Balancing breadth vs depth, new material vs review?

I tend to consume immersion material in one of two modes (to over-simplify a bit):

  1. Consuming new material. In this mode, I’m typically still looking up words and referencing grammar but not getting too hung up on terms or deep grammatical understanding.
  2. Reviewing old material. In this mode, I’m typically trying to understand the content and grammar relatively deeply – not necessarily to the point where I’ll definitely be able to understand and apply it first try in a conversation – but as close as I can get without sacrificing too much breadth.

Some emphasize mass consumption of content with little or no emphasis on deep understanding while others recommend focusing on understanding with little or no emphasis on breadth. A typical extreme breadth approach would be to passively listen to raw native content 24/7 and acquire it like it a baby would. A typical extreme depth approach would be to watch the same 1-hour movie 50 times to create a high quality mental reference of native material to pull from. I think that leaning too far toward either extreme is likely sub-optimal for an adult learner and that the optimal range is somewhere in-between.

My current approach is to read 1 chapter of Tobira per week (including Anki cards) for depth and watch at least one episode per day on Animelon for breadth (for each line of dialogue, attempt pure listening first, read Japanese subs upon failure, English subs last resort). When I’m done with Tobira, my plan is to allocate more time to conversation practice and native content consumption. Overall, my approach is fairly breadth-heavy with very little review.

I’m curious to know how you think about managing your immersion time to balance breadth vs depth and new material vs review.


This is a bit of a thought dump on general learning as I understand it…


There’s two different kinds of understanding at play here. One is an “academic” understanding (parts of speech, what a clause is etc) and the other is the more practical one we normally think of as understanding. Studying words and grammar improves the first, mass consumption (and production) improves the second.

Learning seems to be a very "hyperspecific"process, with very little transfer between subjects/modes, so purely academic knowledge isn’t going to help your practical understanding, at least not directly. You need practical experience to learn practical tasks.

Having said that, the academic side of things can help you recognise connections quicker/better decide what to practice. (It makes you better at the meta-task of learning the task).

TLDR: mass consumption (what you’ve called breadth?) is critical, but study (depth?) makes mass consumption more efficient.

I don’t think anyone can give you an optimal ratio over the internet, this is the bit a mentor who knows the details of your situation is useful for…Personally, I see them as a sort of equilibrium, and the exact balance depends on everything.

If I had to turn all that abstract thought into something actionable, do lots of mass consumption, and decide what and how much to study outside of that based on how the mass consumption is going. And don’t expect to feel the benefits of study unless you’re practicing its application in mass consumption.

I hope some of this is actually helpful… :sweat_smile:

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