Shaping: What The Immersion Environment Does For You

As you are aware, this site is called “All Japanese All The Time”, reflecting the fact that I shoehorned Japanese into every little crack and corner of my life in an effort to get fluent at it.

I don’t know the full extent of the effect that this immersion project had, but I read a forum post somewhere where someone had suggested that the immersion environment was merely motivational and didn’t matter as much as doing sentences. With this I must respectfully disagree. Let me discuss just a few of the reasons why the immersion environment is so important.

Before I get to that, let me note that I don’t think that there’s such a thing as “just” motivation. What I mean is, it’s not simply this nice thing to have, like one of those compressed-air spraycans for cleaning your keyboard (those are nice things to have :D). Like it or not, humans are made and broken by their emotional state and belief in and about themselves — or lack thereof. It’s not some magical cosmic thing (even if it were, it doesn’t need a magical cosmic explanation). Things like the Pygmalion and Placebo Effects, respectively, have been empirically observed and testify to the importance of mental condition. Your thought patterns matter; your state of mind, matters. People who are motivated and thus expect to do well, tend to do well, one way or another.

Back to a more concrete discussion of immersion, let me first note that the immersion environment was itself a source of sentences. Furthermore, I got used to hearing Japanese spoken at native speed with native intonation, native pausing, native mumbling, native bridges, native nuance and all that good stuff. This is priceless, and even if it’s not explicitly contained in the sentence collections I made, it had an effect. I am a HUGE fan of people focussing on text, non-native illiteracy in Japanese is inexcusable, but there is more to this language than text.

Finally (getting to the main point of this post), one thing I am noticing in the Chinese Project is that the environment shapes the way you learn the language. Simply put, it’s a usage thing. It’s the Pareto principle at work — in any language, some words and phrases get more usage than others. So, like, maybe 20% of the words and phrases get used like 80% of the time or whatever (do you like my fuzzy statistics?). This means that the more Chinese you read and hear, the more the same things keep popping up over and over and over again: even if you don’t know what they mean, you eventually HAVE to find out because you KEEP hearing them; they force themselves to your attention. Things like “根本” as in “你根本不知道・・・”, things like “別作夢了!”. I wouldn’t have realized the importance of these words/phrases if I were just looking up random sentences. I am learning them and learning to use them because I hear/read native users of Chinese (in my Chinese immersion environment) use them all the time. As a result, my Chinese will become more native-like — I am not going to learn every word in the Chinese language, just like I don’t know every word in the English language, but I am going to learn the words that matter and I am going to use them the way Chinese people use them — I won’t be falling into that non-native trap of using words that have the right meaning but that are inappropriate because they are either too obscure and formal, or too colloquial and informal, or carry a bad connotation in the situation at hand. This won’t be a conscious or effortful thing, it will be the natural and effortless result of being surrounded by Chinese-like Chinese.

It’s too easy to learn a version of your target language that is twisted by your base language. Many English speakers try to learn an English-centered Japanese. Many Japanese speakers try to learn a Japanese-centered English. I have had this desire myself — you want to use that word you have in your language in that other language, right? Guess what? It won’t work. The target language has its own way of expressing meaning and feeling; quite often, it may not even have a word equivalent to the word you are wanting to express. The immersion environment can help you let go of that desire to force your base language’s patterns onto your target language, by constantly showing you how the target language is really used.

  34 comments for “Shaping: What The Immersion Environment Does For You

  1. beneficii
    August 28, 2007 at 09:09

    Hmm, I’m liking this method, though there are some issues:

    What is the point of the SRS, and what is the point of having questions and answers? When I was a kid, I didn’t need an SRS.

    As for reading, I’ve been doing that a lot, but there is still so much that I don’t understand, that it is almost taxing just going through it like that with conscious knowledge of not understanding. But if I just read it without caring, then it wasn’t so bad. But it seems you want us to make sure to understand every single sentence we come across. As for now, I prefer lighter and shorter comic books (and even with those I don’t understand words).

    What about damage? You see, I’ve been learning Japanese (through various methods) since early 2005, but I feel the first 2 years don’t count, because of the backwards methods I was using (the ones you had outlined: school, textbooks, explicit grammatical explanations). With the grammar, I’m an analytical person, and I wonder if I damaged my since of grammar by caring too much about explicit explanations without developing any ability of use. I started rebelling in my last semester because I didn’t really like this technique and this was when I discovered From a forum post there, I discovered

    I enjoy reading your comments, but remind myself not to get too into reading them, except for the Japanese comments. I still have the sense of being lost when I read those big paragraphs, because I don’t really understand the terms yet.

    Thank you for providing It has been helpful, but I still don’t know the terms from it, and pronouncing to myself terms with which I’m not familiar might be harmful. I remember when I was a kid (learning my native language English), triumphing at age 5 over the first word I guessed the pronunciation of correctly from the reading: “Select” on an NES game controller. I had been guessing pronunciation then too and getting it wrong, but I had finally got one right. So, maybe guessing isn’t hard.

    What do you think of shadowing? I try to speak right after another speaker speaks. I had the sense my pronunciation is bad, so I’m cutting off all output, and trying to get a sense of how natives say things.

    Thank you! ^_^

  2. beneficii
    August 28, 2007 at 09:15

    Additionally, my input is probably at least a few hours a day of random recordings, reading, video game playing, etc. I’ve been getting a whole bunch of Japanese stuff and am in the process of getting rid of my English stuff. I’ve sold my old English textbooks (except for the ones I’m using this semester and except for one that for some reason the bookstore wasn’t taking back–gotta figure out what to do with it) and I’ve been boxing up all my other English language stuff and throwing away a whole lot more. Some of the boxes have books that could go to the library, so there they went. The others I’m not quite sure what to do with, as they wouldn’t be library books as easily (such as old yearbooks), so perhaps I could toss them or give them away to others?

    Anyway, with this I’m going to kill 2 birds with one stone, because not only am I getting rid of my English stuff, I’m also clearing out a whole lot of clutter in my room and in my life. Thank you for pushing me into this bold step! ^_^

  3. khatzumoto
    August 28, 2007 at 09:38

    >What is the point of the SRS
    Systematic long-term memorization.

    >When I was a kid, I didn’t need an SRS
    And it probably took you a along time to memorize stuff. Maybe you just don’t need one.

    >But it seems you want us to make sure to understand every single sentence we come across
    I don’t particularly want to “make” you do anything. Ultimately, do whatever you want, beneficii, as long as it works: I’m not the boss of Japanese, issuing commandments (although I act like it sometimes); I’m just one guy who did something that worked. As for what sentences you should learn, I would recommend you try for the sentences that are just outside your reach. Not so easy that you learn absolutely nothing, not so hard that you’re struggling. If the sentence is too complex, then you’re not ready for it. If the sentence is to simple, you might be bored with it. The sentence needs to be juuuust above your level–have 1 kanji reading that you didn’t know, have 1 word that you didn’t know, have one verb ending that you didn’t know. If you think I learned every sentence in existence, you would be mistaken. I just picked the ones that were fun for me. Generally, if in doubt, go for enjoyment, go for fun.

    >What do you think of shadowing?
    I imitate the speech of people I see on TV, if that’s what you mean.

    Read what the AntiMoon guys said. You can’t always be working at full speed and full concentration all the time. You won’t have the energy for that. So sometimes you just have to take it easy. The point is for you to eventually understand anything a “typical” native user could understand (and more), but you can only reach that point by going one step at a time. Just keep trying to understand more and more every day.

  4. beneficii
    August 28, 2007 at 15:25


    Thank you for your response. ^_^ About the SRS, I had been considering it, and I’ve made some (useless) entries. The only thing is, What do I do with it having a question and answer format? Do I quiz myself everyday, or do I try to remember the entire sentence I put in, or do I just do it so I can see the sentence and its structure again?

    What do you do with it?

    Still, even kids are pretty slow at it; I remember when I first saw the word “launch,” I thought it was a misspelling of “lunch.” ^_^

  5. beneficii
    August 29, 2007 at 06:07

    OK, thank you. For right now I can probably use SRS at least as a kanji flashcard thing.

  6. beneficii
    August 29, 2007 at 14:46

    Also, regarding the shadowing thing, if you don’t mind, I don’t recall which article on mentions it; I remember seeing it mentioned on the forums. Is it possible that you can provide a quick link? Thanks. ^_^

  7. Yatsu
    August 29, 2007 at 15:12

    Hi khatzumoto, thanks for your site, it’s fun to read and pretty motivating. Talking on immersion, I’m going to spend 2 weeks in Japan soon, and would love any advice on how to make the most of it, what about a post on “what to do on your first -and short- travel to Japan”

    It would be great to read about any sort of advice, like places to visit, books to buy, places to buy lots of manga, anime and videogames at low prices, funny things to try out… you know, all that freaky stuff =D

  8. khatzumoto
    August 29, 2007 at 20:07

    >I don’t recall which article on mentions it
    Me neither :D. I’ve never read it. Sorry 🙁

  9. Jonathan McQuarrie
    August 29, 2007 at 22:59

    Well, it’s not from Antimoon, but seeing as how Ardaschir is pretty much the authority on shadowing, his posts from the How-to-learn-any-language forums should do, hopefully. 😛

  10. khatzumoto
    August 30, 2007 at 00:17
  11. beneficii
    August 30, 2007 at 06:53


    The thing about being social. Now, is it possible that you can be social with native Japanese speakers too early in your learning process, as that could have you produce damaging output? Or, if you want to make friends early, what is the best way to deal with the output, you think?

  12. khatzumoto
    August 30, 2007 at 07:01

    I was social with Japanese speakers from an early stage. BUT, I didn’t speak Japanese to them. I just sat and listened. I didn’t speak until I was ready. I didn’t speak until it came out naturally and correct. So, no output. The listening will be good for you. Everyone loves a good listener. Just try to help out your Japanese friends in whatever way you can, nurture your relationships in preparation for when you do start outputting naturally.

  13. beneficii
    August 30, 2007 at 07:15


    But I don’t understand, if you don’t speak, how can you interact? By just helping silently?

  14. khatzumoto
    August 30, 2007 at 07:18

    >how can you interact?
    Speak English [not good, and to be avoided as far as possible but better than bad Japanese]. Write kanji (very good). Read out funny manga dialogue to amuse people.
    >just helping silently?
    But there is a virtue to silence. We usually hung out in large-ish groups, so everyone else was speaking, which meant that I could shut up and listen no one would notice. Also, we quite often watched Japanese TV shows together. So, yeah, I mostly did help silently. Just be like a baby. Sit around, be cute, take in the environment around you. It sounds like this is hard for you ;)! It was for me, too. But, it was fun in its own way, because I’m usually the one talking. It’s fun to listen.

  15. Charles
    August 30, 2007 at 08:29

    What he said. I’ve found being here in Japan, that many folks find it too difficult (for them) to really have long conversation with you in a group unless you are one-on-one and they are really interested. I usually just try to listen.
    Thanks beneficii- I was wondering the same thing also though. Thought I was giving up a prime opportunity.
    Another question Khatz- I do have a couple close friends that are very patient. I usually try to speak Japanese with them and it’s very broken. Am I doing more harm than good?

  16. khatzumoto
    August 30, 2007 at 08:50

    >Am I doing more harm than good?
    Yes. I think so. Better to listen to them. Have them speak Japanese to you. That’s what I did, it was like “just speak Japanese to me, and I have to work to understand it”. Until you can more or less fully understand natural Japanese, it’s best not to speak. Remember: it’s better to have no output than to have bad output.

    Funny story–I had one friend, who’s Japanese born and raised, but is actually of Korean ancestry. Due to a kind of national pride thing, she initially wouldn’t speak Japanese to me, even though it was her first and best language (her Korean is super rusty, she never uses it). So the silent deal was that she spoke in English and I spoke in Japanese. She is one of my good friends, but has the BIGGEST mean streak, so she would correct me mercilessly. If I paused or mumbled she’d go “hurry UP!!”. If I said something wrong or odd, she’d go: “I don’t understand what you’re saying!! Your Japanese SUCKS, dude!!”. So I had to speak natural-sounding, naturally-worded Japanese to her for her to even accept it; it sucked because she’d freely (and loudly) put me down in public, too, so I had to really raise my game. Anyway, as I got better, she eventually spoke Japanese to me about 80-90% of the time. She speaks super-fast, by the way, at least it used to seem so; she never slowed down, dumbed down or de-slanged her Japanese for me. I don’t know why I’m sharing this…

    Hmmm…What was my point…Oh–For one thing, your Japanese friends probably aren’t being as harsh on you as they could be, because (to use a stereotype), they don’t have that harsh, Korean frankness (anyone who has friends from Korea probably knows what I mean…or not…I don’t know). Few people have the energy to correct every mistake you make, or the uevos to make you look bad; this is a problem. The other problem is they could just get USED to your brokenness and learn to parse it. So, yeah, listen. Input. Input. Input. Have your friends speak to you, have them take you around places (tag along with them on errands if you can; it would be a great learning opportunity), watch what they say and do. Treat them like parents whom you’re observing and imitating.

    When you’re ready to speak, it will come out. Until then, just listen. Work on your comprehension. Until you can fully understand other people, you have no business speaking.

  17. beneficii
    August 30, 2007 at 08:54


    “Funny story–I had one friend, who’s Japanese born and raised, but is actually of Korean ancestry. Due to a kind of national pride thing, she initially wouldn’t speak Japanese to me, even though it was her first and best language (her Korean is super rusty, she never uses it). So the silent deal was that she spoke in English and I spoke in Japanese. She is one of my good friends, but has the BIGGEST mean streak, so she would correct me mercilessly. If I paused mumbled she’d go “hurry UP!!”. If I said something wrong or odd, she’d go: “I don’t understand what you’re saying!! Your Japanese SUCKS, dude!!”. So I had to speak natural-sounding, naturally-worded Japanese to her for her to even accept it; it sucked because she’d freely (and loudly) put me down in public, too, so I had to really raise my game. Anyway, as I got better, she eventually spoke Japanese to me about 80-90% of the time. I don’t know why I’m sharing this…”

    Hmm? Was this in Japan?

  18. khatzumoto
    August 30, 2007 at 08:58


  19. beneficii
    August 30, 2007 at 09:47

    Hmm, interesting. I was reading this article:

    which suggests that young peers’ cruelty may be a big factor in how a person can develop a knowledge of the narrow range of correctness in a language:

    “Their [children’s] peers are nastier [than adults’]. Embarrassment is a prime motivating factor for human beings (I owe this insight to Marvin Minsky’s The Society of Mind, but it was most memorably expressed by David Berlinski (in Black Mischief, p. 129), who noted that of all emotions, from rage to depression to first love, only embarrassment can recur, decades later, with its full original intensity). Dealing with a French waiter is nothing compared with the vicious reception in store for a child who speaks funny.”

    This I find interesting. It does seem that children make mistakes at first when learning their native language, but they always end up correcting themselves, despite this history of bad output. I don’t mean to equivocate this with an adult who just ploughs on with a bad accent and broken grammar (try John Mayer) without a care in the world and just wanting to express themselves (I saw this kind of person in Japan back in late June, early July), but it seems that if you have already had sufficient input when you start speaking, even if you make a few mistakes here and there, as long as your pronunciation is good (read perfect) and you have a good idea of the grammar, it wouldn’t be as bad. A kid who is starting out seems to have near perfect pronunciation (perhaps still messing up things like ‘th’ and ‘r’), but just OK grammar. It’s just the kid somehow ends up correcting himself.

  20. beneficii
    August 30, 2007 at 10:09

    Also, do you have file format information on Mnemosyne XML? I would like to be able to upload my sentences more rapidly. ^_^

  21. khatzumoto
    August 30, 2007 at 11:31

    Sorry, I don’t quite understand the question. Are you talking about KhatzuMemo?

  22. khatzumoto
    August 30, 2007 at 11:43

    >the kid somehow ends up correcting himself.
    Well, like you said, the kid is surrounded by condescending adults, cruel peers and watchful teachers who won’t let her get away with minor errors. This is a great thing. For adults who may not have that kind of pressure around them, the best thing is to avoid mistakes altogether. Sure, you might still make them–I did, I do [like when, 2 weeks ago, I read “本望” as “ほんぼう”: the correct reading is “ほんもう”]–but there’s a world of difference between a 1% mistake rate and a 30-50+% mistake rate.

    Anyway, like I’ve said before, I just followed AntiMoon’s advice on this. And had the confidence that my brain would start putting out correct sentences after sufficient input. Just like you can recite movie dialogue and TV commercials without output practice, after sufficient viewings.

  23. khatzumoto
    August 30, 2007 at 12:27

    By the way, I love that article, and found almost all of what he said to be dead on.

  24. beneficii
    August 30, 2007 at 12:31


    Right. On khatzumemo you can upload those XML files. Because you programmed this into khatzumemo, this implies that you understand the format of the XML files or at least know where to go for a description of it. Could you do that for me? It’s more annoying to have to go through the source code of Mnemosyne to try to figure it out. :p

    As for mistakes, yah, that’s about what I was meaning too. I think that effort of society helps to prevent the language from evolving faster than it does. Chomskey, et al., like to put that a child more or less speaks perfectly by age 5, that assumption doesn’t really hold. Also, a Kanji reading error like you described (the reading of the second Kanji is a valid reading of it, just not for this) seems like it could be a native error anyway.

    I agree that if you’re ploughing on with a horrible accent and inventing more prolificly (OMG sp? See? total native error.) than Thomas Edison completely novel grammatical forms, all in an effort to “just communicate” your thoughts, then you’re going backwards, putting the cart before the horse.

  25. khatzumoto
    August 30, 2007 at 12:38

    >Also, do you have file format information on Mnemosyne XML?
    I didn’t really have information on it as such. All I did was make a Mnemosyne file, then look at it to find the pieces I wanted. KhatzuMemo is written in PHP, and as I recall PHP has a built-in XML parsing function, so I just used that. So, I don’t have a deep knowledge of it or anything, all I did was pick out the question and answer text, I didn’t look at the other fields because I didn’t fully get what they meant, and didn’t want to go to the trouble of asking the author. Sorry :(! But, yeah, try the Mnemosyne guy, he’ll know.

  26. beneficii
    August 30, 2007 at 14:45

    You know, I really hate myself for not knowing more kanji. I have all these lists, but little memorization. I can read more than I can write. My first goal is to learn the elementary school kanji (about a 1000), just so I can read different comics more and stuff and have them be more accessible. But that isn’t all, I want to also be completely literate. I’m thinking, after the first 1000 it would be easier, but even after that it would still be a bit of a struggle.

    If, however, I continue my present attitude that I’m going to get it, then even with these steps they shouldn’t be a problem. I have all these lists, but little methodology. I guess this is where classes help best. I wonder about Japanese children: I know they actually learn kanji more from reading them, but they have the advantage of hearing the readings and instantly knowing the meaning, while I with my still lacking vocabulary have to go with one or the other or both with extra effort. Now, I don’t want to learn kanji with English meanings in mind, so some methods I will exclude.

    When I run them in the khatzumemo, I come across it and then write it on a piece of paper and guess the readings. I judge myself based on how confident I am in writing it without seeing it first and based on how many readings I can remember.

  27. Dazyrue
    September 3, 2007 at 18:31

    I have been studing japanese for a year and feel I havent gotten very far, like Ive reached a plateau. Mainly because after my first 2 and only japanese classes offered at my college, I had no direction. Well, actually thats not even about my question. I just found you page today, and totally agree about ALL japanese ALL the time. BUT . . . As a part of emersion, and just general spoken japanese there is a lot Im not getting. Mainly slang and stuff that I hear in dramas and movies. Ive tried looking things up but its colloquial, and I only can ever guess at the meaning.
    for example pronouncing iu (to say) as yuu. and using it in phrases like “sou yuu koto desu ne” it took me forever to figure out exactly what that meant and what the heck “yuu” was. Do you have any suggestions for looking up meaning for things that only a japanese person or a person in japan would know??

    PS LOVE THE SITE!!!!!!!!!! Its exactly what Ive been looking for. URESHII!!

  28. khatzumoto
    September 6, 2007 at 13:21

    >it took me forever to figure out exactly what that meant
    I bet it did! I know just what you mean, a lot of those took ages to sink in for me. BUT…guess what? You FIGURED IT OUT. All by yourself, right? Generally speaking, there is no way to look these up as such because they ARE non-standard and are created by authors on the fly. You just keep doing your thing, just keep reading and watching and listening, and it’ll come to you. Sooner or later, it will come to you. Look at it this way–no Japanese kid was ever told what those meant, they just figured it out. When you “get” Japanese enough, and how it works, when you’ve been exposed to it enough, you gain the ability to very accurately predict and/or infer what an author will say or is saying. So just keep going. If all else fails, ask someone. A friend from Japan, me, Google, anyone.

  29. noah
    September 16, 2007 at 00:17

    I’m fascinated by your method and your accomplishment. I’m in a situation which does not allow me to follow your method exactly and am looking for your opinion on a modified method.

    I am finishing up my master’s degree. I have some free time and am taking Japanese 101 at the University. In the Spring i’ll take the second course. Not taking the class and doing only your method is not an option. I like the class, the people, and its a fun time. Anyway…

    So, on the side I’ve started to learn the Kanji with Heisig method. I’ve also began the development of an immersion environment, as much as possible. The difference is that, we’ve already learned Hiragana and are reading/writing sentences with additional grammar points. We’ll also learn Katakana in a few weeks. Obviously this is not your recommended ordering.

    So, the question is how can I optimize my situation? It is unrealistic with my time-constraints that I’ll be able to finish RTK1 by Spring (probably 1000 Kanji). On the other hand I feel like I should be learning sentences, though I only have Kana to work with.

    Should I just learn at the same pace as the class is designed, and then focus on finishing RTK? Or do you have any insights?

  30. khatzumoto
    September 16, 2007 at 09:46

    Focus on going through RTK to the end. Kanji knowledge is very important–it holds the power to make or break your Japanese.

  31. NoahE
    July 18, 2008 at 10:16


    I had a question come up when I was reading this post. How did you manage to make your Japanese friends to just sit around to listen to? If it was in Japan, then I suppose that is different. But, I am worried about how to make new Japanese friends if I am not good enough yet to speak to anyone? I imagine after making friends, just sitting and listening is easy enough. But, is there some kind of phrase I can use to ask them if I can be their friend or something? Thanks for the help.

    And awesome job on the posts as always!

  32. NoahE
    July 19, 2008 at 05:38

    I found the post that mentions it, so feel free to ignore my question! Sorry

  33. Insiya
    October 23, 2012 at 06:46

    I have a really good tip for remembering the meanings of kanji. If you seriously cannot remember the meaning of this one kanji without writing it down and referring to it when you need to, don’t use English definitions. Draw a picture. Write another kanji that reminds you of the meaning. Don’t use English. I did this a few times and it was amazing. A picture sticks better in my memory rather than an English word. I’ve written millions of words, but every picture I’ve drawn is different from all the others.

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