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Why You Should Keep Listening Even If You Don’t Understand

February 1, 2009
By
This entry is part 11 of 13 in the series Secrets of Speaking

Like I’ve said before…the set of tools/methods described on this site…I don’t know why it all works; looking at and thinking about how people learn their native language, it just all seemed obvious to me. In other words, I knew what I needed to do to achieve fluency…but not much more.

One of the more apparently “controversial” pieces of advice I’ve offered is to simply immerse in audio – keep listening whether or not you understand L2 (the target language). It’ll all just start to make sense. No doubt I am not the first person to have suggested this. At best I simply pushed the idea to its logical extreme…

And it all seems like a bunch of voodoo, especially to people who’ve spent the greater part of their waking lives in school, in a mostly abiotic urban or suburban environment, playing short-term memory games [online preview], prohibited from observing and participating in natural growth and learning processes. People like you and me. Perhaps if you and I grew plants more regularly, we would know that advice like: “just add soil, sunlight and water and this seed will one day grow into a long, thick, hard plant” is quite sound. We would know that growth often involves a period of continuous high investment for nearly zero visible returns, but that it cannot happen without this investment.

A lot of the theoretical background for the language learning advice on AJATT comes from the work of the dashingly handsome Dr. Stephen Krashen, particularly his Input Hypothesis. One piece of advice that people seem to have locked onto with great fervor is that input needs to be “comprehensible” and “i+1″ (where i = your current level of full comprehension); they viciously defend this idea to the point of branding the “keep listening to L2 whether or not you understand” advice invalid “because Krashen says that…”.

I haven’t actually read Krashen in a while and I can’t be bothered to go back and check, but, as I recall, he suggests input be fun, freely available in large quantity, and, yes, comprehensible in an i+1 way. Nothing wrong with that whatsoever. What I’m saying is that the “comprehensible” part is just a way to make it more “fun”, so it’s more a bonus option than necessarily a hard requirement. The hard requirements are the input x fun x large quantity. Or something like that? I don’t want to get too wrapped up in theory since I don’t know what I’m talking about anyway…Besides, Dr. Krashen is probably down with this already.

So, the two main reasons why the “listen to it, just listen, 10,000 hours” advice was so controversial are because (1) there is no instant gratification, and (2) no one in academia was pushing it that hard, so it seemed unfounded. Both of these concerns are entirely valid: why believe some random guy on the Internet when you see no proof and no one authoritative-looking seems to be saying the same thing? It would be perfectly reasonable to doubt the guy.

Brain with Mad Skillz

The reason I used and recommend the “listening all the time” technique in the first place was partly to remove any and all excuses involving the words “you’ve just got to live in the country”, and partly because I strongly felt that the universally high level of proficiency we see in native speakers of a language is entirely due to their environment and behavior. It follows that if I were to replicate conditions of environment and behavior, then surely I could expect to replicate the results…that was my thinking. I felt that native speakers enjoyed what I like to call an “incubation period” (perhaps “gestation” period would be more accurate), where they simply passively listened to their language for obscene amounts of time, and that this period was essential to their prodigious linguistic awesomeness.

Anyway, finally, academia got my memo (“Where the heck were you, academia! That one was right to you!”), and the cognitive science people are now getting with the program (they’re all: “We were with the program the whole time! We ARE the program!”), and starting to explain what goes on in the lives of every native speaker of every language; taking our hunches and giving them some level of experimental rigor. Enter Dr. Paul “All Russian All The Time” Sulzberger from Victoria University of Wellington in Brand Spanking New Zealand, who was interested in:

“what makes it so difficult to learn foreign words when we are constantly learning new ones in our native language.”

Paulちゃん came to the realization that:

“Simply listening to a new language sets up the structures in the brain required to learn the words.”

And the way to build those neural structures is…?:

“by lots of listening-songs and movies are great!”

In fact…

“However crazy it might sound, just listening to the language, even though you don’t understand it, is critical. A lot of language teachers may not accept that…”

Listening, listening, listening. Lots and lots of listening. Like, hundreds and thousands of hours of listening.  Some classes are already working with this, not allowing students to say a word of their L2 until they have listened to at least 800 hours of it. My personal take on it is to let output come when it comes, which is after some “critical mass” of a given set of inputs is reached. If you hear something enough times, you’ll eventually be able to say it aloud quite effortlessly, whether or not you try to remember it; it’s true of commercials, it’s true of TV theme songs, and it’s true of “foreign” language.

In kidhood, like all male children of sound mind, I enjoyed kung-fu movies and fighting games. I still do. When I was 15, I wanted to go to a monastery and train in martial arts like Jin KAZAMA/風間仁 from Tekken/鉄拳, so I could have fire come out of my punches by the time I was 19.

Things have changed a bit. I took refuge from the over-macho-ness of sports by jumping onto the “intense training required for sporting excellence = a risky investment of time and resources, with a brief payback window, an ever-present threat of injury and overdependence on factors outside one’s control…plus after all that work everyone is just gonna say you have magical fast-twitch muscles anyway” bandwagon.

But also, something deeper happened. I was drawn into the words and texts in which these kung-fu ideas had been expressed. And it dawned on me that the ability to comprehend and manipulate the language of kung-fu movies (Cantonese), or indeed any language, was a skill easily as personally rewarding, economically valuable, and plain out freakin’ cool, as being able to catch flies with chopsticks like Kwai Chang Kane.

In short, language is kung-fu; your weapons are your books and computers and media players, your skill is built into your body, your “opponents” are the people you listen to, read, talk to and write to. And you can get into fights with anyone you want without anyone ever getting injured. Like Sulzberger said:

“Language is a skill, it’s not like learning a fact. If you want to be a weight lifter, you’ve got to develop the muscle – you can’t learn weightlifting from a book. To learn a language you have to grow the appropriate brain tissue…”

Once in a while, just to feel cool…I sit in cross-legged dignity, pick up my mouse like unto a katana with slow-motion reverence (I even make the sounds)…place it on my beanbag…jiggle and click the link to open up a movie or a book or my SRS. Try it. Better yet – feel it. Sports and martial arts only seem cool because they’re so well fetishized – movies, merchandising, instant replays. Arguably, learning a language is just as deserving of respect, time and attention…Don’t ask me where I’m going with this because I don’t know either. Suffice it to say that you should feel free to have a healthy respect for the work you’re doing in building your language muscles.

You can see the full article on Sulzberger here.

Series Navigation<< You Are What You Eat, You Write What You Read, You Speak What You HearIf Anime Is Bad For Your Japanese, Then Nursery Rhymes Are Bad For Your English >>
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135 Responses to Why You Should Keep Listening Even If You Don’t Understand

  1. Ramses on February 1, 2009 at 20:23

    You tweeted that article before, and it all confired what I was thinking all the time. Like you, I didn’t know why it worked, but I discovered that just listening to my target language (Spanish) gave a better understanding of the language. At first, it was just fun to hear Spanish, and an easy way to get input. But later on I discovered that just listening helps you will practically every aspect of the language. Heck, listening a lot even helps you with your sentences as you’re picking up the structures more easily.

  2. Tabi on February 1, 2009 at 20:32

    Listening a lot does make a big difference. Just try and ask somebody who’s learned a L2 for quite some time if he is able to follow his favorite movies in his (or her) L2. It’s getting embarrassing for most of them. Why is that? They think themselves unable to follow the movie’s discourse and 90% just don’t try.

    But as Khatz puts it, if you put in enough time you eventually will pick up the thread and that’s when language gets fun.

  3. Relja on February 1, 2009 at 21:49

    Great to see that the scientific community is finally catching up. :)

    Hopefully the academic/scientific community will also start to expand its way of understanding and explaining things. The academic sort of rational reasoning is, I believe, the biggest enemy here. If you try to understand and teach, say, “walking” in an academic rational way, it’s extremely complicated. Imagine the manual: “When making a step (a step being the process of putting one foot of your choice (i.e. left OR right) in front of the other) you must take into account various factors – elevation and texture factor of the surface in front of you, possible obstacles which might impede your progress, current velocity of movement vs. the currently desired velocity, angle at which the foot will touch the surface, weight distribution…”

    on the other hand, you can just Nike it. :) which is what the whole world is doing when it comes to walking, and so far the success rate is staggeringly high :)

    Scientists and academics don’tt like “it makes sense, but we don’t know why.”. It seems that they would rather make a stupid explanation and stick to it, with limited results, than doing something that brings results, but is not so easily expainable in academic terms.

  4. Relja on February 1, 2009 at 21:56

    Concerning the “listening is good for you”, what I think listening also gives you is that it prepares the brain to better learn the grammar behind the language (and other things, but I’m sticking to grammar, in light of the recent post). For instance, when learning English, the brain will pick up that “I see that a lot of the times when I add an “s” to the “thing” concept (don’t know what nouns are yet :), “is” changes to “are”. ”

    We don’t have to understand this consciously at first – at one point it will simply click and make sense, but we won’t be (and don’t really need to be) aware at all times that the brain was working on making those connections all the time. It will pick up patterns which are (like walking ;) way too complicated to be understood in academic terms, but, when thought about in the right way (which could be “not thought about at all” :D ), will begin to make sense. We will at moments be aware of it (and it’s quite likely that being aware of some patterns emerging speeds up the learing process a lot), but we don’t have to academically analize it all the time and attach lists of comments and rules and disertations on all the input we’re receiving.

  5. Terence on February 1, 2009 at 23:04

    Khatz, no way man!!! You wanted to train at a monastery too?! Awesome haha…

    I can thank Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Hero, House of Flying Daggers ect. ect. for spawning my love for Chinese. But I can’t explain why I like Japanese so much…

    On the subject of the post…I agree 100%.

  6. Rhino on February 1, 2009 at 23:23

    do you guys listen overnight with headphones or just play it from speakers? Im scared im gonna get a headphone lodged in my brain or something.

  7. Rastafeyd on February 1, 2009 at 23:33

    I‘ve found that if I keep the radio on, or listen to my mp3 at night that I really don’t sleep well at all and usually wake up feeling pretty sh**y the next day. I’ve just stopped doing it at night, but if anyone has themselves found a way around this I’d appreciate the advice.

  8. mjaynec on February 2, 2009 at 00:53

    @ Rhino

    I usually sleep with headphones on cause I live in a dorm where you can hear just about everything. I don’t use the kind that go in your ear though. I use these www.bestbuy.com/site/olspage.jsp?skuId=8743381&type=product&id=1202648988566

  9. デイビッド on February 2, 2009 at 02:45

    I have to second Khatzumoto on the headphones. Behind-the-head work great. I fall asleep listening to Japanese every night, and these headphones never give me problems like falling off or breaking in my sleep. And, it goes great with my iPod Shuffle, which is so tiny and steal reinforced that I don’t need to worry about crushing it and it breaking.

    And, regarding the post. I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to listen to your target language, all the time. It’s such a rewarding feeling hearing words that I come across in your reading and mucking around in monodics. For example, as time passes I listen to the same 6 hour clip of Death Note, and I am constantly hearing words that I know. And, I’m not even that far in. In fact, I picked up a whole sentence a while ago. You know, that one where Light rattles off 「毎日毎日同じことの繰り返し。」 I learned the verb in that sentence from a song, and the other words from example sentences from Tae Kim’s site. But I probably wouldn’t have heard it said just like that, at a time it was right for me to understand had I not been listening.

    In fact, I find that, after listening to Japanese for the past few months, and hardly anything else, I feel that English feels odd. And, I think that’s due to the fact that my brain is changing with what it hears most of the time. And that’s Japanese.

  10. reineke on February 2, 2009 at 05:24

    You should keep listening because it’s a sure way to learn the language. From another guy on the internet: It IS possible to actually learn a language as an adult through exposure, without the aid of a dictionary, grammar or a teacher/instructor. So, basically, learning from incomprehensible input IS possible. According to *me* and based on *my* experience. Krashen calls it “noise” and says that there is no point to expose learners to it. There comes a time when a young man needs to stand up and even rebel against his parents and mentors…

    While it’s possible to learn a language this way (*I* did it, darn it!) I am not sure I would recommend it as the only approach. I am also not rabidly anti-grammar etc.

    I am personally disappointed they’re “discovering” in 2009 that listening to “incomprehensible input” is “somewhat” beneficial – it helps you remember words – whoopee doo.

    The biggest problem: It is extremely difficult to convince most learners that listening to stuff they don’t completely understand will help them. Even the most stubborn teachers will eventually agree that the student is “ready” but the student will not make the effort.

  11. Maya on February 2, 2009 at 06:54

    Hey Khatz, quick question (sorry to keep bugging you! >.<)

    How many kanji/hanzi reps a day did you used to do while still learning them? I’m at about 300 kanji now (still a long way to go…) and I’m doing 80-200 reps a day. Does that sound like enough? Or not even close? I forget the odd kanji from time to time, but I remember you saying that 90% accuracy is enough, and I definitely retain 90%+…

  12. John B on February 2, 2009 at 10:29

    Maya,

    Though I’m not the person you asked, I’ll chime in: do as many as you can. If 80-200 reps per day is as many as you can, then it’s the right amount. If it’s not, do more. Language learning is “time x effort == success,” so if you put in more effort you can reduce the time (or, perhaps more correctly, accumulate time more quickly), but if you just keep putting in constant effort eventually time will grow large enough to equal success :)

  13. igordesu on February 2, 2009 at 10:46

    Hey Khatz. Just a quick question (I know, you get tons of questions, lol, and there probably is no such thing as a quick question anymore, but…)

    What’s your opinion on passive vs. active listening? I know you mentioned that you “just heard” a majority of the time, but I’m kind of curious. It’s just that, as a college student, I really am busy a lot, and so I don’t get a lot of active listening. I do a lot of passive listening, but…still. I’m just curious. It just seems like having it on in the background while I’m immersed in L1 homework and other stuff doesn’t seem like it does as much as actively listening (or watching). Any thoughts?

  14. justin on February 2, 2009 at 12:13

    I think all of us have been giving far too much respect to the researchers. I mean it ain’t their fault that the limited methods they have available royally suck, but have you ever seriously sat down and read an L2 Acquisition journal or scholarly text? They suck really, really hard. There is nothing inspiring in there at all. They basically can take a classroom of 20 students, who ain’t never gonna learn the language for real, and get half a dem to do something different, and get half a dem to be the control group, then do a test and run some statistics to see if it made a noticeable difference.

    Some tiny .1% of people who learned 101 level of a language will be fluent one day, so these researchers do NOT HAVE ACCESS to rooms full of Khatzumotos to do experiments on. (A practice which would let as learn something real and scientific about language acquisition.) Meaning: The results don’t tell us crap about the impact of any given practice on 0% knowledge to 100% fluent learning, but just give us a rough, rough idea about what might help people in the range of 0 knowledge to 5% fluent. Thus we got no idea if the practice is valuable to a serious student in the rage of 6% to 100%. etc. It’s much better to experiment with the advice of successful learners and known polyglots than to worry about crap research.

  15. beneficii on February 2, 2009 at 14:00

    Justin,

    I must agree. When people talk about adults can’t learn as well as children, I always wonder where they get the data from, because I’ve met adults who’ve never gone through language learning classes who have like near perfect or perfect accents in English and who in speech basically do not make awkward-sounding errors. I always wonder, Do the academians know people like these successful acquisitors of the language even exist?

  16. Ceryni on February 2, 2009 at 14:46

    Speaking of kung fu i finally refound my motivation to learn chinese again! 除了工作以外。 这是因为我发现武侠小说。这就是我的最爱。可是以前我停了汉字的学习, 所以读这张的书不容易却很有意思!!!

  17. きのこ on February 3, 2009 at 01:26

    I agree about listening translating into understanding. It’s a natural process. What I have yet to experience is listening translating into natural output. I can understand just about everything I hear in Japanese, but when I try to speak, DISASTER. Gotta work on that aspect, I guess.

  18. Ramses on February 3, 2009 at 04:50

    Listening is good, really good. But while you sleep? Wouldn’t do that if I were you!
    www.healthcentral.com/sleep-disorders/c/5954/34644/sleep-learn

  19. Jack on February 3, 2009 at 06:31

    You’d don’t need KhatzuMotos to do experiments on. You need normal average people whom you pay to participate in scientific studies.

    For example, take 15 average joes and divide randomly into three groups. Look at their brain, then look again while listening to a foreign language (that would be different for each group).
    Have the participants listen for X hours a day and have them keep a log of how many hours they listened each day.
    After 6 months, repeat the brain scanning both at rest and while listening to the target language. You could even give a before and after test designed to measure language skill.
    Does anyone know of such an experiment? If there were significant changes in the brain activity of most participants, it would prove that listening to so-called “incomprehensible” input does actually build brain structures. I’m no expert in brain-scanning technologies – a medical research professional would probably know which method to use.

  20. binzer on February 3, 2009 at 07:32

    Regarding headphones at night,

    I’ve found what works well for me is putting headphones underneath my pillow. I just use ear-buds, and with my head on the pillow the sound coming through is surprisingly clear. It doesn’t work well if you always sleep on your back, but it’s a good option if you have a significant other you don’t want to keep up, and headphones annoy you. I also find that the sound itself is a little less distracting and grating this way, and I can actually get to sleep!

    Only listening with one side of your head is a bit weird at first, but I got used to it quickly, and actually enjoy being able to “control the volume” by moving my head.

    Aaanyways, hopefully it’s a helpful technique for someone :)

  21. binzer on February 3, 2009 at 07:38

    @Ramses

    I think a key point in that article is this:

    “Do you need to memorize a poem for language class or a speech for tomorrow’s presentation? Read it through several times before falling asleep. Try to commit it to memory. Then, off to bed and to sleep and let the brain do the rest. You’ll be surprised at how much you retain”

    The idea is not to lose sleep, it’s to hear Japanese right before you fall asleep and first thing when you wake up. Listening to Japanese in bed is not a good option if it keeps you awake, but if you can still sleep just fine there’s no downside :)

  22. Relja on February 3, 2009 at 07:40

    @Justin

    In this case, I think we should definitely give the researchers a thumbs up, because they’ve proved that your brain structure changes when you get lots of input in a foreign language even if you don’t understand it.

    to quote from the article:

    “Dr Sulzberger says he was interested in what makes it so difficult to learn foreign words when we are constantly learning new ones in our native language. He found the answer in the way the brain develops neural structures when hearing new combinations of sounds. ”

    “Lots of input” is not a minor parameter. In fact, lots of input vs. classroom study only makes a huge difference. So, while I agree with you that researchers often approach language learning in a wrong way, here Dr Sulzberger gave extremely good scientific backing to what Khatz and other people are talking about.

    @Ramses

    I agree. I think that listening overnight, while it sounds cool and might improve your motivation, does more harm than good (deep sleep is important, it’s a scientific fact). I think the water-resistant radio or mp3 player is both more useful and more, simply put, awesome for motivating yourself and squeezing a few more extra minutes or so out of your day for language learning :)

  23. Sah on February 3, 2009 at 08:40

    This is a great article (love the diagram, lol). It makes sense doesn’t it? A native speaker is exposed to their native language from the moment they start hearing their mother’s voice from inside the womb, and then constantly thereafter.

    I regularly listen to a lot of Japanese audio beyond my level (music, tv, movies, podcasts). I started doing it just for pleasure because I enjoy hearing it…but it really does make a difference. The more you hear the language, the more familiar and natural it starts to sound. So often I’ll hear words and phases over and over again. I’ll have no idea what they mean. Then next thing I know I’ll be studying some text or vocab list…and oh!!! All of a sudden it’s right there and a light bulb goes off! It leaves an impression and then it’s nearly impossible to forget that word.

    I find it helps my pronunciation as well. When you listen, you’re not just absorbing vocab or grammar….in fact, even if you absorb none, you’re still familiarizing yourself with the accent and flow of the language. That’s important too.

  24. justin on February 3, 2009 at 10:53

    @Jack

    I think you’ve missed my point. Okay so we gain some insight into something which benefits the very beginning of language learning. But without a few hundred Khatzumotos to run experiments on, people who will eventually learn to full fluency, no experiment can show us that some factor was actually valuable in context of the full picture.

    (1) What if listening 6 hours a day in the background ultimately profoundly improved a learner’s ability, but only manifested itself when they were 90% to fluency? No research is ever going to reveal this. A objective change in brain structure doesn’t tell us anything about how or when that “change” will be valuable nor to what extent.
    (2) What if some technique is revealed to allow a learner to master vocabulary at 300% the speed of any other known method. What if when the person who used the technique all along is at ~90% fluency suddenly some deficiency is revealed and the control group shows much greater performance with their classically learned vocabulary? No research would reveal this either.

    @Relja

    As above, yes it is cool and all that they revealed a change in brain structure, but this is of no particular worth to learners. We have no idea how valuable that change is. We have no idea if it wouldn’t be better to just concentrate with all our might on a piece of audio for 20 mins a day than to play it in the background for 10 hours and have our productivity with other daily tasks suffer far more than just cutting out 20 mins would have cost.

  25. KREVA on February 3, 2009 at 11:58

    @ Justin

    It is surely of importance to learners. It proves that by listening to your target language, you become more susceptible to the language over time the more you hear it. It’s like it builds a tolerance of the sounds that you rejected earlier. Leaving the audio it on for as much as you can merely allows you more chances to hear the language whenever it catches your attention. And those countless reoccurring chances to hear the language is what counts.

  26. justin on February 3, 2009 at 12:21

    @KREVA

    Yes, if you don’t need to work/go to school or anything else in your life but learn a language, then it is great because it further solidifies the evidence that 24/7 being surrounded by what you are learning contributes to your learning.

    The problem is that for I guess 99% of us, everything has a cost/benefit value and there is no language learning research accurate enough to let us know if, for example, leaving it on even when we are not paying really attention at all for a year can reduce the time required to reach fluency in a language by 10 hours, 100 hours, or 1000 hours, so: in the case of 10 hours, it might simply not be worth the benefit if it is distracting me from other things while in the case of 1000 hours, occasionally being distracted by the audio more than pays for the “cost” in the end. (The cost of having other things you are working on be done at reduced efficiency)

    No researcher can even really tell me how much % effect difference it makes if I listen to audio while (1) day dreaming a bit vs (2) paying attention but tired vs (3) paying 100% attention to the point I get a headache. Perhaps audio is almost entirely processed ‘subconsciously’ and the 3rd option provides no advantage over the first, even though the cost is much, much higher. (If you think contesting this is common sense, play your native language and listen to it while tired and try to NOT understand it. You can’t stop the meaning from appearing in your head at least part of the time. You can’t block it out entirely by just trying to ignore it.) Perhaps option 3 can result in 10x as much learning per hour as step 2, and therefore it is better to get more sleep and study less. No one can answer this because there is no research method good enough.

  27. justin on February 3, 2009 at 12:25

    @KREVA

    Additionally, other references have show this researcher was talking about beginning language learning. Perhaps, in reality, after learning 1000 words in a language the sound system is already in your brain to the point that it isn’t worth the cost to have anything distracting playing in the background unless you are really paying careful attention to it. It’s a huge limitation. Just because his research shows something is great for beginners, doesn’t mean it is THE MOST productive thing to do after that stage. That’s the problem with research like this.

  28. KREVA on February 3, 2009 at 14:07

    @ Justin

    No one is saying you have to have it on 24/7, only that you should shoot for that, or more clearly, listen to it as much as you can when you can. With classes and part-time job, I certainly don’t listen to it 24/7, but during those times I’m not involved in those, you can bet I have that iPod going. And some days that can get me close to 24/7, but I always change up my listening input so that I don’t get bored (movie, music, podcast, news etc.).

    If other references are saying that it he was talking about beginning language learning, isn’t that what we’re all doing when we first start out anyway? And that what he said will only take what we do and strengthen that skill the more we do it? If you’re listening in Japanese sucks, then you can say that in terms of listening to Japanese, you are are at or near the beginning of Japanese in terms of listening.

    Like Khatz says, he knew what he had to do to get there, but he didn’t know how it happened. In my opinion, I could care less how it happens, as long as I do it and get there. (After all, It’s not like I’m trying to become some professor in linguistics or something, just trying to learn my target language. :) )

  29. beneficii on February 3, 2009 at 14:52

    KREVA,

    But but but but but, like Justin said, you need to have an exact percent of how your language learning will improve, or it’s not worth it.

    To be serious, though, you need LOTS of listening, or you’ll get to a curious situation where you can sort of read the language okay, but where you cannot pick a single word out of the conversation. I’ll also find that listening for some reason helps me to better and more easily and more accurately “guess” the readings of kanji. It also helps me with the intonation of the words, to the point where I can hear the intonations exactly like I was a native speaker when I read text.

  30. 2nihon on February 3, 2009 at 14:53

    Way to go, Khatz! I have noticed in my personal listening that I’m out words and sentence patterns now. I don’t know what all of them mean, but I’m starting to be able to conjecture the meanings of the songs here and there. Seriously, listening works. Got to thank you again, Khatz: thanks.

  31. 2nihon on February 3, 2009 at 14:55

    I meant that I’m starting to understand words and sentence patterns now…can you install the WP plugin that lets you edit your own comments? ^-^

  32. Solar Wind on February 3, 2009 at 15:04

    All of this negativity and doubt I’ve been seeing lately sadden me. So few people realize the true potential of the human mind.

  33. Relja on February 3, 2009 at 19:22

    @Justin

    Concerning the benefit of research, yes, in a way, we’ll probably never know exactly how much benefit a certain sort of behavior is in something as complex as language learning (comlex for research, doing it is simple and fun ;) ), but we don’t really need to. Here’s my comment on that issue, which partly supports what you’re saying:

    www.alljapaneseallthetime.com/blog/success-storykinda-srs-and-the-power-and-value-of-memory#comment-15142

    As I said there, while we can’t know how useful one particular thing is, the system as a whole is measurable. You set the parameters (e.g. lots of fun input, 100 SRS reps per day etc.), you do it for a number of months, and you look at the results.

    From your comment, I sort of get the feeling that you don’t think lots of listening is that important to language learining (I could very much be wrong in interpreting your comment, so please say if it’s so).

    Personally, I strongly believe that listening (or, should I say, input) is indispensable for language learners of any level. It might not be measurable in some scientific way (e.g. doing 6 hours of listening with partial attention + 1 hour of listening with full attention, per day, in addition to some other method = C1 level of language proficiency after 12 months of listening. How can you, for instance, know that you really paid full attention for 1 hour every day?), but AS A GENERAL METHOD it’s extremely efficient and, as I said, indispensable.

    We could argue about it more, but it’s better to show the results. Khatz is now a fully functional adult (though he might sometimes claim otherwise :D ) in Japan, completely fluent in Japanese. He achieved it after 18 months of lots of Japanese input, combined with SRS.

    There are lots of other success stories on this website, look them up.

    As for my personal success story, I’ve yet to reach fluency in Japanese, so I can only talk about my English (though I didn’t achieve fluency in English consciously, so I guess it’s like cheating or something ;) ). I use it like a native, I occasionally work as an interpreter (with serious stuff, like stock-market negotiations, social cases etc.) and, well, by reading this comment you can see what my English is like. How did I do it? Lots of cartoons and computer games with my friends when we were kids. We probably didn’t understand it all at first, of course (though I have to say I have only vague memories of the time when I didn’t understand English), but that didn’t stop us from exposing ourselves to English continuously, and now all three of us are completely fluent in English.

    So, input, and lots of it, though perhaps not measurable in a satisfactory scientific way, works :)

    Or, should I say, I have yet to see someone who has reached true fluency and proficiency in a language WITHOUT lots and lots of input in that language.

  34. KREVA on February 3, 2009 at 23:25

    I very much agree with Relja! :)

  35. 牛ジュース on February 4, 2009 at 02:25

    Your articles are fascinating but I have two questions:

    1) What is L2? level 2?

    2) When listening to the language may I listen to it as white-noise? Do I have to be consciously listening to it to receive the same effect?

  36. Jair Trejo on February 4, 2009 at 10:34

    I’m from Mexico, and after 6 years of not very effective English classes in elementary school, I sort of picked it up by immersion.
    I remember that, when I got to the point where I could read English no problem, I really sucked at listening. So I began to watch TV Shows and Movies WITH spanish subtitles. It helped a lot, because I knew what I should expect to hear. I find that watching TV shows without subtitles in Japanese is really hard, but with subtitles I identify lots of things, and they get better fixed in my mind.

  37. EMI on February 4, 2009 at 11:37

    初めまして。ロンドン在住の日本人です。
    ネットでたまたまこのサイトを発見しました。
    何度か「外国人で、短期間で日本語が流暢になる人がいる」と聞いたことがあり、
    どうやって覚えるのか、ずっと気になってたんです。
    勝元さんのやり方は「目からウロコ」ですね~!

    今ちょうど「なんでイギリス英語は聞き取れないの?」と悩んでいたところ。
    この記事を読んだら圧倒的にリスニングの時間が少なかった事に気付きました。
    媒体はTVでもいいんだ!俗っぽい番組やドラマでも、楽しければいいんだ(嬉しい)!

    日本語だけでなく、あらゆる語学の習得に役立つブログですね。
    英語学習のためにこれからも読んじゃいます!Cheers!

  38. justin on February 4, 2009 at 11:46

    @Relja

    “From your comment, I sort of get the feeling that you don’t think lots of listening is that important to language learining (I could very much be wrong in interpreting your comment, so please say if it’s so).”

    Yeah I wouldn’t contest the simple fact that one cannot listen to a language (as in understand it totally) if he has never listened to it. I’m just frustrated a lot by the fact that there is a lot of research, but it can’t give me answers. I sit down and watch a movie and understand only 5%, and I know if I saw the script I would know 75% or more of the words. I keep watching movies and do not feel any progress, but since I technically know those words maybe, though it feels worthless, one day I will make a huge breakthrough because of it. On the other hand, maybe it is not an efficient use of my time because I could make a break through much sooner (being able to understand the same movies) by listening to stuff where this is no more than one new word per sentence and slowly working my way up with more difficult material until at the end I finally watch a movie and understand it the first time.

    So I by no means think listening is not good, I’m just frustrated by the imprecision of never knowing what exact route will give the fastest and best results.

    I read the comment you linked and agree very much with you saying “the system, AS A WHOLE, IS measurable”. The thing is, if we have a billion learners who wanted to be experimented on, we could make each of them use only one very very specific strategy, i.e. one group only watches movies where they understand 50% while another watches only where they understand 90% for many years, and then really clearly see who made more progress. The problem is researchers don’t have access to that manpower (or that many lab rats ;)) so the best we can do is compare big systems like AJATT to other big systems like say classic grammar-translation study.

  39. Smilax on February 4, 2009 at 13:39

    Can anyone tell me where Khat’z old post about his first job fair thingy is located on this site? I can’t find it. ._.

  40. jamesFALLEN on February 4, 2009 at 14:06

    Totally with Kinoko on this one;

    “I can understand just about everything I hear in Japanese, but when I try to speak, DISASTER. Gotta work on that aspect, I guess.”

    I know Khatz would say, more input and it will take care of itself. But sometimes it is frustrating when someone that has been studying only speaking can converse more than I can(albeit sounding very gaijiny) just because they have only been working speaking. No writing, No kanji. But they can speak better than me. (Im at 13 months now of study 3.5 months Heisig at the start))

    But I know this method is the true was to an adult-level. Which is where I want to be!

  41. Neil Duckett on February 4, 2009 at 16:16

    Great post man and confirming something i’ve believed all along … even at home, if i’m going to have the TV on in the back ground while i do stuff then it’s going to be on a Japanese TV channel.

  42. beneficii on February 4, 2009 at 16:40

    Justin,

    Oh my Gosh. I know what you need to watch: ちびまる子ちゃん! 1992年9月のDVDを買って「まる子 花輪クンに英会話を習う」の巻を見てね。(そして、そのDVDの「さくら家のお月見」の巻を見たら酔っぱらっているまる子が見えるかも。でも、いいじゃん。)

  43. きのこ on February 4, 2009 at 20:39

    James, I so know how you feel. I’m ramping up my input like to tomorrow, I’ll review my progress again after 3 months and see if listening input can help speaking output or if I’m going to need to switch tactics.

  44. きのこ on February 4, 2009 at 20:41

    *like no tomorrow, I meant.

  45. Relja on February 5, 2009 at 20:04

    @Justin

    Heheh, I get your problem a bit better now.

    “So I by no means think listening is not good, I’m just frustrated by the imprecision of never knowing what exact route will give the fastest and best results.”

    Well, you should really find solace in the fact that NO ONE knows what that exact route is, especially because we are all different, in the sense that our brains have all had their own special package of previous input and learning which has god knows what sort of influence on all our further learning, so the most efficient method would also have to be tailored to your personality, and constantly redesigned to suit your changes in personality due to the fact that you’re changing as a person over time, blah blah. You get the picture :)

    In any case, the next best thing (and, again, it’s an awesome next best thing :) ) is using a great method which, while not perhaps the most efficient evah (because we’ll never know if it is), it’s still EXTREMELY effective.

    To put it another way, are you obsessed about tying your shoelaces the best way possible? Are you sure that you’re walking in the most efficient way imaginable?
    I’m guessing not, but I image you tie your shoelaces and walk quite proficiently :)

    So, my advice is to simply have faith in the method you’re using (I’m not sure what method you’re using, or whether you’ve completely switched to Khatz’s or not.) and enjoy the process, knowing that it WILL bring not good, but great results. While I guess it’s always good to be on the look-out for ways of improving your learning method, excessive worrying will do more harm than good, as you might, I think, start enjoying the learning process less and less, and less enjoyment = less motivation = less learning.

    (I’m not saying you’re worrying excessively, but the things which you mentioned frustrate you seem a bit like a warning sign that excessive worrying might happen. Or again, maybe it’s just me :) )

  46. slucido on February 7, 2009 at 02:38

    Thank you binzer. The last three days I have put my headphones underneath my pillow and it works for me. That was the trick I needed. It’s that simple that I can not believe it.

  47. beneficii on February 7, 2009 at 04:26

    Justin,

    Also, check this out:

    www.bb-anime.tv/maruko/index.html

    A fun English-learning game with Chibi Maruko-chan. Of course, I doubt anyone will really learn English this way, but it’s still funny and cute.

  48. binzer on February 7, 2009 at 09:42

    @slucido

    Yaay, I’m glad to hear it worked for someone :) Another thing I’ve found that works really well at night is listening to audio books instead of music because it’s a lot less distracting (it’s kind of like reading a textbook in bed instead of some awesome page-turner). There’s a bunch of audiobooks here: how-to-learn-any-language.com/forum/forum_posts.asp?TID=6241&PN=1&TPN=1
    (Hopefully I’m allowed to link stuff like that…I think I am).

  49. スティーブティージャン on February 7, 2009 at 22:03

    @ James and Kinoko

    I think that at some point you do need start producing output. You will never get good at speaking unless you actually speak. Of course you need to wait until you are ready, but at 13 months of learning you probably know enough to engage in a basic dialogue, or at least exchange some emails. There are a few great skype based learning communities out there that let you meet with locals and participate in an exchange of e-mails or conversations. Here are some links to check out:
    www.language-exchanges.org
    www.xlingo.com
    www.mylanguageexchange.com

    I hope this helps a bit :)

  50. きのこ on February 9, 2009 at 03:15

    According to Antimoon, what we need is more input: www.antimoon.com/other/myths-speaking.htm

  51. スティーブティージャン on February 9, 2009 at 08:20

    “From the very beginning, you should spend all of your time on reading and listening (thus acquiring the necessary vocabulary and grammar) until you can write a few simple — but 100% correct — sentences in the language. For example, you can start by writing an e-mail message to someone who speaks the language. (It doesn’t matter how long it takes you to write that message. It may be two hours, if you have that kind of patience.) ” – Antimoon

    I definitely agree with you that input that more input is a good idea. It is always a good idea :). However, at some point in time you are going to have to produce output. I’m not quite sure of how far along you are, but I think it is a great idea to find a pen pal when you are ready. If you are not comfortable writing yet then don’t, but I personally think it is the first step you need to make to start producing output. I am no expert though. Maybe we should let the almighty Khatzumoto pass judgment on this one.

  52. Kay on February 9, 2009 at 10:03

    Hey Japanese listeners! I have a question about the types of stuff to listen to and what would be best to listen to. I’m a huge fan of Japanese music and, since discovering this site, I have transformed all my playlists into only Japanese artists. I love listening to music, but I was wondering if I should mix it up a little and try and listen to different things, like maybe the news, talks shows, variety shows, or maybe even anime? I’m just wondering if I should be listening to more ‘talking’ Japanese instead of ‘singing Japanese’?

  53. KREVA on February 9, 2009 at 10:12

    @ Kay

    Just listen to whatever you want to. If you like music, then listen to it. Of course, if you’re doing the full immersion, you’re probably going to want to change things up occasionally to prevent boredom. That’s where other things like video rips of audio from various sources, podcasts, video games, and other good stuff comes in. Changing things up when you feel the need to is an excellent way to keep the flow of immersion rockin’ on forward!

  54. James on February 9, 2009 at 10:21

    スティーブティージャン と きのこ へ

    Writing emails, online chat, phone texting is no problem for me. But online chat is like 10 times slower than real speaking. But I know I’m improving because I used to struggle on sharedtalk.com around 3 months ago when I first tried but now I have no problems as long as I have my dictionary if we start talking about a specific topic. (its also really good to mine sentences. (Copy and Paste FTW)

    BUT, when I speak I still find myself making the stupidest mistakes. My head isn’t quite quick enough for my mouth. I help coach my juniors high schools softball team(for more japanese practice), and my girls always says James-ben!(ジェームス弁!!) when I make a mistake lol.

    That said, I’m confident in this method. I work my ass off, but I also see a lot of improvement. But that doesn’t stop the frustration of when you cant quite ask a question you want to ask, even though if someone else asked you that same question you could understand it and answer it no problem. But I guess this is just part of the journey.

    Let’s not quit! Keep working towards that ultimate goal, and I’m sure we will get there.

  55. Kay on February 9, 2009 at 11:24

    @KREVA

    Thanks for the reply. I always feel like I’m listening to too much singing and not enough talking, but I guess as long as it’s Japanese it’ll get across to me in the same way. I’m going to try and mix it up, though, and rip some videos of music variety shows that I have.

    Kay

  56. きのこ on February 10, 2009 at 00:19

    Same with James, I can read & write & understand pretty well, it’s when it comes to SPEAKING that I have trouble. And the thing is most Japanese won’t correct your mistakes, either out of politeness or because they get what you’re trying to say and can’t be bothered to fix it unless you ask. So I’m going to go with this input thing for three months like I said, paying close attention to what the people say, repeating them (thank goodness for J subs on J TV) and see how things work out.

  57. Ayo on February 10, 2009 at 02:28

    When you say listening – do you mean full on 100% all the time? Because it’s really hard work listening to it with all my attention and not understanding anything.

  58. きのこ on February 10, 2009 at 06:06

    Try a trick I used long long ago on videos. It’s easy with DVDs. With downloaded videos you’ll need to download twice, subbed version and unsubbed version. First watch the video with subtitles in English so you understand what the video is about. Then immediately delete the subs/turn that option off, and watch it forevermore in Japanese only. Maybe I’m the only one, but I picked up a lot more when I knew what the conversation was about than when I was going in blind.

  59. Poke-Baki on February 10, 2009 at 16:43

    Great topic! Man we need a forum for this descussion, cus most of the surious discussions get lost as a comment.

    Anyway, after RTK and picking up all the input, I’ve hit a wall with Kanji. How do you learn how to read the kanji? Without asking a person, in a book, no furigana? It’s difficult.

    Only way I’ve been dealing with it is hoping it pops up in a manga that I’m reading with furigana

  60. Japanse tv series « Jan & Peggy’s Weblog on February 10, 2009 at 17:01

    [...] het studeren bent door ernaar te luisteren, shows te bekijken… Khatzumoto heeft er een mooie blog post over [...]

  61. Solar Wind on February 12, 2009 at 04:00

    Ayo, I think it encompasses both types of listening, passive and active. For the last few months I’ve been passively listening to anime while I’m at work and I can see it working, and quite well at that. Whenever I read a manga most of the words I come across that I don’t know feel like old-friends even though I don’t know what they mean. Often this means that I only ever have to look up the word once and it’s instantly mine.

    Poke-Baki, if you have a wacom tablet or equivelent you can set up any Mac or Windows machine to recognize hand-drawn input. Both iPhones and iTouches support this as well (and they have a decent Japanese dictionary you can download from the iStore). As a last resort there is a wordfile on this site somewhere with all 2042 kanji + keywords + stories. If you know the keyword of the kanji you can look it up by Ctrl+F searching the document.

    Regards

  62. QuackingShoe on February 12, 2009 at 08:54

    You don’t need a tablet or anything, you can just use a mouse. There should be a hand-writing input method in any IME. It’s by far the fastest way to look up a kanji. Doing radical searches and the like are far too time consuming. As long as you know the stroke order, you can look anything up in a few seconds.

  63. Amelia on February 12, 2009 at 09:41

    @Poke-Baki

    It’s just exposure. After a while, you know it. If you keep up your kanji SRSs (every day), then after a while you will find they look familiar and will jump out at you on the page when you’re reading them.

    I think it’s easier for us Chinese-learners, because we see the characters so often they get engrained in our minds much quicker. But the SRS will do this for you, too, so no worries. Just keep on SRSing and keep on reading, and it will all click soon.

  64. Kia on February 13, 2009 at 00:01

    Off topic. But here is a site that has a game that helps you learn mandarin. I am signing up for it now. It was mentiones on the omniglot blog, so it’s worth taking a look,

    www.enterzon.com

  65. Kia on February 13, 2009 at 00:02

    sorry, bad link before.

    enterzon.com/

  66. Sarah Nguyen on February 15, 2009 at 16:46

    Your blog looks absolutely amazing, thank you for putting so much work into it! Um, I’ve yet to read a blog post, but first impressions at least look great. ;]

  67. sirdanilot on February 28, 2009 at 23:58

    I’ve read most articles on this site but this is the first time I post a comment.

    When I listen to Japanese, I’m usually doing something else and that’s always in English (for example right now I am listening to a podcast and typing this). I really don’t know squat Japanese, I could probably sum up my entire vocabulary right here.
    Most of the time, I am not even listening to the podcast (or sometimes japanese music), it just plays in the background. The only things I recognize are endings like ‘desu’ ‘janai’ and maybe something like ‘amerika’ or ‘tokyo’ or ‘nihon’ (the reason I recognize those endings is because I experimented with different methods before this, and those involved grammar).

    I haven’t experienced yet that I recognize a certain word that is continuously repeated through this podcast. Do I just need to listen more, or do I need to learn some base vocabulary first? I’m currently at about 400 kanji, haven’t done sentences yet, I know most of the kana.

    Summary: Japanese sounds like gibberish to me. Do I need to play it in the background?

  68. Yume on April 4, 2009 at 12:46

    I absolutely agree with you! Listening Listening Listening! I’m currently learning Japanese and I’m not taking a class! I just listen to a lot of J-pop music and learn some of the structures using online material (it also helps with the writing). However I absolutely believe that I’d be nowhere in Japanese right now if I hadn’t started by listening to the music and speech. It is a valuable tool that most people overlook, and it also helps connect the meaning of the words directly to the brain as well as arranging the words in the correct order according to patterns picked up from listening. When learning a first language as a baby, most people are exposed to their native language for a year or more before they start learning to speak and understand it! The same is theoretically true with a second language!

    This article is useful and inspiring to those who wish to learn another language, no matter what language that may be!

    P.S. i’m starting a new site (currently only ipod touch/iphone compatible and under construction) called www.itouch2learn.webs.com to help people who wish to learn the Japanese Language! Please check it out!

  69. Mallory on May 9, 2009 at 12:19

    *bump*
    Does anyone respond to this anymore?

    “In fact, I find that, after listening to Japanese for the past few months, and hardly anything else, I feel that English feels odd. And, I think that’s due to the fact that my brain is changing with what it hears most of the time. And that’s Japanese.”

    ditto! I was wondering if anyone felt the same.
    Hey, I have a question. Does it matter WHAT you listen to, as long as it’s in Japanese?

  70. Ceryni on June 7, 2009 at 12:49

    Hey, I guess its a little late to comment on this post but I figured this one would be the most fitting. I found this part of an article written by someone called 呐喊.
    初学者最头痛的就是发音。29个字母要发得地地道道,标标准准对国人们绝不是一朝一夕就可以练出来的。想把语音发地地道最好的方法就是一个字—— 听。听广播!!!!! 你说什么? 你听不懂? 我也听不懂啊。没有人一开始就听得懂的。那不是天才是什么?!听广播的好处除了能纠正自己的发音外,日后自己的口语的语速,语调会慢慢地潜移默化地走向完美。当然,没有听个天花乱醉是做不到的。
    I decided to start laddering from Chinese into Spanish when I found this. loosely translated its “The biggest from for starting students is pronunciation…the most important method to learn this is just one little word ‘listen’. Listen to broadcasts!!!! What did you say? You can’t understand them? Me neither Ah. Nobody understands at the beggining…”
    Anyway I figure you get the drift. It just struck me as funny when I read this and reminded me of Khatz’s sense of humor

  71. Scott on July 2, 2009 at 21:21

    Got to say thanks to you.

    I’ve recently -the past week – decided to learn Spanish and your blog has been some interesting reading. I’ve got to say that I agree with what your saying.

    I’ve changed my music over and am watching some Spanish TV each day.
    As I’m just starting out I understand hardly any of it but its a awesome feeling when you catch words and phrases you know.

    Cheers Man.

  72. hanikas on September 4, 2009 at 02:15

    I know it’s such an odd time to state a comment (it’s been months!) but heck, here’s my two cents!

    Firstly, I agree. Truly, utterly, wholly with Khatzu (omg i had to scroll to see how to spell that *fail* i wont attempt to pronounce. is it かっづ?!)
    Anyway, I, myself have proven (so to speak XD) that it works! Even before I read this blog entry, or even KNEW about the existence of this website, I’ve already been doing this listening business for 2-3 years. And I’m telling you. It works like magic.

    @ mallory : It doesn’t matter I guess, BUT it would definitely help and be much better if you’re actually interested in what you’re listening to!

    Okay, based on my experience, I began by basically listening to Japanese songs. Not any song, but those that I really liked – alot. For example, and I don’t know if anyone knows him, Daite Senorita by Yamashita Tomohisa (of NEWS) was really addictive and so was the whole Arashi, News, Kanjani 8 bunch of tunes. (Yeah I [used to be---still am and MORE] a Johnnys fan : anyone familiar with them, in the context of Japanese culture anyway.) I digress.
    So, I began to feel frustrated after a while. I loved a tune of a particular song but the meaning of it escaped me. And being into music lyrics alot previously, I just had to know what the words meant. And so as the law of cumulative causation would explain, one thing led to another – I bought myself a Jap-Eng dictionary and every single word I heard that was repeated I’d look up.

    The first step to learning a language in my opinion is, VOCABULARY.
    This is because, when you start to recognize words, as you listen to more stuff, you’ll automatically focus on the words whose meanings elude you and build up your vocab bank even further and well, after that, it’s just a matter of identifying the sentence structures yada-yada and all the other nitty gritty details right?

    So, yeah, that’s what I think! Listening is akin to immersing oneself in the culture so to speak. Even when watching a drama/movie; sure watch it with subtitles, but make sure the native language is turned on! (I ABSOLUTELY ABHOR DUBBED STUFF. YUCK. personal opinion. objections to be taken outsideee) If you are a drama otaku – or addict – like me, your brain will end up getting used to multitasking between reading&comprehensing the subs and listening to the native language. With the vocabulary you have (see prev para) you’ll eventually build up even MORE vocab and start to recognize sentences, patterns etc.

    That’s what happened to me anyway.
    And (even though my Japanese is still pretty low level due to lack of practice and the fact that I JUST CANT DO KANJI!? ALKDJFLA) the same effects happen when I watch Korean dramas too. Mind you, I don’t watch taht many Korean dramas, I can probably count all in two hands, but zomg each drama is LIGHTYEARS long, so I pick up enough XD okay digressed again.

    SO I HOPE IT WILL HAPPEN TO YA’LL TOO.

    thank you for this post that helped to enlighten the science behind what had been going on with me for the past few years. haha (:

  73. [...] do eventually put in enough time, but it’s dissipated over far too many years to reach “critical mass“. All human skill is depends on memory in some form. Think of this memory as, to mix [...]

  74. Ian on October 28, 2009 at 13:12

    Have you read the book called “Language Logic” by Robyn Matthews? She uses a term called “motherese” to refer to the easy bits of language that are fed to you as an infant and a child –> during your “incubation” period.

  75. Vaan on December 11, 2009 at 11:52

    This whole ‘listening’ thing doesn’t work for me; I’ve been listened to Japanese for a long time (I LOVE their J-Rock/J-Pop music, likes Miyavi, and anime and etc-not that it matters) But I haven’t learnt very much at all for all the time I’ve put into it! A few things yes, but ONLY a couple random tidbits…! D:
    (and I don’t have the patience to read ALL of what you have said; i would go insane and act like a wild animal, or skimming brief sections, not absorbing anything as I have a very short attention span when it comes to reading/studying… and wow this is a long bracket lol)
    People keep telling me; “Read this book! It’ll help you!” BUT I CAN’T!! Ack!
    So i’v listen for almost a year to all my favorite bands and watched some of my favorite animes-done what readings I could-but NOT ENOUGH HAPPENS in return for all those hours!! Even if I have subs on or a great book!
    T^T
    Is there any other way to ‘abrrob’ the language without reading all the time, if listening isn’t doing much for me? Or is there something I could be doing to MAKE it work? D;
    agh-help?

    • だんちゃん on November 15, 2010 at 23:45

      @Vaan

      I gotta say man, you don’t really appear to be serious about this. We are talking about a whole new paradigm of ‘putting in time’ here. Like, imagine you sit down and study for an hour. And you think, wow, a whole hour! I’m a hard worker. Wheres me results? Basically that aint but a grain of sand on the beach. Put in a hundred hours, and now we have an amount that amounts to something, but still a _very_ small something. Listen for a thousand hours, and you can climb a few rungs of the ladder. So be honest, how much did you listen? We are talking several thousand hours to really get somewhere (i.e. five to six hours a day for a year is only part the way there). Dialogue is a lot better than music also (try podcasts).

      When I started listening in February (admittedly with intermediate Japanese already), I understood very little of radio, not that much of TV/news. Now I understand almost all of both. But that took several thousand hours of listening, and not much of that was music. I’ve also got quite a few thousand hours to go to be real native like.

  76. [...] learning?  I think that the quote at the top says it all.  When I was starting out on Cantonese, I listened to as much audio possible to get a feel for the rhythm and flow of the language (I still do, whenever I get the chance).  [...]

  77. Eldon on March 22, 2010 at 15:14

    @ Vaan,

    You just need to buckle down and do some serious work man. You won’t be able to pick up words just from hearing them right away – go and look them up and make some sort of effort to learn them.

    You’ll only be able to “absorb” the language (i.e. figure out what words mean from context) when you know the surrounding 99% of words.

  78. [...] it wrong. So read / listen as much as you can even if you understand very little an article over at alljapaneseallthetime.com explains it in more detail. Also make sure you crave criticism I know people tend not to like [...]

  79. [...] spare time. At first I understood close to nothing, maybe the odd word or two. However, the more I listened, the more I understood. As a result, I now have the confidence that I will [...]

  80. Ronald on August 4, 2010 at 21:50

    Of course you can’t ‘just’ listen to a language. You also have to learn the vocabulary if you want to learn a phonetic language like Chinese or Japanese. Only if you know enough vocab it’s worth to listening to conversations.

  81. [...] But Colvin wants you to slog; Colvin is anti-automaticity where Coyle is very much open to fun and unconsciously developed awesomeness (as is the case with futsal). The automaticity thing could just be poor choice of words on [...]

  82. [...] try and see. Let’s do something that helps”. This is that AJATT brand of optimism. Will listening to Japanese while you sleep make you fluent? Dunno. Maybe. But it can’t hurt. It’ll probably work better than listening to English. [...]

  83. [...] Volume → Critical Mass → [...]

  84. 星空 on November 23, 2010 at 10:30

    @mallory何を聞いてるか大切じゃないの。聞いていれば、大丈夫なんだよ。
    好きにしてもいい。 だから、シテ!
    ルールが唯一つ:日本語で。その以外、何でも重要じゃない。
    I’m going through the same experience;
    I think I think 40% in Japanese (if that much)
    やった!!!!

    but someone explain to me this:

    -why do we have text books in school if they’re of such poor quality in comparison to just immersion? they STINK WORSE THAN A SKUNK! (and the art is doen by people who can’t draw to save their lives… but that’s beside the point)

    -and why is it that everyone who takes a class where the teacher only speaks that language, complains? and then procedes to drop that class? sure, i know the experience of pure immersion. it was dificult, but i was able to understand most of the conversation by the end, and even pick up a few words, even though that person (東京人だったけど)spoke faster than an 大阪人 (信じてくれて、聞いたんだ。本当の大阪人のしゃべり方があの者のよりもっとゆっくりのよ!)! when i got home, my own speech got better (and faster x~3? perhaps i’m exadurating, but it did) and i didn’t even notice until someone told me.
    (i’m afraid that i might have lost some of my speed since last i actually talked to a real 日本人, but no matter. i had it, i can get it back! ^^)

    but, you know what? THIS ARTICLE is the HEART & SOUL of AJATT. (why isn’t it more noticable?!?)the whole point of AJATT is total immersion, or as close as you can physically get given your restraints. its spelled out in teh abbreviation: ALL japanese ALL THE TIME. 全て、ずっと 日本語で。 its the best path, the ONLY path to fluency. sure there are a few shortcuts and sidestreets at the beginning, including turning around and runniing away. but as you walk down the path, just like the branches of a tree, they all weave together into a single point, a single path: FLUENCY!(ピンポン ピンポンwe have a winner! somebody pass teh ラムネ )there is no escape. “resistance is futile”. (←何ちゃって)

    c’mon, let’s hit the road!

  85. [...] Listen Before You Understand [...]

  86. Drack on December 13, 2010 at 09:39

    I’m definitely following your advice now and putting in the hours of listening, much of which I still don’t understand after 3 years of learning Japanese the wrong way (classes, bilingual SRS with words instead of sentences, etc).

    For all those looking for a FREE, portable, endless stream of Japanese speech audio, I’ve found a fantastic source. It’s an iPhone app, so sorry for those without an iPhone or iPod Touch or whatever.

    Search the app store for 聴くニュース (that’s きく btw). Clear, high quality streams of news and other subjects with speech at native speeds in podcast form. The only downfall is that you can’t set it to advance to the next podcast after one finishes.

    If music is more your thing, you can look for “Hot Radio Japan” – It’s ok, but it has some problems, like how it rips through battery life and that the pause button on the earbuds cable doesn’t work.

    I’m using my iPhone more and more for study, since it’s always with me … Anki (a fantastic SRS) is available but it’s $25. Kotoba! is a free and pretty good J-E-J dictionary too. I’m still looking for a J-J dictionary app, anyone found one?

    • Drack on December 17, 2010 at 11:52

      I’ve found even better than 聴くニュース for podcasts – the built-in podcast functionality of iTunes offers the same content as the app, just search for NHKニュース or Digニュース to get the podcasts you would have gotten with the app. You can also get the other podcasts Khatzu recommends like まりもえお and you don’t even need a fancy iPhone to do it.

      I still appreciate the app for the initial exposure to the content, but now that I know about it, it’s not the best way to get it.

  87. [...] ■Listen Before You Understand [...]

  88. Rum on February 17, 2011 at 20:03

    For watching animes, do you recommend turning the English subs off, even for a newbie? What about Japanese subtitles? Sorry if it’s been covered, I cannot seem to find it..

  89. Rashad on March 31, 2011 at 22:15

    I’m a little over a week into this and from my understanding you’re supposed to leave the english subs off.

  90. Lymia on April 11, 2011 at 20:57

    What… did you just call Paul?

  91. Zamir on June 16, 2011 at 20:28

    Guys, I was wondering whether there are any benefits when, for instance, I’m listening to radio while working or whatsoever, not actually concentrating on the listening, another words radio is a background. In this case I can work during the whole and listen to target language. But isn’t it useless?

    • Ryan on June 16, 2011 at 21:31

      That’s one of the most important things!!! I can’t stress how important it is to have something, anything playing in the background all day in Japanese. It is really helping my comprehension.

      The point is to create an environment where your brain must swim in Japanese.

      I don’t think anyone will achieve fluency without leaving the Japanese on in the background most of the time.

      • Zamir on June 16, 2011 at 21:44

        So if I understand correctly, I should surround myself with (say) target language and no matter what I’m doing right now, right? In other words, I will be totally immersed which is the key, right?

        • Ryan on June 16, 2011 at 21:50

          Yes, you got it Zamir… folow me on Twitter… twitter.com/#!/digitlhand

          and I’ll follow you. Let’s keep each other motivated

          • Zamir on June 16, 2011 at 22:01

            Ok, I follow you. My twitter is @zamirargashokov
            But I’m not learing Japanese. However, our aims is the same. To be fluent in some langauge. Let’s be in touch.
            I started constant radio listening yesterday’s morning. And I think I already god about 15-20 hours of it. And I believe it’s just the beginning.
            Thank you all guys, (the author, all people who commented on the article and also Ryan) you have inspired me.

            • Ryan on June 16, 2011 at 22:02

              What language are you learning Zamir… I have years of experience in learning other languages. I could definitely direct you to some important resources.

              • Zamir on June 16, 2011 at 22:08

                You might be surpised, but I’m learning english. It’s not very popular in Russia, therefore I still don’t know the language, but I really need this, and moreover I WANT this. Any help will be totally apeciated.

                • Ryan on June 16, 2011 at 22:16

                  Nice, I know a little Russian myself. Awesome langugage! For starters I can direct you to a thread which describes some English podcast worth listening to…

                  bit.ly/izj3LP

                • Ryan on June 16, 2011 at 22:17

                  This site is has a bunch of good stuff too:

                  uz-translations.net/

                  • Zamir on June 16, 2011 at 22:19

                    Thanks very much. I’ll try that.

  92. Zamir on June 16, 2011 at 22:29

    Guys, and one more thing. Someone here (I don’t remember who exactly) said: yes, listening is really important, but you also learn new words.
    What is the most usefull and fun way to do that? Let’s say it’s any target language, not exactly japanese (in my case it’s english, but who matters? the idea should be common for any langauage, I think)

    • Jason on August 15, 2011 at 03:33

      Read comic books (spider-Man, batman, superman), read novels, read magazines, watch TV shows, movies….

  93. [...] ■Listen Before You Understand [...]

  94. [...] is a language acquisition method used by AJATT and Spanish-Only I find to be very intriguing. What they do first is immerse themselves in the [...]

  95. Hola Amigos! | spanishforenglish on October 10, 2011 at 07:03

    [...] to the language as much as you can. Some modern methods make the students listen to the target language for 800 hours! before even being allowed to say a word. Recent research shows that just by passive listening [...]

  96. jwkelley on November 17, 2011 at 15:13

    I would say listening in better then not listening but comprehensible listening blows just listening out of the water any day. 

  97. Project Learn Mandarin on December 15, 2011 at 22:40

    I listen to songs and although I don’t understand, I eventually know the “words”, although not the meaning. Eventually, when it comes to SRS rep time, if I come across the word, I memorize it instantly. 

  98. Catherine on December 26, 2011 at 09:28

    Wait so, does it matter where you start with learning japanese? O.o

  99. [...] I’ve found that there’s a certain amount of sense in what Khatzumoto says in his post Why You Should Keep Listening Even If You Don’t Understand, as any and all listening to your target language primes your brain for better comprehension and [...]

  100. andrea on January 25, 2012 at 16:26

    If u wanna get 1000+ hours of listening without getting bored just watch the whole series of ONE-PIECE 500+ episodes..!! 

    • Cathryn Mataga on February 26, 2012 at 18:11

      Hey I’ve been working on those One Piece episodes myself, though I kind of slacked off a little on this lately.    There are 495 of them.    I do believe in the advice of this website and that is to not use any English subtitles and I’ve been watching only the raws since January of 2008.  If I don’t have raws I use electrical tape over the subtitles.

  101. [...] least at the beginning, it’s more physical than intellectual. It’s almost like training muscles. Like a martial [...]

  102. [...] thing with Japanese since July now.  (I’ve mentioned it before – see this article for some more background.)  My usual day involves about 3 hours of J-pop on my iPod, along with a [...]

  103. [...] yet. This is something that khatzumoto of AJATT is a great believer in, and he explains it here about why listening even though you don’t understand is OK and beneficial. I’m still [...]

  104. Insiya on January 30, 2013 at 09:42

    Does anyone know where I can watch Spirited Away in Japanese dub, no subs?

  105. Language Plan | XK Red 27 Technique on April 8, 2013 at 02:56

    [...] and more references to Stephen Krashen‘s input hypothesis (for example, here and here and here) by people who seem to speak multiple languages. In addition, I work with quite a few bilingual [...]

  106. Daniel Poole on June 8, 2013 at 13:53

    I think a balance of extensive and intensive (and comprehensible) input is the most important thing you can do for your language study. I think it is important to spend at least half of your input time listening, and relistening, to ‘comprehensible’ material, Krashen +1 style, looking up new words as you go. Extensive listening, or listening to a range of material that is kind of above your level, is indispensable for getting used to the rhythm of the language. In any language, lack of rhythm will make you sound seriously off. I’m studying Chinese, and the benefit of extensive listening, even when you don’t understand, is two-fold – you also get a good grounding of tones and how they fit together. You will naturally start to use native-like tone variations in different combinations etc, and will be way more accurate in general.

    Great article! I’ve got to think of writing my own article about this over on my own blog, I feel I have quite a bit to add!

  107. Kayla on June 9, 2013 at 05:45

    I agree with you Daniel, but I think passive listening (even if you’re not paying attention) is better than nothing if you don’t have much time.
    What’s exhilarating is listening to a song you liked but didn’t understand 3 years ago and realizing you can now understand it perfectly.
    It’s also important to diversify one’s listening habits.

  108. Jessie Rose on August 9, 2013 at 15:18

    Ha! I was listening to one of my TESOL teachers talk about this and was like, “Oh, that’s why I can speak more Japanese than my friends who are taking a class.” I learned more spoken Japanese from watching subtitled anime/toku than spoken French from a year’s worth of classes. Go figure.

    (In case you’re wondering, I started investing in movies with French language tracks and listening to French pop artists and am on my way to being able to converse at the level I can read, which, admittedly, is up there [I can read academic abstracts and understand about half of the papers they're attached to], so my French teacher did something right in the three years I was in her class.)

  109. Making some progress | Wannabe polyglot. on August 18, 2013 at 04:29

    […] got the idea to do this from Khatzumoto’s blog here. I did this last time round with German(which I think successfully as I picked it up quickly). Now […]

  110. […] ■Listen Before You Understand […]

  111. […] Check out his post: Why You Should Keep Listening Even If You Don’t Understand […]

  112. […] keep listening until you understand! How is this possible? Khatzumoto explains himself: “One of the more apparently “controversial” pieces of advice I’ve offered […]

  113. […] Khatzumoto, blogger for Alljapaneseallthetime believes you should keep listening even if you don’t understand. Khatzumoto advocates listening […]

  114. […] in regards to business terms) proverbially shot through the roof. Finally, I am an advocate of total immersion language learning, and so even if you feel you may not be ready at this point in time – well that’s nothing that […]

  115. […] Listen Before You Understand […]

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