Combining Passive and Active Immersion

Passive listening, or immersion methods, have been growing in increasing popularity recently.  What could be more simple?  Listen to Japanese in the background as much as you can throughout every day on your portable music player, and reap the massive benefits.  You rack up the necessary daily hours of Japanese in one continuous, easy stream.

Combining Passive and Active Immersion

So is this technique too good to be true?  You will find your share of Japanese learners who argue that passive listening does not work, and is a waste of your time.  So which is it?

Passive listening is supremely powerful.  From my personal experience it has allowed me to achieve a higher level of listening/speaking than almost anyone I’ve ever met who has studied Japanese.  However, I believe there are two rules which must be followed to achieve these types of results.

1.  Bring in Passive’s natural partner, Active

I will admit that Passive is weak and has very little power by itself.  It’s like gathering a large collection of high level spell scrolls.  Regardless of the numbers and the time you spent to obtain them, if you haven’t leveled up your magic points/skill points/mana through active battling, these scrolls will do nothing for you. They’ll just sit there making you think you’re progressing.

Solution:  Start powering up the Active side.  And what’s the baddest Active in town? Anki.  Let Anki build up the skills necessary to activate the scrolls.  While you are at, don’t forget to actively read and actively watch media.

2.  Passive must be familiar

Your Passive must have once been Active.  You should always actively see media before listening to it passively on your Ipod.  I’ve done a lot of tweaking with this, and have discovered that putting brand new material that you’ve never seen can really suck away the benefits of Passive.

The essence of utilizing Passive is making it the background of your every day, your life soundtrack. You directly tune in for some parts, and ignore others.  Depending on what you are doing at the moment your focus may clearly be on something else.  If your Passive is new material that you are hearing for the first time, it becomes very difficult to enjoy.  Ever listen to a book on tape for the first time and just ignored random parts?

Equally as important is the fact that once you’ve actively seen the media, the visuals stay within your mind.  When you passively hear it the next times around, the visuals are still with you, with your imagination filling in the missing pieces, making it a more memorable experience.  The more areas of your brain that you are using while engaging in Passive, the more Japanese will be making its new permanent home.

Listen and let the magic do its work

Don’t rationalize the reasons behind this technique.  Try it for yourself.  Do it properly.  And give it time.  Watch as you dash through the levels.



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Adam

Adam

Founder of Jalup. Spends most of his time absorbing and spreading thrilling information about learning Japanese. On a quest to become 日本語王 (king of the Japanese language).

Comments

Combining Passive and Active Immersion — 26 Comments

  1. I just want to congratulate you on the excellent job done with this website. Apart from all the extremely useful advice, you also write in a very clever, concise and funny way! Thank you very much, you’ve given me a much needed encouragement and boost to my Japanese studies.

  2. Aah, sadly. Having ADD means passive listening isn’t much of an option.
    Not in class. Not around people you want to listen to. Not when there’s something you have to remember, like right before dinner has to be made. And certainly not when you’re already multitasking, like switching between writing and reading on the computer.
    Because then, no matter how low the volume, all you hear is the noise, and all you can focus on is the sound and then it becomes: what was I doing now again? Not a good thing when you were just discussing what pages to read for homework this week. Or when the teacher is having a lecture. Or when your mother is telling you about her day.
    I’m glad I can still squeeze in the in-between minutes of commute and, rare, alonetime.

  3. I like this clear explanation of how to use these immersion materials passively by what exactly constitutes actively using the same materials? Is it just watching the materials with your undivided attention? Or does it require more activity than that. If I am watching a drama, should I be trying translate with a dictionary and looking up grammar while I am watching it? As a beginner/intermediate, even watching basic dramas like GTO, I am only understanding 20-30%.

    You did such a great job on how to use materials passively, maybe some advice on how to actively use media like dramas would be helpful:-)

    • The way I always do active watching is to just give it my (nearly) undivided attention.
      I listen to the lines much more closely than I tend to with my passive listening (just having it running in the background when I do other things). Once you’re familiar with the material through the active listening, you’ll be more likely to pick out things from the passive listening — or at least it is that way in my case.

      I don’t think there is any need to actually translate/dissect the material while you’re watching it. Of course, if you want to add the stuff to anki, feel free to do so, but I’d recommend just watching it and enjoying it your first time through before you do. I think that it is important to be able to just relax and enjoy yourself in Japanese, and if you don’t enjoy material the first time through then it will sort of ruin the activity in your mind (or at least it did for me for awhile).

  4. I have another an idea that you can do to spice up your immersion. Download and install an app called “Tunein radio.” With this app, you can listen to radio stations from any countries. All you have to do is go to locations, select a continent (Asia), then country (Japan, of course!) and then select a region within Japan and there are loads of radio stations to listen from! But keep in mind that Japan probably has a different time zone than where you live. So just play around with the app and figure out what stations are on air right now. This app is perfect for passive listening

    • This is something I was doing until I read this article. Given the premise that the passive must once have been ACTIVE material, listening to a radio station is by definition listening to new material all the time…..and therefore substantially less useful. I’m now doing it by watching Bleach episodes a couple of times each, paying close attention to what is going on and what’s being said, and THEN listening to the dialog over and over.

      • You are correct. Listening to the radio in Japanese usually needs to be somewhat active to get something out of it (unless you are already a higher level). Using Bleach works great though.

  5. So, if passive media must have once been active, you mean I can’t just open up Itunes and listen to a random TBS Junk podcast? I have to have previously seen a transcript of the podcast and tried to comprehend it? That seems a bit excessive…please correct me if I’m wrong on this matter (and I hope I am).

    • Nevermind, found the article that answers this question… Damn, gotta find more effective listening materials.

    • I actually wrote up a response (before seeing your follow up comment) so I’ll just include it in case it has extra info:

      If you listen to a new random junk podcast, while you are doing something else somewhat focus intensive, there is a good chance you won’t really pick up much from it (especially if you are lower level).

      Podcasts don’t really have the highest replayability so they are better suited for a somewhat active listen (ex. while doing mindless chores)

      Transcripts aren’t required to move to passive.

      However as always, with everything on this site, they are guidelines. If your level is good, and you feel like you are gaining something out of listening to a random podcast for the first time while doing something else active (ex. doing your homework), then go for it.

  6. I do have one thing to ask. I love passive listening, and I do think that I hear more words that I understand, or at least recognize as familiar, each time I listen to some material. I tend to listen to podcasts (15min or so episodes), the Lingq podcasts, Bleach audio, or TuneIn Radio japanese. Here’s the issue. While I can recognize many individual words, a phrase or two, and hear words that are familiar but that I do not know, I wonder how a person at low level like myself could find the “comprehensible” input that Krashen suggests and that you advocate? I know that we ned to find “interesting” material, but it’s tough to find out if it’s interesting (except that you’re interested in the topic) if you don’t understand most of it. “Comprehensible Input” at my stage would be the equivalent of the “Toddler Talk Podcast”, not something I’d likely listen to for fun…LOL.

    What are other’s thoughts on what you listened to as a rank beginner while going thru RTK and setting up an “immersion” environment. I want to be reading a lot, but at this point my reading will need to concentrate on content written in kana if I don’t want to be looking up most words (almost 300 kanji down in RTK). I have no problem looking things up, and I do, but I’m doing the Kanji via Heisig so I don’t really want to go out of order…..

    Maybe a post on what to use for immersion from the beginning with notes on how to accommodate the fact that you don’t understand much of what you’re listening to and reading? And how to use passive listening to good effect when you’re a beginner?

    Thanks again, all!

    Mark [Listening to Podcast from Lingq as I type….]

    • This is the main reason that I put the immersion stage after the first round of RTK and J-E. Listening passively to Japanese when you don’t know any Japanese at all is going to have minimal returns.

      The one argument is that you get used to the sounds, and can learn to tell them apart. And you start picking up on patterns and words often used even if you don’t know what they mean. I don’t know the extent of the benefits of doing this, but I do know it causes some people frustration.

      But once you get a good bit in (the guide says 500 sentences), you will continually pick up more and more (especially since the beginner sentences contain some of the most common words in Japanese).

      But if you are intent on immediately starting immersion I stick with the advice that continues later on. Put on what you know. The soundtrack and sound effects are usually enough to remind you of where you are in the story.

    • I emailed Adam with a similar question. As an absolute beginner I was using all my active study time with Anki, but had several hours a day when I could be listening to something but wasn’t. He recommended Japanesepod101.com, which I’ve been listening to ever since.
      http://japaneselevelup.com/japanesepod101-review-absolutely-everything-know/

      I think it is pretty good. Especially as an absolute beginner I feel I’m getting something out of it.

      I’m at around 1300 RTK and just over 500 J-E sentences now. Just watched an anime (for fun) and I was picking up quite a few words (many from Jpod not in Jalup) and even a few full sentences.

      Question: at this stage should I start immersing in native material (95% of which will be incomprehensible)? Should I stick with the podcasts? Should I bring in a mix?

      • I’d say a mix is fine, since you are still enjoying the podcasts. No reason to drop them completely if you are still finding value in them. But expect a day in the near future to come when they no longer appeal to you.

  7. Sounds like a good plan. I AM finding that, in all of the passive listening that I tend to do, I have begun to be able to discern very minute differences in sounds and words, and have picked up on several patterns that have become rather natural to me at this point. It has the effect of evoking that “oh, yup” feeling that means I’m familiar with the pattern if not the actual grammatical usage.

    Working hard on RTK, but listening IS fun and while I don’t think I am getting the returns I will once my RTK and 500 J-E are behind me, I’m still having fun and enjoying the familiarity if not all of the meaning.

    Thanks for the clear and informative answer. This is just really fun!

  8. I still don’t quite understand this immersion thing.
    I’m at 500 J-E sentences. If I watch an anime I can understand the occasional snatch of dialogue: a rare word, a rarer sentence. Without subtitles I have essentially no idea what is going on.

    Do I rip the soundtrack and just listen to it uncomprehendingly, and wait for the witchcraft to take effect over time? AJATT seems to suggest so, with the slogan ‘you don’t listen because you understand – you understand because you listen’.
    What do you mean by ‘study actively’ before trying to study passively? Do I need to watch the anime with full concentration and understand 80% of it?

    I’ve been listening to JapanesePod101.com up to now, because the walkthrough says not to bother with immersion prior to the 500 sentence point. Now I’ve crossed that threshold I want to do what you say… but I’m just slightly murky on specifically what that is.

    Bottom line: Am I supposed to be listening to 98% gibberish and 2% barely grasped?

    • Sounds like a regular percentage for your first step in. Yeah n terms of enjoying the show, I’ve always tried to just understand the story not the dialogue. So you can use comprehensible dialogue, facial expressions (easier in dramas), action going on, setting and music as clues. I also found that I couldn’t watch anime for quite a while after dropping subs and watched dramas instead. You have more facial expression clues, some more relatable situations and more normal speech, which all helped me understand a lot better.

      In terms of actively studying a show and then passively listening to it, I watch a show intently using the directions above (though I do try and concentrate on dialogue more recently), create a few flashcards from the transcripts. For dramas you can find transcripts at dramanote.com I’m not sure if there’s anything the same for anime except subtitle files from kitsunekko which you could use substosrs to mine (search substosrs or subs2srs in jalup search bar for instructions). Once I’ve done a few of those flashcards I listen to the audio on the bus with moderate concentration and suddenly understand all the things I flashcarded and after that I can listen to it completely passively.

    • You are right. But instead of understanding 80% of what you watch, you only need to pay your full attention. You first watch the anime/drama and then rip the audio cleaning all the unnecessary parts (silence, bgm, etc).

      The 2% that you barely grasped will increase, the more you listen to it (passively) and the more active study you do (adding sentences, anki reviews).

  9. I have a question, I’m still not really understanding this whole passive listening, immersion ipod thing. I’m almost done stage 2 of the beginner deck so I’d like to understand and start with immersion once I do. I always thought that “immersion” was just finding native material you like and watching/listening/reading it depending on the medium. But this whole converting videos into mp3 and then editing them seems like so much of a hassle. Does that not take a large amount of time that could be better spent doing something else? Am I missing something here? If it is actually really simple and worth it then please let me know. I love this site and it’s methods but this one point keeps giving me a headache. I really hope I’m just overestimating how much time it actually takes to download, convert and edit all these videos.

    • You are correct, “immersion” is the native material you watching/listen/read. Immersion is then split into passive/active.

      The converting/editing videos is optional. This was geared more towards a time when there were less streaming options available. Converting videos was just so that you had them easily available to you so you could effortlessly use down moments in the day to get some passive listening in.

      Editing was for people who got annoyed by theme songs (from anime), loud action noise that hurt their ears, or complete non-talking silence. It’s not necessary to edit if this doesn’t bother you.

      Just having videos/podcasts/etc. on in the background is fine.

      • I’ve just started stage 3 of Jalup beginner now (and loving it btw) and I think I’m starting to make progress in getting things together for some immersion. Still don’t completely understand but I’m trying to convince myself to stop being so afraid to try things unless I understand 100% how it works, and not be afraid to try new things and make mistakes. But I do have one other question about entering immersion. Should I bother with trying to find transcripts/Japanese subtitles for the shows I watch? They seem to be really difficult to find, and finding raw anime is even harder. I’ve just resorted to covering up the English subtitles with another window. But do you think it’s best to just not worry with them and focus on purely listening, leaving reading practice for manga/books/websites etc. Worried I might just get too reliant on reading the subs and not actually be listening.

        • If you come across transcripts that are easy to find and you enjoy reading, it doesn’t hurt occasionally to look over them. But you don’t need them, so don’t worry about it too much. As you said, save most of your reading practice for books, manga, etc.

          • Is it okay if the stuff I listen to is above my level? So far I’m converting some episodes of Chi’s Sweet Home to listen to, and I’m reading NHK News Easy and One Piece. But I’m struggling to think of more audio to add. Most suggestions out there seem to be for more intermediate learners, and I’m worried putting anything that’s too far above me isn’t gonna do me any good. I sort of get what’s going on in Chi, but watching the first few minutes of GTO it pretty much all went over my head. Is the goal of immersion to be able to understand it, or to get your ears accustomed to Japanese?

            • It’s fine to listen above your level, because really, everything is above your level (until you understand it). As long as you can slowly start to pick up words here and there, and then sentences, you’ll be fine. You start with 1% and work your way up. It gets your ears accustomed to Japanese as it slowly increases your understanding.

    • It can sound over complicated.
      ‘Immersion’ is used for a number of different things. One is general involvement with native material of any kind.
      Another is trying to listen to as much Japanese as you can, all the time, passively in the background.
      Back when I was at similar stage to you I didn’t really get the point. But I just did it. It works well – slowly the babble begins to take form and you recognise more and more.
      I just listened to Japanese pop songs and ripped anime soundtracks. Some people like to edit the material to get rid of extraneous content and just get Japanese dialogue.
      No need to make it harder than it has to be: just try to listen to things which are going to have Japanese dialogue.

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