Immersion for Learning Japanese:

Why immersion?

Immersion is the core of the Living Japanese learning method. While Anki and the Heisig books are used for learning the writing system, the bulk of your study time will be spent reading, watching, and listening to Japanese media. By experiencing the natural Japanese found in media, you'll gain exposure to the grammar and vocabulary that you'll actually need and use. The bonus to learning through immersion, as opposed to flash cards and lists, is that you'll be learning in context and be reviewing what you already know while encountering new material.

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How do I start with immersion?

At it's core immersion is made up of two simple rules:

Yes, that is indeed an obvious statement, however its simplicity makes it helpful if you ever need to find new ways to immerse in Japanese. Essentially you just want to take note of things you do in English (or any other language), and then consider how you could do those things in Japanese. Remember these two rules and continue to look for new ways to immerse in Japanese.

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What are some concrete examples of immersion?

The above rules are certainly important, but they can also be vague for someone just starting out. So to help you get started with your immersion environment here are some ways that just about anyone can increase daily contact with Japanese.

*Many games will automatically patch to a Japanese version
when you change your Steam language settings.

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I have Japanese media, but I can't understand any of it!

When you first begin to use your immersion media, you will most definitely be overwhelmed by the language – but that is the point. The earlier in the process you taste the depth of the language and start adjusting to it, the better off you will be in the long run. You likely will not be able to understand most music without looking up lyrics and studying them for a bit, but that process will teach you a lot of Japanese. The same goes for reading, you will need to look up words you don't know and learn as you progress. You might say that learning to read this way is downright impossible, but fortunately for you, there are reading packs to help you get started.

The Yotsubato! Reading Packs (click to see them) do most of the work for you. All of the words on each page are listed and defined (by page number), so that you can have a quick reference as you read. You won't have to do a single dictionary search. In addition, the vocabulary has been loaded into an Anki deck so that you can review vocabulary while you aren't reading. Reading is truly the best way to learn Japanese, so please take advantage of these reading packs if you are having any trouble getting started.

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I have to use my native language for work/school, when can I do all of this immersion stuff?

It's hard to keep up immersion while working, but listening to Japanese music while you work is a good start. Granted, you won't be actively learning from it, but it can still help keep you in contact with the language. During breaks you can read manga, work on Anki reviews, or put on a show. You could even browse Japanese sites on your phone or computer. You're going to have to use your native language for some things, but try to squeeze in Japanese when and where you can.

There are two times of day that serve as prime immersion points: right after waking and just before bed. The morning is a good time to take care of Anki reviews – if you do them first every day, then you will never miss a day. After that reading immersion can help you find new words and sentences to add to your Anki deck, or you can just read and not worry about adding cards.

The last hour before bed is another good time for reading. It doesn't have to be a full hour, but taking the last part of your day for reading Japanese is another way to make sure you have contact each day. You're going to wake up and go to sleep every day, so use those times as reminders to use Japanese.

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Should I be using Anki?

If you used the Heisig books to learn the Kanji (as discussed here) then you should be continuing to review those kanji daily. In addition, Anki can be used to study sentences or individual words. There are common vocabulary decks discussed in the learning tools page and Anki decks included in the Yotsubato! Reading Packs. Use of these decks can help you retain common vocabulary, so that you can continue immersing in media.

You can also create your own study decks with Anki. If you look up a word that you don't know, you can add it to a custom Anki deck and use the program to help you retain it. You can also look up example sentences and add those to the deck.

An important note is that aside from your kanji reviews, the other Anki decks are only a supplement to immersion. Immersion is your number one priority. Always aim to be engaging in Japanese media, but feel free to use Anki as an aid for the process.

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Reading Japanese for Immersion:

When will I be ready to start reading?

It depends on what you mean by “ready.” If you're wanting to wait for the ability to auto-translate all Japanese text into English in your mind, then you'll probably never be ready. If you mean when can you begin reading with the assistance of a dictionary, then you can begin as soon as you learn the kana. You will struggle. You will be slow. But you can do it, and in struggling you become better.

The important thing to remember is that if you can look up and learn one word, then you can read. You may be looking up every single word on the page, but you can do it – and then you will know those words when next you see them.

Looking up every single word sounds pretty miserable, and I expect that this will turn many people away from reading, so I did that work for you. If you go look at the Yotsubato! Reading Packs, you will see that the packs define every word on every page. This means that you don't have to look up any words yourself – just check the list (it's organized page-by-page). You can also use the included Anki decks to review and retain the vocabulary you encounter. You have the option of getting the first pack for free, so do please try it out if you're trying to begin reading.

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What should I read?

I highly recommend that you read manga, which are essentially Japanese comics. There are manga on just about any topic you can imagine, so you should have no problem finding something you enjoy. I recommend manga because the language is generally much easier to get into.

Many manga have furigana, kana readings for kanji, which is immensely helpful when looking words up in a dictionary. Furthermore, you have drawings of the main action taking place and the setting, so most of the text is description of things that you can already see as well as dialogue. In essence, you'll be able to understand part of the story from just the pictures, which means that you don't need to understand the words 100% to be able to appreciate the story.

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How do I find good manga?

The Yotsubato! manga series is generally regarded as a great place to start, due to it's slice-of-life content. You can also look at sites such as Baka-Updates Manga (Genre Search) to find series that interest you, and then you can order them from or attempt to find a copy online. If you live in the US, the Kinokuniya bookstores are a good book source.

You can also look at the Out of Print Manga Library for free manga. These series have gone out of print and have been legally uploaded to this site for viewing purposes. Perhaps the most notable series on the site is Love Hina (click to open in another tab).

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How do I use Anki with reading?

While reading you will need to look up words in a dictionary. Using Anki takes this dictionary search a step further and has you create a flash card for the word you looked up. There are two general ways to make the card, you can either find an example sentence or use just the word. If you use an example sentence for the front of the card, then you will want an English translation of the sentence and definitions/readings for each word (this helps you learn context as well as the definition). If you do just the word on the front of the card, then the back of the card will be the reading and definition.

If you create cards for every single word you come across, you will quickly find yourself buried in hundreds of reviews. For this reason, I recommend only creating cards for words that you have seen a few times already and keep forgetting, or words that you find particularly useful.

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Summary of Reading Japanese for Immersion:

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Yotsubato! Reading Pack

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