Learning Japanese with an Introverted or Shy Personality

When looking at your personality in terms of whether you are extroverted vs. introverted, it is tempting to think that extroverted people have the advantage for learning Japanese as they are less inhibited to talk and put themselves out there. However, if you are introverted, you may feel that your more shy and reserved personally will forever hamper your progress. Fortunately, this is not the case.

It is entirely possible to learn Japanese with an introverted or shy personality. Both introverted and extroverted personality types have advantages and disadvantages in different aspects of language learning. Success for either type is enabled by an appropriate learning situation for that type.

Quite a bit of research has been done on how a learner’s personality might affect their language learning success. It’s interesting to note that the extroversion–introversion dimension has been the most researched personality aspect in language studies. It is a very important dimension as being extroverted vs. introverted determines where you prefer to focus your attention and get your energy [1].

Definition of an Extrovert

Extroverts are more interested in what is happening around them than in their own thoughts and emotions. They seek stimulation outside themselves [2] because they get their energy from the outer world of people and activity [1].

Definition of an Introvert

Introverts are more interested in their own thoughts and feelings than in things outside themselves, and are often shy and unwilling to speak or join in activities with others. They do not need extra stimulation because they have sufficient internal stimulation [2]. They get their energy from: their inner world of ideas and experiences [1].

It is true that extroverts are more likely to seek out interaction with others and actually practice speaking Japanese. They are not shy. In a classroom setting they will participate more and in a group setting they will be more willing to speak freely, ask questions and share their experience. Extroverts need speak and express themselves or they can’t get energized, a predisposition which lends itself well to lots of speaking practice. But a lot of speaking isn’t everything when it comes to learning a language.

Advantages of Introverts for Language Learning

Second Language Acquisition involves many learning tasks and processes which go beyond learning-by-doing or talking-to-learn, and these aspects of learning would seem to relate more easily to the introvert.

Zoltan Dornyei

Learning Japanese involves a hefty study component such as studying grammar rules, learning kanji and analyzing written content. Introverts tend to be more conscientious and have better study habits. They excel in the more quiet aspects of language learning which are taking in input, and acquiring and consolidating knowledge. Overall, they will have a better academic knowledge of the language and will perform better on a standardized test such as the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT).

Input is a critical aspect of language learning as it lays the foundation for future output. Input involves a lot of reading and listening. Introverts naturally gravitate towards these activities and excel in them. In terms of output, although speaking is not their forte, introverts can excel in writing as it is a more controlled activity that affords more time for reflection and does not have the same level of pressure as speaking.

Accuracy is another advantage for introverts. When they do speak, they will speak more accurately with a focus on using correct grammar. They will speak more formally and deliberately and avoid using colloquialisms [1]. But too much of a focus on accuracy is a double-edged sword as fear of making mistakes can rob you of valuable learning experiences which could ultimately accelerate your learning.  

Language Learning Challenges Faced by Introverts

Speaking tasks such as group conversations with strangers and formal interactions in the workplace are challenging for introverts because the pressure to perform is high. For extroverts, these situations provide them with an optimal level of stimulation, in which they thrive and perform well. But for introverts, these situations are too over-stimulating and their ability to perform is hampered.

When introverts feel performance pressure, even though they may have the linguistic knowledge to hold up their end of the interaction, it becomes very challenging for them to speak at the level they are capable of. They may find themselves hesitating, making mistakes, and only able to produce short sentences [1].

What is happening is they slide back to controlled serial processing, rather than automatic parallel processing, which overloads their working memory [1]. They divide their attention to two parts, task-related cognition and self-related cognition, [therefore] introverts need to spend more effort and time to work on verbal processing and memory retrieval [3].

So, as we can see, when you’re feeling pressure, it’s really hard to perform. You need to manage the conversation and the situational pressure at the same time. It’s not a nice experience, and it causes introverts to avoid doing two things which hurts their learning which are: engaging in speaking and taking risks. A key aspect of good language learners is their willingness to take risks [4].

Risk taking in the context of second language acquisition means you are not afraid to try to say something even if it might be a mistake. Extroverts are more willing to take these risks. And it’s important to take risks and make mistakes because as hinted at above, you can get feedback and correction, which makes mistakes valuable learning experiences.

On a personal note, as an introvert, I know I get nervous when talking to people. I don’t want to initiate the conversation. Even being alone with a taxi driver, or with a hairdresser I feel nervous. Maybe these people are like me and just want to focus on their tasks. On the other hand, maybe they would be happy to talk if someone took the initiative.

How to Succeed as an Introverted Learner

As we saw above, introverts and extroverts both have their advantages and disadvantages for learning Japanese. In fact, in a review of 20 research papers seeking to determine which type correlated to more successful language learning, the results were totally mixed, 10 had no correlation, 6 favored extroverts and 4 favored introverts [5].

In the end though, it’s not that one is better than the other, its the learning situation that will allow either one of the personality types to flourish. This quote says it well: it is not difficult to think of certain types of learning situations in which an outgoing and sociable person would excel and some other contexts which would favor his/her more quiet and sober counterparts [1].

The learning situation which allows introverts to excel is input-based learning with allowance for a silent period. Input-based learning focuses on listening and reading skills and a silent period just means that learners are not forced to try to produce the target language for a certain period while they are learning and consolidating new information.

This type of situation lends itself really well to introverts because it completely takes off the pressure and lets them learn in a way that is most suited to them. This learning situation was tested at the University of Kansas and it was found that while both introverted and extroverted learners benefited, introverted learners excelled the most [5].

Overall language improvement of introverts and extroverts over one year with Input-based learning [5].

As mentioned above, input is critical for language learning regardless of your personality. According to Stephen Krashen’s popular Input Hypothesis, understanding spoken and written language [in the form of comprehensible input] is seen as the only mechanism that results in the increase of underlying linguistic competence. So, if you’re an introvert, take a load off and feel free to focus on input!

But if you’re an extrovert, too heavy a focus on input only may bore you and hold you back. If you are looking for a class, before enrolling, ask what the teaching style is, if it is heavily participation based, then it will be to your advantage. And there are many other great places to practice speaking and interact with native Japanese speakers, which I have written about here.

For introverts, you do still need speaking practice, you just need a safe and low-pressure place to do it. An ideal place is italki. You can pick a teacher you want to work with and practice speaking privately. Making mistakes is totally fine, you will receive the feedback and correction you need to get better. I have written about the benefits of italki here. For writing practice, where you can get anonymous correction from native speakers, an ideal place to go is LangCorrect which I have written about here.


[1] Dornyei, Zoltan. (2005). The Psychology of the Language Learner Individual Differences in Second Language Acquisition. Routledge.

[2] Myers, I. (2003). MBTI manual: a guide to the development and use of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (3rd ed.). Mountain View, California: CPP. (Cited in Altunel 2015).

[3] Eysenck, M. W. (1979). Anxiety, learning, and memory: A reconceptualization. Journal of research in personality, 13(4), 363-385. (Cited in Altunel 2015).

[4] Gass, Susan M., Selinker, Larry. (2008). Second Language Acquisition: An Introductory Course, Third Edition. Routledge.

[5] Altunel, Veysel (2015). The impact of extroversion and introversion on language learning in an input-based EFL setting. The University of Kansas.

Colten Dumonceau

My goal is to provide information that will help you learn Japanese as quickly and effectively as possible. I have spent more than ten years learning Japanese, mostly self-taught, from absolute beginner to an advanced level. I believe its possible to go much faster than I did. Please let me share with you the best learning strategies I have uncovered.

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