 3 Months Challenge) for Japanese, I expected to improve. But I didn’t realize the impact it would have. After all, I was already studying most days. How could it affect my studies that much?

Well, it did. And I was blown away!

What is the Add1Challenge?

The Add1Challenge is a community of passionate and like-minded language learners. Everyone has the same goal: A 15-minute conversation in their target language in 90 days! It includes mini-challenges, assignments, fun and light-hearted competition, and real-time support.

The accountability in the challenge helps push you to learn your language on a deeper level. The assignments and challenges make you think about your study habits. You analyze them in a way that helps you narrow down what works and what doesn’t. It forces you to focus on areas where you’re weak, or too nervous to try on your own — like speaking. The community is incredible and there’s always someone around to help you. They even answer questions and jump on a Skype calls to study or practice speaking with you.

In short, you’ll get over your fears and build successful study habits. And you'll maintain your motivation to actually start speaking and conversing.

My Add1Challenge Story: Starting at Day 0

For the Add1Challenge, I first had to record my Day 0 video. That meant speaking for up to two minutes in Japanese.

One thing I learned right away? It's easier to think up things to say in a natural conversation than it is on my own. But also that speaking in conversation helps me along. If I'm struggling with a word, my language partner steps in to help finish my sentence. That’s a natural thing to do in even our own native languages, but it does make speaking on your own more difficult.

Even though I was studying a little bit every day, it hadn’t been enough to maintain the progress I had made since taking the Japanese Language Proficiency Test last year. When life had become hectic this past spring, I had cut back my study time.It showed.

I found my Day 0 video embarrassing because I made so many little mistakes in a short 45-second video! I even called my son 娘 (musume, “daughter”) instead of 息子 (musuko, “son”). Ouch.

Right off the bat, I realized that despite practice and language exchanges, I was rusty. It was time to step up my game!

Challenges with Time Commitment & Finding My Joy in Learning

The biggest problem for me with the Add1Challenge was the time commitment. I had committed to 6 days a week, for at least 30 minutes each day. I had a difficult time working it into my day, and at first, it felt quite stressful. I wanted to learn, but I felt like I couldn’t make time on top of my many other commitments. I would often fit it in right before bed, barely managing to make my time commitment before I fell asleep.

But once it became habit to study every day, it didn’t feel like that anymore. I started to do it earlier in the evening or even in the afternoon, and I learned much better that way.

About halfway through the challenge, I started including my son in my daily practice. That helped me add a lot more study time, and it was fun for us both.

I also stopped watching Friends and Parks and Rec (my favorite veg-out shows) every day in my spare time, and found I loved Terrace House. Japanese became my outlet for “me time” again.

One of the people in my study group, Rodylyn (whom I interviewed about her Add1Challenge experience!), helped encourage me to find native resources that were fun and entertaining. A big part of my problem was that I had gotten bogged down in Anki flashcards. I had been studying Japanese like I was in school again, which can be boring. Once I started watching TV and reading in Japanese, I enjoyed it. I even discovered some amazing new Japanese music and busted out Pokemon Sapphire in Japanese!

I think this is a common problem. A lot of language learners plateau and don’t see results. We get caught up in the studying instead of the playing. Learning to enjoy Japanese was a slight mental shift, but one that had a huge impact.

Day 30 Showed My Hard Work was Paying Off

By Day 30, the improvement in my ability to speak off-the-cuff was pretty amazing. Taking it seriously again for only 30 days had already gotten me through my plateau. Immersing myself more in native Japanese resources had improved my natural speech!

I recorded one video right before Mother’s Day as practice:

https://youtu.be/oiB3m6f5tAg

Then on Day 30, I talked about the new workout routine I was doing:

I remembered to say musuko this time!

There are still errors, of course, but I spoke for much longer and more smoothly than in my Day 0 video. I was surprised that the Add1Challenge and the community had helped push me to that level so fast. Like I said in the beginning, I thought I already had good study habits. But talking with others and the assignments in the challenge showed me what I needed to work on. It made a big difference in just 30 days.

Working My New Grammar Into My Videos

Day 60 came around, and I pushed myself to use much more of the new vocab and grammar I had been learning. I still struggled to remember what I wanted to say how I wanted to say it. Even still, I could definitely communicate my thoughts more clearly. I more than doubled the length of my Day 30 video!

Right before the end of the challenge, we had a bonus assignment to do a tutorial video. Since I love makeup, I decided to try my first ever Get Ready With Me video (very popular among beauty bloggers) all in Japanese.

This was so challenging! Even though many makeup words are loan words from English, I realized I didn’t know certain body parts or verbs that went with it. Explaining how to “blend the foundation” or “apply to your crease” was difficult! It was even more difficult to explain it in my target language while also trying to actually show how to do it. It was a fantastic mental challenge, even if I feel I failed at doing it well. Now I know that I need to learn more words about topics I am passionate about, like makeup and fitness!

The Final Challenge: My Day 90 Video!

The Day 90 video for the Add1Challenge is a 15-minute conversation with a native speaker. My language exchange partner, Hisako, agreed to record the video with me. We usually meet on Saturdays for an hour and split the time between English and Japanese. But I was happy that we actually talked for a whole hour in Japanese. (I ended up cutting the video off halfway because we had talked for so long.)

Although I messed up the recording and misunderstood at a few points, I realized my mistakes afterward. I'm still proud of myself for how far I've come. I can communicate my thoughts so much better now!

How the Add1Challenge Works

The Add1Challenge worked for me because it motivated me to push past my comfort zone.

The community is so helpful, and offers tons of insight into study habits, resources, and language learning. I loved receiving encouragement and also sharing encouragement with others.

Chatting in my study group gave me ideas for new things to look at for learning. Ultimately, it's what helped me find a balance between studying and playing that worked well for me. I think the difference between my Day 0 and Day 90 speaks for itself.

The best thing about the challenge is that it gives you enough structure to benefit your learning. When you study in a classroom environment, you study for a grade and to pass. You’re not studying your specific language needs, because the pressure is on. You have to study the exact material for the test as fast as possible. It limits your freedom to focus on how you study best. Plus, the people in the class may not be motivated to speak the language. So you may not speak as much in your target language as you'd like if those around you aren’t willing to push themselves.

But that doesn't happen with the Add1Challenge. The assignments and mini-challenges are insanely helpful for figuring out what’s best for you. They're sometimes difficult, but they push you to learn new things in new ways. And yet, they never dictate what you have to learn. You can go about it in whatever way works for you.

Plus, you’re surrounded by people who are all there for only one purpose: to speak. Even if they weren’t learning Japanese, the goal was to push each other to speak our target languages. There was no time wasted — your goal is always the focus.

My Language Learning Skills are on FIRE

The Add1Challenge forced me to actively think about, analyze, and reanalyze my language learning tactics. Because of that, I was able to identify what works and what doesn’t. I learned, for instance, I can’t be lazy and only use flashcards. I don’t remember the words or kanji unless I see them repeated in content or I use them. So, I learned that any day I learn new vocabulary, I then need to get in reading practice. Paired together, I remember vocabulary and kanji so much better.

I also learned that watching TV is NOT a waste of time as long as I watch it without subtitles first. I learned so much slang and natural speech patterns that I didn’t know before from watching Terrace House, dramas, and YouTube videos.

Creating videos was helpful because I could realize my mistakes and work to fix them. I learned that to have an impact, my studying needed to work for me and 10 minutes a day wasn’t enough. I needed to actively think, “Today is vocab and reading, and tomorrow is listening comprehension and speaking.” And I learned to have balance in my studies so that it became more enjoyable.

Will I keep tweaking my study habits? You bet. As I grow, I know I’ll need to make adjustments. But I loved learning through the challenge so much, that I’m taking it again! This time, I’m taking Japanese as part of Add1Advance, which is more intense with weekly videos and new challenges.

Learning to Learn and Having Support Go a Long Way

Having the tips, tricks, and helpful knowledge to analyze my routine helped me break past my plateau. Having the support system and community to talk to for advice helped keep me motivated. And I accomplished my goal of speaking for over 15 minutes in only Japanese!

What do you think your biggest language learning challenges are? Let me know in the comments. And make sure to check out Add1Challenge.com to learn more about joining the Add1Challenge. Maybe I’ll see you in the next one!

author headshot

Caitlin Sacasas

Content Writer, Fluent in 3 Months

Caitlin is a content creator, fitness trainer, zero waster, language lover, and Star Wars nerd. She blogs about fitness and sustainability at Rebel Heart Beauty.

Speaks: English, Japanese, Korean, Spanish

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