Is Matt's (from Matt vs Japan) idea--that it's more efficient to go more reading heavy before going more listening heavy--consistent with your experience?

Matt from Matt vs Japan posted this video about a month ago:

More Detail

From a recent Q&A, it sounds like this will eventually become a standard recommendation in the Mass Immersion Approach (MIA) road map. Specifically the road map will divided into four stages each with a part A and a part B; Stage 2A will be 70% reading, 30% listening in one domain; Stage 2B will be 70% listening and 30% reading in one domain.

The tl;dr is that he claims it’s more efficient to go more reading heavy before going more listening heavy because it should be relatively easy for listening ability to catch up to reading ability, and it’s much faster to develop reading ability.

Are all of these ideas consistent with your experience?
Do you think it’s an optimal method to developing listening ability quickly?

13 Likes

I’ll let you know once I get some decent listening comprehension.

44 Likes

While there is some overlap in the sense that improving one or the other involves learning more vocab and grammar, I think the two are separate skills that need to be trained.

Edit: If you’re hoping that if you read a lot that some day you’ll magically be able to keep up with native entertainment or conversations, I unfortunately just don’t think that’s realistic. Listening and reading are both easy to practice since there is tons of material available, so I don’t think it’s a good idea to intentionally put either of them off.

18 Likes

The main issue with that channel in general is that his recommendations are anecdotal and have no link to the vast body of readily available research literature on second language acquisition and teaching, the result of which are made up ratios like 70/30.

There is no reason to delay listening (or any other competency for that matter), which is why textbooks and other forms of professional language courses incorporate all four competencies from the beginning.

That being said, the idea that one’s reading ability is always better than one’s listening ability, even in the native language, is generally a wild concept if you consider literacy rates, oral language communities etc.

52 Likes

Yeah my main problem with MIA is that, while he does pay attention to SLA research at times, he also extrapolates a lot, and his sense of proportion often seems off. For example, his idea that outputting too early will harm your Japanese is at least a conceptually consistent hypothesis, but his priors and weighting are way off. (And the origin story of this idea has its own set of ironies.)

That said, I think people also vastly over-estimate the depth of SLA research. I’ve read many papers and the applicable results are underwhelming to say the least. In some sense, I think it’s a bit unfair to be harsh toward independently generating hypotheses. I also don’t think practicing all four competencies from the beginning is efficient either. One of the few applicable results of SLA research is that input is far more important in the beginning than output.

I’m definitely not one of those people hoping to learn Japanese only through reading. In fact, I would say my practice has been far more listening- and speaking-oriented than reading-oriented up until this point.

My experience, and that of many others, is that it appears to be far more efficient to acquire grammar and vocabulary through reading than through listening. And it’s also far easier to develop reading ability than listening ability. I don’t think Matt is saying that reading ability > listening ability always but that reading ability is almost always ahead of listening ability for second language learners.

I also don’t think reading and listening are completely independent skills, only that the overlap is narrow. However, if the overlap is that reading develops grammar and vocabulary far more efficiently, then Matt’s idea seems reasonable even if the ratios are made up.

I’m just wondering what the experience of other people has been.

24 Likes

The complete opposite for me. I can understand much more than what I can read (without furigana) since the very beginning. Hence why I even joined Wanikani on the first place…

I really agree with what @nclbk mentioned in his comment, there is no reason to delay any of the competencies, and feel it really depends on everyone’s preferred way of progress, their particular objectives and motivation.

8 Likes

I definitely can’t relate to this personally. I can easily understand N2 level listening but struggle with reading basic N3 stuff. Just my purely anecdotal personal experience of course, but not one single bone in my body can relate to him saying reading Japanese is “inherently easier” than listening. For me it’s the opposite.

11 Likes

Again, complete opposite from my experience and many other people in my circle.
I guess it really depends even on what’s your study method…

1 Like

I can’t say for certain that reading is more efficient, but after burning out the last time where my main focus was on listening to as much input as possible and seeing relatively few results, I decided to set my focus on reading and learning words in context (sentence mining) this time. I have found the experience way more pleasurable as reading both gives me the time to digest information better and I find it way easier and less jarring to re-read a paragraph than having to rewind an audiobook or video. I also feel like the process is going a lot smoother than last time, but I can’t rule out this is because my experience is building upon the base I laid listening.

But as stated by others, you shouldn’t neglect either competency. Both are essential to be “fluent” in japanese. And my experiences are purely anecdotal (and only a month for that matter!) so should be taken with a grain of salt :wink:

6 Likes

Do you have a source for this claim?

There are a lot of individual differences that come into play in second language learning, which is why some people find it fuzzy, but as a general statement, that’s not true. For Japanese specifically, the writing system presents considerable challenges that often lead to a lag in learners’ reading comprehension (cf. Rose, 2017).

But even outside of the specific challenges of the Japanese writing system, there are hosts of other situations in which learners acquire a second language informally through listening and speaking (e.g., in immigrant communities, or in countries with a large number of regional languages), and there’s no reason to believe they would have done so “quicker” by reading. Of course, practicing all competencies would ultimately lead to a higher proficiency level.

Rose, H. (2017). The Japanese Writing System. Challenges, Strategies and Self-regulation for Learning Kanji. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

9 Likes

To be honest, the source is Stephen Krashen and people citing Stephen Krashen – which is like half of SLA research papers, polyglot conferences, etc. And this is one of many reasons why I say SLA research is underwhelming.

That said, I think the following things are true: (1) to acquire a language, you have to get the language into you somehow; (2) it’s possible to become fluent in a language almost entirely through input; (3) the same cannot be said for output plus feedback without input.

I believe in speaking quite early compared to what most of these people recommend, but only in the context of conversation, where half of it is input, and other half (speaking) helps increase awareness of many things and helps organizes thoughts. I think that writing early is almost useless and definitely not worth the opportunity cost.

Personally I’m quite surprised people here found listening easier than reading. I think it’s far easier to develop reading ability given a vocabulary of 2000 words if you know both the reading and pronunciation.

3 Likes

My experience has been completely opposite lol. I’ve learned Japanese from living in Japan and can translate efficiently from Japanese to English for friends when we’re out and about, or I’ve had conversations where both of us can understand the other’s language but can’t speak it too well, but my reading and writing level is lower (hence the Wanikani). With listening, you can get context based on the situation, and that helps you pick up new words.

I think it’s personal? I have friends who are like me, too, who’ve lived here for many years and are fluent speakers, but struggle a bit more with the written word. I imagine, though, that if you don’t live in a country or area where people are constantly speaking the language you’re trying to learn, reading might be an easier way of picking up vocab. But that’s my unprofessional opinion haha. Weird that he seems to be touting his as fact.

9 Likes

I am in general not a fan of the internet “experts” that give their own pet theories as it they were fact.

As plenty of people have indicated, there are people that can listen well, but not read, and people that can read well, but not listen. You see this all the time with many languages. Some people are great at reading and writing English but not speaking, while others are the reverse. It all depends on the skills you develop. Developing one may or may not be easier than the other based a variety of factors, but ultimately what you choose to develop should be based on your own priorities.

For me, I care more about reading than listening and speaking, so I am focusing on that for now, and will move to the others when I feel the time is right.

21 Likes

I can’t give an opinion about learning Japanese, because I’m just starting with the language. But I’ll give my opinion based on my experience with English. I definitely agree with @nclbk, you must incorporate writing, reading, listening and speaking from the beginning. Your education must be integral.

But!!! After watching Matt’s video, he’s not saying that you should delay listening. The word “heavy reading” may be misleading. On the contrary, 70/30 seems a pretty decent amount of time for listening, imo. He even said about the problems of not doing listening practice: wrong pronunciation, demotivation, etc. So, really, I don’t see the “versus” thing here… He’s saying “do both”. What I’m afraid of is that people when watching that video will think “ok, I’ll focus on reading”, feel comfortable, and do 100/0. Listening should always be encouraged because even when it is, I doubt it even gets to 70/30.

7 Likes

For those of you who developed listening ability beyond your reading ability, I would be very interested to know your background, approach, methods, what level you reached in each core skill, etc. (I can share mine for reading as well.)

5 Likes

For me the listening came naturally through immersion. Before coming to Japan I had two years of extremely lax Japanese study in college. Basically I knew hiragana, katakana, about 200 or so kanji and could introduce myself. That’s about it. I have been living in Japan for four years now, but only re-started properly studying the language at a language school around nine months ago. Until then I was working as an English teacher with an “English only” policy at my school at request of my employer so the kids could practice English with me. So I spent a lot more time listening to than speaking Japanese and hearing it over and over again in context all day every day for four years really cemented the skill for me.

Obviously you won’t be able to re-create this exactly without moving to Japan, but you can simulate it somewhat if you dedicate time to Japanese-only audio content. Things like movies and anime are a good start, but may not always be good examples of everyday Japanese due to stylistic choices etc. I’d recommend watching Japanese podcasters and youtubers as well, or seek out very realistic slice-of-life stuff if you’re going for fiction. A good podcast to start with is Let’s Talk in Japanese!, which is a podcast made for Japanese language learners to practice listening. Of course this comes with the caveat that content made for learners tends to be easier to digest than content made for native speakers.

I’m definitely interested in resources/tips to improve my reading. I’m currently working on building my vocabulary and kanji base, and working through the shin kanzen master N3 reading book on my own outside of class. I have a couple of easy-reader novels around fourth grade reading level, but even they are intimidating as heck to me :sweat_smile:

Edit: I’d say my overall Japanese level is around N3. I haven’t taken the test yet but at my language school we’ve completed みんなの日本語 basics 1 and 2 as well as みんなの日本語中級1 and the TRY! N3 book so far. The listening on exams at school is a breeze for me and after looking up some sample listening questions I’d say I feel pretty comfortable with N2 level listening material.

9 Likes

Well, ever since I knew it I’ve been watching anime so I started barely understanding Japanese, and then slowly learning the pattern and meaning of words from the English subtitles. Then it just happened that I can understand most sentences as long as it’s not too technical. Basically, my listening comprehension is just a product of massive immersion through anime, drama CD, japanese drama, youtube etc. While it’s not the best way to learn proper grammar, it was easier for me to start reading things.

Before I started WK on 2018, my listening comprehension is probably at N3-N2 level, but my reading is not even on the N5. I didn’t study Japanese seriously before this (even grammar) and I just kind of learned the pattern those words while listening. So I knew when a sentence sounded weird, and I can make it grammatically correct often (I’ll admit it’s not always correct), but I cannot explain it in a way like “the subject should be before the verb” kind of stuff. And learning grammar from listening in the wild is not really recommended since there are slangs, accents, dialects, etc.

Right now, I think my listening ability is around N2 level, and my reading is at minimum N3. I only use WK, and used to learn vocabulary in iKnow (my subscription has ended). I’m also using Torii right now to import the vocabs I see while reading, and learn them through SRS method. I still don’t study grammar seriously since I don’t think I’ll need to speak or write as part of my goal of learning Japanese anyway.

According to a diagnosis from a Japanese teacher in the university, I still fall around N4 level since my core skill levels are totally skewed. I don’t have speaking experience, and can only physically write N5 kanji. I didn’t have proper grammar lessons too. But as I said, my reading is ~N3 and listening is N2.

4 Likes

Apologies if someone else has already said what I’m about to say, because I just wanted to give a quick answer. (I haven’t watched the video either.)

My experience is that he’s right. I’m drawing on what happened when I learnt French and when I learnt Japanese. Reading a lot while learning the pronunciations of the words on the page will allow you to identify those same words aurally when you hear them used the same way in the future. It’s also easier to parse Japanese sentences that are written down because there’s no need for you to hold the entire sentence in your head: you can easily look back at what’s written on the page if you forget something. The reverse can also happen: listening can improve your reading as you pick words up, and it will definitely make your pitch and tone variation more natural, provided you pay attention to such things while listening. However, the problem with going in the listening-to-reading direction is that Japanese is full of words that sound the same, and pronunciation will vary based on regional accents, idiosyncrasies, and the emotional state of the speaker, which may make the sounds you hear approximative at best relative to the standard pronunciation, making it difficult for you to learn the exact word that is being said and hinder sentence parsing.

Ultimately, however, your mileage may vary: my French listening comprehension jumped as I consumed several hundred words a day in newspaper articles, though I also made sure to practise listening using French TV and radio shows. My Japanese reading speed jumped after several months during which I did nothing but watch anime and occasionally read their transcriptions while looking up new words in EN-JP and monolingual dictionaries, just as my Japanese listening comprehension rose as I acquired more vocabulary through reading. My friend who’s studying at a Japanese university knows many words purely because of anime, possibly without ever seeing their written kanji forms or formally learning how they are used. It really depends on what works for you. I think listening is a good way to pick up commonly used expressions since they tend to get repeated in dialogue, while reading is a good way to acquire vocabulary at your own pace with the help of a dictionary, but I also know that my mother doesn’t know how to write her native language (a Chinese dialect), so it’s not as though listening alone can’t teach you a thing. Some experimentation should help you find the way forward.

4 Likes

I did a lot of listening and learning vocab in the past without learning much kanji. Now that I am doing WaniKani I find that all the vocab I know and the ease of recognizing the words makes reading much easier than it would otherwise be. It also helps a lot with my kanji studies. I don’t know if it is more efficient to do it the way I did but I think what keeps you motivated is important too. I think watching shows with English subtitles was helpful for me as well.

I can say that listening is definitely a skill that transfers over to reading. I don’t think reading would help much with listening right away but that vocab should definitely be useful once you get the hang of listening.

Edit: I don’t think it is faster to develop reading ability than listening. Reading Japanese is hard! That’s why we spend a year or more on WaniKani learning just some of the information we need for reading. I don’t think there is such a time as too early to do listening practice in Japanese. I recently started using 日本語の森 on youtube and its great.

2 Likes

I think it depends on your level. Up to intermediate Japanese listenting is probably easier to practice separately. You need to adapt your ear to parsing Japanese, make connection between written and spoken language.

Then from upper-intermediate to advanced you should be used to spoken Japanese enough so that the highest barrier to your listening comprehension is vocab (not only how many words you know but also know how to use them and in which context you’re likely to hear them).

Well that’s my experience anyway. When speaking to my tutors or watching anime I often hear the words they are saying but I don’t know what they mean, especially with jukugo. Quite often when I see the same thing written down I can infer the meaning from the kanij (or have to look it up).

3 Likes