Going monolingual. Going J-J. Banishing the English. It is one of the cornerstones of the Jalup method. Yet as you probably know, Jalup is still in the minority in encouraging and teaching you how to do this. Why is this? If it’s so good, why aren’t more people doing it? Is it really that special?
The majority opinion is still to stick with English. People that do so will be happy to tell you why learning Japanese with a monolingual dictionary is a fruitless effort. It can be tough to hear this if you are in the midst of attempting a J-J only marathon.
Most people keep their J-E habits forever. To be fair, many of these people do also think that once you reach a high enough level, it can benefit you to introduce a J-J dictionary as well. But that’s only an optional, additional tool, to be saved for a later date. Trying to go solely monolingual early on?
You’ll hear things like:
- It takes way more time to use a J-J dictionary
- It will leave you frustrated
- It will leave you with a worse understanding
- There are no proven benefits over sticking with English
I’m sure the list goes on much, much longer.
Despite me being a vocal supporter of J-J on this site, through all of the articles and products, I’m not going on a tirade of why J-J is far superior to J-E. I have no science or studies to back that up, and that would be an irresponsible statement. The anecdotal stories of myself and thousands of people using Jalup may be convincing. However, these people might have done just as well with J-E, and there are plenty of people that gave up J-J here, and did fine with J-E methods.
However, I want to take this article to provide the real deep reasons behind why I think J-J is amazing, and why you need to try it.
6. Going monolingual gets you to go monolingual
Even those against J-J usually agree that it is useful to eventually get your hands on a monolingual dictionary.
The problem is when? You most likely will have used a J-E dictionary for years. What level is good enough? No matter when you start, you are going to go through the initial adjustment phase that the monolingual dictionary requires. I’ve found that most learners who stick with J-E, and think one day they might also use a J-J dictionary, never ending up using a J-J dictionary.
When you go monolingual, you go monolingual.
5. You get the real meanings
I know that for a large pool of words, a monolingual definition seems crazy. Let’s compare the meaning of cat in a J-E and J-J dictionary.
猫: 食肉目ネコ科の哺乳類。体はしなやかで、足裏に肉球があり、爪を鞘に収めることができる。口のまわりや目の上に長いひげがあり、感覚器として重要。舌はとげ状の突起で覆われ、ざらつく。夜行性で、目に反射板状の構造をもち、光って見える。瞳孔は暗所で円形に開き、明所で細く狭くなる。単独で暮らす。家猫はネズミ駆除のためリビアヤマネコやヨーロッパヤマネコなどから馴化 (じゅんか) されたもの。起源はエジプト王朝時代にさかのぼり、さまざまな品種がある。日本ネコは中国から渡来したといわれ、毛色により烏猫・虎猫・三毛猫・斑 (ぶち) 猫などという。ネコ科にはヤマネコ・トラ・ヒョウ・ライオン・チーターなども含まれる。
I chose a bit of an extreme example, but yes, most nouns that can be concretely explained in one English word may take several sentences in Japanese. Then again, if you plan on ever watching or reading something Japanese, you most likely won’t even ever look up these words. Technically you don’t even need a dictionary for words like these. Just do a Google Image search.
However, 100% one-to-one meanings are not the norm. As you go down the following list (in the following order), the J-E dictionary loses it’ accuracy.
- Common Nouns
- Less Common Nouns
- Japanese-Unique Phrases
The order of this list itself can be troubling. For a beginner, a lot of the simpler words are pretty accurate. As you get higher level, that accuracy diverges. But since you were so used to the accurate words earlier on, it can lull you into a false sense of confidence as you get higher level.
4. More Japanese is a good thing
Why waste several minutes on a J-J definition that could be learned in one second with English?
Because you get more Japanese, which is what you are here to study. Working through a definition is incredibly valuable study time and is not wasted. For the programmers out there, do you consider the time spent struggling and figuring out how to write a line of code wasted time?
3. You stop translating to English in your head
When will I stop translating in my head? Everyone wants an answer to this.
The good news is that J-E and J-J learners alike will both make these transitions one day. But with no English in the way, which way do you think is quicker?
2. You learn to think in Japanese
A big complaint of monolingual learners is they don’t feel fully confident with the Japanese definitions they read, and their understanding seems fuzzy.
I always respond the same way: this is completely normal and it would be silly to expect anything else!
You have thought in English your whole life. This is a colossal change. The way Japanese is organized is completely different. Trying to match it all to English is not helping you internalize the language. Deal with these uncertain feelings, and I promise you, they will absolutely go away with time.
1. Going monolingual is hard, and that’s good
A major mentality behind Jalup is to embrace challenge. The alternative is boredom. While J-E is necessary and is challenging itself, after a while you get used to it and it becomes routine. Going on to 2,000, 5,000, 10,000 J-E cards can get really boring.
J-J brings an exciting new game, with new challenges, and most importantly, new rewards.
Go Go Monolingual!
I know that this article is very one-sided, as you probably expected it to be. As I’ve already discussed above, plenty of people continue to succeed never having touched a monolingual dictionary. However… I seriously recommend you giving it a try. Not a low-effort try followed by a self-reassuring “I knew that was stupid and all the people from XYZ forum were right!”
Give it a few months. Even if you decide that J-J truly is the worst, it’s not like you will have wasted those months. At least you’ll know that you made the right choice sticking with J-E and won’t have any regret.
For all the successful monolingual J-J learners out there on the site, do you have anything to add to all of this?
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.