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.