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Apr 27, 2013

Why you should spend less time studying

“The too constant use of even good things is hurtful.”
-Publilius Syrus, Maxims.

In retrospect, I spent far too much time studying Japanese and not enough time immersing. It's a trend that I've noticed among many other individuals who are learning on their own. But what exactly does that mean? How can you spend too much time studying? Isn't studying a good thing?

Yes, studying is without a doubt an important part of learning another language, but you shouldn't focus all of your efforts on building Anki decks and hunting down vocabulary lists. By immersing in the language - chatting with friends, watching TV, or reading manga, etc - you can learn so much more than you would ever be able to through rote memorization.


One of the best parts of immersion learning is that you get a feel for Japanese. Think about when you're reading or writing in your native language. Sometimes you come across a word that just doesn't feel right. You might not be able to explain why the word is wrong, but you know it is. Immersion is the source of this kind of intuition, and by immersing in Japanese you'll start to understand more of what you encounter and also have an easier time speaking or writing. You won't know the grammar “rules,” but you'll have a natural feel for them.

Specialize your knowledge

If your only contact with Japanese is your Anki deck, then you'll never gain the skills necessary to speak, read, or write. Anki is an amazing tool for learning vocabulary, but it's just not enough on its own. If you want to read, then you have to practice reading; in order to speak you must practice speaking. Studying is a supplement to what you learn through immersion, it's not the main course.

As an example, I've met several people whose parents came from another country and did not have English as their native language. Those people almost always had the ability to understand what their parents said to them in the other language, but they couldn't reply. The can understand the language with ease, but when it comes to speaking it's as if they don't know it at all.

I've personally experienced this as well, as I've always focused more on reading and listening instead of speaking and writing. It's as if you know the language and can perfectly understand what the other person is saying, but when you open your mouth to reply all of the parts gets jumbled – like you don't know anything at all! Your brain has to “specialize” your knowledge of Japanese in order to use it well, and the way that you can get your brain to sort through that knowledge is to practice through immersion! Chat with people on Skype, write entries on Lang-8, read manga, listen to Japanese podcasts or TV shows. If your only contact with Japanese is in Anki, then you're going to have a rough time when you finally try to use Japanese.

Warning: Burn-out Ahead

It's okay, you can admit it – doing Anki reps and scavenging dictionaries for new cards isn't exactly exciting. Sure it can be fun, but sometimes you just don't feel like doing it. This is especially true if you are focusing on this aspect of learning Japanese too much! The great thing about immersion is that you can continue learning while having some fun at the same time. You can only handle so many reps before your eyes start to glaze over, but if you're chatting with someone in Japanese or reading an interesting story you probably won't even notice the time passing. Plus, if you keep having fun with Japanese you'll remember why you started learning in the first place and get more motivation to keep at it!

All things in moderation...

The goal here isn't to quit studying in favor of immersion, but instead to find a balance between the two aspects. If you read manga and look up words to add into Anki, then that is a perfect example of immersing and studying at the same time (this is the goal of the reading packs). You can do the same by adding corrected sentences from Lang-8 into Anki or making note of words that you didn't know during a conversation you had (obviously easier if the conversation was online).

What was your reason for learning Japanese? It's easy to forget once you get caught up in the process of learning, but take the time to think about it now. Can you start using Japanese for what you intended? If not, is there something you can do that will make it easier to take that step later? Ask yourself these questions and you'll likely find a good way to start immersing. You can also try to do some of your hobbies in Japanese (reading, gaming, watching TV, etc). You'll learn so much more by varying your sources, so give it a shot.

How do you immerse in Japanese? Leave a comment below and share your experiences with others!


  1. I agree that immersion in an important aspect of learning but at the beginning it was hard for me to find material I enjoyed because of how little I knew, so I tended to spend way to much time on anki. But as I slowly started to read manga it's become more enjoyable and now I find that I spend less time on anki and more time reading.

    1. It sounds like you made a nice transition into immersion. I mainly wanted to write this article for the people that focus on textbooks and how many Anki cards they have, because they're missing out on so much. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Nice to see that you've updated the site, I was sort of wondering what was going on. Is the Yotsubato reading pack still in development?

    1. Yes, it most certainly is! I'm hoping to have it out soon. Guess I should make a progress update post.