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Having Doubts about the Effectiveness of Immersion? — 18 Comments

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  1. Haha, wow! This has been an incredibly interesting discussion. I particularly liked your comment:

    “When you separate your Japanese from your English life, and allow yourself to be “done with your Japanese for the day”, it’s you making an unconscious statement to yourself that you are studying Japanese, but it is just that, something that you are studying. The concept of immersion is that you taking Japanese beyond studying, and making it part of your life.”

    I’m going to have to let a lot of this stew around in my brain for awhile, but thanks so much (as always) for the clear and level-headed delivery. And thanks so much to everyone for the responses.

    As always I’m looking forward to the next post!

  2. I think it’s not so much immersion listening specifically that’s important, but input. If you read a dictionary definition in your native language, you probably don’t feel like you really understand it until you’ve heard it used a few times–and you know plenty of words you didn’t encounter until adulthood but still never heard defined. It’s the same in any other language. Immersion listening is mainly just a great way to fit more input into the day than you would otherwise have time for.

    That said, I’m still not feeling like it’s going very well for me. When I’m reading Japanese I am able to figure out a few new words from context, but I haven’t had that experience yet with listening.

    But since it costs me nothing to listen to Japanese during the parts of my commute where reading and srsing aren’t options and while I’m reading the parts of the English web that I care about… I’ll just keep doing it until it does start doing noticable good. That may be after reading has boosted my level a little higher or it could be sooner–and I’ll be ready for it because I’ll already be listening.

    • Actually this is one of the things that I was hoping to bring up. The idea of fully immersing from the time you start makes you anticipate that you’ll be learning a lot of new words from context. But the reality is that the Input Hypothesis magic only happens at i+1 and when you don’t already have a large vocabulary, native materials definitely aren’t i+1.

      So my point in this case isn’t at all that you should stop immersing or that it’s not effective. My point is that you can’t expect to be absorbing many words naturally from immersion. You can really only expect to see this happen when you take matters into your own hands and do things like learn new words on the SRS (until reaching a higher level of comprehension). And this progression is compounded even further with immersion.

      • Yeah.

        The thing is that when I’m reading I can pick out the n+1 phrases from an n+3 text (3 being an arbitrary number signifying “I understand some things but not enough to follow the plot”) but I can’t do the same thing with n+3 audio. Anecdotaly, it seems like some people can. Do whatever works for you.

        I think we’re all in agreement that both SRS and input are important. I do feel like adding more sentences to Anki increases my ability more than increasing my input would, but I also feel like I have a deeper understanding of things that I’ve encountered in the input than I do of the things in the example sentences I’ve added while dictionary diving or from a grammar book.

  3. Coming from someone who watched a lot of anime for something like five years before even trying to learn Japanese, I can speak (somewhat) for the immersion method. I’ve been learning for ~8 months now, and I am consistently noticing things that I have heard so often in anime, and I consistently get “Oh, that’s what that means,” “Oh, that’s why that is the way it is,” or at least I’ve already memorised what the word/sentence sounds like without knowing it, which makes knowing it easy to associate with something in my mind. Whether all this has stuck because I have associated them with English subtitles or not, however, I cannot say.

    I think the best thing about immersion (comments on this especially welcome) is the confidence it gives. The first thing I did with Japanese was Pimsleur. I have done Pimsleur’s German course, and the biggest problem was just feeling out of my depth. I notice a lot of people seem to think that’s a good thing, but I’m sure it’s not FEELING out of your depth that pushes you further, but just the being out of your depth, forcing you to learn new things. However, with five years of anime having been hammered into my head, Pimsleur’s Japanese course was very comfortable to me, and it was as if I were merely tying together pieces of information in a coherent manner.

    Also, while not immersion, I noticed much the same thing after doing Heisig. My first idea was to learn sentences and kanji as they came up, and after a few weeks of trying, I gave up and spent a few months doing Heisig. This time, after coming back, I no longer feel like I’m drowning in new information (Well, so long as I tackle it on a sentence-by-sentence basis); even when I see kanji I have forgotten or probably never learnt, it’s no longer intimidating to me, which takes out a huge demotivational factor. Heisig’s benefit is not so much in the learning of meaning of the kanji, or even writing them (Though these benefits are of course there), but it is the comfort conferred onto you after having learnt ~2,000 [what previously seemed to be] random characters.

    • I think that’s a really good way to put it. It isn’t about feeling out of your comfort zone, but being out of your comfort zone.

      My opinion is that your experience with Pimsleur could also be possible for someone who has some familiarity with the words being used instead of the general feeling of the sounds and flow of the language. Five years of exposure to anime is a pretty difficult thing to mimic for someone who wants to learn a language, but doing some SRSing each day is actually a great and straightforward way to do it.

      So one way to look at it would be that even if you’re immersing yourself from here on out (which remains a constant boost to your progress but is very difficult to measure quantifiably), the variable that is probably going to have the biggest effect on your progress is your vocabulary.

      With this I’m not saying that we should all SRS 5 hours a day until we have a big enough vocabulary to understand everything, I’m just saying that it will probably be helpful to keep in mind throughout the whole process that quite possibly the biggest variable driving your ability to understand more is the % of words you are familiar with included in the material you are being exposed to. Not necessarily the vigor with which you are enforcing the immersion environment.

      Knowing more words will help expand your comfort zone and make it so that the material you are hearing is a big step closer to being comprehensible.

  4. Ive been trying to find Japanese Dramas raw, that I can download.

    Any suggestions as to where I could find them?

    Thank you

    • I may be a bit late but you can download raw Japajese dramas (and movies) from a website called “doramax264”. You can choose to download the subtitles or just watch them without.

  5. This article, I think, represents an enormous gap in the advice available online for learning Japanese. Accordingly, I’m not even sure if this is the right place for this comment. Specifically, I am having trouble learning listening(聞き取ること). One of the four skills, reading, listening, writing, speaking. This and a few other sites have been immensely helpful for learning reading, but there is little written on the subjects of writing and listening. I’m not too worried about writing…I am convinced that ever improved reading and practice on lang-8 will iron out issues with writing. Similarly, conditional on actually improving listening, I am not too worried about speaking.

    But learning listening…It’s truly terrifying. My favorite Japanese sites generally say nothing about it. My most visited Japanese site is Yahoo dictionary, which obviously won’t help listening. And the only thing this site talks about is “immersion,” which is still better than the topic not being mentioned at all. But where are the discussions of the nuts and bolts of learning listening? Where are the descriptions of how it actually feels to go through the process from knowing nothing to fluently hearing(聞き取ること)?

    I like that word, 聞き取る:音声・言葉をはっきりととらえ、その内容を理解する。
    …like “to make out”, but more precise.
    Because “how can I improve my listening?” apparently isn’t specific enough. And “how can I better make words out?” just sounds like a strange question.

    Actually, maybe “make out” is the word I’m looking for. Because I want to be able to extract even those words whose meaning I can’t understand. If I can isolate an unfamiliar word, then I can look it up in the dictionary. But right now, I can’t even do that much. And when I look to these sites wondering basically “how can I improve my listening,” I get “by practicing your listening” with the immersion method basically being “practice your listening every hour of waking!” So…practice, practice, practice.

    I have no problem with spending huge amounts of time studying Japanese, but I DO have a problem with doing it without direction, without a plan. Before I started using Anki, I spent years playfully toying with Japanese as a hobby. I learned a few words, the basic grammar, and delighted in making out the occasional word while watching anime, but given a Japanese book, I couldn’t tell you what it says. Thanks to Anki and sites like this, ~2300 kanji cards(including ~1300 J-J sentence) and 3000 more J-J sentence cards later, now I can read that book. Thanks to the order and purpose provided by Anki. Order and purpose that I’m now to chuck out the window in exchange for blind faith that if I spend enough months listening to Japanese from the moment I wake to the moment I sleep, that I’ll be able to make it out. I’m willing to spend months following a set of instructions to build something beautiful. 15 cards a day(kun readings and most common words included ^^ ), it took me almost half a year to learn all the Kanji I know, and I found the process soothing and enjoyable.

    So…6 months, a year, however long it takes I’ll happily spend polishing my listening. But please give me something better than “listen to Japanese all the time and it will come naturally.”

    • I can definitely see an article about your question being very helpful ’cause it’s true that many sites just say to start your immersion and the rest will come. And the fact of the matter is that, it does. Or it should. Seems like with you though, perhaps it isn’t. Although I can’t come up with a general how-to I have three things you could practice doing.

      Since your reading is good, read and watch common materials.
      ex 1) If you want to watch a soccer game in Japanese, then read some manga about soccer or read some soccer news articles to pick up the words. Then, watch a game. Start focusing on picking up those words you’ve just learned.
      ex 2) Read a book that has a movie associated with it. Read the book first so you know the storyline and associated vocabulary then watch the movie. You already know the plot so instead, focus on the words.
      ex 3) Want to be able to watch a cooking show? Read recipes to get the words and read the words out loud to your self to hear the words spoken. Then watch a cooking show.

      Having the written word should then help you with your auditory skills. Reading out loud on top of all of this should help your ear get used to hearing those words better and be better prepared to pick out the words you want.

      Another tip:
      Music is your friend. Listen to new songs several times and try to pick up what you can. Read the lyrics. Then re-listen to those songs and see what’s different. Then reread the lyrics. Even in English I can’t understand a Nirvana song until I read the lyrics and know what he’s actually singing. So do the same with Japanese. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

      Tip 3:
      Focus on intense and passive listening. Turn on a tv show and start watching it like you normally would. Then try to look away and still listen. Sometimes the distractions of actors or tv hosts and all the text they like to write on their screens can distract you from using your ears. So try looking away for a while and really listen. Then go back to watching the show. Try putting the volume on your highest setting. Listen for awhile then turn it down one notch. Listen for awhile then turn it down one notch. Keep doing this until you get to the softest it can get and you can still hear their voices. Practicing this volume control should be able to train your ears as well.

      I hope all these tips help you!

      • First of all, thank you both for the suggestions. I have spent the last couple of weeks largely trying to improve my listening. The first week I spent watching j-dramas without subtitles, the second I spent trying JapanesePod101 lessons. As life started to make me busy with other things, I scaled back Anki to 1 new card a day in an effort to allow enough time to practice listening.

        This has had a number of results, mostly negative. I’ve found that scaling back Anki also sucked out much of my work ethic. The J-dramas were still quite enjoyable even with my limited comprehension, but as I will explain below, I don’t think they were improving my abilities at all. Trying songs and JPod101 without transcripts wasn’t dissimilar to the J-dramas, except that with no visuals and no overarching story, it was much more difficult to understand and therefore enjoy. I’ve grown skeptical that transcripts can aid the development of listening comprehension, because you know what you’re listening for, which is fundamentally different from the skill you’re trying to develop.

        Without a transcript, everything is a mess of sound. The language’s limited syllables and lack of accents make it very difficult to make out words. Progress is thus very very slow. With a transcript, you’re listening for the words you’re already read. It’s only reading that is progressing then.

        Well…I think I’ve found a solution. It’s strange, I never thought I would ever use English subtitles again, and yet it seems perfect for this. Transcribing the Japanese with the help of the English text. It will speed of the process of looking up unfamiliar words while still putting the burden on me to pick out those words syllables.

        Oh, I did find a tip that actually did seem to help me…it was from a commenter on AJATT who said something along the lines of “remember that you’re listening to Japanese, and understanding or not, that used to be cool.” And weirdly enough, that did improve my ability to make out words slightly…if I just chilled and enjoyed the fact that I was listening to Japanese speech, regardless of whether I could understand it or not, then it would get easier to follow. Years ago I would watch subtitled anime, close my eyes, and dream of a day when I might be able to understand what I was hearing. My listening, by no measure, could be considered good…namely that while I might recognize a bunch of words here and there, it’s very rare that I can understand full sentences or comprehend what’s happening in the story by just listening. But still, to even have a constant smattering of disconnected familiar words would’ve been a delight to my younger self, and when I channel those emotions, the stream of speech doesn’t shake me so easily.

        While the suggestions here were not ultimately helpful, I still am tremendously grateful for them(and for this site in general).

        • I’m sorry you didn’t get much help from the tips but mine weren’t actually based on transcripts at all but more, vocabulary. Build the vocabulary for what you want to watch, then watch it. By picking out the words you can hear, you start understanding how to recognize words and from there you can start learning how to recognize patterns, clauses, pauses in speech will turn into sentences.

          Retry some of the tips and try putting your own spin on them. You just have to keep listening, basically. Three weeks of trying tips like this is just the beginning. Keep going.

    • Like kure said the thing about improving your listening is that listening immersion really does do the trick eventually if you just put enough time into it, and I’m probably as good example of how this holds even when you neglect immersion as there is:
      My main goal has always been “reading first” with listening being a perk I would work on after getting to a decent reading level.
      This meant that, like you, I focused my Japanese studying almost exclusively on Anki (while trying to read something enjoyable every few days/weeks to gauge progress). In fact, by the end of my first year, though I was at maybe around 2000 J-J cards, I’d only made a few (2-3?) serious attempts at systematic listening which all fizzled out somewhat quickly, and my “immersion mp3 player” still featured only the single addition I had made in my very first month or so (the 7-8 hours of cutscenes from ゼノブレイド, a JRPG I’m particularly fond of).
      Heck, even now there are people out there still in the J-E stage that have probably listened to more time of Japanese media than me (at least if you exclude the listening time I get from reviewing Anki my cards, all of which have sound (mostly text-to-speech sound, though that has been changing lately (more on that below))).

      So now that we’ve established that I’m no role model for using listening immersion, how did I eventually manage to break into it?
      A little after the end of my first year (and around four months ago, I guess), I was feeling quite nice about my reading progress but I was also starting to find more and more things in my reading itself that are really better learned by listening (a good example is something like 一体, I guess. Looking it up in dic.yahoo.jp (強い疑問や、とがめる意を表す。そもそも。) is no replacement to actually hearing someone screaming it), and I felt I needed a good jolt to get me doing it. So I bought a session of the Japanese Advisor (on this website) essentially with the simple goal of asking “Is it really worth it for me to sacrifice some of my limited Anki time for the sake of sneaking in some active listening?”.
      The answer I got on that point was a pretty clear “yes”, so I went am implemented that. I did nothing too drastic (definitely no “ listen every hour of waking!”), actually, I merely:
      – Reduced my new Anki cards by around 20%, and waited a little for the reviews to subside, buying me the around 25-30 min it takes to watch an anime episode. I then added those episodes to my immersion mp3 player.
      – Started being more aware of trying to turn the mp3 player on whenever I had a spare time, or was doing some menial task.

      Around two months into this the turning point happened. I was biking to the univ with ゼノブレイド immersion on, and I suddenly noticed that I could tell apart the syllables being said with perfect clarify (not the words themselves, though. In fact, it’s sort of sad that I’ll never know what were the words being said in this magical moment). This would be the “making out” which you seem to be seeking. Since then my motivation to bother with passive listening skyrocketed, and with the substantial vocabulary I’ve already built via reading, I consistently find that with every session I recognize something I hadn’t before (the way this tends to work is that after you recognize a word it’s much easier to recognize the other words in its vicinity that you know).

      So the moral of this story is that for someone like you and me who is trying to start with listening after attaining a decent level in reading, not being able to tell the sounds apart really is almost the only barrier, and once that is broken the floodgates open.

  6. I’m a neet who does nothing but anki and watch anime raw all day, two things that are active. For someone like me, is passive listening necessary? Should I still make room for it somehow?

    • Active is better than passive, but I think that it can be hard to be active all day, regardless of the free time someone has. Sometimes your tired, and don’t feel like directly doing something Japanese (ex. maybe you want to play a non-Japanese game, talk to non-Japanese people online, or just kind of stare off into space and relax). In those cases having Japanese on in the background is a big help.

      Also simple things at home like taking a shower, cleaning, etc. can make use of passive.

  7. The Short Version: Today my Professor suggested I watch JDramas and Anime and read Japanese media after acknowledging that I had amassed a certain degree of Knowledge about the Japanese language. It seemed to her that I simply hadn’t connected it all together and from this comment she was inspired to suggest what she suggested, which ultimately can be said to have been a suggestion to immerse myself in the Japanese language.

    What we are doing here on Japanese Level Up through the Jalup method/series of flashcards is amassing this knowledge, getting familiar with the Japanese language, but only to a certain degree. To truly make the connections and internalize everything, we need to immerse. Such has been preached over and over again on this site and such is the nature of the course we have taken in our Japanese Journey. We chose to internalize Japanese through immersion instead of grammar drills. Such is our lot. Our beautiful lot full of nooks and crannies to get lost in and emerge all the stronger.

    Effectively, the moral of the story is that for those who hold respect for higher institutions, one can take solace in the fact that there is at least one professor out there who agrees that immersion is the way to go for those like us who have a broad familiarity with the Japanese Language, but have not yet fully internalized it yet.

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