Enter a heated topic. Now I usually don’t care at all about debates over methods. I created JALUP to show you what has worked for me and others, quickly and effectively. But one of the pillars of this method is often under attack. This pillar, immersion, seems to have two camps of thought on the internet
1. Ridiculous. It doesn’t work. Stop wasting your time.
2. Awesome. It is the greatest thing since (insert old cliche).
But recently on the post here on JALUP about power leveling, in the comments section there were some genuine and intelligent questions raised about immersion and its effectiveness. Not by someone who is just casting it aside in a thoughtless manner, but someone who has tried it for an extended length of time, and really wants to know its effectiveness and whether it is worth pursuing in the manner that I lay it out on JALUP.
The comments on that post were long, by multiple people, so I thought it would be great to summarize the conversation we were all having into something that people who want to know more about the full immersion method could use. The following questions and answers come from that, edited for ease and clarity. And for those who are a little unfamiliar with the whole immersion concept, please check out JALUP posts here, here, and here before going any further.
And sorry for this super long post (probably the longest on this site!) I wanted to keep all immersion discussion here without having to break it up into two parts.
Question (Jeff): The whole immersion iPod thing makes me feel very overstimulated. Also, if I do it for awhile it has a clear positive effect on my listening comprehension, but then if I stop it just kind of dies off which makes me feel like it has more of a temporary effect. Has anyone else had the same experiences with it?
It does take time to get used to the constant immersion. But I’m telling you from experience, eventually you will love it. You will actually feel lonely when you aren’t constantly surrounded by Japanese. You aren’t immersing yourself with lessons and drills. You are immersing yourself with your favorite TV shows, movies, music, and anime. While at first you have slight frustration because you aren’t understanding it, as time goes, and you slowly start picking up more and more, your immersion becomes that much more special to you. Its effects are continuous but are hard to notice in the present. You will see the results pour in for your future Japanese.
I have a hard time believing that it always has worthwhile effects compared to active listening. If I was going to be power leveling I feel like it would have a net positive effect on my results if I allowed myself some time to take a break from the Japanese input to avoid burnout. For example, maybe decide to watch four hours a day of television as actively as possible and then allow myself to fully relax at the end of the day and hang out with friends or watch a movie in English. Do you really think I’m missing out that much by not using full immersion?
Another natural progression is this relaxation time that people need will eventually be done in Japanese. The more you fall in love with Japanese culture and media, you will enjoy relaxing to it that much more. You won’t need to take a break from your studies because your break is your studies. You will eventually come home from a long day at work and actually want to relax by watching the newest episode of your favorite J-dramas or variety shows (and this sensation will come way before you are fluent).
It’s all about giving it time. It is a complete 180 degree change in lifestyle. I’ve found that those who benefit the most and succeed at it are those that realize this. But again, it’s all really how bad you want it and how quick you want it. If you are in no rush to be fluent in Japanese, there is nothing wrong with that at all, and there is no need to rush. Enjoy Japanese at a pace that is comfortable and enjoyable to you, and take the breaks that you need.
Question (Jeff): The times that I have finally progressed the most have generally been the ones where I have a specific target for the day and after I have accomplished that goal I let myself chill out and do other things to recuperate. Even when I went through a period of extreme study mode and was doing 100 J-J cards a day for a few months, I felt like it was extremely beneficial for me to take much needed breaks from Japanese after accomplishing my goals for the day. What do you think about this because sometimes it’s hard to tell if I’m just not willing to push myself as far or something?
I find ‘breaks’ to be beneficial as well. They allow time for things to seep in and let your brain do some crunching of its own, much like what an SRS is all about. However, where I find to be the drawback is, when you give yourself that kind of break, it’s easier to rationalize that ANOTHER little break isn’t going to hurt. And then another. Eventually this can lead to a build up and you lose focus, not putting enough time into your overall goal. If you can control yourself, keep your breaks limited, then it seems to be okay. But it is a dangerous road to cross, so be wary.
I’m actually fairly far along at this point (started this whole project about 4 years ago and I’m currently at 9500 cards) so I can understand most of the things I read and watch, but definitely not everything. I watch and read Japanese throughout every day, and I miss it when I don’t come into contact with it for a day. I take breaks to watch Japanese TV shows and movies because I love them and enjoy watching them. But what about after you have watched that new Japanese TV show or movie and you still have 3 hours before you go to bed? Do you stick to a philosophy like AJATT and never let yourself interact with media that isn’t in Japanese?
I assume you still want to improve your Japanese and aren’t quite satisfied with your level just yet. So why not benefit from enjoying your favorite media and leveling your Japanese at the same time which is a goal you are still heavily pursuing? What non-Japanese do you want to watch. English news, movies, TV, websites? While it takes time, almost everything major eventually gets dubbed into Japanese.
After you watch that new J-TV show or movie, why not watch another? And another. In English, people easily spend hours drifting from one TV show/movie/website to the next. You can develop that habit in Japanese. You will eventually no longer miss English media. I’m not saying to never touch it. I also still watch the occasional show in English (especially those that never get dubbed). But your tastes will change. Your mindset will change that you are missing out on something by not watching English media.
For me I love Japanese media so I’m not going to stop reading/watching it everyday, but it can still be pretty exhausting not understanding everything. I guess this might be remedied through a different mindset, but after studying for this long I’m starting to feel like it might not be worth forcing myself to only do things in Japanese if there are things I want to do in English as well (as in, the benefits of having this more laid back attitude might actually have a net positive effect on my Japanese progress because I’m always more excited when I do watch Japanese TV shows or movies).
Everyone has to adjust their pacing to how bad they want to master Japanese, what they are willing to sacrifice, and just in general to their own personality. There are no absolutes, and no one is criticized for not being able to go full force all the time. If you find that taking breaks like this are beneficial to you, and you haven’t been tempted into procrastination and extended periods of time without Japanese, then there is nothing wrong with what you are doing.
I’m starting to feel pretty strongly that up until an advanced level when you can understand most of the things you are reading and watching, your time and energy is much better spent learning new vocabulary because that is almost entirely the reason you can’t understand the TV show or movie that you would love to watch. Do you agree with this?
One major power behind the immersion environment is it constantly teaches you new things that you never learned actively. This isn’t limited to new vocabulary or grammar. This expands to things you do know, but different ways of saying it, how it is said in different scenarios, and how it is said by different people.
A random example would be changing the い to え on a lot of words. For example おもしろい (a word you’d know) to おもしれえ or 行きたくない to 行きたくねぇ. This is something that you’d finally start to pick up from hearing it enough time passively without ever studying it.
Also the only way to get used to fast Japanese nonstop in real conversation is to hear it, a lot. You are getting used to different ways of talking, different accents, and different types of voices in general.
Finally, not only are you learning new things, but you are reinforcing what you already know in more deeper ways in the brain, which is the real way to gain an awesome speaking level . Yea, you may understand “諦めるわけにはいかない！” if you see or hear it. But it wasn’t until the 100th time you’ve heard it on your immersion Ipod until those words would naturally come out of your mouth in conversation without thought.
You may have 9500 cards in your Anki, which you may understand if you see written, but when you hear a lot of that in natural fast conversations in different settings, there is a good chance that you will not understand a lot of it. And you’ll of course only be able to reproduce even less.
I’m approaching the 1 year point, but I have to say that I’ve learned a good bit of vocabulary from doing just that, listening to music, watching dramas, playing games, watching Japanese people talk among themselves, or to me on occasion — not that I can really talk back all that well ^^ — without having the aim of learning vocabulary.
It is more of an “Oh! So that is how it is said in that situation.” and since it struck such a strong response, I tend to remember it fairly well. And if I do end up forgetting it, I know exactly where I can go back to find it in most cases. Sure, I had to understand a good bit before I could learn meanings of words without looking them up (or even seeing them in some cases), but am still far from where I want to be. Also, while it didn’t happen as often, I did still learn words near the very beginning of my journey through watching drama without a good handle on vocabulary.
I would go as far as to say that a large portion of my vocabulary/phrases has come from my immersion environment, and isn’t something that I actively studied — not that I’m trying to put SRS down; it is works wonderfully in conjunction with an immersion environment. Not only that, but it is responsible for the other large portion of my vocabulary
I’m confused about why it seems like the online community of Japanese learners is so set on the idea that once you decide to study Japanese, doing things in English becomes a sin. And that painfully slogging through barely comprehensible books in Japanese is without question a better use of your time than learning some new words each day and maybe reading an easy manga before going about your life in English. Obviously once you have learned a hell of a lot of words and the world of Japanese is truly open to you, it makes sense to be watching/reading more but I’d be surprised if this didn’t happen naturally for anyone willing to put in the time to learn.
It’s really because the failure rate of Japanese learners is incredibly high. Even if they don’t reach failure/giving up, the amount of learners who have learned Japanese on and off for many many years never to achieve anything above an intermediate level is staggering. And even those that reach higher levels, there Japanese is often not natural, they don’t understand native media incredibly well, and it’s like they learned a different world of Japanese than what an average Japanese person learns.
When you separate your Japanese from your English life, and allow yourself to be “done with your Japanese for the day”, it’s you making an unconscious statement to yourself that you are studying Japanese, but it is just that, something that you are studying. The concept of immersion is that you taking Japanese beyond studying, and making it part of your life.
In other words, I don’t necessarily believe that during the long (long, long) path from beginner to advanced, someone who is learning 10 new words and reading some manga/watching an easy TV show with Japanese subs each day is really going to be progressing much slower than someone who is learning 10 new words each day and has changed his or her environment completely into Japanese. Because when it comes down to it, the media isn’t going to start coming into focus until the learner understands the words, regardless of how much he immerses.
(Note: I wasted a significant amount of time and energy (years) when I first started learning Japanese after finding AJATT because I focused almost entirely on immersion and very little on vocabulary
and I’m still an incredibly bitter old man about it)
Does this make sense?
From what I’ve seen, I believe there will be a huge, huge difference between these 2 Japanese learners (assuming that those 10 new Anki sentences a day are also paired with reviewing all the RTK/Anki sentences you have to do for the day). This is due to all the other benefits that immersion are having on you that are mentioned above.
The long long path will be significantly less long for the immersion learner (and will definitely feel less longer). And as I’ve discussed here, and you’ve unfortunately had to experience first hand, immersion alone will fail, it is only the active/passive combination that truly works.
Hopefully this discussion helps those with similar questions and concerns. Thanks to Jeff, Zatchy and どうして for the great questions and answers.
Readers feel free to further discuss the above if you want, but I’ve pretty much said everything I have to say on the immersion topic.
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.