8 Rankings of the Japanese Immersion Hierarchy
Immersion is awesome. You can’t get enough of it. The more immersion you have with Japanese in the day, the higher your skill will rise. Again, awesome. But before you go and watch yet another episode of that show you are dying to watch, consider the Immersion Hierarchy.
Immersion comes in a variety of forms. Some are simply better than others. The best way to show this is to explain each immersion technique individually. Here they are from “worst” to “best.” The exact ordering can be debated, but hopefully you’ll get my point.
8. Active Listening with English Subtitles
You watch something with subtitles in English (or another fluent/native language that’s not Japanese). You will get little out of this method. After all, the subtitles are there so that you DON’T have to learn Japanese.
7. Japanese Music
Music: I love you. But you aren’t that great for immersion. Much like with subtitles, you don’t have to know Japanese to enjoy it. Songs are quite memorable and you can use this to learn words. But when you listen to a song, even in English, it is easy to mishear the words or have no idea what they are. When I look up lyrics it’s surprising how wrong I was or how many of the words I know but didn’t notice.
6. Background Passive Listening
You’re listening (to a show, podcast, etc.) while doing something else. Although your focus is mostly on something else, a portion of your brain is still trying to process the Japanese. This is the easiest immersion to get since you can wear headphones throughout the day. It works better than music because your immersion will have actual conversations in it. Music focuses on sounding good while a show focuses on telling a story.
5. Active Listening with Japanese subtitles
While English subtitles are bad, Japanese subtitles are excellent! Now you can’t ignore the Japanese. The language is right there for you. Your full attention is on understanding Japanese.
4. Foreground Passive Listening
Related to background passive listening, you’re listening to something on the go, but mostly focusing on listening. For example: listening to Japanese while standing around waiting. This is better than background listening because more of your attention is on Japanese and not something else.
3. Active Listening Raw
You’re watching something and there are no subtitles involved. Without subtitles you can focus on the visuals, which will help you understand what you are watching.
What’s wrong with Japanese subtitles? They can be helpful in picking out words and improving your percentage of understanding. However, when you are reading subtitles, you don’t have to listen. You’re reading along with the audio and don’t have to think as much about what you’re listening to.
2. Reading Manga
Who doesn’t love a good manga? Unlike all this listening, reading requires your participation to move along. More effort means more learning.
1. Reading Books
The ultimate form of immersion. Books require words. A lot of words. With few visuals and no one feeding you the language, it’s just you and Japanese. Look over a sentence until you understand it, look up a word in a dictionary, and do whatever you need to do. It’s your pace. Your decisions.
Using the Hierarchy
You can see how immersion techniques compare to each other. With this in mind, try and up your immersion game. Get rid of those subtitles, listen to more podcasts and less music, find situations for more foreground passive listening, or switch from manga to books.
Don’t freak out though. It’s not the end of the world if you listen to a lot of music or use Japanese subtitles.
Limits of the Hierarchy
This not an exhaustive list, and there are more factors at play than just immersion type. Your level of attention and the difficulty of the material are important as well. For example, a beginner would be able to get more out of watching with English subtitles than reading a book way beyond their level.
And while reading books is at the top of the list, it would be silly to do that exclusively. A good amount of variety is key to immersion. You can’t get much listening practice from a book.
Form your own Hierarchy
Your immersion will vary. As you test out different things, you should get a sense for what is working for you and what isn’t. Maybe you don’t like manga, or you can’t listen to things passively. If method A is improving your Japanese faster than method B then do more of A. For example, right now nothing improves my Japanese faster than reading the grammar book 日本語文型辞典.
How do your immersion methods compare to each other? Does your ranking look different?
Majoring in Computer Science and mastering in Japanese (in spirit anyway). Was blind to my love of Japan until age 19. Seriously Japan, where were you all my life?
A most cool article!!
I’m very guilty of not immersing enough… I (pretty “foregroundly”) passively listen to one or two episodes of animue daily while I do Kanji Kingdom, and I actively watch one new episode with Japanese subtitles each day of the weekend.
I work very long hours and once my active Japanese study is over in the evening it’s bedtime; I literally have no recreation on weekdays. This gives me a bit of a mental block against immersion kind of; there’s a part of me that says “you should be doing some listening now my child” but another part says “please can I not have 5 minutes of this day where I do nothing” haha. But I should start doing more on weekends and at lunchtime.
I don’t really do any reading except for random Tweets and other stuff that I come across at the moment, but I’m kind of approaching the final stretch of the Intermediate deck so I’ll soon be loading up on manga for that!
As long as your making progress it’s all good. I wasn’t that great at immersion for a long while. It gets easier when it becomes a habit. Then when I’m disappointed with my progress I up the amount immersion.
Thought this was written by Adam.
Well done. Agree with most if not all said here.
Yeah I guess since I’ve read nearly every article on this site Adam’s writing style and mindset has really rubbed off on me.
eh, i thought something was off when manga was that high and passive listening not in the top 2
Really good article and I agree on most.
I agree with the ranks on 1-3, but most people will probably need to use both 3 and 1/2, as listening and reading skills both need to be practiced.
And you’re right 1, 2, and 3 are all important. My immersion wouldn’t feel complete without 3.
University had ruined my Japanese abilities for 5 years, always translating long and boring texts that left no time to learn the vocabulary I found… My brain was overwhelmed by that “hellish never-ending work” and “locked” itself to learning (the 3rd year, I had 2 to 4 pages to translate per course, and 5 courses per week asked that kind of work between other compulsory classes that completed the days from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., I felt I worked in a factory… When you feel that you’re a moron that can’t remember a word that you saw lots of time but can’t even remember what it means, you sink into despair and distress).
Now, Hell is over. I worked hard for my master’s degree, but it has a bitter taste, my Japanese level is so low… I promised to myself I would never do foolish things again and wished my love for Japanese came back quickly. Then, I found that website and now I believe that another way is possible to reach a good level with fun!
Now I know translating every sentence isn’t good for mental health ;D, I’m trying to listen to Japanese podcasts I found randomly on Japanese radio websites, again and again without rushing myself. Every time, I pick up a word I know in a sentence, and I’m really happy to recognize it. I’m not ready to read a book yet (that fear again…), but I bought some manga (D.N.A², きまぐれ オレンジ★ロード and 天使禁猟区 to begin with) and read some articles on the internet : international news, video games news/reviews… I’m breathing!
I also tried to play to Final Fantasy X in Japanese (thanks to steam version!). Really weird to not understand everything when listening/reading the dialogues in Japanese and perfectly remember every single words of them from the English version. I’m wondering if I will “erase” the English voices from my memories and keep the Japanese ones stuck in my head…
It will naturally work with time. English was difficult to learn at the begining (I’m not a native speaker :p) but video games helped me a lot, so why not for Japanese? (^_^)/
Thank you a lot for giving hope and strength to every Japanese learner here!
Wow, that sounds like a terrible experience you had with Japanese in university. I’m happy you were able to come out of it though alive, and still keep your love of Japanese. Just think of it like this: if you could handle that, you can handle anything now.
I hope the rest of your Japanese is much more enjoyable from here on out!
Thank you very much, I’ve got the feeling that my mind is now rebuilding little by little its strength… I’m rediscovering the excitement of learning Japanese, at my own pace this time, and I won’t give up!
Wow that sounds rough. I stopped taking Japanese at my University after 4 semesters worth. It wasn’t leaning that much either, although it wasn’t as much work as you had.
And don’t feel bad about not reading any books. I actually put books as #1 without having read one myself. Though I’m planning on starting one today funnily enough.
I think Japanese courses at University aren’t for everyone, even if the first year seemed easy comparing to the following ones… Not everyone had the determination to continue after that, and I understand very well! Courses don’t give the feelings of the language. We didn’t learned the basics like もう一度ください (I thought I was wrong when I told it to my teachers the first time, but actually was the only student to not have said もう一度お願いします, which was kinda wrong but none of us knew about it…). University is a place for learning, but NOT for learning WELL (-_-‘).
Don’t worry, I understand why books are number one in this ranking : they need strong abilities (kanji, vocabulary and grammar). But they are also the only ones that can provide good examples of sentence to build these abilities quickly.
Good luck for your journey through books !
Feels a bit strange seeing manga as number 2. I’d probably swap it and active listening raw.
I’d add video games as 4.5 (below foreground passive listening) and audio dramas/podcast active listening as 1.5 (below books). No visuals means stronger immersion.
It depends from person to person. I didn’t put audio dramas/podcasts as high because I’m slightly distracted by the visuals of the real world.
I think video games are very hard to classify, because they fall into such a broad range of categories. Sure maybe something like a fighting game is low-value, but text-heavy RPGs are comparable to Manga and Visual Novels aren’t much different from their non-visual counterparts.
I’d also argue that “no visuals means stronger immersion” is a bit of an oversimplification. It’s true that with visuals present, you pay less attention to unknown words because you can get by on context. However, another key function of immersion is to strengthen your understanding of words you already “know”, and for that side of things having visuals is much more effective than not having them.
That being said, I imagine most of us are fairly unbalanced and could benefit from spending more time on non-visual sources than we currently do. I think your post is a good reminder of that =)
As a beginner, I do mostly 6, 3 and 2. For now I try to focus on doing at least a little bit of everything every single day, to get into the habit, however that doesnt mean that I never do a lot haha. Yesterday was a crazy busy day for example, so I maybe managed to get an hour of japanese in… but on the flip side, last week I managed to spend about 3-4 hours per immersion method!
I do 8 (watching stuff with English subs) quite a bit, but I don’t count it as immersion or learning time at all. It’s just lazing around and wasting some free time (which arguably I could use otherwise, but well…) English is not my native language either so I could argue maybe I’m just trying to improve my English…. *grasping at straws*
However I turn most of the series I’ve watched into material for 4+6 (background and foreground passive listening) by stripping off the audio and putting it on my mp3 player :) So it’s not like all has been wasted! I’m usually listening to it on the train which I’d count as foreground passive listening (I just recently once missed my stop because I was focused on listening….) and get in some background listening while doing other stuff on my pc at work or at home.
I should do more reading as well… I noticed that reading manga (so your number 2) doesn’t really work well for me, because I tend to go the easy route and just look at the pictures and only skim the text for some keywords instead of reading properly… I can force myself to read the text, but… that’s exactly how it feels like: forcing myself and that’s just not much fun.
Funnily enough though, reading regular books does work. I’m only lower intermediate-ish (around level 20?) and I started reading books aimed at grade schoolers. I’m usually a bit overwhelmed when I look at the first page (Wall of text in Japanese, urg! no way I can understand this!) but once I get past that it usually is okay. I’m far from getting everything and ve~ry far from reading novels aimed at native adults, but still! It’s aimed at native speakers (even though they are maybe 6-8 years old) and I can kind of get it, that’s already very cool :)
I guess I’m still intimidated by text in Japanese, so I’m searching for ways around it… The thing is, I actually want to get the stories (I like reading in my native language and English as well!) so when I try reading my grade schooler book which has a few pictures but you can’t just get the story from it, there’s just no other way than to read the text. So that’s what I do! While when reading manga as I already said my brain trys to take the easy way out and look at the pretty pictures. I think once I stop being so intimidated by Japanese text, reading manga will also become more enjoyable. At least I hope so :)
I think it could be helpful to approach things from different angles. For example watching a movie (or series or whatever), with subs (Japanese of course), without subs, listening to it without the video and maybe even reading the subs on their own at your own pace.
A similar thing can be done with music and reading the lyrics.
I’ve only just started in the whole immersion thing though so this is all just conjecture!
Awesome list. I honestly can’t wait until I can read novels, maybe by the New Year.
Mostly I do 2, 3 and 6. And I can tell you it’s definitely working. But just like anything I have good days and bad days at it…