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Jul 8, 2012

Is that kind of immersion really possible?

The other side of immersion talks about cutting off from your native language so that you can make room for your new language. Understandably, some people wonder if this kind of immersion is truly possible, or if it's really something that is worth the effort. The main issues are...

What about my job, my classes, my family? I can't make those people speak Japanese...”

No, you can't make other people suddenly understand and speak Japanese, but you can approach those situations with the mindset that you want to keep Japanese involved as much as possible. For work and school, this could be immersing in Japanese media during breaks or while working. Sure, you can't constantly have headphones in and be listening to Japanese music or be playing Japanese TV in the background, but you can aim to maximize this kind of contact with Japanese and minimize contact with English.

Here's a list of ideas for maximizing Japanese time and minimizing time spent in your native language:

  • Listen to Japanese music while working
  • Put on Japanese TV in the background
  • Change your computer to Japanese
  • Rename all files to Japanese
  • Do research in Japanese
  • Read or work on your Anki deck during breaks
  • Take notes in Japanese (even if it's only a word here or there)
  • Keep a novel or some manga on hand
  • Read, watch, or listen to media while traveling
  • Go to a Japanese restaurant and have a chat during your lunch break

While you can't completely cut off from your native language in these kinds of situations, the goal is to reduce time spent in your native language as much as possible. If you get yourself into this mindset, then you can really begin making progress both in and out of the workplace/school.

As for your family, I think we can make an allowance to keep in contact even if they don't speak Japanese. Unless of course you don't want to talk to them much, in which case, you're welcome for the excuse to avoid their calls.

"Is this kind of immersion really going to be helpful? I'm only a beginner..."

The short answer is: Yes, it will help. Now for the long answer. The first thing that this kind of immersion will do for you is bring Japanese to the forefront of your mind at all times. If you're constantly dodging your native language and trying to fill in those gaps with Japanese, then you can hardly forget about your goal to learn Japanese. Keeping your goal in mind is the key to seeing it through to the end.

But I'm a beginner, I don't understand any of the Japanese that I'm surrounded with...”

That's the second point of doing this. Now you've ditched your native language, you've got tons of Japanese around you, and you don't really understand it. So what can you do? Start learning! If your immersion environment is set up properly, then you'll find yourself inevitably going back to Japanese and learning more. You've limited your options so that everything is Japanese, so now you have no choice but to learn! Immersion is all about making learning inevitable by surrounding yourself in the language so much that you can't escape it.

But how can I look words up if I can't use a dictionary?”

You can still use a dictionary. In the beginning, of course you'd need to use a Japanese to English dictionary, so don't worry about that breaking your immersion environment. You need a strong foundation of basic Japanese before you can make the transition to monolingual Japanese dictionaries.

So how do I know if I'm doing this immersion thing correctly?”

If you're doing it right, then everything that you can change to Japanese will be Japanese. You can't change other people, and I don't expect you to change jobs or drop out of school. Changing all of your media (books, movies, music, etc) to Japanese is the biggest part of making this kind of immersion work. If you can find the things you already love in Japanese, then you'll not only want to keep learning, but you'll want to learn faster.

The essence of immersion is this: maximize time spent with Japanese while minimizing time spent with your native language.

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