10,000 Hours: Building Listening Comprehension

A lot of people have complained, well, complain is a strong word, but pointed out to me: “Hey, Khatzumoto. What the heck, son?! Your method is too writing-focused!”. To this I must heartily respond: “Um…bollocks”. No it isn’t. But, to be fair, I haven’t discussed listening and speaking as much as I’ve discussed reading and writing. Why? Well, literacy has been the largest (false) hurdle for adult learners of Japanese from outside the kanjisphere. Millions of people supposedly learning Japanese but being functionally illiterate — this is a bad situation, mate. It had to be tackled first. I figured everyone had the listening/speaking thing taken care of anyway, because it seemed like there were plenty of people who could speak Japanese but couldn’t read it worth a darn, although, now that I think about it, even those people who can “listen but not read” probably have weak listening comprehension outside of the most basic situations: when it comes to things like business, news and any expert/grown-up situation, if you can’t read, you’re just not going to have the vocabulary to handle the aural discussion…I think.

Anyway, a lot of you who have very kindly come and visited this website are now sentence-picking and SRSing, and generally getting your read on, so for all intents and purposes, I’d say that the Japanese literacy problem, to the extent that we can call it that, is solved. Just keep adding sentences and doing your reps. Case closed.

So, there you are. You’ve been mining your sentences diligently, but you still have trouble even following a conversation let alone participating, right? Maybe you still can’t follow your favorite anime. Right. OK, I have a question for you. How much Japanese are you listening to? Whatever your answer is, I can guarantee you that it hasn’t been enough for long enough yet. Which is why I suggest you:

Listen to 10,000 hours of Japanese over the next 18 months. [Arithmeticians: (1) yes, there are more than 10,000 hours in 18 months: it’s called an estimate; (2) sleeping hours count, but obviously you’re going to want tons of waking hours, too — in any case, go for 24 hours a day; (3) this figure allows for those occasions when you perhaps can’t listen to Japanese, but even in these cases, turn that Japanese right back on ASAP].

Why 10,000? Am I obsessed with this number? Kind of. But, it is based on a rough calculation. I was fluent (perhaps not native-level, but definitely, absolutely fluent) at about 18 months. Over those 18 months, I listened to 18-24 hours per day of Japanese, which comes to 10,000 hours. Because my learning was input-focused, my listening ability was even stronger (much stronger) than my speaking ability; everyone needs to be able to understand more than they usually use — you don’t talk like a politician or a newscaster, but you need to understand how they speak. And in order to get to this state, you need to spend every waking moment listening to Japanese — and every sleeping moment, too (just be sure to not pick Lord of the Rings for your sleepytime listening, because Frodo Baggins is a little screaming wusspot of a Hobbit: “ガンダルフー!!!アアアアアァアアァァ!!!”).

EVERY. WAKING. MOMENT. Of course, you may have school to go to, maybe a job. You can make small exceptions. But your school doesn’t run 24 hours a day, does it? You do sleep at night, right? Leave the Japanese on all night. You have class, right? Listen to Japanese in class if you can get away with it (i.e. if it won’t damage your learning experience). If not, listen to Japanese while you do your homework. You take lunchbreaks, don’t you? Listen to Japanese. You walk or drive or otherwise commute places, don’t you? Listen to Japanese while doing it. You do have free time, right? Japanese owns your free time. You do sentences in an SRS, don’t you? Good — listen to Japanese while doing your SRS entries/reps. Do you lie around and stare into space? Listen to Japanese while doing it. Do you take walks? Runs? Go to the toilet? Take baths/showers? Eat? Hang out with (Japanese-speaking) friends? Take road trips? Take plane trips? Listen to music? Surf the Internet? Cook? Clean? Wash dishes? Go shopping? Do pilates (sp?)? Tae-bo? Kung-fu? Listen to Japanese during all those times.

Remember that silence thing? Silence has left the building. Every moment of your life needs to be soaked in the sweet water of Japanese listening. I had Japanese playing even when I went out into the mountains behind Momoko’s house to watch the sunset. And in the toilet (pants down, headphones on, bombs away…No? TMI?). And in the shower. And in bed. This is serious business, dude — I am not messing around and neither should you. We’re talking about learning a language here, not cleaning the sock lint from between your toes. So be prepared to show the heck up, day in, night in, day out.

Of course, this isn’t an excuse to not read. Of course not. You’re going to need to do both at the same time. The cool thing about audio is that it’s even more hands-free than text and video. You can sit, run, jump, kiss and listen all at the same time. You don’t always have to actively listen to the audio, not at all. In fact, I mostly “heard” rather than I listened. Just leave it on. Just hearing it, just having it surround you, is a great thing.

For maximum benefit, I recommend listening to things where you have some vague clue what’s going on. So, ripping audio from video you’ve seen before works really well. As does listening to music (you can go pick out the lyrics). But even if you don’t fully understand it, just keep playing it. You will get something out of it, you will. Trust me, you will get something out of it. Just do it. All Japanese, all the time.

  85 comments for “10,000 Hours: Building Listening Comprehension

  1. Wan Zafran
    November 1, 2007 at 01:20

    I know this is irrelevant to the topic, Khatzumoto, but the way you built up all that tension before dropping the bomb with “… All Japanese, all the time”, was just awesome, man.

    Anyway, I’d like to share one tip, which involves the listening method too, and one observation. I’ve discovered that when I listen to audio whilst reading its accompaniment text in Japanese (e.g. news captions, audiobooks, podcasts, song transcriptions, etc) I tend to retain words better. My mind seemingly attaches a reading to its respective kanji unconsciously, so much so that when I read the text without audio at some later time I am able to internally voice out the kanji with little to no difficulty. (Compare this to learning vocabulary independently, where one would have to force oneself to voice out the kanji internally.)

    However, I avoid reading Japanese lyrics whilst listening to its song, because I’ve found that I could and would memorize the song and yet be unable to remember its kanji readings. (i.e. The wordings don’t ‘stick’ to the kanji. Going through lyrical stuff is an excellent exercise however.) I understand that this might just be me, but I wonder if anyone else is a victim of this phenomenon too.

  2. November 1, 2007 at 05:47

    Funny that you say that Wan. I even have that when I HEAR a word. When I hear a word in a foreign language I often ‘see’ the written word in my mind…

  3. ハクション大魔王
    November 1, 2007 at 08:02

    I live in Japan so listening is not so much of a problem. In fact my listening is stronger than my writing, reading or speaking…. probably put together.
    So, I would love love love it if you would address how you became fluent as a speaker. Speaking is a hurdle I just can’t seem to overcome. Part of it is my personality – a bit shy and lacking in confidence – and when I am put into an unfamilar situation I become tongue tied 🙁
    I tried the ol’ talking to myself while home alone thing to practise my spoken Japanese but it’s become so second nature I am worried for my sanity and once I’m back in real conversations I don’t seem to have improved that much. Any tips? Help 🙁

  4. Mark
    November 1, 2007 at 12:18

    Just my two cents about speaking. If you want to become a fluent user of a language, you have to practice a lot. You need to get “used to” speaking so that it feels comfortable and natural. If you can’t produce language appropriate to the situation you find yourself in, you might have to find a less demanding situation. Sympathetic and patient friends can provide this environment, as can language exchange partners. A quality private teacher can be very helpful because they can give you appropriately difficult speaking tasks and help guide you through them. They can then give you an analysis of structures and vocabulary that you are not using correctly. You can then go and find examples of these and put them in your SRS. A “quality” private teacher means, of course, that every single word is spoken in Japanese and the same is expected of you. Trying to use the language is a good way to find out what you have and have not acquired. Plus, it’s very motivating to successfully communicate in the language you’re studying.

  5. khatzumoto
    November 1, 2007 at 12:35

    I’m going to respectfully disagree with Mark on this one (sorry, Mark! 🙂 ). Here is my take on speaking.

    You said you’re listening is strong, and I’m sure it is. But how strong? Can you follow Trick 100%? Can you follow the Japanese Diet proceedings (www.shugiintv.go.jp) 100%? Can you follow Tiger and Dragon 100%? Can you repeat virtually any 5-15-second-long piece of dialogue you hear, verbatim, after one listening? If not, then, I’m going to go with the input hypothesis here and say that you do still need to listen EVEN MORE.

    Canonical example: you watch a commercial once a day, or every other day for several weeks, and then suddenly you can say: “I just saved a bunch of money on my car insurance by switching to GEICO”, even without having tried to memorize it.

    What I’m saying is, don’t force the speaking, let it come out naturally as a result of input. That way will require less effort and cause less mistakes. If you want to practice speaking in a “safe” way, start by imitating TV. Say the lines with the people on TV/in movies etc. Copy them, repeat what they say. It’s hard for me to explain, in large part because I don’t know the underlying processes at work, but simply put: if you hear it enough, I mean, really, really, listen to a lot of Japanese, then you will eventually be able to speak it really, really well — you just will. It will take a while, but, yes, more listening will improve your speaking. It’s counterintuitive (“surely I have to practice soccer to get good at soccer!?”) so people are afraid to do it, but it works, I speak here from experience.

    When your brain is ready for you to speak, it will come out, and with great ease. As you see more “patterns”, see and hear Japanese people speaking in enough different situations, you will come to know what to say and do in those situations. Be patient. Don’t rush it. How long have you even been doing Japanese on a daily basis? However long it is, that’s your age in Japanese terms. I imagine you’re still just a baby. I’m only a 3-year-old myself. Work hard, input hard, and wait.

    I might be mistaken, but it occurs to me that speaking too early is like trying to learn how to use verbs from reading verb tables. There’s this idea that “if I just know the visible parts, I can combine them into any whole” — this is true of kanji, but it’s not true of speaking. When speaking, it’s not enough to know the right words, you have to know the right expression, the right way of saying it, the right “patterns” if you will; the patterns that Japanese people use every day. Now. there is individual variation, and there is such a thing as personal style, BUT…these are based on a deep and wide knowledge of “standard” patterns, not ignorance. So I say, observe more, watch more, listen more…
    I may be wrong here, but it seems to me that native speakers, though they seem to be saying new things, are really doing nothing but swapping, rearranging and (occasionally) extending PRE-existing phrases, patterns and sentences. Someone having trouble speaking either doesn’t have these patterns in her memory, or (more likely) has not been exposed to them yet. Maybe it’s something to do with the underlying, invisible structure of a language that so rarely gets explicitly discussed. Also, hearing lots of Japanese may increase your “chunk” size, which is important because you need to be working with pretty big chunks to speak smoothly. But I’m just shooting in the dark here: ask a real linguist for the whys, I’m focussing on hows.

    Teachers? Cost money. Will not solve your problem. They can act as consultants, but they cannot do the work for you — you still have to do it by and for yourself. Save your money, get some Japanese videos and Japanese friends. It’ll be cheaper, more fun, and may even make or save you some money (your friends can show you where to buy cheap stuff, give you their old stuff, and cetera!) rather than costing you.

  6. Billyclyde
    November 1, 2007 at 13:37

    I would just add that, when I was first learning Japanese in Japan, I was always the most reserved in my group, and therefore I made the slowest progress of us all. A mistake alone is forgotten, or maybe even a bad habit picked up; a mistake in public is an embarassing memory that makes sure you don’t make the mistake again.

    And the fun thing about speaking a new language is that you get to adopt a new personality. I’m a heck of a goofier/fun-loving in Japanese because I have to be, so perhaps one can also learn to be less shy. It helps in getting those native speakers to hang out with.

  7. ハイジ
    November 1, 2007 at 14:57

    Thanks so much for your reply – Mark and khatzumoto =) I really appreciate it!

    Mark- I have a language exchange partner and she was really helpful in the beginning. The sessions have been a lot more English dominant lately so I’ll have to rectify that!

    Khatzu- You’re right, my listening is far from perfect. I still don’t understand NHK news reports 100%. Maybe 80-90%..

    I’m not really into modern anime or J-dramas…but perhaps I should try to be. Any recommendations of what to try first? I think I’ll start a routine of listening to online NHK news reports while I’m at home, but it’s conversational Japanese I really need to listen to more.

    I live with a Japanese person. But they are trying to maintain their English so we mainly use English although as time goes by it’s becoming more and more mixed 😛 When I speak Japanese they often answer in English which makes it so easy for me to slide back into English when it feels too difficult to use Japanese. Something I’ll have to work on!

    You’ve given me a lot to think about. It makes sense that if I listen to Japanese enough it should come naturally. But obviously it takes more than watching J-TV and conversations with friends. I’ll have to put it a lot more effort.
    Not counting the years of on and off study I have done you could say I am 12 days old – That’s when I found your site and starting studying daily. Thank you for sharing your experiences and creating this site!
    ハイジ (aka ハクションダイ魔王 )

  8. Tina
    November 1, 2007 at 16:55

    “don’t force the speaking, let it come out naturally as a result of input.”

    I agree. From my experience: as a kid, I used to watch Italian cartoons for 3-4 hours a day for about 6 years (I can’t even remember just how long it was) and my Italian language ability is far better than my English. The funny thing is that during that 6 years of listening to cartoons, I hadn’t opened a single Italian book just as I hadn’t written a single sentence in the language, yet I can read and write in it just fine (although I must admit that my spelling of certain Italian words is rather scary). In fact, I’m so comfortable with the language that I could easily I regard it as my 2nd mother tongue, which is far more than I can say for English even though I read tons of English books every year.

  9. Tina
    November 1, 2007 at 17:39

    I really meant “a lot” more than I can say. Now, how ironic 😀

  10. quendidil
    November 1, 2007 at 18:52

    But Khatz, would you also recommend cutting out completely on non-verbal music like Classical Music? I find words rather distracting when I’m doing homework or something, I prefer doing it in silence or with classical music.

  11. khatzumoto
    November 1, 2007 at 19:00

    No, not at all. If it’s distracting, turn it off. (In fact, if the Japanese distracts you, it’s probably a really good thing, because it requires a certain level of comprehension to find words meaningful and therefore distracting).

    My advice is: do Japanese anywhere you can, avoid other languages anywhere you can. But if you can’t, you can’t — that homework still needs to be done. I did have to actually listen to most of my classes.

    One thing you could do, to “keep it Japanese”, is maybe play classical or other lyricless music by a Japanese artist/composer like 葉加瀬太郎[ハカセタロウ]/ Tarou HAKASE or 菅野よう子(かんの ようこ)/ KANNO Youko

  12. quendidil
    November 1, 2007 at 19:05

    On a side note, it seems to me that practice something again and again to get better at it is applicable only to skills involving muscle memory like sports or music. You can’t get better at piano-playing unless you practice loads of times; and you can’t pull of a slam-dunk unless you’ve practiced.

    The contrary is true for more brain-oriented skills, like languages or most school subjects. Many geniuses in history have never really flourished in a drilling-based or homework-based education system. William James Sidis spent only two hours at school each day (and even hated that) and he read a lot on his own at home; Einstein didn’t do very well in school after Primary School, where he failed only his Art but still got As for his maths and science; Stephen Hawking did above-average but wasn’t exceptional at school, only at university with better teachers did they realize his talent. I think drilling introduces boredom and hence causes lack of interest in the student, understanding and appreciating is far more important in this case than loads of practice.

    Maybe it’d be more accurate to say passive input for knowledge-based skills while active output and practice is better for physical, muscle based skills? Just blabbering.

  13. Christina
    November 1, 2007 at 19:43

    Well, all that is fine and dandy… but what should a learner of Japanese/Chinese/whatever do in the mean time, before out listening is excellent and can just pop out with the ‘right’ words? Ive been doing Chinese for a while, and have been immersing myself for a while. But I cant speak at all. I understand what I have to do to make it better, but what do I do in the meantime? There are still Chinese-speaking people in my life that I have to talk to sometime!!

    (sorry if this post makes no sense… its 6:30 in the morning…)

  14. khatzumoto
    November 1, 2007 at 19:48

    LoL. Just keep going. “Work hard and wait”, “work hard while waiting”…Keep adding heat, keep boiling the water.

    If you need to speak, just make sure the people you need to speak to are aware that you are very, very, very SUPER open to comments and corrections. Tell them this repeatedly until they get they point — you’re not just being humble, you really need them to be picky and pedantic around you. General criticism (“you suck”) is not very useful, but specific pointers “No, Timmy, say it THIS way” are priceless.

    But even then, be patient…keep going. Focus on how much you can understand, let that be a source of enjoyment and motivation for you. I got a kick when one of my Japanese friends (a lady in her 40s; she’s very reserved about certain things) started asking me to leave the room when she wanting to talk “girl stuff”, because she knew I knew what was up [up until then, she had very happily discussed…women’s issues…in my presence].

  15. nacest
    November 1, 2007 at 20:58

    About the “listening even while sleeping” part, I’m not sure how to make that comfortable and bearable. I mean, it already takes me a long time to fall asleep at night, I reckon it’d become impossible if I added music and voices in my ears too! Especially if I have to wear earplugs… (not to mention the fact that they’d fall off all the time)
    So, how did you do it exactly? Was it so easy for you to get used to that?

  16. Mark
    November 1, 2007 at 21:09

    Khatzumoto, I actually don’t think you’re disagreeing with me. And I think there was some confusion when I used the “practice”. I don’t mean practice by brainlessly drilling things out of a textbook. I mean practice as in use the language in an authentic way. Krashen also points out that active use of the target language may speed up acquisition. A good teacher (and there are good teachers) can provide you with communicative tasks that are appropriate for your level. They can also monitor your language development and give you detailed feedback about what you can and can’t do. Yes, they cost money, but they can be well worth it. Having friends is not the same thing.

    While it may not be necessary to actually use the language in order to learn it, it is definitely beneficial under certain circumstances, and I believe that it can speed up the process. It reinforces and helps to activate the input that you’re receiving.

    And I agree with what you said about people speaking too early, which is why controlled conditions can be beneficial. You see this problem all the time with immigrants. They understand everything, but don’t produce very accurate output, probably because they were forced to function in a native speaker environment before they were ready to do so. They had to develop communication shortcuts which they were then unable to correct.

    Anyway, I don’t disagree with you. Input, input, input.

  17. khatzumoto
    November 1, 2007 at 21:20

    Yeah…I had decent, medium-size headphones (as opposed to earphones), but they did fall off one ear halfway through the night sometimes. Nevertheless, there was still the other ear. Also, you can hook up speakers instead of headphones (a much more comfortable option). And, you can have the audio stop halfway through the night, so it’s more like a bedtime story than just plain noise [this is a good middle ground].

    Other than that, if it still kills you, just sleep without it.

  18. ffhk
    November 2, 2007 at 12:01

    I completely agree with you about input and this is what I’m doing now. I used to listen to English all the time and I’d say I have pretty good grammar compared to everyone else I know. I’m trying to listen to Japanese as much as I can now and luckily I only have school for about 4 hours so that’s less English for me 😀 . I noticed that after listening to my Japanese music over and over, I know some of the words even though I don’t have any idea what they mean (yet).

    Speaking of input and music, I wanted to share a site with if you haven’t already discovered it. I’m not sure if it’s useful for you, khatz, but yymp3.com has a lot of Chinese music. The site is in simplified Chinese though, but I listened to it for a while and most of it is in Mandarin. I stopped listening to it since I’m learning Japanese now, but I’ll definitely go back to it when I’m done.

  19. quendidil
    November 2, 2007 at 17:08

    Yeah, I didn’t understand some of the anime opening and ending themes I watched almost 4 years ago but I inadvertently memorized them. Now they finally make sense to me. lol.

    Most Chinese music comes from Taiwan anyway, comparatively few mainland musicians are known outside the PRC. I used to search for all sorts of music using Baidu.com back in the day, though it worked best for Chinese music; now Baidu seems to have been brought in line by the authorities.

  20. Charles A.
    November 2, 2007 at 19:37

    Sort of in keeping with the entry talking about how there aren’t really child prodigies, just kids that did something many times. Not entirely off the subject, but I’m looking at your 10,000 fetish and suddenly recalled something. Back in 2000 I began to play the game of Go (or Igo) quite a lot. Now, in 9th grade (1989) I sort of learned the game where my teacher said “There’s a saying about Go ‘After you played 1000 games, THEN you’re no longer a beginner and are now ready to learn the game'” or something like that. Where am I going with this? Well, could this “perfect” contextual input (which techincally becomes perfect output when using the sentences) apply to competive games such as Chess or Go? Basicly, do not waiste time studying Opening moves, problems, end games (the Go and Chess equivalents of verb and noun tables). Just know the basic rules and from then on perform 10,000 “perfect” games by physically repeating the moves of professional games.

    Does this work? Anecdotal evidence exists thanks to people that like to input old games into computer database (for later study, trade, lessons, etc.). With Go, that usually meant you “played” the game which recorded the placement as moves. One man inputted all the games of Honinbo Shusaku (those that watch/read Hikaru no Go, he was the one Sai played as in the 1800’s). Anyway, after doing that task, he found his playing strength increased 2 levels during online plays. I don’t think there’s a chess equivalent as the nature of the game would not mean you “record” it on computer by replaying it.

    Now the question: is there a case of a child or adult that only had input in Chess or Go for a long period of time then went on to display remarkable playing ability?

    I think the biggest hurdle to the 10,000 method is we want to create (talk, write, play the game) and not just absorb (listen, read, rehearse the game). Ok, it’s my biggest hurdle. I’m in Japan so I want to go out and talk Japanese damn it. I want to play Go against other players damn it. Hence, it’s very important for the input to be entertaining in its own right.

  21. quendidil
    November 2, 2007 at 20:20

    About that go thing. On the forum at “how-to-learn-any-language.com“, a guy I know claims to have done exactly that with chess – repeating the games of the masters with a computer program loads of times. It was done compeletely through passive input. He claims that that has improved his chess ability greatly even though he’s just done it for a short while. The program is called FRITZ II and costs US$10 and comes with 500,000 master games.

    On a second thought, I think this approach could be possible for music, but first yo have to have absolute pitch or very good relative pitch. And of course, you must know how to produce the notes on your instrument (including even your voice). The part where you match the sound produced with a position on your instrument is the only part that requires actual practice output I think, to ingrain it into your muscle memory.

  22. khatzumoto
    November 2, 2007 at 21:03

    From Scientific American:

    A Proliferation of Prodigies…
    According to this view, the proliferation of chess prodigies in recent years merely reflects the advent of computer-based training methods that let children study far more master games and to play far more frequently against master-strength programs than their forerunners could typically manage. Fischer made a sensation when he achieved the grandmaster title at age 15, in 1958; today’s record-holder, Sergey Karjakin of Ukraine, earned it at 12 years, seven months.

  23. jp
    November 2, 2007 at 21:46


    I’ve got a comment! I just started japanese, but ive got a good background in chinese! And the thing is, that there are a lot of korean student learning chinese! They are really good in listening, writing, reading, but so lame in speaking?
    So why?
    Because, if “speaking” reflect more or less our “listening”, why are they so lame?
    I would like to believe in the fact of listening a lot of japanese, and my speaking will come naturally, like i learnt my mother tongue, but this “korean case”, well, let me a doubt!
    so any idea?

    thank you!

  24. Nivaldo
    November 3, 2007 at 05:21

    Hey, Khatz. During my learning of kanji(I’m still learning them, around 562 now), I discovered that combining Rikaichan, Japanese web pages and my memory, I can memorize the form and meaning of a kanji for good. Could I use it in conjunction with “Remembering The Kanji” to shorten the path to learning all the kanji?
    Any idea would be highly appreciated.

  25. Glenn
    November 5, 2007 at 04:42


    >On a second thought, I think this approach could be possible for music, but first yo have to have absolute pitch or very good relative pitch.

    If you learn to read and learn the notes on the piano, you can build up good pitch. Well, you’d have to learn the solfege syllables, too, and use fixed “do.” But I agree — I see lots of parallels between learning a language and learning music. Listen to lots of music, try singing it back, and then try putting it on your instrument. If possible, get written confirmation of what you’re hearing. That will also build up your pitch. It’s the same as listening to the language you’re learning, repeating, imitating, and getting text to check that you’re hearing what they’re actually saying. Then of course the more you hear and can imitate, the more words or phrases you have in your bag, and the more options you have when speaking or playing. Then you’ll find things you like to play or say, and use those and get to know them really well, etc., etc. The only difference with music is that if you pick an instrument other than your voice, you have to learn the instrument and how to use it as well as the music itself, but even with voice, you have to learn to use it in a different way than you normally do, like you said.

  26. stultorum
    November 9, 2007 at 20:47
  27. Rob
    January 17, 2008 at 22:57

    I thought I would tack onto this older post a listening tip that I’ve been experimenting with the past couple weeks and so far it has been working out for me. The biggest problem I had with night listening was actually getting to sleep with the Japanese playing. No matter how tired I was, my mind just wouldn’t shut down as I kept listening and trying to comprehend what was being said. Most nights it came to a point where I had to shut it off in order to get enough sleep to function the next day. Then I came up with this simple solution.

    I made a 20 minute muted MP3 file and put it in my player along with my podcasts and ripped TV audio. When I go to bed, I start with the muted mp3 so I have 20 minutes of silence in order to fall asleep with the Japanese to follow.

    Two suggestions though: First, make sure you check your volume before going to sleep. One night I forgot and was startled awake by the beginning of Bakushou Mondai Cowboy where the announcer yells, “JUNK PODCAST!!” And second, try to have at least 8 hours of listening material ready so the muted mp3 won’t have another go around in the night.

    Hope this helps with anyone who has given up on listening while sleeping.

  28. Kei
    February 22, 2008 at 20:15

    Hey there, Khatzumoto.

    I’ve been reading your descriptions, your advice, clinking the links, yada-yada.. and you’ve made me feel much more confident about learning the language than I was before. I’ve been listening to JapanesePod101, and I thought I felt like I was making progress, but something.. didn’t set. It didn’t feel right. Something was… missing. It seemed as if.. whenever I’d finally get something, they’d shove a new particle in my face and not even explain how to use it. I’ve used things like dictionaries.. but other than that and the audio tapes, I haven’t used anything else. So I’m off to take your advice with the All Japanese All the Time thing. But I have one problem… I don’t have any local libraries, or any other things to resort to. I just have my little Japanese/English Dictionary. (literally, I mean, this thing is TINY) I was wondering.. could you recommend some websites that’ll help me improve in Japanese? I cannot use amazon because I simply refuse to buy things from the internet.. not even eBay. I was contemplating a TAFE course, but I don’t know if they’ll be teaching ‘Real’ useful Japanese. I really need advice. I’m fifteen and have big plans to go and live there at 19. I’m planning to go soon to visit my friends (exchange students, and we’ve been keeping in touch. half english/half japanese.. although sometimes they just type only in English, making me feel a little sad) and I feel I don’t know enough to actually talk, REALLY talk, to them. And I want them to feel comfortable around me and not use their broken english. I’m basically… a beginner. I know basic (not ‘basic’ basic, but basic as in I can put together words, sort of get what I want to say through..) So again, I desperately need help. I’ve gone all Japanese (even the computer) but I still need some more advice.

    And by the way… your blog? xD it rocks.

    – Kei

  29. mzmz
    May 26, 2008 at 13:15

    Another goal for you guys, 10,000 「見た動画」 on jp.youtube.com. I recommend クレヨンしんちゃん、ドラえもん、笑ゥせぇるすまん and News Reports. You can put sentences from comments into SRS.

    Can you guys make it? Are you man enough? If you’re hardcore you can go up to 80,000 (~10,000 hours!)

    Don’t just read blogs all day. GO! GO! GO! WATCH! WATCH! WATCH! 🙂

  30. rebecca
    May 28, 2008 at 13:38

    Yesterday when i used the search bar that i found your site and i so love it.As a chinese i think maybe japanese is much easier for me than any other launguege for me.But actually ,i also think it is hard for me to remember tons of words.I study japanese on 2004,and now is 2008.Still my japanese is poor poor,i cannot even say a complete sencetences at all. When i first enter your site i though it may very useful for me.so now i read all your issues in your site and find many other useful site as well.sorry ,my english is also poor because i have seldom use it.and pls ignore my wrong spelling.
    and i have some inquiry as below:
    1.how to improve my oral speaking?
    2.how to remember the words,it is so large,even the kanji is hard for me?
    3.i got the information that you know French.myself also want to learn.can you give me any advise.many thanks.

  31. October 6, 2008 at 23:43

    I find the Chinese sites youku.com and tudou.com have quite a bit of Japanese contents on them. Just do a search on either for 日语.

  32. Dan
    October 12, 2008 at 04:03

    Khatzu… Love your site. I lived in Japan for 3 years while in the Navy and though I knew enough of the language to get around and ask for help, I never bothered to read. I’ve been using a mixture of techniques from your site, along with Japanese for Busy People (sorry, but I actually learn better when understanding grammar and syntax behind a language) and also lots of audio, movies and anime playing in the background.

    Here’s an interesting thought: I always regarded Tokyo as a place where I could get lost in the crowd, be myself and enjoy the solace (even though its a city of 10 million people). I’m wondering what it will be like now when I go back in December and I can understand maybe 50-60% of what people are saying and can read half of printed material out there? Will I find it as peaceful? Weird…

    Anyways your comment about “being illiterate” in a language really hit home and motivated me to get off my butt and learn the written language. Thanks, and keep up the great work.

  33. Donnie the monic
    November 26, 2008 at 11:05

    hola, This is like. 10 years late. but in regards to homie G and the speaking fear. It is a personality thing, but the best thing to do is just dive dive dive. I took japanese for 2 years @ college and our teacher was a real hard ass about everything. he started off the class in japanese and we all sat there like @_@.. but through hand-signals, jumping up and down and repetition we understood.

    fast-foward. Our final one year was to go to the sakura festival in philly that we have annually, and interview some people in japanese. I was like i can do this no problem! Got to the festival and sat for like 5 hours. staring at people. I am pretty sure, I scared everyone. Black guy, Army trench, rasta hat like *glare*. It was gettin late, and people were starting to dash, I had to interview 5 people atleast or fail. So I gathered up what remnants of my balls were left and ran to the first family i seen and burst out a “あの。。すみませんが。。” and they ran like hell. THEY RAN. So I sat down for another 30 minutes. Unfortunately, my ability to reverse time didn’t work on saturdays. SO i got up one mo’ gin and ran over and tried a different person, and got a O_O! “お!日本語がじょうずですね?!” from the guy and then i made a stain in my pants =/ and then i answered his question! we have a light convo, and in about 20 minutes. I finished my final.

    As time went on, I got more an more comfy. Now i spit with friends all the time, i dont understand everything. but the point is, im in. Go ahead, embarass yourself. The sooner you do it, the sooner it’ll go away. I promise!

    I am definitly a shy dude, although I’m a good liar and people don’t believe me. I’ve once waited 10 years to ask a girl out. if that aint shy. i dunno what it.

  34. Vincent
    November 28, 2008 at 04:50

    Another great post that increases motivation and gives a few neat ideas (“methods”) to use as an aid in the study of Japanese. Good job!

    I would just like to add that recent research has suggested that unconscious learning and the unconscious mind in general isn’t as potent as it was often believed to be. It has been excessively talked about by people like Freud and such, who gave it a very big role in the way we behave and how our bodies and minds work in general (saying that many people have subconsciously contracted (if you can use that word like this?) trauma’s in their childhoods that keep on haunting them all the way into adulthood without them being aware of this consciously etc.), and the current thinking is that it’s not as important after all and doesn’t have as big effects on our functioning. I’m not too sure about the specifics here, but in this case having Japanese on in the background without paying attention to it doesn’t help as much as we’d be tempted to think – same with sleep-learning. I’m not saying it doesn’t have any effect whatsoever (I actually think it probably does), I just think when you’re being conscious and alert to what’s happening and pay focused attention, you’ll learn a lot faster (although it is also more demanding/tiring, unfortunately).

    Just wanted to throw that in. I still think having Japanese on in the background is a good idea, in part because, as I mentioned, I do feel that it probably has some effect (although this might just be society’s influence on me talking).

    But apart from all that, as I said… great post 🙂

  35. Francesca
    December 17, 2008 at 09:19

    The idea of listening to Japanese 24/7 is wonderful and all very well, but I’m kind of at a loss when it comes to resources.

    I don’t have the means to go out and buy loads of Japanese music; the music I DO have is limited (and mostly classical!) and I don’t want to listen to it to death and end up detesting it. Even when I find artists on the internet that I like (usually through youtube), I’m not able to download the music and so listen to it elsewhere, as far as I’m aware. My limewire doesn’t seem to be associated with anything Japanese except the most well-known artists.

    You must have an enormous collection of audio Japanese if you listen to it 24/7 without getting bored of the same stuff! How can I… I don’t know, find more resources?

  36. Gilles Major
    January 16, 2009 at 01:16

    “may be wrong here, but it seems to me that native speakers, though they seem to be saying new things, are really doing nothing but swapping, rearranging and (occasionally) extending PRE-existing phrases, patterns and sentences.”

    just to let you know that many psychologists and scientists studying the development of language in children agree with your intuition 😉 (unsurprisingly they belong to a category of people defending an INPUT-based theory of the acquisition of grammar (see Tomasello and many others whose name I have forgotten)

  37. Stu Hughes
    February 23, 2009 at 06:26

    Hey Khatz,
    Madd skills and so on demonstrated in your site, but I’m wondering, didn’t Piotr Wozniak say something to the tune of “you can’t learn in your sleep”?


  38. Nana
    March 15, 2009 at 07:48


    Yeaaaaah this reply is really late and you probably won’t see this but (if you don’t already know) there’s a website: gendou.com, where you can download japanese music but they’re only from animes. There’s ALOT of them so you can download to your hearts content and not worry about being bored with a song. Hope this helps and once again great post Khatzumoto! ^.^

  39. RJ
    May 22, 2009 at 13:35

    Could anyone tell me if I should straight learn the kanji first before watching and reading news?

  40. Sublymonal
    September 16, 2009 at 07:32

    Though I doubt that this will reach anybody in a meaningful way, I have a suggestion on finding music for the anime fans out there, if this hasn’t occurred already..

    [Feel free to skip this paragraph.]For me finding input that I could repeatedly listen to was extremely difficult. A Dr. Jeykll and Mr. Hyde audio book is fascinating and all, but not the 4th time or beyond. So I figured out pretty quickly that I would have to find MUSIC that I like, but I had no idea where to start. I tried getting recommendations from others, but they could never get anything good for me. So one day whilst watching FMA, the idea came to me:

    Get music from the band that sings your favourite anime theme song!

    So I took the time to listen to all of the themes for the various anime that I enjoy, kicked out the bunk, and ended up with a list of good songs with their bands. I’m short on cash, so I went for the one that had the most occurrences: Asian Kung-Fu Generation [アジアン・カンフー・ジェネレーション], and got their discography [a compilation of all their albums]. To kill two birds with one stone, I got the Japanese formatted version [the titles and whatnot are all written in Japanese] so as to increase the immersion!

    [I particularly like the albums ソルファ [Sol-fa] and フィードバック・ファイル [Feedback File]]

    For repetition’s sake [and the fact that I, and others like me, only read the first and last sentences of a post that holds no direct interest]:

    Get music from the band that sings your favourite anime theme song!

  41. TheSleeve
    October 9, 2009 at 11:58

    Hi all. First time poster, long time reader.

    Since reading this post, I’ve been pondering how to go about achieving the goal of 10,000 hours of listening. I don’t have that many Japanese songs, and I can only watch TV/anime/news/radio when I’m at a computer. Hmmmmm, methinks there must be a better way…

    Well, I recently stumbled upon this wonderful realization: all you have to do is turn everything Japanese you own into an mp3. EVERYTHING. Turn everything that has audio, NOT just music and audio books, into an mp3 and load it onto your mp3 player. When you’re done, walk around with the mp3 player on shuffle ALL day long. Mmmmmm… 10,000 hours, here I come!

    The method is simple: Get a program that can hijack the audio driver on your computer and record whatever is playing to an mp3 (“Replay Music” is good, but not free). Proceed to play every anime or drama episode you own! Watch news on websites and record it, too! While you’re at it, go for the NHK 高校講座 series (both TV and radio versions) as well (by the way, thanks for the link Khatzumoto).

    I’ve been doing this with my entire collection of Japanese shows, and I’ve amassed about 250 hours of audio.

  42. Marshall
    October 21, 2009 at 10:58

    Thank you so much for writing this article (2 yrs late lol!). I needed the assurance that even just hearing it was enough. 😀

  43. Mark Dawson (Reki)
    November 3, 2009 at 09:49

    I just started using your method of learning a language and I am trying to go into your method from the method I was trying to go. I started rocket japanese and memorized kana but I found your awesome site and started the immersion process Japanee all the time, but I am worried I am missing something……I am currently memorizing kanji ab about ten a day from RTK and immersing myself in Japanese (music,and Television)but should i learn Kanji before moving to anything else???? If thats what I need to do so be it I am extremely motivated to learn japanese so if I have to get that done I will but i want to make sure I am doing it right. Please let me know.

  44. アメド
    November 3, 2009 at 15:25

    @Mark Dawson(Reki)
    You need to learn 2042 necessary kanji required for Japanese literacy. So it’s good that you get that done first. Good that you’re immersing yourself with japanese along the way because that’s an essential part. Yes kanji is first part since you learned the kana that’s good but kanji needs priority to be done. Knowing the meanings/writings to them will help you alot once you get to the sentence phase. I’m currently at 1900 sentence i did up to 3011 kanji. It goes RTK-KANA-SENTENCES 10,0000 and immersion alot of it. But kana can be done first no problem there. Hope this helps. There’s alot of kanji out there but 2042 is needed.

  45. Packman
    December 6, 2009 at 13:53

    I know that the idea is to be immersed in Japanese as close to 100% of the time as possible. I thoroughly enjoy all forms of Japanese media and I’d have no problem engaging myself with the language all day and night if it weren’t for the fact that I have other interests requiring me to use English. I thoroughly enjoy reading, fact and fiction, as well as watching movies and playing video games. I know there are ways around video games in that I can play the Japanese versions of the games, but how do I get around reading books and watching English language films? My Japanese is nowhere near good enough to read books in Japanese and understand them and the same goes for movies. Is there a way to compromise? E.g. Read while listening to Japanese, or limit myself to one movie a day. I’d think it a shame if I there wasn’t some room for these activities.

  46. Christian Williams
    January 13, 2010 at 16:23

    Hey Khatzumoto, I bet you never heard this one before. LOL

    Well For a short time now, maybe about 5 years or so I have been Listening To Japanese Music and Japanese Dialogue not necessarily constantly but a Significant amount. About 14-16 hours a day. I only Like Japanese music. Now the funny thing is not to say that my Japanese is the worst, but my listening and speaking skill is still near non-existent. I Listen to music more than anything else, but I think the one thing that messed me up all these years was that, Because I am a musician, I only listen to the music and not the lyrics in the songs.
    So Since I started the AJATT Program, I have been avoiding my favorite Japanese songs because my ears usually begin to focus only on the instrumentals.
    Also, Apparently I try too hard to hear what the actors are saying (as I’ve been told many times by my friends who can understand more than me). When I listen to Japanese dialogue I tend to focus on what it said and try to make sense out of any words I might know but by the time I can do that, they are already on a different subject which usually gets me left behind.
    I have been into Japanese culture and Language study/play for about 5 or 6 years before I came across your method. So my question to you is, For a musician/ tidious perfectionist like myself who tries to hear every word in a dialogue or song; How do you suggest I listen to Japanese?

  47. March 22, 2010 at 03:22

    Hey Christian,

    You need to do more repetition – it’s not good enough (especially to start with) to listen to something just once and move on. You need to do it over a few times. Kids love to listen to the same stories over or watch the same TV shows – you’ll be able to understand more if you do the same.

    I’m also a musician cum language learner, and kinda used to have the problem you described – find the lyrics to the songs you like online and try to just focus on them. If you focus more on singing rather than the instruments (no matter how awesome they may be), you’ll pick more up.

    By the way, final thing – you will have to make a conscious effort to learn stuff. You won’t just absorb new words magically until you’ve built up a sizable vocabulary.

    Good luck!

  48. Bryce
    April 19, 2010 at 02:28

    I have been doing the Khatzumoto method and ihave to say everything is working, i just have one question, it will probably sound like a dumb question but, by doing nothing but continuous input will it serve to make learning and doing the output much much easier?

  49. Gosaii
    May 3, 2010 at 05:25

    I must agree with Tina 😀
    That’s how i learned english at the first place xD and i’m sure i can do it with japanese to, only it would be more difficult than i thought, considering the country i live in -_-; :(…….I’ll find the way. I always do :3
    Oh, and, Khatsumoto, you rulez!! <3 But seriously, every post i have read so far is quite motivational for me :3 can't wait to read the rest.

  50. 星空
    November 6, 2010 at 10:31

    あの、すみませんけど、キャンプで (慶應学園信じてか信じずに) アメリカ人半分は日本人の家族が居るから日本語と英語にぺらぺらなんだ。

  51. Sileh
    December 10, 2010 at 08:31

    Thanks khatz for your inspiration. I’m doing the whole immersion deal you’ve discussed, and I find you articles a great way to boost certain aspects of my study methods. In other words, all Japanese all the Time is more than the site name! The only thing I must question is the listening to to Japanese while you sleep. From what I’ve read, after REM, you are not able to perceive auditory signals. However, during REM (30 minutes before auditory signals go bye bye), listening to Japanese might reinforce words that you have already learned, because your mind is more attuned to input in that state. The 10,000 hours number you gave out seems to be a bit inflated if you look at the hours put in while NOT sleeping only counting. Anyways, I believe your point of listening 24/7 was to state that everyone should AIM for 24/7, as in listening every damn moment they can. Hopefully I didn’t step on any toes with this post, as this community seems very nice and helpful.

  52. T-C
    August 22, 2011 at 12:28

    I’m learning mandarin and I have been trying to listen to Chinese all the time, at first I was doing alright and listening for a lot of the day, but because I couldnt find anything decent to listen to music wise I have ended up just completely stopping listening to anything at all. I’ve tried asking some chinese people what are some good bands/artists to listen to but so far all ive got is some shitty pop artists that I dont enjoy. I was wondering if anyone here knew of any decent chinese music? maybe more alternative, or indie rock styled stuff.

  53. August 24, 2011 at 00:04

    I’m about 5000 hours in, but I’m using this method to learn English. I usually don’t listen to music, because I find the melody to be too disruptive. I don’t get anything out of listening to music. I’d rather play a podcast instead.
    To all the people who left comments saying that they can’t do this for some reason: find new resources, and just keep listening to something, ANYTHING.

  54. Random guy
    September 30, 2011 at 02:27

    A handy tool for Japanese immersion is the KeyHoleTV program. It’s a free computer program that lets you watch Japanese tv (also free). It only has a few good stations, but it’s totally awesome anyway. You can tune into some Japanese radio as well.

    The good stations available are: TV Tokyo, TBS, Nihon TV, TV Asahi, Fuji TV, and the NHK. Some more are available but you need passwords for them, and I don’t know how to find those out.

    The tv stations combined with the radio are awesome for listening if you are on your computer/Ipad/whatever. Occasionally you’ll get some really good stuff too; I remember catching a Japanese dubbed episode of House (Dr. House) that I found absolutely fascinating. I remembered the contents of the episode, but hearing them dub all the medical stuff into Japanese was very interesting to listen to.

    Raw anime, game shows, and news programs are some of the staple of these stations and they really help with your listening ability I think.

  55. December 10, 2011 at 14:23

    After listening to something repetitively, I subconsciously memorize the words,effortlessly. 

  56. December 15, 2011 at 22:37

    i think i have something like…600 hours now…still 9400 hours to go ><

  57. Catherine
    December 26, 2011 at 11:59

    Thank you for the tips but when I try and understand what they’re saying my brain automatically wants to translate it into english in my head. Any tips on how to overcome this?

  58. Suisei
    December 27, 2011 at 08:21

    Man, I’m really want to learn japanese. I want to go to an abroad school and I need to pass the Level 2 JLPT so I can go.
    I’m really stressing out on learning the language.

  59. Kanjiboy
    February 5, 2012 at 03:40

    I know tbis is an old post, but it stands the test of time. Anyway my question is: Would you sudgest listening to Novels in Japanese that have already been pre-recorded and stories in Japanese???

    • February 6, 2012 at 00:27

      Agreed on the continued relevance on the article!

      My opinion – which I think Khatz shares – is that Japanese audiobooks are great for Japanese immersion and study.

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  61. Revenge700
    October 3, 2012 at 07:51

    Hey, I’ve been doing the immersion process since August, and I was wondering how effective passive listening really is. I still go to high school, but I can usually keep the music/news/talk shows on low and hear them, but I don’t focus on it. Would I learn more if I actively listen, because at this moment, all I’m doing is listening passive it seems.

    • kurosekihime
      October 7, 2012 at 12:56

      the fact that japanese is entering your brain in a consistent stream is more than enough. active participation with the language can speed up comprehension, but its hardly possible to do that 24/7. so just enjoy the ride, it’ll come. dont forget the kanji and mcds to go along with it

  62. metoob
    February 14, 2013 at 12:04

    Khaz, all this stuff is so amazing but like where do i start?? I’m just beginning, i can use basic state-of-being sentences and i’ve got about 100 kanji down. I’ve got childrens books that i like to read and i make it a habit to just read things i see aloud, it helps a lot with kanji especially readings, along with sort of having a clue on what things sound like. But basically my question is, where, or more importantly, when, do i start? I’ve got my phone on japanese now and i”m starting to learn all the different things as well, so im starting to learn, but i’m missing a LOT of vocabulary and since there isn’t really a way to look up kanji other than copy/pasting which i cant do. so a whole heap of the stuff doesn’t make any sense to me. so at what point in my learning should i start putting everything in japanese? should i go ahead and do it now anyway?

    • February 14, 2013 at 23:45

      Hey, I’m not Khatz, but I would *strongly* recommend to start with finishing your kanji. Kanji are the absolute key to learning Japanese, and without them, there isn’t much point in trying to read. From personal experience, I think if you focus too much on doing other things before or during your kanji phase, you’ll make the process of learning them too drawn out and will make a shaky foundation to build the rest of your Japanese on.

      In my humble opinion, I would recommend you start by setting yourself up to make the kanji go by as quickly as possible (ie check out Heisig’s books, set up an SRS, try to utilize pre-built decks).

      Perhaps more controversially, I would also recommend that you just worry about the peripheral aspects of a Japanese immersion environment for now. So things like music, background noise, Japanese posters, chopsticks, etc. Save the active learning for later.

      Of course this is only my advice from my own experience, so it may not work for you, but then again, you asked the question, so I hope you find the answer useful 😀

      • metoob
        February 17, 2013 at 05:53

        yeah, i’m using wanikani now, which is wonderful. its not drilling, its srs like you hear about so much and works so much better, its been not a month and now i have a set of 2 or 300 kanji and vocab which i KNOW. i mean have it down, permanently. and i also go through and read and figure out japanese sentences like i said, which constantly reinforces it. i’m working on the peripherals like you said, mostly with music, and also i’m labeling things in my room with sticky notes. i just go through this japanese app/textbook on my phone in free time for fun and to pick up vocab, learn irregularities,learn about culture, etc. and this is what’s worked for me.

        and as far as kanji, the idea i got from wanikani is: just learn one reading, whichever you deem most important, and simply include that in your mnemonic story. it doesn’t require ANY extra work and you then have a name for the kanji plus can guess at it’s pronunciation in vocab.

        then later on as you learn vocab, you learn the other readings. and just mix that in with kanji studying, along with reading sentences and paying attention to music lyrics. like there was this song i’ve listened to since i was little, called Nagareboshi. i’m just a beginner so i didn’t pick up that much, but the first line: “Sora wo miagereba” “if you look at the sky” i understood that and was like “whoa!!! (*゚∀゚)=3”

        i think that reading can be very rewarding and should be done as much as possible.

  63. Winson
    January 15, 2015 at 19:42

    Should i listen to same material for more amount of times or should i listen to different material but with less amount of it? What I mean is should Ilisten to 1000 hours of japanese audio 10 times OR should I listen for 10 hours of material but 1000 times?

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