Tiny Breakthrough

Just had a tiny breakthrough tonight. I was immersing as usual, watching anime without subtitles and doing my usual “particle hunting”, and then a couple tiny little things clicked, and now all of a sudden I can clearly hear pitch accent, like a switch was flipped.

Particle hunting is a technique I’ve been doing lately while immersing. I know that I don’t have a lot of vocabulary and grammar knowledge, but I know a decent amount of particles, so I actively listen for them in every sentence, with the theory that it will help me subconsciously acquire the surrounding words and sentence patterns.

I think what happened was, because particles can attach high or low depending on the patterns, I got attuned to those changes, and now pitch accent comes through clear as a bell, making me wonder why I couldn’t hear it before. Now that I can actively hear it, I’m hoping I will begin to acquire it passively.

It’s not a huge breakthrough, but this language is frustrating enough, and I will take any win I can get.


Awesome :D

Quick question by saying watching anime without subtitles do you mean no subtitles whatsoever or no English subtitles? I’d argue Japanese subtitles are really good to have on.

If you’re trying to increase your listening comprehension I can see it make sense that you might not want them then but since something like 75% of input our (humans) brains get is based on sight. So other senses are often supplemented by sight, i.e. the whole green needle vs brainstorm debate a few years back (We all know brain needle is correct ;) )


Japanese subtitles distract from audio, which is somewhat similar to the issue with English subtitles, except that instead of your brain being in cheat mode, your brain is spending a lot of effort to decipher the meaning of characters, many of which you still need independent effort to learn. The audio teaches you spoken vocabulary. Japanese subtitles teach you written vocabulary - I’m already doing WaniKani, and I use other resources to bolster reading, so right now focusing on audio comprehension makes more sense.

I also do watch with target language subtitles on, but, as the nature of my post suggests, attenuated listening was the focus, thus no subs that time.

As with any learning, a variety of techniques is best. Some people do only 1 or 2 things that they are comfortable with. Some people say “Always do this, but never that!” and will argue you until they are blue in the face. I say “Always do it all.” If I encounter a technique I haven’t tried - I try it.


Well, the idea isn’t for you to read the subtitles constantly, but rather for you to be able to use them for reference when you don’t catch a word from the audio. When focused on listening comprehension, it only makes sense to include Japanese subtitles if:

  1. You can easily ignore them when not using them and focus on the audio (which honestly can sometimes be hard to do).
  2. You have a strong foundation in reading, so seeing the written word either helps you immediately know the meaning or easily look up the word in a dictionary.

And of course, if you have a high tolerance for “I don’t know what the hell is going on” situations, then you may not need or want the subtitle supplement anyway. Personally, my tolerance for that is pretty low, so I like having the Japanese subtitles to help fill in the gaps when the audio alone isn’t enough.

Oh, and since I didn’t say anything about your original post, congrats on hearing the pitch accent. It really is such an interesting topic and changes how you hear the language once you are able to hear it.


I have a high tolerance for ambiguity. And right now both my listening skills and my reading skills BOTH suck, so I separate them, but as I said, I do also combine them. Reading While Listening / Listening While Reading (RWL/LWR) is another technique, and I’m fond of employing multiple techniques (that’s what she said!).

Particle Hunting, the technique I was using in the original example, relies on a heavy audio focus for picking out SPECIFIC words.


I’m no expert on the subject (don’t have a degree in the science of learning), but from personal experience I think that they’re less a distraction and more like training wheels? If you have on both at once, they kind of “connect” I find.

Don’t they go hand-in-hand? Vocabulary that you’ll know written you’ll also know spoken, most of the time (unless you only know the kanji). It’s hard to know a word in Japanese without also knowing how it sounds (excepting pitch accent). Especially if you’re like most people and have a voice in their head which reads everything out loud.

In general, I think people tend to have the ability to perceive spoken and written language in a kind of similar way? Like if they hear something they can “see” it or if they read something they can “hear” it. My (tentative) theory is that listening is like learning how to read what you hear and reading can be like learning to hear what you read (or “see” what you hear).


Like I said, I do both. With and without subtitles. They are different techniques, each honing a different skill. Associating written words with audio in-context is also important, which target language subtitles do. I feel like people are arguing points I’m not making lol.


Ahh I’m sorry. The way you worded it sounded a bit like you thought there were like two different sets of vocabulary you had to learn, one for listening and one for reading. I guess you meant more like skill-wise

Lol you get kinda technical and absolute with how you say things so its easy to want to mentally find something or other that has a chance of being wrong

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I know. And I know too that the temptation to find fault with my statements is high, because who doesn’t want a challenge? :smiley: :smiley:

I could have clarified my original rebuttal by saying “Japanese subtitles distract from the audio in the context of this specific exercise”. I tend to leave things “to be assumed”, and naturally they are never assumed as intended.

On the plus side, my often vague mode of speech will actually be quite beneficial for my Japanese :smiley:


Although just very briefly I wonder how you know you’re always finding particles and not particle-identical sounds within words without looking at subtitles at some point

Or alternatively finding grammatical constructs partially consisting of a particle and misconstruing the parts around the particle as their own words

Is this why being able to hear pitch accent is a breakthrough? (I mean aside from the obvious reasons it would be a breakthrough) I can’t personally hear pitch accent despite probably having statistically more listening hours (I assume?) but from what I know about it, it would maybe make it easier to distinguish those. That and the timing of words.

Albeit I don’t remember learning to listen well enough to know if this would be an actual concern or not

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That’s the exercise. Assuming anything particle-like in sound is a particle, you force your brain into computation mode, where it can subconsciously say, “No… no… that doesn’t sound right at all” after having gotten enough data points through input. The same way we acquire our first language. Making mistakes.

If one eventually wants to master Japanese, pitch accent is always on the horizon. You can SRS it until the cows come home, but it needs immersive reinforcement to actually acquire it, and you can’t acquire pitch accent if you can’t hear it.

During one’s formative years, your brain is constantly in a state of panic and stress, living in survival mode, trying to desperately acquire enough language to survive in this alien world that you are still new to. After it has acquired enough spoken language sounds, it says, “Ok, these are the sounds that are important. For the sake of efficiency, I am going to prune the ability to hear these unnecessary sounds to save on processing power.” Those unnecessary sounds including language pitch and tone for westerners, or the ability of Japanese to hear the difference between L and R.

To re-acquire the skill of being able to hear this again (you never actually lose the skill, you just tune it out as filter noise), you need some type of focused audio exercies. Simply immersing won’t give you this skill, because you are passively tuning it out. You can’t acquire what you can’t hear.


I think it might actually be the opposite?
I mean that’s correct in some ways (you leave out parts others may not assume, leading to misunderstandings) but the part that tends to be bothersome (only very slightly) is more the absolute-ness of what you say, I think. Given that you don’t have any particular qualifications that you make obvious
I would think that a lot of people tend to leave parts out that might be important to others’ understanding just because not everyone has the same background/etc. and won’t make the same assumptions, so I’m not sure that’s exactly it

It’s just that I’m more used to people who’ll dress every sentence in “probably” and “kind of” and “as far as I know” or “I’ve heard” as a sort of politeness tactic (or maybe that’s a sign of my age?)

Although your directness is preferable in some ways because it makes it easier to see your general point, I think. There’s a certain niceness to people who are confident in what they say, too.


In my case, I was doing a completely different focused audio experiment with a different intended result, but still managed to acquire pitch accent due to the nature of attenuated listening.


That’s true. If I do reach an expert level and my then-professional opinion varies greatly from what I am saying now, I will put some butter and garlic on that crow, deep fry it, and dutifully eat crow. :smiley:


And it was thence that I lost all of the French sounds that my father had so carefully taught me (my poor father lol)

I guess that could make sense

Do you have any recommendations for focused audio exercises? Assuming that the person doing them can already understand spoken Japanese just can’t hear pitch

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For someone already fluent in spoken Japanese? Particle Hunting probably won’t work because your brain isn’t in panic/survival mode, and will naturally always look for the laziest solution, because brains are lazy, and lazy people are the most efficient.

I would say focus on the first two mora of each sentence. The pitch change will happen on either the first or second mora for most patterns, and hearing pitch is literally just detecting the change.


Hmm although I’m not sure just reaching an expert level makes you a professional. We are all only one data point, and a biased data point at that, so I’m not sure how much we can generalize just from knowing what we perceived to work for us.

There’s also the issue of not being able to un-learn languages. To get a truly holistic view on different learning methods, you’d have to try multiple ones. But there’s no way you can do so without increasing your skills in some way or another while doing it, after which you’ll be at a different point from where you started.

For us to really know, I think we would have to organize a large-scale study of some sort.

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That is step 2. After I have gotten masterfully fluent, then I can disseminate what I have learned to a larger group to determine if what I have done is a me thing, or an everyone thing. It’s true that there are a lot of people that aren’t me (in fact, everyone BUT me). Which I am sure we are all grateful to the deities that be for. :slight_smile:

But spoiler: I’m right a lot more often than I’m not :smiley:


I see. I’ll try that and see if it does anything

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For sure. If it works though, you have to come back in and be like, “Ok… it worked… you were right… this time…!” :slight_smile:

And if it doesn’t work, I guess I have to develop an aviary affinity.

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