Immersion doesn’t work.
There, I said it.
Now, before I ruffle some feathers, let me qualify that statement a bit further: Immersion doesn’t work if you are immersing yourself in incomprehensible material.
This may include, for example, listening to random Japanese audio at all hours of the waking day, trying to play random Japanese RPGs when you don’t understand even half of the words, or watching lots of anime with no subtitles without really understanding much of it.
In other words, this is the time-tested method of learning by osmosis, just under a new name. The idea that you can become proficient in something by doing nothing has long been an attractive proposition for many people. After all, who wouldn’t want to be able to just download new information into their brain like Neo in The Matrix, without having to bother with actual studying or practice?
There are a lot of people advocating for this very thing though. For instance, it’s one of the key ideas proposed over at All Japanese All The Time (he says it even counts while you are sleeping! Double-awesome!)
But isn’t it a bit odd that quite often, the very same people who talk about how powerful ideas like “i+1” are, will also be talking about how you should spend the vast majority of your time consuming i+548 material? The i+1 idea, which says that you learn most effectively when you are consuming material that is just slightly above your current level, makes a lot of sense to me, and it has also been effective for me in practice.
My listening ability is probably my worst thing, currently. In fact, my crappy listening is what really prompted me to create this blog and take a closer look at what I was doing. I’ve spent hundreds of hours on actively listening to mostly incomprehensible auditory input, and I honestly didn’t get anything out of it. I’m not really sure why I would have expected otherwise. But for the past 2 weeks now, I have went on a binge of listening to massive amounts of comprehensible input, and I can tell you unequivocally that my listening ability has increased by noticeable quantities in this short time.
I personally think you should try to avoid any content unless you can understand at least about 80-90% or more of it. Reading material that you already understand will further cement your understanding of that material, and has other benefits like increasing your reading speed and comprehension. Using material that you mostly understand is also much more rewarding and fun, and doesn’t overwhelm you. Furthermore, you can only learn from context if unknown content appears in limited quantities. If you don’t know one word in a sentence, you might be able to figure it out. But if you don’t know 3 words in a sentence, you are pretty much stuck.
Think about it, we don’t start kindergartners off by reading War and Peace, right? They read sentences like “See spot run.” Heck, I’m not even sure if that’s a grammatically correct sentence, but they learn it anyways because its easy to read, and you’ve got to start somewhere. There’s no reason that you should think this no longer applies now that you are an adult. But hey, what do I know? You shouldn’t even listen to me anyways.
I think a big problem that most people have is simply finding material that is appropriate for them when their Japanese is still at a low level. So because I think this is extremely important, I plan to talk about a lot of beginner’s level content later on in this blog.
I’ll end this with a quote from Stephen Krashen, THE original i+1 guy himself:
“We acquire language in only one way, when we understand messages, that is when we obtain “comprehensible input.” Thus, we acquire when we understand what people tell us or what we read, when we are absorbed in the message. More precisely, we acquire when we understand messages containing aspects of language that we are developmentally ready to acquire but have not yet acquired.”
You tell it, i+1 guy, you tell it.