Stagnation – The Ultimate Danger

One piece of advice I needed when I began studying Japanese was to look out for stagnation. Not only does stagnation limit your learning ability, it also can be demotivating and in the worst case can be what prevents an individual from learning Japanese to the fullest extent possible, or any other skill for that matter.

Preventing Stagnation

One of the causes of stagnation is the lack of clear and attainable goals. While S.M.A.R.T (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely) goals now common in various fields and workplaces around the world, the pioneering research is actually over 50 years old. Dr. Edwin Locke had published a paper titled “Toward a Theory of Task Motivation and Incentives” in 1968 examining the link between conscious goals and intentions and task performance. Previous studies had demonstrated that harder goals produce a higher level of performance than “easy” goals. They also showed that specific hard goals have higher performance outputs when compared to the “try your best” approach. As a result, goals are a necessary condition for incentives to affect behaviour (Locke, 1968). In our context, this would mean setting goals for learning Japanese language in a holistic way. Therefore goals should include vocabulary, time dedicated to reading, writing and speaking practice and a method of testing knowledge.

Create Time

For most of us, while we might be busy with life’s other responsibilities, it should also be mentioned we need to sit down to create a manageable schedule for achieving these goals. Yes life gets busy and a million other tasks get in the way of studying Japanese, however when we have an important job interview or meeting which we need to make at odd hours we usually make it work. Studying any language requires dedication as languages tend to be “use it or lose it”. Without sustained practice, we not only stagnate but we can also regress.

Team Efforts

Remember, you don’t have to go through this process alone. In traditional classroom based language courses there will be opportunities to form social groups with other students. Even in the “individual” context, there are a plethora of resources available for language learners to connect with each other. Goal setting, studying new material and the evaluation of content can all be done within virtual communities, much in the same way it is achieved in the traditional classroom.


The problem with stagnation is that it takes time to manifest itself. There is no moment in time which stagnation “occurs”. What we as learners observe is our own realization of the stagnation of our progress. By that time, we already have catching up to do to maintain our level of progress and advance forward in our studies.

Locke, E. A. (1968). Toward a theory of task motivation and incentives. Organizational behavior and human performance, 3(2), 157-189.

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