I live in Japan. I have lived here for over 3 years. I will continue to live here. This is where my life is. I live in a new apartment house. I work as a database programmer. When I came to Japan, I had no job and very low language skills.
Now I have a job and intermediate language skills. Today I read Steve's post which was a reply to a Japanese fellow. I had to look up 7 words.
It wasn't until last year that I finally got a job in a Japanese environment. So I have been working in a Japanese-only work environment for 17 months now. In the first few months I had to look up lots of words in email. Now, I usually look up one or two words per email. That does not mean that I know a lot of words now. It means that the words used are always the same ones.
I am better at Japanese than it feels like. I still feel quite inadequate and I am still reluctant to do anything in the language. The problem with learning Japanese is that the levels in the language vary quite widely. It's not easy to stay in the same level and work on it until it is mastered, and then go on to the next level. Basically, it's all real life and sometimes I am swimming and sometimes I am drowning. No wonder I am afraid to go in the water.
But I know I am progressing and I look forward to the time when I no longer find the Japanese language so challenging. At any point, I can compare my language skills to what they were a year ago and I know that I am much better than I was then. That is all that matters.