What guidance do you have for when to start "immersion?"

If you stick with Japanese long enough, you’ll discover that things like audio-only input become valuable after you’ve spent time struggling through audio-only input.

I read manga in Japanese every day. Have done so for a few years now. I can read quite a bit with relative ease. But if I’m listening to Japanese audio, I’m often lucky if I can pick out more than a few words here and there.

The difference is that I spent a lot of time reading manga to reach a point where I was able to (comfortably) read manga. But I haven’t put in the hours listening to Japanese to get good at listening Japanese.

Here’s the why:

The brain is a pattern recognition machine. Learning grammar and vocabulary in isolation (just as an example) doesn’t get a person very far because the brain doesn’t have enough to build up a pattern.

When I started reading, I was constantly looking up unknown grammar and vocabulary words. Over time, the most common grammar and vocabulary came up so often that my brain started recognizing patterns. Certain expressions said in specific scenarios. Common word patterns. Eventually, I reached a point where sometimes I could tell what someone would say in advance.

But I’m still no good at listening.

A person can technically complete 60 levels of WK and learn all the JLPT vocabulary and grammar and still not be able to understand any audio content.


My recommendation for beginners who want to make the best use of their time is do a few things to get their feet wet with the language:

  1. Learn to read ひらがな and カタカナ.
  2. Learn a handful of the most common words.
  3. Learn basic grammar, even if superficially to begin with.

From there, you’re prepared to:

  1. Start immersing in written content (which can optionally be audio content with Japanese subtitles or a transcript).
  2. Look up unknown grammar and vocabulary along the way. This is where you slowly get to know the grammar and vocabulary, as you see them in various contexts.
  3. Feel like it’s not working, but keep going because more experienced people found success doing this.

Will this method work for everyone who wants to learn Japanese?

No.

Most people trying to learn Japanese want to learn Japanese, but haven’t decided to learn Japanese, and they will likely fail at this.

Will this method work for everyone who decides they are going to learn Japanese?

I don’t know.

The hard part is that when you first start immersing, it doesn’t feel like you’re reading/understanding the content. You’re deciphering your way through it. And that just feels like you’re doing it wrong. You have to keep going before you can see that progress. So, if the process isn’t working for you, initially it may be indistinguishable from those it is working for.

This is why I often recommend that new learners (who’ve learned the basics of basic grammar and some common vocabulary) check out the Absolute Beginner Book Club. You can join the active club or read something from a past club, and you have discussion threads filled with questions and answers. You can even ask questions that never came up in an old thread and still get answers.

This allows more guided learning because you don’t have to blindly look things up as you go and hope you understand them correctly. You can get input from more experienced readers to help shape your learning.

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