Japanese Immersion: Why massive input is necessary

Japanese Immersion: Massive InputMy last piece on Japanese immersion, was entitled Massive Input vs Anki. A slightly provocative title perhaps.

I didn’t use it because I was trying to start a war. It was because I was and am interested in the interplay between an artificial learning method and the organic aquisition that comes from pure immersion.

I am not suggesting that we all give up Anki. It is a powerful system that helps us acquire and retain Japanese. However I do find that as one uses increasingly massive input one’s relation to Anki changes. I promised to report on my personal experience of intensifying my input.

I spent a month doing a lot of input, mainly watching anime with subtitles and reading books. How did it affect my relation to Anki? Let me summarize:

I have two Anki decks. One for vocabulary and a sound-based sentences deck. I found I was actually entering more into the vocabulary deck because I was picking up vocabulary very fast from my extensive reading (strictly with pure extensive reading you don’t look words up, but I was).

Often with a new word I will enter sentences because definitions alone don’t tell you the nuance of a word or how it is used. I did this a lot less. The reason was that with a higher level of Japanese immersion input I found new words recurring much more frequently than I would have expected.

Not only do the same authors/themes tend to use the same words but I was finding words repeating across different books and anime. I felt more confidence in being able to rely on seeing the word in the wild rather than needing example sentences for it. I was popping words (but by no means all my new acquisitions) into Anki to “pin” them. But I felt more confidence in natural encounters with a steeply increased rate of input.

I was also more lenient with myself in Anki. Usually I am pretty strict with myself. “Half-right is wrong”. What I found was that again, with a higher level of Japanese immersion, I had more confidence in my input. So I would think “all right I know pretty much what that word means. I’ll recognize it in context next time I meet it”.

This, of course is how children naturally learn language. They start off knowing roughly what a word means and sometimes use it incorrectly. But with continued exposure their knowledge of the word refines down to exactitude. With confidence in our rate of input we can be less afraid of getting words half-right because we know it is a step along the road and not our “only chance”.

Another thing I noticed is how wonderful the memory really is. Reading and watch/reading quite fast through a lot of material and resisting the temptation to look up things I did really know even if a little ambiguously (tolerance of ambiguity is important here I think) I noticed that I was recognizing words I had learned two years or more ago and hadn’t drilled since. I think we tend to over-drill words for fear of forgetting them when the real drilling they need is actual Japanese immersion: input, input, input.

I might not have recognized those words on an abstract word-list or in Anki. But in context, as living parts of real sentences that were in themselves living parts of a real story, I did remember them. And there was a sense of “Gosh, so that’s what that old glassy-eyed dead word in the attic of my memory looks like when it comes to life!”

Of course, nearly all my vocabulary came from real exposure in the first place, via the Anime Method and its close relations. But some of them had ossified into “Anki words”.

Real Japanese speakers know a huge number of Japanese words. How? By having total Japanese immersion all the time. But even with the degree of input possible to you or me, if it is truly massive it is surprising how quickly words start reinforcing.

Japanese Immersion: The “feel” of the language

Japanese, in both grammar and vocabulary, is a surprisingly “modular” language. As you get used to it you start to realize how beautifully it all fits together.

If you are reading (text or subtitles) more and more you encounter words that you don’t need to look up. You know what the individual kanji mean, and, with the context, it is clear what the two (or three) of them in combination must mean. Japanese has a lot of words, but the good news is that a lot of them come from understandable-in-context combinations of other word-elements one already knows.

One also gets the feel for Japanese sound-symbolism. This is a very unquantifiable subject, so I won’t say much about it. But I do find myself saying “Ah I can tell what that word means by the sound of it”. In some cases I may be subconsciously remembering a word I learned before. In other cases it may just be similar to a word I learned before because similar meanings often have similar sounds. It may also be based on lots of tiny frequently-occurring cues, such as the fact that sharp “s” sounds can tend to imply “doing” while gentle “r” sounds can tend to imply “being”.

I probably won’t ever write anything more detailed on this because there are no exact “rules” and countless exceptions. This isn’t a “method” one can “use” in a conscious way, but as you get used to Japanese you will find it working for you more and more.

Relatedly, as you read more and read faster, especially in books, you will find yourself anticipating. You notice that you read three words at the end of a page and while you are turning the page over you already know what the next one or two words will be. Just as in English, when you read “He had shifty” you know the next word will be “eyes” or “she combed her” will be followed by “hair”. If we know that she is attending to her own appearance (or just that she is alone) we only need “she combed” to know that “her hair” will probably follow.

Anticipation is a huge part of understanding. So is the recognition of words. Many people will pronounce a word wrongly when they have never seen it before (or only seen it occasionally) even when the spelling is not ambiguous. Why? Because we have long ago stopped spelling out words we read in our minds. We recognize general shapes and anticipate words. Actually reading a word the way a small child or a foreign learner does has become an atrophied skill.

That is a good thing. It means that we can concentrate on the meaning of the text as a whole rather than expending mental energy on fully reading words we already know.

Japanese immersion through massive input helps us to develop toward the same level in Japanese. We start to realize that we are anticipating things and sometimes taking a word or phrase super-fast because we only need to glance over it to confirm that it is what we thought it would be.

This isn’t only a reading skill. As we learn what words tend to go together it becomes easier to hear bunches of words in speech.

Returning to the “Anki question” I reiterate that I am not really talking about replacing Anki. I don’t think that is a question one needs to worry about. What is important is to become aware of the importance of truly massive input and its function in organic learning. Considering that one only has so much time, this may impact the balance between Anki and actual input. But it is a delicate and shifting balance and one that each of us can work out for herself over time.

Fortunately Anki is not the all-devouring monster it can occasionally appear to be. Feed it less and it will diminish fairly quickly. My daily Sentences Anki is currently noticeably smaller. I may have occasion to step it up again later and I am still adding to it but not nearly as much as I was.

After an experimental month of much more massive input, my personal finding is that it works if anything better than I expected. I will be continuing with it and I am somewhat shifting the balance from Anki to Japanese immersion through massive input. It is a matter of degree. I always did a lot of input anyway, and I never regarded Anki as my primary learning tool (that was and is native Japanese material).

So really I am only moving a degree or two further in the direction I was always going. One can sometimes, I think, use Anki as a bit of a security blanket. We think it will stop us forgetting words (as you know from some of your old words that pop up looking strange, it won’t always do that). We distrust input experience as being too random.

I am beginning to feel that Japanese immersion input lets words and grammar drop only a little more than Anki does, provided it is sufficiently massive. And it keeps them in our mind in a live, organic way, rather than an abstract one, which makes them a lot more useful to us.

NOTE: Naturally this article is relevant primarily to intermediate learners who are advanced enough to be able to step up their rate of input.

Bonus Japanese Immersion tip: SMILE!

One final tip, which you may write off as a bit of doll-craziness. I don’t mind if you do. My royalties on it are very low anyway. In fact, come to think of it, I don’t even get any royalties.

When, in the course of your massive input you “ping” (as I call it) a word or phrase you recently learned, or one you are happy to remember, smile. Smiling makes you feel happy (try it). Or make a little “ding” sound in your mind. Or jump up and down and ワイワイ all over the room. Probably not the latter as you are trying to read quickly.

The point is to tell the pleasure centers in your brain that this is a Good Thing. Even a little fleeting smile will do that. Don’t try to re-memorize it (unless you have a special reason to). Let your Japanese immersion input work on that. Just very quickly “flag” it for your mind.

If it disrupts your reading you don’t have to do it. Just a little trick you may like to try occasionally.

Now read: Japanese Immersion: Massive Input vs Anki

Japanese immersion: Massive Input vs Anki

Japanese Immersion: Massive Input vs Anki
Japanese Immersion: massive input vs Anki

This site’s method is fundamentally Japanese immersion. While we do recommend learning basic grammar as a kind of “cheat” for getting started, the heart of the system is watching anime. It is also vital, after the initial stages, to have a lot of actual communication as well as input.

Which sounds kind of lazy, but if you know anything about the system, you know that watching anime in Japanese with Japanese subtitles is pretty intense, especially at first when you don’t know much.

The idea isn’t that it is easier than other methods (there is no such thing as a “get fluent quick” technique”). It is that you are learning Japanese “in the wild” from early on. Anime becomes your university, exposing you to real Japanese, building a core vocabulary organically and making the language a part of your life. And learning the written and spoken language in tandem.

The strategy of the anime method is to build your capacity for input. At first it takes you hours to get through a 20-minute episode. You have to look up half the words, investigate grammar etc. As you build vocabulary, learn how the language works and generally get used to Japanese, you become faster and faster.

You are approaching the point where true Japanese immersion through massive input becomes possible.

Now from the beginning we have recommended Anki as the means of learning vocabulary and at least some grammar. Anki essentially makes the old method of flash cards efficient and scientific, exposing you to each card at exactly the rate you need to learn it.

In a sense one could say that this is not true Japanese immersion. Some people, notably Tae Kim, whose excellent grammar site we strongly recommend, believe that massive input is the way to learn vocabulary and that Anki is too artificial. So in one sense one can say that massive input and Anki are opposed — in that one could conceivably (at least in some people’s view) replace the other.

Or rather massive input could replace Anki. If you can learn all the vocabulary and grammar you need through massive input then you clearly don’t need Anki. If you can learn them all with Anki you still need massive input, or all you end up with is a massive word list and a lot of abstract grammar.

So theoretically massive input can replace Anki and give a truer Japanese immersion environment. And practically too. One of my most respected (and advanced) senpai has never touched Anki or other artificial learning tools.

I have also made it very clear (well maybe not to everyone as I mostly wrote about it in Japanese) that I do not intend to use Anki forever. In my approach to Japanese immersion, I regard Japanese as my language. In my heart Japanese is much more my mother tongue than English, even though I currently don’t know it nearly so well. One does not use artificial learning tools for one’s own language. Like learning abstract grammar, it is a little cheat: a trick to get you over the (very tough) initial hurdles.

Japanese Immersion: replace Anki with Massive Input?

So, do we need Anki? Can we replace it with massive input? My answer to this breaks into two parts:

1. Yes, we can and should, eventually. Anki is like water wings. Unless we want to regard Japanese as a “foreign language” for our whole lives (and some people, of course, do) we do not want to be using artificial tools forever.

2. It is possible to learn without Anki (or anything similar) from the start. Some people do. But this raises certain questions:

Firstly, how do you learn? Some people can just hear a word and recognize it again, at least after a couple of times. I tend to need in many cases a mnemonic to tie the sound to the meaning. Otherwise it doesn’t stick. Mnemonics are temporary, but they are like the rough stitching that holds the fabric in place while it is being properly sewn. Some people don’t need them. I do, (though increasingly I make my mnemonics in Japanese) and I find Anki the perfect place to use them.

Secondly, and rather more importantly, how do you deal with kanji?

This is not a rhetorical question. There are several ways of dealing with kanji. A lot of people (and probably the majority of Japanese Immersion methods recommend this) begin by working through Heisig-sensei’s Remembering the Kanji which involves learning all the kanji in the abstract without knowing the pronunciations or any words associated with them. At a later stage many people learn abstract lists of the kanji’s various pronunciations.

Other people learn by the traditional method of writing each kanji out hundreds of times.

We don’t recommend either of these methods. They aren’t wrong. They do work for some people. It just isn’t how we do things. We believe in learning kanji along with everything else, organically. Our motto is “learn words, not kanji”.

The problem here is that kanji learning, unlike language acquisition, is not inherently “organic”. Children do not “just pick them up” the way they do vocabulary, grammar, speech and listening comprehension, through natural Japanese immersion

They learn them in class. And it takes them years.

But, they do not learn kanji in the abstract. From their first class they already know the words in which the kanji are used, and how they are pronounced. They never learn lists of on and kun readings or abstract Heisig-style “keywords”. They never (except possibly with some rare ones in high school) learn a kanji of which they don’t already know many real-word uses and (therefore) the main pronunciations.

So learning kanji organically “as you go along” is actually closer to the way they are really learned by Japanese children. Since we don’t have from-birth Japanese immersion we can’t replicate it exactly, but we feel our method comes closest to the real thing and to the way one can naturally learn them with a minimum of abstract study.

But kanji need to be drilled. Grammar and vocabulary may be “drilled” by pure Japanese immersion and massive input (and output), but kanji really do need to be drilled by some essentially artificial method or other. There is the endlessly-writing-them-out method, which I believe is overkill in a digital age. There is Anki (and similar systems). There may be other methods that work for you (do comment below). But one way or another, you are going to have to drill kanji.

For me, the simplest, most painless and most organic way of doing this is to use a simple vocabulary Anki deck with the kanji on the front, and the readings, definitions and any necessary mnemonics (for kanji structure and meaning and reading) on the back.

I won’t go into more detail here as this article isn’t about learning kanji, but by this method one is learning kanji and vocabulary at the same time and learning readings in the most natural way: one at a time, as one encounters them in real words.

But because learning kanji (like learning the alphabet, except that there are a lot more of them) is not natural like learning to speak, there does need to be a somewhat artificial way of drilling them. Pure Japanese immersion alone will not teach one the kanji, any more than it teaches Japanese children the kanji.

But, assuming one does use Anki for this, once one has built a solid organic core vocabulary and made friends with a large number of the more common kanji, is there a sliding scale between Anki and massive input?

Does pure Japanese immersion start to take over? At what point do the water-wings come off? Is it immediate or a gradual process?

As with most things, this will differ with different people, but I have been having some very interesting experiences with sharply increasing my Japanese immersion and massive input and its effects on my relationship to Anki. Read all about them in Japanese Immersion: Why massive input is necessary.

Japanese-Japanese Definitions: Getting Started

There comes a time when one has to start thinking about retiring the Japanese-English dictionary.

How and when one does this has been a matter of some discussion among the Japanese learning community. Some extreme immersionists recommend doing it quite early on. This tends to go hand in hand with the 10,000 sentences method, which I have never used, though I do have my own sentences method, but it is not central to my method and I am increasingly trying to use massive input to contextualize and naturalize words.

The argument for making a “cold turkey” switch to pure J-J definitions is that it makes one think in Japanese, and define words in Japanese terms rather than referring it back to English all the time. The problem with it is that at first it is very difficult and time consuming. It involves “branching”, which means that looking up one word may lead to a definition in which one does not know three more words. Each of these words may do the same. So looking up one word can “branch” into learning 50 words or more.

The reasons I have not done this are partly my own and partly common to a lot of other people who haven’t, I suspect. They are:

1. I learn words on the fly, while watching anime, reading etc. This is already quite a disruption but it works for me (I am not the kind of organized person who can put words aside for later). Going into a massive branching session that could take the rest of the day just wouldn’t work with the way I do things.

2. Relatedly, my way of going about things involves minimal “study”. As I am always saying, one should use Japanese, not “learn” or “practice” it. Now in a sense, all that branching is using Japanese. One is using it in the way a Japanese child uses it when she looks something up. She can’t go to another language. On the other hand she never encounters 50-deep ramifications. My technique has been to spend one’s time living in Japanese, not buried in reference books. I “do Anki” but that is the major part of my “pure study”. Branching would change the balance completely. I am not saying I shouldn’t do it, but it would be quite a change of approach.

3. I have very poor short-term memory. I have never been able to do simple math because by the time I have done the smallest sub-calculation I have forgotten the main calculation. I have a very difficult time putting details together. Therefore I suspect I would get into a hopeless tangle pretty quickly.

Now, having said all this, I am also an extreme immersionist and my aim is to make Japanese my language. So for me, and all of you who are dedicated to Japanese and in this for the long haul, the question is not whether we switch to all-Japanese and the use of Japanese-Japanese dictionaries etc. The question is simply when we do it.

For me, Japanese is my language. English is just a foreign language I happen to know. I certainly do not intend to be looking up words via some foreign language all my life, any more than I intend to be using Anki all my life.

If any of this resonates with you, then we all have the same question:

When and how do we make the change?

Currently I am in what I regard as a bridging stage, and I would like to share some of the techniques I am currently using to ease the transition to J-J and stop it turning into a monster.

Sanseido? Sansei!

Use a simple dictionary. If you are using an online one I recommend the Sanseido dictionary. It has brief and simple definitions.

Are simple definitions sufficient? Well it seems to me that the heart of the J-J method as we see it is to learn to experience the Japanese word in and for itself (rather than attaching it to the nearest-equivalent English word). For this purpose dictionaries are really only a crutch. One actually learns the word by seeing it in action. Preferably repeatedly and in different contexts. This is the only way you can learn the weight, color and tone of a word. No dictionary can give you that information.

The purpose of the dictionary is that of the mounting-block that helps you get your foot in the stirrup. The dictionary can’t ride the horse for you. What you need is enough information to get a preliminary grip on the word. Sanseido will give you this most of the time.

Another important value of Sanseido is that it is supported by Rikaisama. What this means is that you can go to the Sanseido dictionary online, enter the words you want, and if there are unknown words in the definition, then you can use Rikaisama to get Sansiedo’s definitions of those words without opening new tabs.

Getting definitions of definitions on the fly with Rikaisama

I have heard people talk about having 50 tabs open pursuing the trail of one word. I know that I can’t possibly juggle layers of information in that way. I may be the only one with that disability, but I suspect I am not.

With the method I am suggesting, if the definitions of definitions contain unknown words you can choose whether to open a fresh Sanseido tab and whether, and at what stage, to take a Gordian-knot-cutting peek.

I will do this sometimes, because essentially what I am doing is watching an anime or reading a book. This dictionary business is all peripheral, and my aim is to learn the words by meeting them.

But I also want to understand them as Japanese words/concepts, not as stand-ins for English words/concepts.

So here are some compromise suggestions:

1. If you get an English definition, make it at the second level at least. In other words, what goes into your Anki is a Japanese definition even if you “cheated” a bit to understand it. You will only do that once. Thereafter the definition you learn and are tested on is Japanese. You will be hearing that Japanese definition for a while to come. The English “leg up” will quickly fade but the Japanese definition will stay with you.

2. Yes I did say “hearing”. This is a matter of personal style, but I like to use Kyoko to have the definitions in audio on the back of my cards. I seem to be quite largely an audial learner, so on the front of the card I have the word in kanji. On the back the pronunciation of the word, and its Japanese definition are written and reinforced aurally. This is another reason to prefer succinct definitions.

I used to find that I often unconsciously remembered pretty much the exact words of a definition in English (even though I didn’t use audio for them). Why waste that surplus memory function by stuffing yet more English into the mind when it could be Japanese?

3. Exceptions. There are a few cases where you may want to give a word an “English pass”. If you really can’t understand a Japanese definition you can decide that you are not yet “old enough” in Japanese to know the word. You can also simply use the English definition. You don’t have to transition all at once. One of the cures here is currently at 25% J-J. I am probably just reaching around 75%.

There are also special cases where you may want to think about making an exception for a while. Two possible cases for this are:

a) Very abstract words. I have a hard time with these in English. It may be worth using English definitions until you have enough grasp of abstract Japanese words to use them in defining other abstract words.

b) New kanji. If you are using our approach of learning words, not kanji, you will encounter new kanji from time to time. In these cases, I tend to write a little story around the kanji elements to glue the kanji in place in my mind. This all goes onto the same card as the word definition (later I will tend to think of the kanji as 〜の漢字, 〜 being the word I first learned it in, or the one that has since become most prominent in my mind and seems to represent the kanji’s essence). I think it is legitimate to write the kanji-structure story in English if you need to, though increasingly I do it in Japanese. Which brings us to:

4. Mnemonics. Do you use mnemonics? Not everyone needs them. Frankly, while I have a better than average English vocabulary I am hopeless with new words unless I know their etymology. I can have trouble calling to mind the names of friends I meet online regularly. Therefore I pretty much need, in many cases, to give myself a handle to grasp a word by, that links its kanji, pronunciation and meaning. I write these on the back of cards because that’s the way my mind works. I sometimes need that extra reminder two or three times. Then it usually sticks.

But, and I believe this is important, If you are at the stage where you can even think of dabbling in J-J definitions, you can make your mnemonics in Japanese.

This is connected with the wider question of making Japanese your default language. You may not want to do it wholly as I do, but you certainly must do it in the “Japanese zones” of your life.

So don’t be one of those people who, the minute they aren’t actually buried in a dictionary naturally make their mnemonics in “real language”. For you, Japanese is real language. Why would you make mnemonics in a foreign language just because you happen to know it better?

Even if you have to borrow a foreign word for your mnemonic, frame the story in Japanese. Here is an example:

だだ 1 駄々]
甘えてわがままをいうこと. ▼~をこねる

This is Sanseido’s definition of 駄々, conveniently exported from Rikaisama to Anki with a single keypress. I add mnemonic notes in red. Here I have used English baby-talk “dada” (=父親)to link the sound to its meaning, but the mnemonic is in Japanese. I also remind myself that the repeated kanji is the だ of both ダメ(駄目)and 無駄.

It is best, though to use J-J mnemonics wherever possible. This can seem a little strange in that you will be using Japanese words in punning ways not connected with their real meaning. Is this confusing? I have to say I have never once found it confusing. It reinforces the word used as well as the word being “learned” and deepens one’s friendship with the familiar word. You have shared a little joke together.

And making friends with words is really the crux of all this. The dictionary and Anki parts are not the process. The process starts where they end. Of course you can be making friends with a word while it is still current in your Anki, but Anki isn’t where true friendship is made. True friendship is made through living, loving, laughing, hoping, fearing and experiencing together. This is why we always talk about using Japanese, not just practicing it.

The dictionary is where you are formally introduced to a word and both say a nervous hajimemashite. Anki is where you see it on the bus sometimes and learn to recognize its face. None of this has much to do with making friends. I suppose that is part of the reason I am disinclined. to get too tied up in dictionary-based work.

Having Anki’s interface itself in Japanese is important here too, I believe. This goes deeper than just J-J definitions. It is also a question of whether you are seeing Japanese as a “foreign language” that you work with through the medium of “real language”, or whether you see Japanese as real language so that everything that is “meta” to your anime or your learning is naturally in Japanese. Because what other language is there?

There is that funny foreign English that some level of my mind seems to know quite well. It can be useful at times, but the moment it has served its purpose, obviously I revert to Real Language.

HabitRPG – New Features

I have now been using HabitRPG for almost a year now, and it continues to be useful for me in my Japanese studies and in general. Some recent changes have made HabitRPG even more useful than it was before. We have written various articles about HabitRPG on this site, and Cure Dolly has previously written a very helpful article explaining this application.

Habit RPG QuestOne of the most important of these changes is that there is a Japanese translation available now. Of course, switching over to Japanese gives us the usual advantages of having one’s computer and applications in Japanese.  Because HabitRPG is a role-playing game as well as a productivity application, this also gives many of the advantages of playing games in Japanese. Many of the Quests are written in Japanese, and all of the pets, mounts, food, equipment and other items are listed in Japanese. This is excellent for reinforcing important vocabulary on a daily basis. For example, from feeding Pets in my Japanese HabitRPG, I now can recognize the word じゃがいも as potato, a word I frequently failed in my Anki.

Another very useful change is that Habits now count for damage against Quest Bosses. Previously, only Dailies and Todos would do damage to Quest Bosses. While it is certainly helpful to make immersion activities such as listening, reading, and watching Anime into Dailies, for many of these activities, one really wants to do as much as possible. With a Daily, once it is checked off, it is checked off for the day; one can not get credit for doing more than is required by the Daily. Habits can be clicked as many times a day as they are done. Of course, one always received Experience and Gold from Habits, I (and my party mates) have found that doing damage against a Quest Boss is extremely motivating, so having Habits “count” is a really wonderful change.

Habits are also good for immersion activities that are important but should not become a chore. HabitRPG punishes us for undone Dailies by dealing damage at our cron (the time we set for the beginning of the new day). When we are on a Boss Quest, the Boss does damage to the entire party, so it particularly important to do the Dailies on those days. For myself, there are certain immersion activities that I want to keep as optional, so that they psychologically remain leisure activities. For myself, some of those examples are reading novels, reading manga, and playing games. Now that Habits “count” against Bosses, I have more incentive to do those できるだけ (as much as possible).

Another exciting new feature is the Enchanted Armoire, which solved a huge difficulty with HabitRPG for long term use. The difficulty was that eventually one would buy up all of the available equipment, and Gold would become meaningless. One could forestall that trouble for a time by switching classes and buying up the equipment for all of the classes; however, sooner or later, one would reach the point of Gold losing its motivational value. Now, the developers created the Enchanted Armoire, which for 100 Gold Pieces randomly gives special items, experience points, or food.

My party donning items obtained from the Enchanted Armoire

Another wonderful change is the brand new option of creating Dailies which will become due in a certain number of days. Before one could only create Dailies that were due on specific days of the week. While the “number of days” option is not specifically useful to me with respect to my Japanese studies, it is useful for my other responsibilities, such as paying the rent and other bills, which are due on a monthly basis.

Oh yes, and the Japanese Deep Cave Adventures’ Guild is still going strong, and we are still playing Shiritori.

Wide Reading in Japanese: An Adventure in Massive Input

Mujin Wakusei Survive: my first massive input anime.
Mujin Wakusei Survive: my first massive-input anime.

I am currently engaged in the Tadoku Read More or Die  Tadoku Wide Reading Contest.

I wasn’t sure about entering at first, but I am finding it very valuable and I am discovering a lot about wide reading. As you may know there is deep or intensive reading, and wide reading. Both are valuable techniques.

The idea of wide reading as I understood it was to read books a little below one’s level without a dictionary. The idea is to read a lot of words. One should understand what one is reading, of course, but not kodawaru over the things one doesn’t understand (choose a lower level text if there are too many of them).

The Tadoku contest broadens the definition of wide reading in ways that helped me to get involved. Anime subtitles, manga and visual novel games are accepted and there is a clever robot that calculates them all into the equivalent of book pages.

I didn’t give myself a target because at first I didn’t even understand the concept of pages, and even if I had, I had no idea what a good or bad estimate would be for me (or anyone, come to that). I was in a tiny bit hesitant about the whole thing.

There were two reasons for my initial hesitancy: 1. I was trying to concentrate on listening, my weakest skill. 2. I am not a reader. I don’t read much in English. Some of the people in this contest read 500+ pages in a few days. I couldn’t do that in English. Certainly not if I had anything else to do, which I do. An English novel (I haven’t read one for years) takes me weeks.

Anyoldhow. When a dear friend and senpai asked me if I was entering the contest (I hadn’t even heard of it) it seemed somehow right despite my misgivings. I thought I might scrape along the bottom of the contest with a visual novel.

It has actually turned out a little differently. I found an anime series I really like (Mujin Wakusei Survive) and am watching it fast by my standards. I will easily be finishing the 52-episode series and needing another one, and I am still watching other anime too. Usually I tend not to read where I can hear, but since I am counting the subtitles toward my total, I have to read everything.

I am prone to kodawaru over my anime. I love them a lot and I want to understand and get everything out of them. I am a bit of a kodawari type at the best of times and hate leaving anything unlooked-up even when I know I ought to. This time I chose an anime I thought I would like but not love, and set it aside as my quick-read anime. It is working really well. I am hovering around the middle ranks of the contest and really quite interested in holding my place there (in my daily Japanese conversations with Cure friends we tend to burst into chants of “Faito, faito, faito!” when we discuss it).

What I am finding is that this approach is far more beneficial than I imagined. I already had some articles planned about the concept of massive input. I am finding that ingesting Japanese a lot faster than I usually do is really having some interesting effects.

One is that I was not expecting the book I am reading to contribute much to the process. I have never been a comfortable book reader and in Japanese I tended to manage not much more than  two pages at a sitting (partly because of my natural slowness with books, and partly due to my tendency to kodawaru and enter words into Anki and such).

In fact, I found I was reading much faster and more smoothly, presumably as a result of going quickly through the anime and reading everything. Rachel, the senpai who started me off in the contest, was not much of a reader in English either, but has become an avid novel reader in Japanese. I don’t see myself becoming a big novel reader. But I guess she didn’t either.

But more importantly, I found words reinforcing much more quickly than I expected. Rachel has never used Anki at all. Her method has been to use massive input to reinforce words without the need for artificial means.

Now people learn differently and I am not giving up Anki just yet (this is a topic in itself which I mean to get to soon), but we have been pondering at what stage those of us who do use Anki should “retire” it.

After all, we are second-Mothertongue speakers and one does not SRS one’s Mothertongue. At some point the training wheels have to come off, unless you regard Japanese as a “foreign language”, which we don’t. And massive input is likely to be the answer.

My main concern has been “how quickly is any given word likely to be reinforced in a timely manner even with much more input?”  What I am finding from this experiment is that the answer is “much more likely than you might imagine”, especially if you are using related material like the same series, though I am finding that my book and anime are also cross-reinforcing.

Really this is just a few notes on my experience so far, so I am not drawing any conclusions or making any suggestions except one that isn’t really new. Massive input really works. Even better than you might think.

A final note that may seem odd. When I am ingesting Japanese fast without looking much up (and mostly doing it in Japanese if I do it at all) I find I am knowing what some words mean without consciously knowing the words. A feeling of “this word must mean this because that is what it sounds like”. Of course, I may be recalling words I have encountered  before but don’t consciously remember. Also sounds and concepts do have a relation in Japanese (more than in other languages, I think, which is perhaps why “onomatopoeia” is so popular in Japanese). Whatever the reason, this is very much how children acquire language. Words just start sounding like what they are.

If you are interested, I have written more about the contest here (in Japanese).

Learn Japanese Online

Learn-Japanese-online-1It is very possible to learn Japanese online.

In fact, the internet and other common modern technology (such as mp3 players) make it possible to create a Japanese immersion environment in a way that was previously impossible short of going to Japan.

Let’s be clear. We aren’t selling anything and we aren’t promoting some kind of “get-fluent-quick” scheme.

We are simply explaining the key techniques we use to learn Japanese online naturally and organically. Plus the simple “secret” that ties everything together.

Our approach to learning Japanese is pragmatic. We recognize that people learn differently and that “one size fits all” approaches actually only fit some people.

Our approach is based on immersion. It centers around a core of anime. We recommend a number of other techniques that surround, support and branch out from this core.

This site has a lot of information. So on this page we are going to boil it down to the very basics. Not everyone will use every technique we recommend. Those who do will adapt some of them. That is fine. One size does not fit all.

But if you want to learn Japanese online the way we do, here are the core techniques that work together.

There are four core techniques. And then there is the fifth core secret that makes them work exponentially more effectively.

Learn Japanese online: the Core Four +1

1. Grammar. If you don’t know basic Japanese grammar you need to acquire it. Just the basics to begin with. Here is how to go about it.

Some immersionists say you can pick up grammar from context the way a child does. You can, but we would say that doing so is neglecting the only real shortcut you have as an adult (or teen) learner and making life more difficult for yourself.

Learning grammar is not learning Japanese. It is learning about Japanese.  But acquiring the basics gives you an important head start when you start actually learning Japanese online. Learning the only way you can learn a language (as opposed to learning about it). By actually using it.

But don’t worry. You don’t have to (in fact you shouldn’t) try to “finish grammar” before you start really using Japanese. You are going to start using Japanese very soon. Much sooner than with any other approach. Because the second core technique is:

2. Watch anime! All right, this isn’t as easy as it sounds. You are going to be watching anime in Japanese with subtitles. Japanese subtitles. It will be tough at first. You will be looking up nearly everything. But that stage passes fairly quickly if you ganbaru.

You aren’t taking lessons. You have set out to learn Japanese online. And anime is going to be your university. You are going to learn vocabulary, kanji and grammar and nearly everything else from anime and looking things up that you encounter. They are going to stick better and make sense quicker because you are encountering them live.

How does this fit in with the fact that you are (at the beginning) still learning basic grammar? Much the same way as if you have a game with a thick manual.

You can plow through the whole manual before you touch the controller. For most people it is more effective to read enough to get started and then start the game, while continuing to read the manual. The complicated parts of the manual make a lot more sense when you are actually experiencing the game.

When you are ready to begin to learn Japanese online through anime, click here!

3. Use Anki for vocabulary. Some immersionists say you should only enter sentences into Anki, not words. This is a valid technique. But it is based on the premise that you have learned kanji via the RTK method. We won’t go into that here, but it involves months of learning all the kanji without learning a single word or a single pronunciation. Just kanji. This does work (for some people), but it isn’t how we go about things. We say, learn words, not kanji.

This means you learn the kanji along with the words, and Anki is a really wonderful tool for doing this. If you don’t want to use Anki, you will need another strategy for memorizing vocabulary and kanji. That’s fine. Mixing methods is not a bad thing. But remember that you can’t just leave this core technique out. If you are going to drop it, you will need another strategy for memorizing vocabulary and its associated kanji.

4. Fill your ears and your life with Japanese. Put the soundtracks of the anime you have watched on your mp3 player. Keep it playing any time there isn’t a huge reason not to (turn it down, not off). Or have Japanese television in the background. Switch your computer’s OS to Japanese as soon as you can just barely handle it.

People differ. Not everyone will want to go as far as we do. I make Japanese my default language. I do my best to keep my inner monologue in Japanese. I only use English when there is a very good reason to do so (like writing this article). If I can’t watch something in Japanese I can’t watch it. If I can’t play a game in Japanese, I can’t play it. It’s as simple as that.

These four are important interlocking techniques. But there is a vital fifth element that holds them all together and makes them work exponentially more effectively:

+1. Make Japanese your language at least in certain areas of your life. This is the One Ring that binds them all. Japanese should not be a “foreign language” to you. It should be your language. You should not be “practising Japanese”, you should be using Japanese.

You already started this with anime. You aren’t playing with textbooks for foreigners (we do recommend learning basic grammar, but only as a quick and dirty shortcut to truly using Japanese). You are watching anime by native Japanese people for native Japanese. It is a struggle at first, but you are doing it. When you use your computer, tablet or smartphone, you are looking at Japanese menus. Japanese isn’t some exotic “other” language. It is part of your life.

So far so good. But there are two halves to language. Input and output. Language is a means of communication. If you want your mind to take Japanese seriously as real language (rather than a limited-area “game-language”, like algebra) you must be using it to communicate inward and outward.

The outward part is admittedly more difficult to arrange. This is partly why it is often ignored.

It is also ignored for exactly the same reason that it is so important. The mind of an English speaker regards English as Language, and Japanese as “a language”. For that reason just about every forum about Japanese learning is in English.

The minute you put down your textbook or manga and want to discuss it, what do you do?


You discuss it in Language. Real Language. Not a “foreign language” like Japanese.

And that is the final secret. The One Ring that binds them all. Japanese has to become Real Language. To me Japanese is Language per se, the language I use except when I absolutely have to use another language. You may not want to go that far, but you do need to have “zones” of your life in which Japanese is Real Language.

That is why we have started the Kawaii Japanese Forums. We hope they will grow into a place where people can communicate with each other using Japanese as Real Language, to discuss Japanese and anything else they want to.

 But… is this the right way for you to learn Japanese online?

We said from the start that one size does not fit all. What we have written above is a bare-bones guide for our system to learn Japanese online. There is lots more on this site to fill in the gaps, and we are adding to it all the time.

But is this the right way for you to learn Japanese online?

Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

Do you love Japanese? This is an immersion method. It involves (surprise!) immersing yourself in Japanese and giving Japanese a part of your heart. Maybe a big part (that is up to you). If you don’t love Japanese this isn’t the approach for you. If you don’t that’s fine too. I learned some French but I didn’t love it enough for immersion.

Do you want to pass exams? This isn’t an academic approach. You will be learning Japanese “from within”. If you want to learn Japanese online in order to pass exams, some of our techniques may still be useful but you will probably also need a more “by the book” approach.

Are you kawaii? Silly-sounding question, but there is a reason for it. We didn’t think we had built our techniques around kawaisa, but in one respect maybe we did. Especially in the early stages you need to use material (anime etc) aimed at children. And the whole point of this technique is that you are doing what you enjoy.

You don’t have to be a full-fledged member of the “kawaii crowd” to use these methods. There is a lot of children’s material that is regarded as classic and loved by even “sensible” adults, but if you really can’t enjoy substantial amounts of material accessible to children (and some people can’t), then the methods as they stand may present a problem to you. You could ganbaru ahead and do it in a spirit of study. But we don’t recommend that. The whole point of this approach is that you are using, not practicing Japanese. Doing in Japanese things that you might be doing in English – even if slowly and haltingly at first.

All right. Assuming that none of these things presents a problem to you: is this the way you want to go? Immersing yourself in Japanese, making it your Language at least for part of your life?

If it is, welcome to the site, and welcome to the select family of second-mothertongue Japanese speakers. Even if you only know a few words right now, if you have set your foot on the Way in earnest, you are one of us.

On the other hand, if you want to cherry-pick and just take a few techniques that interest you, be our guest. If even one page helps you a little on your journey to learn Japanese online, we are happy.

To get you started…

This is how to learn basic grammar

This is how to learn Japanese through anime

This is how to build a core vocabulary

This is how to learn Japanese online even if you don’t have a penny

And this is where to come to join the Japanese conversation

See you there!


Learning Japanese in Japanese: The Hawk Question

learning-japanese-in-japaneseSwitching from looking up Japanese words in a Japanese-English dictionary to looking them up in a Japanese-Japanese dictionary is an important step. When and how one takes it, and whether one takes it all at once, is something I plan to write about very soon.

In fact, I planned to write about it today, but I got rather carried away on the Hawk Question.

[Update: I did write it, and our beginners’ guide to J-J definitions is here.]

But the reason I did is that I think it is very important. It is a kind of thought experiment, and one I first began thinking through a long time ago. To be honest I thought at first that it was an argument against early-ish J-J definitions. But as I thought it right through I realized that it was an argument for them.

Let me take you along the road I followed:

Suppose I wanted to look up the word タカ without using any English sources (it means “hawk”. I actually learned it from watching the Japanese Heidi anime).

Assuming the English word was never thrown in (which it might well be at some point) I could get through a ton of ornithological information, if I were determined enough, and end up either:

A) Still not knowing what bird it was


B) Saying “oh, it’s a Hawk” – in other words ending up with the result I would have gotten right off with a J-E dictionary.

Now even if my moment of revelation had come in Japanese. I would still have thought あら、それはhawkなのね!Because I have no other way of pinpointing the bird.

This is especially so because my relation to hawks is largely verbal and symbolic. I have no very clear idea what distinguishes a hawk from some other bird of prey. But the word hawk has all kinds of associations of a verbal and symbolic nature. Hawkeye, hawkish, “a hawk making lazy circles in the sky”. I don’t really know what a hawk looks like. But the word is rich in associations.

I know what 犬 is without reverting to the word “dog” because I am familiar with 犬 nature. But if, in researching タカ, I never encounter the word “hawk” all I will know is that it is some bird of prey.

Now this could sound like an argument against strictly J-J definitions. But the more I think about it, the more I see that it is an argument for them.

It is actually better, provided I get enough cultural immersion, not to know the word “hawk” in relation to タカ. Whether it can be avoided in the long term I don’t know, but this is really a thought experiment.

If I never know that タカ means what English means when it says “hawk” (a bird I know very little about except on a verbal level), what will happen?

At first I will know very little more than that it is a bird of prey. The one I saw in Heidi that made quite an impression on her. So I will know that it is somehow a significant and impressive bird. A name to conjure with, rather than, say, a “lesser spotted marsh tern” (yes, I did make it up, but you get the point). I might read some extra ornithological information, but I won’t take it in, any more than I would in English.

But, I already have one cultural association with the word タカ. It comes from Heidi. I also know it isn’t a カラス. I met a カラス very early on in my Japanese journey when it flew into the window in Karigurashi no Arietty, the first Japanese anime I watched with Japanese subtitles. Later I met them in the flesh in Japan and marveled at how the Japanese ones really are as big as the ones in Arietty, and really do haunt Shinto shrines, as they do Rei’s shrine in Sailor Moon. If I hadn’t known the English word for a カラス I would now have a standard of comparison for both birds.

But let’s stick with タカ. I don’t know the English name, so I can’t bring in all the English language associations of “hawk”. I do know vaguely how it looked in Heidi (my visual memory isn’t great), more importantly, I know its emotional impact on Heidi. I know it is a bird of prey from both Heidi and the J-J dictionary. I know it isn’t a カラス. And at this stage that is about the limit of my possible knowledge. Just as it would be if I were a Japanese child.

What is going to happen as I get more cultural immersion exposure is that I will add to this other encounters with タカ. I will read about them in books, see them in anime, note (often subconsciously) the “tone” in which people use the word. I will also encounter expressions that use タカ.

Instead of importing all the English associations of “hawk” and grafting them onto タカ I will be gradually building my relation to the Japanese word and learning to see, hear and feel it the way a Japanese person does.

And this, in miniature, is why J-J definitions are important. No two words in different languages mean the same thing. People argue that “water” means the same as 水. In a way that is right but in another way it isn’t. 水 refers to the substance we all drink and swim in, certainly. But the word also has literary/linguistic/cultural associations and colorings that differ from those of “water”, and vice versa.

As soon as we get beyond the simplest words the differences deepen. Oishii does not mean “delicious”, for example. There is no English word that exactly expresses what oishii does mean.

Hawk and タカ refer to the same bird, but unless you happen to be an ornithologist, that is not what is really important about the two words. What really matters are their linguistic/emotional/cultural reverberations.

If you want to learn Japanese in a polyglot “fluent in three months” way, none of this matters. If you want to learn “business Japanese” (only), none of this matters.

But if you want to learn Japanese from the inside, to feel it in its true “weight” and “coloring” – in other words, to know what Japanese words mean, not what their nearest English equivalents are – then this is very important indeed.

Japanese-Japanese definitions: getting started →

Tadoku Read More or Die Contest

Read (more) or Die

This doll is entering the Tadoku Read More or Die contest for June 2015

The idea is to read as more Japanese in the course of the month than the other contestants. This doll will lose. She is a very slow reader even in English. But of course it is really more of a self-challenge.

The contest takes place via Twitter so it would  be fun to follow the other contestants, though as they all seem to tweet in English, I can’t. My Eigo circuits take a long time to recharge so I have to take them out and leave them on the charger except when they are absolutely necessary. Since my Japanese is poor, that might be considered taihen. But I reflect that most dolls can’t talk at all (or have those silly circuits that repeat the same few phrases). So I know that I am very lucky.

Fortunately the contest allows anime subtitles (Japanese of course) and visual novel style games. I am not sure if one could use a text-heavy rpg on the same basis. This is good as my access to books is currently a bit limited.

My reading isn’t as wide as it should be. One problem is that once one gets to high school stories the emotional level is a bit above me. I don’t mean the language, and I don’t mean the intellectual level. I mean that the material starts to deal with feelings and reactions/motivations that I can’t really process in any language.

It is probably an unusual problem among humans, but it is actually worth bearing in mind that if you can’t process something in English you won’t be able to process it in Japanese even if you can handle the language. Also you may have the semi-illusion of processing it in English just because the words are familiar, even though you don’t really know what they are talking about. In Japanese you very likely won’t have that illusion.

If you have a similar problem (possibly in other areas) I think the best advice is to look for exceptions. For example I can process most of Aria even though it is at a grown-up level. And – this is probably the only time you’ll ever hear me even half-recommending English subtitles – if you can understand the words but really can’t process the meaning, it might be worth using them just to find out. If you can’t process a story in English, you really are muri wo shite iru attempting it in Japanese. I don’t use English subtitles for this myself, but I have a fair idea of my own limitations, perhaps because they are rather glaring.

But I digress monsterly. I was talking about the Tadoku Read More or Die Contest (if I recall rightly). The rules are pretty complex (英語は難しいね)though they start making a bit more sense when you realize that they are codes to tweet on Twitter and the machine will then handle everything. Really very clever!

If you want to join in, take a look here.

You will need a Twitter account. If you don’t already have one (or want a different one for this), why not make it Japanese-only. If you do that I will follow you. Just tweet me (@CureDolly).

I also started a thread on the Forums where we can chat about the contest in Japanese.

So when you put down your Japanese book, you don’t need to tweet about it in “normal language”. You can make Japanese your Normal Language.

You know it makes sense.

If you have questions about the Tadoku Read More or Die Contest you can use the comment form here. I don’t promise to know the answer but I’ll try to find out for you!


How to Change Anki’s Language

Anki Language
Changing Anki’s Language. There is a way to get this, but it’s hidden!

Anki’s language can seem pretty much fixed. There is nowhere in the settings to change it.

So if you started with it in English as a newbie and now have a set of massive decks, it looks like you’re stuck with an English interface.

That can be pretty annoying once you have your computer’s system in Japanese, your browser in Japanese, your Kindle in Japanese, your smartphone and iPod interface in Japanese. This doll even worked out how to get the back end of this site into Japanese.

So it’s kind of ironic to have Anki, your biggest single Japanese learning tool (after VLC for anime, of course – that’s easy to put into Japanese), staring at you in English every day.

Fortunately, even though there is no obvious way to do it, and you have to use a slightly scary hack, it can be done.

How to Change Anki’s Language: Step by Step

1. Sync and quit Anki. If you don’t have an account to sync to, you are best advised to get one (they’re free).

2. OK. Here’s the scary bit. Read this carefully before you do anything.

What you have to do is get rid of Anki’s preferences file.

On a Windows system you will find this at:


On a Mac you will find it at:


But don’t delete the file. Rename it to, say, prefsold.db. That way if something goes horribly wrong you can go back to your original prefs file. You really are best advised to make copy the of entire Anki folder in a folder other than Documents. This is probably not necessary in most cases but it makes sure you are absolutely safe.

3. Restart Anki. It will start by asking you your language. Annoyingly, you don’t get the chance to change it at any other time, which is why you had to do this.

Anki will insist on syncing. Depending how big your decks are and how much audio you use (I use a ton with my Dolly Sentences Method), it can take a while.

4. Don’t panic. Once this is complete, everything may be all right but it may also not be. When I got to this point, my Anki interface language was in Japanese but my Japanese-named decks were suddenly in English. Anki had reverted to a very old state with very old versions of my decks. I still don’t know why (I’m just a doll), but it just about scared the paint off me. I have a ton of self-made audio cards and I’d rather not lose them.

Don’t worry. I just synced again and everything was back to normal except in Japanese. Be sure to sync down, not up if you have to do a second sync. Anki won’t delete anything from your computer. But make sure you have the old prefs file to return to in case things do somehow get messed up.

This is how your Anki should now look:

Anki Language

I won’t talk you through the interface as you already know it. But if there’s anything in the screenshot you think might cause you a problem, make sure you make a note of it in your English version before you make the change. Going back is possible but probably not something you will be over-anxious to do!

Interestingly, if you are dabbling in J-J definitions this will give you a little push along the way. English definitions will feel decidedly out of place in your new all-Japanese Anki!

Learn Japanese Free

Learn Japanese Free
Don’t have a penny? You can learn Japanese free.

Can you learn Japanese free? Absolutely. We can show you how to get to native-level fluency without spending a single penny.

Let’s assume you have no resources at all other than a computer or a tablet (you are reading this after all). You can’t travel. You can’t buy anything. Can you learn Japanese to complete fluency?

Absolutely you can. We’ll explain how.

It will be hard work, but any method by which you really learn Japanese, free or otherwise, is hard work, even if you spend fortunes on it. The methods we recommend have the advantage of being fun as well.

The best way to learn Japanese, or any language, is immersion. This is how children learn. But can you have Japanese immersion without living in Japan?

The answer to that is yes. The internet has made it possible. Ironically enough many learners who do live in Japan find it difficult or impossible to have Japanese immersion. This is because they are often teaching English and living in a heavily English-language environment in Japan. You could well find that your chances of Japanese immersion are better outside Japan than living there.

So if you want to learn Japanese free, how do you go about this?

Using the power of the internet it is absolutely possible to immerse yourself. YouTube is full of Japanese material. You really don’t need to watch any English media at all if you don’t want to. I don’t.

You can fill your iPod with Japanese songs and stories and anime soundtracks. Hukumusume is a really good source of Japanese stories both written and downloadable audio.

You can and should fill your ears with Japanese all the time. If you need to concentrate on something, turn it down, not off. Only when you really need to concentrate very hard do you have to stop the flow of Japanese completely.

Learn Japanese Free: how to get started

Maybe you don’t know any Japanese, or only a very small amount. Is it going to help filling your head with sounds you don’t understand?

There are different views on this but my view is “probably not”. You need to find a way to get a foothold in Japanese before you start. But don’t worry. You can still learn Japanese free. This doesn’t have to cost anything.

• First you should learn some Japanese grammar. Enough to get you started. We explain to how to do this here, with all-free resources.

• Next you should start working on Japanese anime with Japanese subtitles. Again we show how to do it with all-free resources.

• You also need to build a core vocabulary. Again, here is everything you need using free resources.

These techniques will guide so that you will be able to immerse yourself in Japanese and build your understanding step by step.

Thinking in Japanese

Japanese immersion isn’t just about reading and hearing Japanese. It is also about communicating in Japanese and thinking in Japanese. There is only one way to learn Japanese. You only learn a language by using it. Everything else is just learning about the language.

This means doing the things you used to do in English in Japanese. Watching movies, reading books/manga, playing games etc. It also means communicating with others in Japanese, and thinking to yourself in Japanese. And outer communication is the key to to inner thoughts.

This is the aspect of learning Japanese that most online, lone-learner techniques ignore. And it is very important. Language is a means of communication. The mind does not process input-only language as “real language”. You need to be using language to communicate thoughts and develop relationships before your “linguistic mind” can start firing on all cylinders.

Fortunately we have you covered there too. The Kawaii Japanese Forums are there for people to talk about Japanese or anything else, play RPGs or word games, or do anything else they want in Japanese. It is an easy stress-free, friendly way to ease yourself into the waters of Japanese communication. And (as you probably guessed) they’re free.

The Forums are the perfect bridge to get you across the psychological barrier between feeling Japanese as a “foreign language” and feeling it as something you actually live.

Learn Japanese Free – or very cheap

You probably have an iPod, phone or some kind of MP3 player already. But what if you don’t? Can you still learn Japanese free?

We can’t recommend a way of getting a free MP3 player, but you can get a cheap Chinese player on eBay or a local fleamarket for well under $5. It may lack some bells and whistles but if you want to keep the flow of Japanese into your ears and listen to stories and songs, even the cheapest player will do the job.

If you have a little more money to spare you could (if you don’t already have one) get a Nintendo DS. This game machine is “obsolete” so you can buy it very cheaply. It has a ton of excellent Japanese games with a lot of text, often with furigana. Unlike its more recent sister the 3DS it is not region-locked, so you can buy second-hand Japanese games cheaply on eBay or elsewhere.

But assuming you can’t even afford this, you absolutely can learn Japanese free.

Any questions? Use the comment form below.