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What Would Happen If You Went Mad Like Sparta and Started Immersing Like a Time Vampire-Killing Terminator Robot?

AJATTeer Tom Lazarus (no relation, no known death experiences) shares an insanely great immersion technqiue that he affectionately (and rather pragmatically) dubs “double-barrelled listening”. As in, two barrels, like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s movie characters’ shotguns…or something…

It’s similar to the idea of immersion multiplexing (taking multiple simultaneous inputs on the same sensory channel) but madder and Spartaner. Here he is in his own words, sharing the story and benefits of his listening-hearing experiment:

Double-barrelled listening is when you have earphones from one device in one ear and earphones from another device in the other ear. I’ve been experimenting with it for a few weeks now and here are my thoughts about it. The thoughts are quite disorganised.

  • You can listen to music + speech. It’s surprising how little they interrupt each other.
  • You can add instrumental music to speech to pep it up (it’s a bit like doing hand-made mashups, but with only about 1% of the effort).
  • You can mix “dense” material (e.g, the constant talk of a panel show) with “sparse” material, like a movie or song, so when the dialogue stops in one, you just shift your focus to the other.
  • You will be very surprised at how easily your brain can jump from one to the other, and how easily it can tune out one ear.
  • You will train yourself for those social occasions where you want to follow two conversations at the same table.
  • Time vampires I mean colleagues with legitimate concerns of long-range importance are more hesitant to get you to remove your earphones if you have two devices in your ears. I don’t know why.
  • If you remove one earphone, people are usually placated, and you can immerse in the other ear.
  • My local Taiwanese radio sometimes flies off into pleasant-but-useless (to someone getting used to Mandarin) English, Taiwanese, Hakka, Japanese, Korean or even Spanish. No worries: the other ear is standing by.
  • Suppose you’re faced with a short movie on YouTube. Will I like this? Will it have that much L2 in it? Surf risk-free with the other ear playing something of proven value as backup.
  • Much of the time seemingly “immersed” when searching by massive turnover is nothing of the sort. Loading something that isn’t in the language you thought it was gonna be, time spent waiting for something to load, etc. (Have you ever searched for the dialogue in Last of the Mohicans at Tudou buffering speeds? Hours down the drain…wasted)
  • You can listen to the same clip on repeat ALL DAY and explore new things ALL DAY. THE SAME DAY!
  • Keep L1 audio chaperoned (suppression fire).
  • It’s basically MORE L2. How cool is that?
  • Watching something on your desktop when the phone/doorbell/bladder rings? Normally, that requires a conscious effort to get your mp3 player plugged in, and often you won’t be conscious enough to bother. An mp3 in the pocket is a great failsafe.
  • Battery and earphone failures in one device don’t leave you stranded.
  • It’s much harder to get bored. One thing that gets old quickly + another thing that gets old quickly combine to make hours of not getting bored because you switch between them.
  • Should I listen to something familiar or something new? BOTH!
  • Should I listen to comprehensible input or something challenging? BOTH!
  • For tonal languages: music is more memorable and enjoyable, but speech does give me tones, which I want to get used to… BOTH!
  • “Breaks” used to be silence or L1. Now breaks are just one ear of listening. Psychologically level up.
  • Words distract my ability to read. Relatively quiet (but still audible) speech, plus relatively loud ambient music overcome this. Should I read or listen? BOTH!

Load both barrels… you’ll hit more targets.

Having not tried this yet, I personally think Tom is crazy. And that’s probably exactly why his idea is going to work 😀 . As my mentor Akihiro NAKATANI is fond of saying, you’re not doing it properly unless people are calling you crazy (you’re only on the right track if people think you’re crazy). To the headphones!

Do you have a technique or success story of your own to share! THEN SHARE, THEN! Let us all know 😀 . Comments or email, your call 😉 .

PS: Having tried out Tom’s ideas deliberately in earnest for a day or so, it’s plainly obvious that Tom isn’t crazy at all. He’s an engineer, not a madman, a pragmatist, not a romantic. What he’s talking about is the immersion version of what Nassim Taleb has been talking about throughout Incerto — ridding yourself of having a single point of failure.

You’ll definitely do well to have a backup/background immersion source in case the primary one fails due to human or mechatronic error. The latter form of error is surprisingly unrare, especially with newer devices, on which one never seems to be more than a few tracks away from a machine freeze.

Older, more feature-sparse units are decidedly unsexy and don’t titillate the inner neophiliac, but they’ve usually had all the kinks ironed out and so tend to be much more reliable. In my case, since earphones and headphones kinda seem to drive me crazy of late (maybe it’s a phase), I mostly have speakers do my heavy lifting for me — multiple devices, multiple speakers.

  9 comments for “What Would Happen If You Went Mad Like Sparta and Started Immersing Like a Time Vampire-Killing Terminator Robot?

  1. Chris
    March 31, 2014 at 10:58

    Will definitely give this a go. Thanks Khatz and Tom

  2. Erik
    April 1, 2014 at 01:13

    Yeah I tried this before. I ended up dropping it out of laziness. I can’t say how well it worked or not but I can say out of the two things I was listening to there was always one I’d rather listen to more than the other.

  3. kyub
    April 1, 2014 at 08:22

    crazy thing is i’ve thought about this before. Its just seemed to make sense. Its like doubling your listening time instead of listening to one thing for an hour, listen to two things which combines to 2 hours of immersion in one hour. I didnt do it for long but one thing I noticed is that, while listening to one thing on repeat for a couple of hours can be boring, having the dual audio makes it significantly LESS boring, especially if the different audio plays for a different length of time. Glad others thing of language learning “hacks” as well

  4. April 4, 2014 at 09:07

    Cool ideas here for sure, but im not really into the whole not taking a break part, if i read that correctly that is. I find that a total break form anything, language learning or guitar is amazingly effective at both somehow consolidating what you know and keeping motivation high, I have learned slowly and painfully that the real key is to maintain a state of non boredom! when your mind starts wandering during srs reps, STOP, do some guitar, ear training, whatever it is u like, something totally different(even if its still related to japanese)__, 10 mins later an hour 2 etc you will feel the urge again, and it will be fresh,

    Also, in terms of a technique to share with others, i have recently upped my reading ability a huge amount by reading blogs online of bands and female singers i love, wow, its so amazingly effective for me personally, its the emotional connection , and so many sentences are so interesting because of the fact they are describing the life of someone you admire, you literally cant forget them, at least that’s been my experience, i find the recall of my blog and reading sentences vs my pre made srs decks is substantially higher, amazing stuff,.

    Also, for some amazing reading material here is a wonderful sight of fairy tales and others stuff, sometimes hard to navigate but never hard to find a story . also, i use a great program called “free youtube down loader,” it has an amazing ability to donwlaod all the videos from a playlist, and i i use this to downloads gigabytes of great Japanese radio to my pc that i can listen to over and over, its great to find an interesting voice you really like too because its that much more interesting!!

    If anyone wants some great recommendations for youtube channels with tonnes of j radio to downlaod give me an email or reply here!

    Of course the reason I starerd all this is to be able to understand teh beautfily songs and singesr i hve grown to love in japaens nd i have been dualy rewardeede, using vocab form songs is amzingly efective for me again, because of that emotial tie to the material. I basically never fail srs reps of song sentences!! I have grown to truly love the japanese language and i want to thank everyone and anyone on this site for inspring me to cointinue !!!!

  5. jman
    April 13, 2014 at 01:22

    I think this is cool I am doing it right now as I am posting this. It is easier if you use the same type of headphones. Cool Idea!! I only use this at home I can get lost in the Japanese 😀

  6. kyub
    April 18, 2014 at 12:35

    i’ve been doing this more recently and i think its helping alot. But what I do is instead of having 2 headphones connected to 2 different audio players, i would gather a few audio tracks and using an audio editor program like Audacity, combine 2 audio tracks but have one played on the right ear and the other track played on the left. Then just upload on my ipod and go. Really good for repetition and like this post says, helps to kind of focus on one track if you want. Having tracks with different voices or speakers work really well too (in this case if you were using an audiobook where its one person speaking from chapter to chapter, it can help get a different audio to help focus attention )

  7. Eugenides
    April 19, 2014 at 04:51

    This is my third time trying to get used to Japanese (last two attempts failed, and I can’t really remember why…) and this time I’m going all in! I think part of the issue was a lack of L2 material to keep me going (was pretty much running on 10-12 Vocaloid songs) so any recommendations on material/where to find it would be greatly appreciated. I also really like this idea of two audio sources at once, sounds exactly like the kind of crazy I’d brew up. 😉

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