How Can Immersion Work When You Only Understand 1%?
How many of you have had this thought? Now I occasionally talk about immersion, and I know exactly what’s going through your mind (as mastering Japanese does indeed actually lead to developing telepathy).
This is you:
“How can there be any value in listening to something when I can only understand 1% of it?”
I want to break this down into the most simple answer imaginable (if you want more excruciating details, see the above linked article madness).
While you only “understand” 1%, you actually “know” closer to 10%
What lies! How could you possibly know that?!
Assuming you are starting immersion with at least the 500+ card mark I recommend, you already know a nice early chunk of basic language. Basic language, while well… basic, is ridiculously important (hence the J-E phase before going J-J), and makes up most of the whole of used language.
I’m sure the dictionary contains hundreds of thousands of words. But I know you’ve run across vocabulary frequency charts like:
● The 100 most common Japanese words
● You only need these 250 words to understand Japanese
● 500 words to Japanese fluency
● With these 1000 words, you may be crowned (?) emperor of Japan
Japanese, like all language, has a base set of words that get the most play time. Everything beyond this base expands the possibilities of the language. The basics should be able take your understanding far. However, there is a problem that keeps lovers “know” and “understand” apart. There is a major blockage jamming you up.
That blockage consists of grammar particles being dropped, word order changed, accents, mumbles, screams, high voices, low voices, fast talk, slow talk, slurred words, noise, and all the other things you find in the real and wild Japanese world.
The solution to remove that blockage?
Dark magic at work?
Here’s a simple challenge: Watch an episode of anime (you were about to anyway). Now immediately watch it a second time (you were about to anyway).
Did you understand anything new (regardless of how small) that you didn’t the first time around?
I don’t care if it was only one additional word in 20 minutes, but you did.
That’s one piece of blockage that was removed. And usually it is more than one piece.
By continually listening, your brain is making connections from what you know, and tying it to what you understand. And don’t forget that while you are removing blockage, you are also continuously improving your “know” through learning new words in J-E/J-J, which makes the removal of that blockage even easier.
That’s the power of immersion.
The major challenge to this all is to find material that you can enjoy while the blockage level is still high. That’s where finding level appropriate material, re-watching your favorites you originally saw in English, or watching what can be entertaining without much language comes in.
You are the 1%. But with a massive cleanup, you’ll eventually be the 99%. Guaranteed. How’s that for flipping numbers and playing on worn out economic catch phrases?
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.
I always love these articles that touch on self doubts. Thanks Adam, another uplifting post.
I’m glad to hear these type of articles are relieving people’s 不安!
Thank you so much for this. I’ve been really struggling with immersion because I thought it was a waste of time and I found watching something where I didn’t understand incredibly boring.
I decided to ignore my doubts and just do what you say. After listening to a sound track on loop dozens of times, I realised that I knew far more than I thought. As you describe here, what was originally indecipherable gibberish with words that I “didn’t know” turned out – in some cases – to be 100% within my knowledge base. It was just that the words were rasped and slurred and indistinct. Bulk repetition brought the blur into focus and I could follow quite a lot.
Something I have found useful is watching something with English subs once. This is because if I just dive straight in, and don’t understand anything, then I find it incredibly boring and I don’t care. If I’ve watched it once with subs then I get engaged in the material and involved with the characters. Then listening to the Japanese on loop I can recall what is happening, which maintains my interest and engagement.
I’ve also been enjoying Japanese pop songs. I think this is because they are fun and uplifting even if you don’t understand anything. This makes it tolerable to listen to them again and again and again. With the repeated exposure I’ve been picking out more and more words. It’s a magic moment when you realise you can understand a whole sentence.
I mention these points because elsewhere on this site, subtitles are made out to be the Great Enemy, and music to be substandard immersion material. I have found both to have their use, certainly for someone just getting into immersion.
I have found that I want to listen to native material more, and Japanese Pod 101 podcasts less. I had the epiphany that Jpod101 is not immersion material. It’s the audio equivalent of a basic textbook. I think it’s very good in that role. I still use it, but I categorise it as textbook time not immersion time, and therefore it gets a place in the small number of active hours rather than the large number of passive hours.
I agree. I think subtitles can be extremely useful for that. Before I dropped subtitles, I started with listening to what I had watched with subtitles in the car on my commute. My understanding started to build from that repeated exposure, and the subtitles gave me a context to go off of. It was only until a lot of repeated listening that I was able to give up subtitles the following summer of so much repeated listening.
From my observation, it’s good to give up subtitles around level 30. While around level 20, it’s good to first start with them, and then watch/listen without them repeatedly.
i agree with rachel too!I’ve been through that period and it’s nice to have some kind of reference point to what you’re listening to.
As long as people don’t use it as an excuse to never get rid of them. Which can be what happens sometimes. Cold turkey is still a good way to go for some people :).
I agree with you and while I definitely provide great warning to tread carefully with English subtitles, this type of use is exactly what they are perfectly suited for.
Hence the line from this article “re-watching your favorites you originally saw in English,” and the whole section about it in this post http://japaneselevelup.com/using-english-subtitles-to-learn-japanese-through-anime/
Anyway, really happy to hear it’s starting to work out for you.
I would like add that for myself, immersion without serious study isn’t very useful. I got caught in the trap of having my immersion environment up, but when it came to actual study I kinda dropped the ball on that. Luckily I realized what was happening and I’m back up to a decent amount of Anki time per day, with as much immersion as I can.
A funny thing happened a few days ago, I was watching a Japanese tv show, and I wasn’t really paying attention to it. I could hear it, but all I was thinking about was work stuff, and then all of a sudden it was like my mind just switched, and I started paying attention to what they were saying, I couldn’t quite understand all the meanings, but I understood a ton of the individual words, it was like the meaning was just beyond my grasp, but my brain was forcing me to listen instead of thinking about work in English. It was kinda cool. Immersion works for me, but only if I pair that with serious and honest study.
It’s a great feeling once it starts working right?
It really is.
Yesterday I tried listening while doing my reps, I found it was distracting, but instead of my mind wandering away into English, it just started listening to the Japanese. I figure if I’m trying to learn Japanese anyway I might as well get distracted by Japanese.
This whole system of Anki and immersion is like one giant disgusting reinforcing loop that you just can’t escape from. Your mind might fight it, but one way or another, Japanese is getting in there.
My first post sounded a little confusing, what I meant to write, was that while I couldn’t understand the overall sentence, I could understand a lot of the individual words, and by the time I was half way through decoding the entire meaning of the sentence, they were already onto the next sentence. But I don’t really care, speed will come with time.
Thank you for the sentence packs btw, this is probably the 12th time I’ve started studying a language, and this is the farthest I’ve ever gotten and I’m more motivated today than ever.
I’m fine with the passive immersion. Putting on headphones and listening while I’m doing other stuff or in the car is fine. Where I really struggle is the active stuff. Sitting down and watching something is incredibly difficult for me. I have attention problems in the very best of cases, even with stuff I can understand. So, when it’s something where I’m at the 1%/10% understanding point, I get very bored and…twitchy almost. It kinda sucks, as I believe in the method. I’ve tried just forcing myself to sit down and watch half an hour of unsubtilted stuff, but the mind (and the mouse) wanders after a few moments even if it’s something I’m familiar with and love.
I went through this for a long time when I first started learning actual Japanese (post-Heisig) and anything I watched was so boring because I couldn’t understand, even if I had watched it before and knew what was happening. I found that after a while I just liked decoding the Japanese rather than focusing on the plot of the story and that in and of itself was enjoyable. Now, I’m at a point where I have fun both decoding and watching the plot unfold. I’m currently watching Bakuman and reading a couple manga series and I can understand anywhere from 70%-90% of the material (with Japanese subs, they are super helpful). It’s addicting once you start doing both the decoding and enjoying the plot.
There is always something out there that you will enjoy doing because language is just a medium to the material, and if you enjoy stuff in English, you will be able to enjoy stuff in Japanese. Keep looking and try new things; if things are getting boring just drop them and trying something else. The most important thing is to just keeping doing Japanese things, going back to Englishland is where we fail.
What I really want to get hold of more, but find difficult to find, is Japanese immersion with Japanese subtitles.
I first experienced watching Japanese content with Japanese subtitles when I started watching variety tv shows with my wife. I was surprised on how much I could pickup, and the subtitles re-inforced what my ears were hearing. I found it to be really enjoyable.
I have tried looking on amazon.co.jp for one piece episodes with Japanese subtitles, but it seems anime with Japanese subtitles is pretty hard to come across.
Dude, not at all… http://kitsunekko.net/subtitles/japanese/ has pretty much any anime you can think of and https://www.d-addicts.com/forums/page/subtitles has tons of drama subs. Use programs like Aegisub or Jubler to change the times on the subs.
I’d like to give a huge +1 to Daisetsu’s suggestion here. I have been watching anime with subtitles for 8 years now, and now shit actually comes out of my ass in the shape of kanji
Sounds too good to be true – legal free viewing?
What do you mean by legal free viewing? Those are all free downloads if that’s what you mean. Click on an anime you want and it’ll have (most of the time) every episode either in .zip format or one by one. This is not torrenting either, it’s just available to anyone who wants it. Anyone who is learning Japanese and not using this, is missing out in my opinion.
It’s just the subtitles, no video file.
Just like books, official subtitles are subject to copyright laws.
Very good point.
yeah I shouldn’t have omitted that.
Are these subs accurate?
In Japan, Barakamon actually doesn’t have subtitles. Lack of subtitles for a lot of anime is a big complaint among the Deaf community in Japan, and my husband has told me subtitles from Chinese sources are unreliable when I used to watch them on Youku. It seems Kitsunekko has both the Japanese and the Chinese and the Japanese I’m guessing are transcribed by ear by non-native Chinese speakers.
I’ve never used these sources myself. But it just makes me wonder. I just looked at the Barakamon one, and that’s at least definitely not from Japan.
Have you tried playing text heavy video games? Ones like persona 4, or ones based off of anime, have almost the whole thing voiced with subtitles that you can replay as they usually have the option to re-read the backlog
I’d like to give a huge +1 to Jonathan’s suggestion here. Text-heavy, voice-acted RPGs and VNs make up ~90% of my active immersion. They’ve worked really well for me.
And if you’re really set on understanding a specific anime, picking up one of its licensed video games would be a great stepping stone toward that goal.
Thanks for all the suggestions, ill defiantly check those sub websites out, and those games sound awesome too.
clannad and steins gate are really good for VNs :D
Thanks a lot for this! My immersion has been pretty non existant, but now I’m getting close to finishing the JAlup beginner deck, and once that’s done, I plan to start upping the immersion. And this post definitely supports that decision too haha. I will make a list of anime I’ve already watched that I really really liked, and rewatch those instead of watching new shows (as far as no subtitles go, I’ll still use subtitles for shows I’ve never seen but thatll be part of free time, not japanese immersion). Anyways I’m really tired so I’m not sure where I was going with this post anymore haha, but thanks for this post!
Congrats on almost finishing Beginner! Sounds like you have your immersion plan all ready to go once you finish.
Well said. This has been my experience to the letter.
I love this article. This will help me a lot explain what I do.. I do not teach Japanese language but the Filipino language and yes it is immersion an informal way but more functional use of the language..I always have doubts on how I will explain how immersion works. But… after reading this..questions answered :) Thanks for this article..
Great to hear! I’m always happy to be able to spread the immersion love to all languages.