Passive listening, or immersion methods, have been growing in increasing popularity recently. What could be more simple? Listen to Japanese in the background as much as you can throughout every day on your portable music player, and reap the massive benefits. You rack up the necessary daily hours of Japanese in one continuous, easy stream.
So is this technique too good to be true? You will find your share of Japanese learners who argue that passive listening does not work, and is a waste of your time. So which is it?
Passive listening is supremely powerful. From my personal experience it has allowed me to achieve a higher level of listening/speaking than almost anyone I’ve ever met who has studied Japanese. However, I believe there are two rules which must be followed to achieve these types of results.
1. Bring in Passive’s natural partner, Active
I will admit that Passive is weak and has very little power by itself. It’s like gathering a large collection of high level spell scrolls. Regardless of the numbers and the time you spent to obtain them, if you haven’t leveled up your magic points/skill points/mana through active battling, these scrolls will do nothing for you. They’ll just sit there making you think you’re progressing.
Solution: Start powering up the Active side. And what’s the baddest Active in town? Anki. Let Anki build up the skills necessary to activate the scrolls. While you are at, don’t forget to actively read and actively watch media.
2. Passive must be familiar
Your Passive must have once been Active. You should always actively see media before listening to it passively on your Ipod. I’ve done a lot of tweaking with this, and have discovered that putting brand new material that you’ve never seen can really suck away the benefits of Passive.
The essence of utilizing Passive is making it the background of your every day, your life soundtrack. You directly tune in for some parts, and ignore others. Depending on what you are doing at the moment your focus may clearly be on something else. If your Passive is new material that you are hearing for the first time, it becomes very difficult to enjoy. Ever listen to a book on tape for the first time and just ignored random parts?
Equally as important is the fact that once you’ve actively seen the media, the visuals stay within your mind. When you passively hear it the next times around, the visuals are still with you, with your imagination filling in the missing pieces, making it a more memorable experience. The more areas of your brain that you are using while engaging in Passive, the more Japanese will be making its new permanent home.
Listen and let the magic do its work
Don’t rationalize the reasons behind this technique. Try it for yourself. Do it properly. And give it time. Watch as you dash through the levels.
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.