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Jul 4, 2012

The Other Side of Immersion

Immersion is the heart of this self-teaching method. You keep in contact with Japanese as much as possible, learn what you need to in order to understand, and then use tools like Anki to help retain what you've learned. It's all about constantly seeking to fill all of the gaps in your life with Japanese. However, there is another side to creating immersion that is equally important - distancing yourself from your native language.

If you've already got your entire life filled to the brim with your native language, then there isn't going to be much room for Japanese. You'll have to struggle to squeeze in a few minutes of Japanese here and there. While it's good to get even a few minutes of immersion, you can do a lot better. But how do you make more room? By tossing out your native language and telling it not to come back.

I've found that the best way to implement this is to just pass a new “law” for yourself and everywhere you go - “NO ENGLISH ALLOWED.” If your native language isn't English, then change the law to exclude whatever it is (and add English in as well!). Stop using any and all native language media: music, movies, games, books, etc. Stop going to sites in your native language, switch your language setting to Japanese or find a different site to use. Stop spending so much time speaking your native language as well. If it's not Japanese, then we don't want it! (Yes, that means this site should also go on the blacklist)

Seems extreme, doesn't it? Well, it is. You need to be extreme if you want to really make progress with immersion. “But what am I going to do without all of my English entertainment?!” That's the point! You've just opened up massive areas of your life. Where once English dominated everything you did, you now have gaping holes. Now you can fill those holes with Japanese. With your native language out of the picture, you have no choice but to go find Japanese media that fulfills you and keeps you entertained.

This is truly the most important part of immersion. If you don't cut off from your native language, then you won't get very far. Just look at all of the English speakers who go to Japan and live for years surrounded by Japanese, but still can't speak or understand it beyond the bare necessities needed to get them through the day. Do you know why they remain at such a low ability level? Because they continue to use their native language as a crutch. Their friends speak English, they continue to buy English books and watch English TV, they continue to live as an English speaker. If you want to truly learn Japanese, then you must...

Live as a Japanese person would.

A Japanese person wouldn't reach for an English novel, they'd reach for a Japanese novel. They wouldn't listen to English music, they'd listen to Japanese music. So live as a Japanese person; live Japanese. Once you leave your old language behind and fully embrace the new, that's when the real magic happens.

So dump your native language and start an exclusive relationship with Japanese.

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  1. >If you don't cut off from your native language, then you won't get very far.

    This isn't really possible. If you aren't able to understand the language of the book you're reading/the game you're playing/the show you're watching, it won't be entertaining at all. Instead you'll be sitting there, listening to what sounds like gibberish to you and get bored. If you're playing a game in Japanese, you won't get very far if you can't follow the dialogue (if we disregard games with little text, like Mario, but what's the point of it then?)

    Let's say somebody would really want to switch everything to Japanese. I believe a great part of Japanese learners are students and working adults. They obviously can't go to their school and workplace speaking Japanese only. Are you suggesting they should drop out or quit the job?

    An exclusive relationsship with Japanese as you described isn't possible. To make this big switch even somewhat feasible, the learner would need to live in Japan (to work with Japanese or to study at a Japanese school) and be already quite skilled in the language. A full immersion might improve your skills at the later stages of your language learning but for beginners, it'll be useless.

    1. The new post, "Is that kind of immersion really possible?" should address some of your comments. Check it out, if you'd like.

    2. Wrong.

      Well, what else do you want me to say? I did it and I'm doing it. It's not gibberish, it's not boring, I can thing about things in Japanese while I talk to people in English and scribble Kanji during my German university lectures.

      You're plain wrong.