Read in Japanese – Not about Japanese
With the internet, the amount of Japanese resources at your disposal is now endless. This is good. In this context, more is better. You can be as picky as you want with what you use. However, with the expansion of precious Japanese material throughout the internet came along a fake form of studying Japanese. It looks and even feels like you are studying real Japanese. But you are not. Who is this dastardly deceiver that is tricking you into thinking you are studying Japanese? His name is “about.”
He will cause you to spend too much time reading, writing, listening, and speaking about Japanese, but not enough time reading, writing, listening, and speaking in Japanese. He’s a very shady fellow that may fool you easily since the two can often overlap.
While I don’t like insulting my own website, a good 70-80% of it is about Japanese. Now of course “about” is important as well. But it must be done in moderation, otherwise it sets up very bad habits which eventually lead you to not actually studying Japanese. What’s even worse is that it makes you think you are studying Japanese. It goes into your “Japanese studying time” counter, which leaves you with the inevitable “I study Japanese so many hours every day, why aren’t I getting better?” Well you are getting better at something. You’ll be better than anyone else at talking about Japanese.
So I’ve formulated what I call the in-about ratio. About cannot be completely abolished. Putting aside the fact that if it was, you probably wouldn’t ever return to my blog, learning the techniques, methods, and tricks of how to study Japanese is very important because you don’t want to have to reinvent the wheel in your studies. What you need to do is adjust your about time.
The in-about ratio should change based on your current Japanese level:
Level 1 to 20: Ratio 80-20
Level 20 to 40: Ratio 90-10
Level 40 to 65: Ratio 95-5
Level 65+: Ratio 99-1
This means that even as a beginner, 80% of your Japanese study time should be in Japanese, and 20% can be learning about techniques and tricks.
Let’s look at the biggest culprits of “About Japanese” and how to turn these abouts into ins. I will also teach you about the reversal tactic.
1. Forums discussing Japanese in English.
I don’t care how great a forum you think it is. Forums are addicting and even your “Japanese only” forums meant for Japanese learners, will eventually have you looking at other forums.
Solution: The only forums you should be visiting are Japanese forums meant for Japanese people. Check out 2chan (not recommended for children) or Yahoo 知恵袋 (family friendly).
2. Vlogs/Videos talking about Japanese in English.
Go to YouTube, and you’ll find a lot of these. If you are going to watch Vlogs of foreigners speaking about Japanese, they better be speaking about Japanese in Japanese.
Solution: Find Vloggers who are Japanese talking in Japanese. If you enjoy seeing other foreigners talk in Japanese like I do, those are fine as well. Try a search for 日本語ブログ on You Tube.
3. Podcast/Video/Audio Lessons in English.
I’ve heard many of these types of lessons that were 10 minutes long, yet only had about 30-60 seconds of Japanese in them, with the rest as a discussion in English. This is at best a 10-90 ratio. Sometimes it is worse. I know, they assume you can’t speak much Japanese so it’s best that they talk to you in mostly English . . . They assume wrong.
Solution: Find lessons with a much higher in-about ratio. I recommend “日本語で暮らそう” and “Erin’s Challenge” for really great Japanese only Japanese lessons (ratio close to 99-1). I guarantee you’ll have a lot of fun with them.
However I’ve also found a great solution using the reversal tactic. You can magically change that 10-90 ratio into a 90-10 ratio. How? Watch/listen to this type of material that is meant for Japanese people learning English. If lessons meant for you learning Japanese are 10-90, the same goes for lessons meant for Japanese learning English except in reverse. While it may be a little awkward at first learning English in Japanese, I used to find this to be one of my favorite sources of studying. Try a search for 英語レッスン on YouTube.
Hopefully you can start adjusting your ratio with the above methods. Don’t forget to fit my blog into some of your about time! If you follow the in-about ratio, the next time you feel like you’ve been studying a lot of Japanese recently, you will actually have.
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.
great post man! I never thought about the about-ratio’s but I definitely know what you’re talking about. You’re helping out a lot of people in the J-study world, please keep up the awesome posts / insights / advice!
Thanks for the praise. I’m trying as hard as I can to write good articles.
Your idea for watching English lessons for Japanese people is really ingenious! I would never have thought of that. Sounds like fun. Thank you.
I got the idea when I heard a Japanese friend’s listening materials that he was using for studying English.
This is so true! It is so fun to read ABOUT Japan, and I’m sure it helps a little bit in the building-vocabulary department, but probably not the best way to learn Japanese, especially for a beginner. I just found your website today, will check it out more later.
Thanks, hope you enjoy it. I checked out your blog and find it to be useful so I’m adding it to my links page.
Big time-killer for me is discussing study methods, especially with people who are evangelical about one particular method or guru, eg Heisig, Ajatt, Anki. All of which have their merits and drawbacks
I feel a little bad about including Anki there, especially as I’ve started to use it recently. I should have said “evangelical about a particular way of using Anki”.
I like the reverse ratio method also. Before I left Japan, I bought lots of books that Japanese people use to study for TOEIC which is great because it uses that 90:10 ratio. So most of it is in japanese, and usually with few translatons. :)
My questions about this is simple: what about JPOD101?
I’ve got the complete audiobook from there, started listening to it, I’m currently at lesson 5 of level 2 (the real newbie level – level 1 is all about cultural things), but I stopped using it since I’ve first read this post. The lessons there are in English, and the Japanese parts are with translations. Should I keep using them, or should I quit them?
I’m really worried of the immersion aspect, but it’s not an immersion when you’re doing lessons in English.
Check out this post to see how Coco tackles the overuse of English problem with JPOD101:
I really liked the idea of editing the sounds. Instead of keep up with their conversations (that really annoys me), I’ll edit the audios.
Also, I know it was subject of another post, but I prefer to watch the dramas/animes with subtitles first, and then I load it to my mobile phone, and listen to it several times. That’s why the first audios I put into it were The Lion King and the first episode of Pokémon, ’cause I know them by heart. I’m doing it with GTO, I’ve listened to the first episode 30 times more or less, and every time I understand a bit more than the time before.
Thank you for your attention.
You can watch YesJapan’s EigoEgg videos on youtube for some audio/video teaching Japanese people English…
I have seen EigoEgg before and agree that is great for Japanese learners, even though intended for the opposite.
The host (George Trombley) is charismatic and you can tell he is really having a lot of fun.
I feel like every learner (beginner or intermediate) should watch this motivational video. Its for Japanese learning English, but it can be applied to other way around too!: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=atNykP0-0P0
(From 00:43 to 1:30)
The gist is: You should learn one thing each day. That way, without any problems, one day you will say “Hell! I have accomplished so much!”. But, once in a while a thought might pop up in your head that “Dude, although I have did 833 sentences, I can’t remember them all”. It doesn’t matter whether or not you do remember it all, what matters is that you DID something. If you continue doing something, you WILL do it.
PS: My translation skills are not that great.