That’s fair and I think it’s a big motivation for me in learning Japanese as a whole but in the moment motivating myself to keep with more inaccessible or unenjoyable methods of learning the language is a lot harder. Like, I do feel very motivated to learn the language and understanding something is Very Cool, but equally I only feel motivated to do methods with nice UIs because otherwise it feels like a drag to learn in that way. I don’t struggle to motivate myself with the language learning, I struggle to motivate myself to use the methods people seem to find the best like Anki.
Never did like Anki myself either, its UI appears to be made by a blind octopus with all its tentacles stuck in Pringles cans, but it’s not the only thing out there
If you want to do it the way I do it these days, try getting the three Dictionaries of Japanese Grammar and kind of just go at it. Although admittedly whoever published them can’t lay out a book to save their lives.
I’ll preface this by saying that I don’t like flashcards and that I may have an above-average memory, but I sincerely think that you don’t need an SRS for immersion, especially because a lot of the most common words in a language come up a lot. In fact, I think a lot of people go into immersion precisely in order to get away from doing SRS in a vacuum and to experience the benefits of understanding something in context. I learnt almost all the grammar points people usually list as ‘N2 grammar’ just by watching anime, looking up new words and structures in the dictionary and making sure I understood as much of the explanations I found as possible. I added mnemonics if necessary and pondered them for a bit, visualising them over and over until they made perfect sense. I then left them alone and went about my business. The ones for which I created mnemonics are the ones I remember most clearly, but most of the rest are still with me, and at the worst, I just look them up again and try to deepen my understanding further.
In short, I’d say that you should try to find something you enjoy for immersion, and then simply aim to listen/look out for things you already know (because it’s good listening practice and will show you that you are learning ), along with things that pique your interest (because you can go learn them). There’s no need to learn absolutely all the new words you encounter on the first try. Take your time. I’d say that subtitled anime and dramas are very good for this purpose, because they allow you to have overall comprehension while picking and choosing the words that you want to learn.
Would a textbook or application with a more conversational style help you? My personal favourite is this one:
I would recommend the physical textbook, but I have no idea if Assimil has managed to order prints. (They’re quite a small French company, even though they’re about a century old.) The app is more convenient to carry around anyway. The only thing that might seem frightening about this course is that it uses kanji (not for everything, of course!) right away, but readings are indicated, there’s an approximative pronunciation guide, and there are lots of little explanations and full translations for everything. I’d call their approach ‘guided immersion’, and it’s what allowed me to transition from the ‘everyday conversation’ level in French to the beginning of the ‘advanced literature and technical works’ level within a few months with no difficulty whatsoever. You learn everything in context, and I find that much more efficient. The one thing I’ve heard people not liking about this course is the amount of space dedicated to grammar – some people find the explanations too skimpy. They were mostly sufficient for me, but I’ll leave you to judge the course if you choose to try it. In any case, you’ll always have the forums for questions, and there’s Google too.
Yeah I mean, I suppose something like that could work but I just need my attention grabbed or my brain is not engaging in any way lol. I adore WaniKani because the UI and the community element make it a lot easier for me to want to use it for learning, and as much as Duolingo is very flawed for Japanese and just generally it is fun as it’s designed to be lol.
One thing I do definitely want to try is immersion through Japanese games that I’ve already played through in English so that I’m not really missing anything plot wise, but I don’t quite understand how to do immersion in regards to what things to look up and how to make it stick - as someone who is very much a beginner with Japanese, there is obviously a lot that I don’t understand and I don’t know if I should just sit there and read/listen and pick out what I recognise or make an active effort to take note of and write down words or grammar rules, and if so I don’t know how to go about that. Maybe I just need hand holding lol
That does make sense as something that would be useful, but I just struggle to figure out whether I should be looking up every single thing and making note of it. and how to then study those things. I’m most likely overthinking it and I understand that, but I just find it very difficult to engage with native content because I just struggle to figure out how to go about it. SRS’ have always been very helpful for me because obviously they just nail it into my brain, but I just despise Anki as a system because the UI is so bad and I really struggle to make my brain engage with it.
I’ll have a look at it eventually, I think. I’m not completely sure how to effectively learn from a textbook which is why I think going through one with a teacher might help me, but if all else fails I can just buy a notebook and go at it like I’m in high school lol.
All of this publisher’s books are really designed entirely for self-study though. I think you can get a teacher to help you, but what I’m saying is that it’s meant to allow you to work through things on your own, which isn’t the case for most textbooks, especially for Japanese. However, of course, feel free to look through it whenever you feel like it, or even to ignore it completely.
I understand, and I also understand why SRS might be preferable in the sense that it’s practically automatic. I’d say you should just take note of whatever you can catch and easily find in a dictionary. If not, it’s alright. You can leave intensive ‘all new words’ study for later when you’re more comfortable with Japanese.
I freely admit, I’m a nerd about textbooks, but am also bad at using them consistently. Hopping into immersion early was one of the things I wanted to do - definitely had some mis-steps along the way, but that’s totally okay. I have a love hate with Anki - you can style cards to make it look prettier, but I still don’t enjoy using it - it can help you get vocabulary into your head - I don’t find SRS helpful for grammar, and that’s usually the stumbling block to engaging with native material.
It’s helpful to have a basic sense of how Japanese sentences work before you try to immerse, especially if you don’t have much background - mainly because the order feels super backwards to English speakers. There are video series’ out there if reading a book isn’t your jam - Cure Dolly and Japanese Ammo with Misa are both popular (disclaimer, haven’t used either). At the beginning, I would be watching the video/reading the section, and just taking some time to think about it and take away what you can. Fuzzy understanding of the concepts is fine - more exposure will make them clear. Some people like to take notes, some people are more on the train of ‘I looked it up, I thought about it, I kinda get it now, and next time I see it, I’ll look it up again’ - I have been both of those people - they’ve both more or less worked. Particularly as a beginner, most of the grammar you learn you’ll see everywhere and your brain will eventually get it.
I am partial to reading as your first immersion activity because you have lots of time to look things up and figure them out - when I started I really couldn’t look anything up from an anime because I couldn’t identify the words being said at all (better now, but still rough) and hadn’t found any Japanese subtitles yet. The Comprehensible Japanese youtube channel is a nice fit for total beginners who would rather do more listening - you need very little knowledge to get through the complete beginner videos, but it gives you some basic sentence structure and vocab.
Best wisdom from @ChristopherFritz - your first immersion/native content experiences are more puzzles and less “consuming content” - you move through it slowly, look up lots of stuff, and have lots of questions. You will need to look up way more things than you’ll memorize on the first pass - take note of the things that you see often and focus attention on figuring those out - your brain is good at patterns, you’ll start to get that ‘I’ve seen this before’ feeling to cue you to spend some more time on that piece of grammar/vocab. If it’s the first time you’ve seen it, it’s okay to just look it up quickly, get a rough sense, and move on. There’s a bit of a balance between ‘just pick out what you know’ - great reinforcement for your current knowledge, but (to me) less helpful for learning new things - and looking up everything and writing them down. If I wrote everything down, I would not get through much content - I go for quantity of repeated exposure instead of detailed remembering from each exposure. Look up what I need to understand, think about anything new/tricky, continue reading and repeat. Reading can act as SRS for common grammar - you get repeated exposure, spaced out in time.
For some “handholding” in early immersion - you might look into the old (or current) Absolute Beginners Book Club or Beginner Japanese Book Club picks. They’ve taken on a variety of manga/children’s books, and club picks have community completed vocabulary sheets for reference, along with threads where people post questions and get explanations - the community aspect can definitely make reading along easier, and it’s nice to have people around to answer your questions when you can’t even figure out what you need to look up.
It’s okay to try different strategies to figure out what works for you. There may be an ‘optimal’ way to learn Japanese, start immersing etc, but in reality, the ‘optimal’ way for you will be the one you can start and stick too.
Good luck, and welcome to the community
This is one way to do immersion, but luckily not the only one. I really like this description of different types of immersion:
Intensive immersion is a powerful tool for learning vocabulary and grammar directly from real-world content. As you immerse, you attempt to puzzle out the meaning of each sentence by using lookups. In this process of puzzling out meaning, you use your analytical mind to break apart the language and try to understand it. Intensive immersion builds a pool of conscious knowledge that your brain can later acquire.
The alternative is free-flow immersion where you let the language wash over you. You still pay full attention, but you shouldn’t be looking things up constantly. The occasional lookup is OK, but avoid constantly interrupting your immersion.
Free-flow means accepting and embracing the ambiguity of the language. If you are watching a TV show, accept that you aren’t going to understand everything. Don’t try to look up every unknown piece of dialogue.
Free-flow doesn’t mean you need to go quickly. Go at whatever speed feels comfortable to you as long as you’re not breaking your flow. If you are reading a comic or novel, then take your time, but don’t linger on incomprehensible sentences. Accept that they are currently out of your reach and just move on.
I think intensive immersion is great for short pieces of content, such as song lyrics or short news articles. Back in the day I did this a lot with lyrics from my favorite Japanese songs, looking up every single unknown word or grammar point. But because they were short pieces, the work was contained, and the process wasn’t exhausting.
Now, for longer pieces such as manga, anime and books, I prefer free flow immersion. This way, I can just let myself go with the flow of the story. Because I’m not interrupting it to look up every single thing I don’t understand, the process is much more enjoyable and sustainable for long periods of time. Plus, as I progress through the story, I start being able to guess the meanings of some words and expressions that I didn’t understand in the beginning, just by their repetition and by the context of the story.
Also, you can select different types of media according to their level of comprehensibility. This helps you to understand and follow along with the story without making as many interruptions to look things up.
For me, what’s been helpful is choosing media I already know: reading manga/books and watching anime that I’ve already seen many times before, with stories and characters I remember well (the first Harry Potter book , and the manga/anime Cardcaptor Sakura ). Nostalgia and fun can give a big boost in motivation!
It’s fine to dislike Anki and its UI, but man, comments like that are really insulting when Anki is completely free (as in libre) software that the maintainer doesn’t receive a single penny for (except for the iOS software) and is used by probably a gazillion people successfully.
Personally, I don’t really understand the IMO irrational hate some people have against Anki. Things do not need to be pretty to be effective, and while parts of the UI might be non-obvious, it takes probably 10 minutes tops to learn about the absolute basics such that you could just download a high quality deck and use it for yourself. Even if it was an hour instead of 10 minutes, that would be time well spent for a tool that you can use in the future whenever you want to learn anything (not just Japanese, I’ve used it a lot in university too). Of course, there are alternatives to Anki, if you prefer those. They come with their own tradeoffs, I’d say, but if they work for you, who cares what you use.
I wonder if the “Anki sucks so much” is sometimes an excuse for people to remain stuck in their WK bubble. Sure, WK is great and all, but there’s so many things it doesn’t teach you that you will have to learn in one way or another (maybe that’s not SRS, but it’s gotta be something).
Back to topic, research seems to indicate that the best way to achieve your goals is not to rely on your willpower but to build regular habits and to reduce friction. Building habits takes time and might feel uncomfortable at first, but it pays off later when you’re doing things so automatically that you don’t even have time to think about how much you don’t want to do them.
So don’t spend too much time looking for the best SRS app or the best textbook or the best resource or whatever (a bit of time is OK, but don’t overdo it). Instead focus on using a specific set of resources and form regular habits around it. For me, I do Anki reviews once a day which is an easy habit to establish. I also joined a discord group where we go through Genki at a somewhat fixed schedule which helps me keep on track (even if I sometimes go through the chapter at the last minute).
Yup, exactly! Not everyone has the energy to do intensive immersion most of the time, and even people who are very motivated about learning Japanese may want to just casually watch a show every once in a while. When I was talking about only checking words that seem interesting, I was referring to something that’s in between, but closer to free-flow immersion. Plus, free-flow immersion has its benefits too: noticing words you already know reinforces them, and is encouraging because you realise you can understand certain things and are improving.
While I did mean to be insulting, it’s also more light-hearted than you think (mostly just phrased it that way to be funny, which I guess didn’t land)
Also, just become something is free doesn’t mean it’s above criticism. While I could have indeed phrased that more politely, it is true that Anki doesn’t have the most streamlined or intuitive of UIs and it’s going to drive quite a lot of people away.
Man you have no idea how many pithy and snarky descriptions I resisted making in the writing of this post
Criticism is fair, but it’s also important to remember context. Open source software is experiencing a crisis right now because maintainers regularly burn out, and I don’t think that cultivating these exaggerated expectations we have (as users) is going to be wise. In any case, yes, you could have been more polite.
That said, while I agree that some parts of Anki are a bit puzzling, for the main two regular use cases:
- reviewing cards
- adding new cards to a deck (where the card type was already created)
the experience is IMHO rather frictionless. And I think optimising for these two use cases is rather wise, as that’s where you’ll spend most of your time.
I’m also not sure if it’s really true that Anki is driving a lot of people away. I mean, for one Anki is actually really popular, and for all the people that do give up on Anki, I wonder how many of them actually go and choose a different app/service as opposed to quitting SRS altogether or using only single-purpose systems (like WK, kitsun, bunpro, etc.). The latter is fine, but you have to realise that you’re always gonna be limited in scope, so I’d really encourage people to try out some general-purpose SRS system (doesn’t have to be Anki, although I’ve never used any of the alternatives) because it will probably be helpful at some stage (unless you really don’t need / don’t believe in SRS for some reason).
And just to back this up, this episode of the Hidden Brain podcast discusses this topic in some more detail.
I’m sure that’s the case for some people, but with me the issue is just that I really cannot motivate myself to use methods of learning that I don’t engage with and the style of it is generally a big factor in that for me. Whether it’s because I’m autistic or not is a fun possibility but it’s just the case where I have to adapt and either try to make methods that I can’t engage with work or only stick to ones I find myself thinking are enjoyable rather than a chore. So, I imagine in some cases it’s an excuse, but in my case I do wish I could use it consistently but I find myself unable to.
I don’t want to discount the possibility that maybe Anki just really doesn’t work for you for some reason (and if so, there are of course alternatives).
On the other hand, how many of the people that regularly go to the gym enjoy doing so and in particular did enjoy doing so when they started? The same goes for any sort of habit with long-term benefits (e.g. quitting smoking).
If you really tried Anki for months and tried to build a habit and it just still doesn’t work, okay. But maybe it’s also the case that it will just suck and be annoying at first, but once the habit is established, it will be easy to keep at it.
Learning Japanese, unfortunately, doesn’t come for free. I don’t think there is any method that is not sometimes a bit painful, but I think that regular habits can reduce that pain. Ofc, that doesn’t have to be Anki and textbooks if you really do find something that works better.
I also have trouble with Anki, but for me it’s because I tend to get sucked into tweaking it and making cards and it ends up taking up too much time that distracts from actually studying.
There’s been a lot of talk about immersion, but I’ve found it can often be a bit of a struggle when you’re first starting out to find material that’s not just a wall of incomprehensible nonsense. Two resource for reading I’ve found helpful are graded readers and Satori Reader. Graded readers are meant to be use for free-flow immersion, without relying on Anki or SRS, but some of them can be pricey. Satori reader can be used free-flow, but it also has built-in look-up of vocab and grammar points if you want to go in deeper. It has built-in SRS so you can do that without Anki if you want. It’s free to sign up and there should be a good amount of stuff for you to work with to start out, especially if you’re doing intensive reading and taking your time. It also integrates with WaniKani so it can choose to only use furigana for kanji you haven’t learned here yet.
Satori reader also has audio, and graded readers often come with audio as well, but for me the best way to immerse for listening is just to re-watch anime or drama I’ve already watched with English subtitles. Like others have said, you don’t have to do it intensively if you don’t want to, you will still pick things up from repeated exposure, as long as you have a basic foundation to build on.
For textbooks you might want to check out Human Japanese, it’s basically like a digital textbook made for independent learners and is pretty affordable. It might be more your style than a traditional textbook, and there’s a free trial version you can download to try it out.
And for another free SRS option I don’t really see mentioned often, you can create your own courses at Memrise, as well as study ones other people have made. It doesn’t have as many features as Anki, but for simple stuff it works fine, you can even add audio (I usually get mine from Forvo), and it might be more your style.
I struggle with the same thing so what i did is i built my day around studying it and make it part of my day so i’ll do little bits for stuff i don’t like at certain parts of the day (like 4pm i do textbook work until 4:30) that is the biggest thing i did and i have not missed a day since i got used to it. Also i would recommend swapping from anki i found it drained me, so now i personally use RemNote so I can make notes from my textbook and make flashcards at the same time (I literally use it for studying of all kinds, like Business Studies rn) but i have also heard that quizlet is good! furthermore, imo there are 2 types of immersion, Passive (not making notes) and Active (making notes and flashcards). I refuse to do active since it turned into me hating watching stuff i used to love (like anime) and just deterred me from studying in general. Those are my tips!
You don’t need motivation. You just do it until it becomes a habit. Once it’s a habit, you have no choice but to do it.
I can recommend Satori Reader, too. Admittedly, I don’t use it as often as I should, but when I do it’s really valuable. I’m currently reading the Zama murders story (which did actually happen) which, for being essentially a baby Japanese text, is still sort of interesting unlike some other beginner material that I’ve seen.
That said, I only started deriving much value out of it once I already had some vocab and grammar under my belt (currently I’m in the middle of Genki 2), before that I found it a bit too tedious.
When you are looking things up, reviewing grammar points, and so on, you are not “immersed.” At least not until you’re fluent enough to use a Japanese-Japanese dictionary.
So you shouldn’t feel like you have to do what was defined upthread as “intensive immersion,” where you diligently try to understand and make note of every unknown word. That’s hard work, not particularly interesting, and will require a lot of non-Japanese tools at the beginning.
Expose yourself to Japanese media of all kinds. Make note of the words you recognize and pat yourself on the back. Get used to the grammar structures. If you notice an unknown word that repeats frequently, look that up, and notice how adding just one word improves your understanding of the text.
Think about why you want to learn Japanese in the first place. Do that thing with as much Japanese content as you can manage. Over time, you’ll be able to manage more, and it will be less like work and more fun, which will motivate even more learning.