Reaching a high level in Japanese requires engaging with the language as it’s used in music, movies, books, tweets, posts, and conversations. It requires, in other words, a lot of immersion. But how do you know you’re getting the immersion that you need? It’s not as simple after all as just asking whether you are reading Japanese or can hear it being spoken right now.
What you need are some signals that reflect your habits over longer ranges of time.
There are three such signs that I have noticed. They are not perfectly accurate signals, but they do reflect the contact you’re having with Japanese online and they are each nearly omnipresent to boot.
As you no doubt already know, the internet is scarily good at figuring out what kind of person you are, what things you are interested in, and what you may consider buying. It is so good that after starting your Japanese adventure, you may in fact begin to notice that the ads are changing.
At first, these ads may be trying to sell you airline tickets to Japan or lessons at a Japanese language school. Later on, they may think you are a Japanese person wanting to learn “fruitful English.” And even further into your journey, the ads may think you’re a Japanese person interested in drawing or programming or whatever it is that you personally enjoy.
These advertisements are good signals of where you are spending your time online and whether you are immersing enough in Japanese. There will be exceptions of course, but if you notice something like the above progression, you’re on the right track.
Sites like YouTube and Twitter go to great lengths to increase user traffic. They have algorithms that look at what you liked or whom you followed, and they then make very educated guesses about what videos you will want to watch or what people you will want to follow.
For example, at the start of your quest, YouTube will probably recommend videos for learning Japanese in English—and then learning English via Japanese (which is how I found Eigo Egg and thus one of my favorite resources for learning Japanese online).
Later still, it will begin to reflect more what you are learning or what you find entertaining in Japanese. Something similar will happen with Twitter, too.
In any case, if the recommendations from these sites do get to the point where they’re almost all in Japanese, this is a sign that you’re immersing right and should keep on doing what you’re doing.
3. Most Visited Sites
If you use Google Chrome, the tab showing your most visited sites is a powerful signal about where you are spending your time online.
Are those sites about Japanese? Good job. Are they in Japanese? Even better.
The eight sites listed in this tab don’t provide a perfectly accurate view of your online activity. For example, they don’t come with data about how much time you spend at each and the signal can thus be misleading.
But if some of those sites are in Japanese, and even the “grandfathered” sites like YouTube and Twitter start to be dominated by it, chances are you’re getting the immersion you need to reach the level of Japanese you want.
Do you know of any other signals that reflect the extent to which you are engaging with Japanese online—perhaps even better than these do? How about offline signals?
I love reading books in Japanese and plan to start translating them into English in 2015.