Study vs. Immersion – Which is More Important Daily?

Every day you have a limited amount of time that you can distribute towards creating your future Japanese greatness. With this time, you have 3 choices what to do with it:

1. Study mode: use something like Anki or Jalup NEXT or any kind of textbook.
2. Immersion mode: read, watch, or listen to native Japanese in some kind of media format.
3. Engagement mode: Have conversations with other people (spoken or written).

You would love to have all 3, daily.

However, you are busy with school or work. With all your schedule crafting mastery, you’ve managed to create a time frame of 2 hours total a day to put towards Japanese. The question is where to allocate it…

Everyone’s first impression is the following:

Studying is more important than immersion

This is 100% correct in the beginning. Immersion only works because you have built yourself a base of Japanese ability. This is why study time should be much higher on the ratio with immersion time through the early levels.

But what happens as several months pass?

Study mode still feels more important…

In study mode, when you learn new cards and review, you feel progression. You have concrete goals you see attained right before your eyes. When you set a “finish 1,000 cards in 3 months” goal, you can actually reach that, and be ready to move to the next level.

In immersion mode, you take in native Japanese in any format of media, and attempt to understand and enjoy it. Your understanding starts off with almost nothing, and grows in tiny increments. You set concrete goals like watch/read/listen to X amount of Y. You also set goals like “understand anime.” But it’s hard to measure your progress and what your gains actually are.

The result? Study mode feels like the real learning experience and immersion ancillary. Even if you are aware that this will eventually change, for now that’s the way it is. Study mode is serious. Immersion is motivating and fun and reinforces your study mode victories.

Most people will take that daily 2 hours, and put 1.5 hours into study mode, and the remaining 0.5 hours into immersion.

Immersion is not an afterthought

There’s a reason I put immersion in Walkthrough Stage 3, right after your finish all your beginner materials.

Immersion is a part of study mode.

Not only is it study mode, but it is the same type of studying as using Anki or NEXT. While not in flash card format, it has the exact same features.

1. You learn new material, one piece at a time.
2. You review old material.
3. It is on a spaced repetition system

Yes, immersion is a spaced repetition system. It’s not built around an ordered computer algorithm, but it does the same thing. You learn something new. You review it again when it appears in a short while. And then again and again and again, over timed intervals. Just because you don’t know 80% of what you engaging in doesn’t change this. That 20% understanding is being fully utilized by your memory on spaced repetition.

This doesn’t even touch on the fact that immersion is the “expansion pack” for your regular study mode learning. People often wonder why sometimes they remember things easier when they are reviewing them in review mode. There is a good chance that you have experienced it in immersion (whether you realized it or not).

Give immersion the time it deserves

Immersion should not be something that you will work on in the future.  It should not be something you do when/if you have time today. If you are intermediate level or higher, it should have a place for it somewhere in your study day.

Are you treating immersion mode as inferior to study mode?

Or have you realized that immersion is just as powerful and that it is actually a part of study mode time.

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Founder of Jalup. Spends most of his time absorbing and spreading thrilling information about learning Japanese.


Study vs. Immersion – Which is More Important Daily? — 16 Comments

  1. I’m simply terrible at immersing! My seemingly low levels of Anime Comprehension discourage me from digging in on a daily basis———but if I don’t, the situation shall never improve. Reading is better, after finding a couple of manga perfect for my level, following a lot of random people on Twitter and setting everything to Japanese.

    • Everyone is terrible at immersing int he beginning. The only way to get better at it is to do it. Things get better, and better soon though.

  2. What if you do the opposite? For me I’ve noticed that if I spend too much time on the studying I burn out super easily, so I usually spend way more time on immersion, even though I’m a beginning.

    • I think that’s fine. As long as it’s immersion without English subtitles, it’ll help. If you can find yourself enjoying native material even only at 5% understanding, it means that you are in a great position to continue moving forward.

      • Absolutely haha I’m talking watching anime/gameshows (without subtitles of course, usually rewatching stuff that I’ve watched with subtitles years ago) and reading some very low level manga like Yotsubato, that sort of things!

  3. I definitely count immersion as part of study mode. I call SRS, reading and Anime/Drama my daily intake of Japanese. I’m about 50/50 SRS and immersion though, so I could definitely be immersing myself more now that I am 2000+ sentences in.

  4. Immersion is definitely part of my everyday routine. I have tv shows I regularly watch without subtitles (just variety shows with idols the dialogues are usually pretty simple) and it constantly reinforces things I’ve learned. The shows I watch usually have a lot of writing (like explanations and remarks) on them in weird fonts etc, and it’s just this exposure to the real deal outside of my study material that really makes things stick. (I’m not gonna talk about the dramas I watch with English subtitles because that’s not immersion or study, that’s just for fun).

    If you are a beginner it’s okay but not that important to immerse. Study as a beginner, reward yourself with immersion when you get tired for the day (if you enjoy it) but do not make immersion your main study method (yet). When I was beginner, I used to ask myself why wasn’t I improving faster. Then I realized I was immersing 90% of the time and studying maybe 10%, that didn’t work for me as a beginner.

    • Idols make for good studying. They usually talk in a simpler manner and use the same type of language repeatedly. “Immersion idols.”

    • I don’t know how much love the webapp Showroom is getting in the learner communities but you should definitely check it out. It’s very idol heavy and very amateur heavy. The nice thing about that is they often read and respond to their chat feed during broadcasts.

      A friend of mine did a broadcast from both days of EDC Japan and it was super fun to watch her and say hi to her fans and have them say hi back!

      • I have showroom on my android phone. I don’t watch it as often as I watch twitch or niconico though. But yes it is a great app! On twitch sometimes the gamers I watch invite people to play with them. I’ve chickened out every time but what a great way to practice! Just play games and talk.

  5. What is better to spend immersion time on while still at a lower level — reading manga vs watching shows? I’m still at a low level despite working on the expert cards and would like to get better. I have 44 hours in my immersion player so don’t need to add new material for passive listening so wasn’t sure whether it’s better to spend more time reading rather than watching new shows.

    • If you are lower level (for example, still in Jalup Beginner, or just starting Intermediate), I would put the emphasis of immersion on listening, and then build up the reading more over time. Of course, if you find reading manga motivating and fun, even at an early level, then continue that as well.

  6. I wrote this in response to some of the questions above,and how I feel about immersion’s role in general.

    Immersion is one of those topics I’m really passionate about. I agree with this article but it kind of ends at the point of beginner.

    Here is what I think about how to best AVERAGE your study time over the course of a week. By average I mean, you don’t need to be so regimented about how you divide your immersion time. These recommendations are about making sure you’re allotting time for each skill to be a BALANCED learner.

    This table is a great visualization of the above

    At those low levels you should spend roughly 75% of your study time in anki (0-1000 JP-ENG), 25% immersing, break it up between reading (includes JP subtitles) and listening without any subtitles(raw).

    Intermediate learner (2000-3000) – 50% in Anki, 30% reading, 20% RAW listening (no subtitles, JP or ENG).

    Advanced learner (3000-#5000 monolingual): 30% Anki, 40% reading , 30% RAW listening.

    Expert (5000+): 10-20% Anki 30-40% reading, 30-40% raw listening.

    These percentages aren’t to be followed exactly. I made them up to illustrate how your study habits should evolve in order to keep your skills balanced over your development.

    Start = Study most
    Middle = Read most, study second, listen third,
    advanced = read most, listen second, study third
    expert and beyond = listen most, read second, study third.

    That’s what a typical learner’s curve will look under the immersion method. However, depending on preferences, your skill balance may vary. In that case, adjust these ‘ratios’ as needed for YOUR skill balance.

    The big take-away. I see lots of learners ignoring raw listening practice. I was pretty guilty of this myself. It’s by far the least rewarding short-term, and the most difficult to stay concentrated on long term.

    Don’t fall into that trap. When you get to the advanced-expert level, raw listening really needs to a be a main focus if you plan on getting fluent in listening/speaking (as the two are directly linked).

    • Yes immersion is deep, and changing throughout months and years of studying Japanese. I focused on the earlier parts here, because it’s the biggest decision most people face. But thanks for expanding on it later on with your own experience.

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