I’m gonna discriminate a bit here and tell the “immersion crowd” to stay out of this one.
For those that did take the time and learned from textbooks, I want to hear your stories about when you finally felt confident to make the jump and make Japanese a part of your daily life without books/flashcards/etc.
For some prompt help:
When/How did you know you were ready?
Did it happen intentionally/unintentionally?
Is it even possible to go from only using textbooks/flashcards, to being able to use Japanese on a daily basis, particularly speaking and listening?
My disappointment when I had been studying kanji and textbooks for 6 months, and I rocked up to my first speaking and listening lesson and was served humble pie for nearly 2 hours.
Edit: This definitely taught me the importance of putting the textbook down and focusing on listening and speaking. When I went through the Genki I textbook I would even read all questions and answers aloud and it seems like it did nothing to prepare me.
I believe it is. It requires a better flashcard system that adds an immersive element to SRS. I’m actually tinkering with something like that right now. As with pure immersion though, more sources of input = more efficient acquisition.
I’d say it all happens gradually. There is no big jump. I am 5 years in, can read easy book with no dictionnary but still do a lot of intensive reading (my favourite study method).
I am curious now.
I originally had a large post typed out, but I backspaced it. Experiments are afoot and I’ll post back in late August if they were fruitful.
What does “immersion crowd” mean?
Probably referring to people who say you should primarily be learning via immersion and Japanese content from nearly the beginning of your studies.
That said, I don’t think anyone in the “immersion crowd” advocates the position of never using any sort of learning material/textbook.
The reason the “immersion crowd” is being excluded is that sometimes they can come across as a little harsh for wanting to get people off of textbooks and into immersion. This is somewhat warranted, as textbooks for many people become a crutch that keeps them from interacting with/learning the language with the most effective/time-tested/painful method, immersion. Many of them probably at some point were over-committed to a textbook, etc. then had the rug swept out from under them when they realized they couldn’t do Japanese like they thought, or worked at Japanese for a year or two and still had no results. This leads to some in the immersion crowd overcompensating with their support of pure immersion.
Probably not everybody’s story, but a common one.
Personally, I recommend a 70% immersion approach after your first few months of study. Ultimately I will learn to read and understand the language by practicing reading and listening. That said, I love technical grammar stuff and textbooks, and in many ways, textbooks can serve as shortcuts and scaffolding for your immersion to go much smoother!
That said, avoiding the crutch of thinking that working through a textbook or application means you are making real significant progress through the language that won’t have to be compensated with lots of additional immersion later I think is helpful.
There are definitely people who have worked through all the kanji on WaniKani, many grammar concepts in textbooks/online programs, and memorized thousands of words via SRS who still can’t pick up a book and read a page or listen to and understand a Japanese conversation because they allowed completing textbooks, memorizing words/kanji etc. to replace the goal of mastering/learning Japanese.
To answer the original post’s question.
I just decided to start reading one day and not stop. Definitely only understood 10% or less at first, but after finishing a book and going back to the first pages I’d always find I could understand 50-90%. I don’t think I’ll ever abandon learning resources completely, but I like the nonlinear approach at this point. I definitely didn’t feel “ready” when I started, but I also just decided not to care.
They make the decision right out of the gate to not use textbooks. I put flashcards too but I wanted to avoid the “I never used textbooks/flashcards” responses. I want to use this post to encourage the people who are using to textbooks or flashcards that there is a point they can stop using them. Everyone is different learning wise but the people who are part of said crowd’s input isn’t really applicable/useful here.
My learning path was fairly textbook/class heavy. I started reading manga as a side thing (i.e. for fun, not as specifically a study thing) when I was at about the N4-ish level, because a manga I was interested in turned out to have a fan translation only for the first two volumes. This being the early 2000s and the era of dialup internet, I read using the physical manga and a separate printout of the text-only fan translation, which encouraged not looking at it unless I got stuck. Then I just had a go at the untranslated volumes with the aid of a dictionary… I gradually read more manga and then later moved onto books, again not as a specific study strategy but because I like reading and because making use of an acquired skill is enjoyable in itself. By the time I stopped doing classes (at about the N2 level) I was pretty comfortable with reading not-too-difficult for-adults books so it was easy to drift into a “read a lot and do a bit of self-study” phase.
That seems to be a common scenario. People finish out study at the N3-N2 level, primarily because there are prohibitively few upper-advanced textbooks aimed at foreign language learners (I would imagine most advanced textbooks would be aimed at Japanese university language majors, which probably don’t lend themselves well to self-teaching). And because from that point, they can begin consuming and enjoying native material.
There are the JLPT N2-N1 prep books, and some have some instructional value, but traditional textbooks pretty much don’t exist beyond the N2 level from anything I have seen.
It’s probably a niche market - upper-advanced self-learners that aren’t studying specifically for the purpose of higher education. It’s not that such books couldn’t be published, or that they would be ineffective, but that they would be prohibitively expensive.
If anyone is aware of non-JLPT textbooks that pick up about where Tobira leaves off that can be adapted for self-learning, I’d actually love to see some! The most advanced book series that I personally know of is Authentic Japanese, which itself isn’t specifically a language learning textbook, but an advanced conversation trainer that can be used for self-learning (as I’ve seen it described; I don’t own it yet to comment personally).
I stopped classes more because I’d run out of time in Japan than anything else The language school offered classes that went up to N1 and beyond, though I’m not sure what texts they used in the higher levels – my guess is it would have started to rely more on the teachers to provide the structure to weave together bits from N1 prep books, generic listening/reading practice from native materials, roleplay activities, etc – even at the N2 and below levels we weren’t only going through the textbooks, there were a lot of photocopied handouts with examples, exercises, etc.
Yeah that all makes sense for sure.
I think some time back I was asking @Vanilla if he thought that lower-level instructional material that had curated native-like content might be useful, but he pointed out that the limited vocabulary and simplistic grammar would prevent beginner material from being very engaging. (Think graded readers at level 1-2).
The same probably wouldn’t be true for advanced material. There would be enough vocabulary and grammar available for engaging, curated native-like content that could be used to optimize advanced learning. It just seems like it’s not a market anyone has really sought to tap. Basically, graded reader level 5, with lessons built in.
Seems to me that at an N2’ish level, instead of having curated stories, it would make more sense to have textbooks/material adept to already existing native content. Why come up with stories when there are already plenty easy and interesting ones out there?
But at the same time, I feel like there is absolutely no need for following textbooks at that level. At that point students are advanced enough to just follow their interests and create their own curated learning materials through things like Yomichan and jpdb. You could be slightly more efficient with premade content, but learning from content you chose yourself trumps that efficiency easily.