Textbook learning: check. Immersion learning: big question mark. When you finally reach for your first manga or anime, there is no bigger question than whether you should choose something based on whether it is interesting to you or whether you can understand it. How you answer this will significantly affect your desire to study. Are you choosing the right answer for yourself?
In a perfect world, you’d be able to choose both, right from the start. But learner life is tough, and you don’t get an easy victory like that. You first need to look at the significance of each direction.
- Fuels your desire to learn
- Represents the reason why you started studying Japanese in the first place
- Excites you and is fun
- Gives you just the right Japanese for your current level
- Prevents the stress and struggle of trying to focus on what is in front of you
- Motivates you because you truly feel like you are actually learning Japanese
The perfect balance
It’s easy to realize that it’s all about balance. It’s all about weighing the choice in your head with the outcome on both ends. If you go too far to one side, without consideration of the other, it can drastically negate the benefits that you would have gotten.
A very long time ago, I said that you need to read what is appropriate to your interests. While picking books targeted at small children sounds good in theory (nearly 100% understandable), it’s most likely going to be close to 0% interesting for you. This is an extreme, but the concept works similarly when it comes to people trying to force themselves to read popular “easy” manga. For example, those trying to read Yotsuba when they weren’t interested in it at all.
But even if you knew your perfect balance that you needed, are you going to be able to put it into action? When you approach something new, how can you possibly know how much you’ll understand until you dive into it? Sure, if you are deciding between a samurai period drama vs. a high school romance story, there is a clear winner in the understanding category. But genres often blend together, making things hard to judge.
What’s more important?
I don’t want to leave you with a “find your balance and everything will be okay.” I have an actual answer:
Interest should trump understanding… but only somewhat.
I’ve been on each extreme end of the scale and everywhere in-between, and I just could never get past the fact that I was more likely to stick with something that I found interesting, even if I didn’t understand it that well.
I once tried favoring understanding. I thought that if I understood more, I’d learn Japanese quicker, and get to the fun stuff I really wanted to enjoy sooner. But this led me into the deadly trap of trying to “save the fun stuff for later” whiled doing the “real work” now. And while I’m a big proponent of difficult challenges from the beginning, I’m not a proponent of pushing off enjoyment to the future.
If you need one final point of convincing, remember:
You can still enjoy something that you can’t understand well.
What does your balance look like?
I had always try to keep it at around:
This doesn’t mean I only understood 30%. It’s just where my priorities were when choosing what to watch and read. How about you? Where does your balance stand?