How to use Free Software to learn Japanese, and more.

This page lists articles in chronological order. You may want to read Table of Contents instead.

Is music a good way to learn Japanese?

March 30, 2023 — Tatsumoto

I do my Anki reps and sometimes watch vbijin, but I find myself listening to Japanese music more than anything. I get that song lyrics aren't representative of real sentences, but surely there's still things of worth in there. I like Tatsuro Yamashita, Jody is a banger.

I have touched on this topic in several places of the guide, but I'm going to reiterate everything here since it's easier to read one Q&A than the entire guide.


Is it OK to sentence mine during free-flow immersion instead of intensive-immersion?

March 27, 2023 — Tatsumoto

The difference between free-flow and intensive immersion is that free-flow is more passive and relaxed, while intensive immersion involves actively looking things up and making cards. During intensive immersion, it is expected that you make flashcards as you are already putting in the effort to look up words.

However, sentencing mining during free-flow immersion instead of intensive immersion is a viable option. If that is the method that works best for you, then go for it. But you'll have to rearrange the process of making your flashcards. When watching a movie, for example, you usually pause to look up an unknown word and then make a targeted sentence card with a chosen dictionary definition. But since free-flow immersion doesn't involve looking up words, when you come across a new word, you just make a card with the sentence. In MPV with mpvacious you can press one button to make a card. The key is not to interrupt the flow. Then, you would dedicate a period of time to go through the new flashcards and add dictionary definitions, mark the target words, and include other relevant information.

If making cards during free-flow immersion is more effective for you, there is no reason not to do it. I do it myself when I feel like it.

Tags: faq

Are there potential downsides of using audio-only content like podcasts as the main source of free-flow immersion?

March 24, 2023 — Tatsumoto

There's really no need to confine yourself to audio-only content, such as podcasts, for free-flow immersion, as audio-visual content like movies and TV shows will be far more effective.

If you primarily learn through audio and visual materials, you will develop strong listening skills. This proficiency will be of great value in the long term. If you acquire your target language through listening before starting to read, the way your brain will process the language will be more in line with that of native speakers. However, native speakers don't limit themselves to listening alone. By excluding visual media you are lowering your comprehension for no reason at all.

Audio-visual content gives you all the benefits of audio-only content, and your comprehension will be much higher thanks to the visual cues. On the other hand, podcasts can be difficult to understand, particularly for beginner learners. They lack transcripts, visual context and anything else that could help you understand what is being said. In my experience, podcasts are virtually indistinguishable from white noise until you reach a solid intermediate level. So, there are huge downsides to relying solely on audio-only content for free-flow immersion, as it will drastically slow down vocabulary acquisition. I would recommend audio-visual content instead.

I deem audio-only free-flow immersion to be comparable to passive immersion. It is unlikely that during listening one can maintain the same level of focus and attention as when watching. While it is acceptable to use podcasts for passive immersion, as long as you understand the language used, it is advisable to choose a medium that you have previously watched actively.

The rate of acquisition also depends on what you do during intensive immersion. If during intensive immersion you read novels, comic books, or watch movies and TV shows, while looking up words and mining sentences, then you will be learning vocabulary faster, and the downsides of using audio-only content during free-flow immersion will be less significant.

Tags: faq

Setting up GoldenDict

March 22, 2023 — Tatsumoto

GoldenDict is a libre dictionary application for GNU/Linux and other OSes. Like Qolibri, it lets you search multiple dictionaries at the same time so for every word you look up you immediately get a number of definitions. GoldenDict is a great tool for language learners, and it becomes especially helpful when one switches from bilingual dictionaries to monolingual dictionaries. It can aid during the monolingual transition thanks to the ability to look up many words at once in separate tabs, simplifying recursive look-ups.


Passive immersion

March 17, 2023 — Tatsumoto

When we talk about immersion, we usually divide it into active and passive. Active immersion requires full attention to the content and can be practiced through reading and watching content in the target language. Passive immersion means listening to the language while engaging in other activities. When listening passively you're not fully focused on the content, instead you're doing something else while having the speech in your target language play in the background.


Active immersion

March 17, 2023 — Tatsumoto

Active immersion is a crucial part of language learning and requires full attention to the content you are consuming. In this article, we will look in more detail at what active immersion is and how to practice it. We will also discuss the different types of active immersion, and how to deal with the ambiguity that can arise when immersing.


Reading books

March 09, 2023 — Tatsumoto

Reading a book is a simple process. You don't need much technology to read a book. In contrast, when watching a movie, you need software that can create Anki cards from the subtitles. Or, when reading manga, you need an OCR tool to extract text from the images. But to read a book, all you may need is a dictionary on hand to look up unfamiliar words. And a program that can open and display books, of course. If you have a paper book, you don't even need a computer. Nevertheless, there are some tips I'd like to discuss here.

In this article, we'll discuss a few tips and tricks to help make reading books in Japanese easier and more enjoyable.


Luke Smith says that you will not learn a language by consuming media. Doesn't it contradict the AJATT theory?

February 27, 2023 — Tatsumoto

There's this lazy idea that somehow if you passively sit around and watch people using a language this will somehow endow you with the ability to flexibly produce a language in the same way you see others using it. People want to believe it because they want to be able to watch TV or play a cell phone game like Duolingo or valueless Rosetta Stone-like software and somehow gain competence in a language.

It's not going to happen ever. Learning to play a boring computer game using words from a different language is not the same as learning to speak the language.

You might say of "just listening to speech" that "that's what children do," but that's not true at all. Children try pretty hard to participate and understand conversation. They sometimes have a desperate personal need to understand each passing sentence and hear the language they are trying to learn for hours a day for years. You watching some forgettable movie in the background as you play with your phone don't.

Notes on Learning Languages - Luke Smith

We talk about input and immersion a lot on this site. But the most important point to take away is that the input should be at least somewhat comprehensible and active attempts should be constantly made to make the unknown bits more comprehensible. If you just sit around watching something that you don't understand at all, don't expect to gain any competence in the language.


When reviewing cards, if I could only remember a word due to the surrounding context, how should I grade the card?

February 24, 2023 — Tatsumoto

This means that you've formed a context-dependent memory. Context-dependent memories can form no matter what card template you're using, including word cards, since no context is a type of context in itself. If you find that you can't remember a particular word on an Anki card, and you are only able to understand it due to the context of the sentence, it implies that the card is not meeting its intended purpose of helping you recognize and comprehend the word.

Unfortunately, there is no quick fix for context-dependent memories. It takes time and exposure to the word in various contexts to fully acquire it. If the card isn't fulfilling its intended purpose, failing it or grading it good will not make any difference. After you've successfully identified that the card is not helping you, the best course of action is to modify the card by either swapping the sentence with another one or converting it to a word card when applicable. An argument against this would be the time it takes to edit the card, but it's probably not that difficult and time-consuming these days since with cabl you have example sentences at your fingertips.

The final decision is up to you. Personally, I prefer not to fail the card since relearning it won't correct the flawed memory. Instead, I do one or the combination of the following:

  • Swap the card with a different card with the same target word.
  • Introduce a second card with the same target word (there's a caveat though).
  • Edit the card and swap the sentence.
  • Do nothing, just proceed with my reviews and hope to eventually learn the word properly through immersion.

If you believe that failing the card will be beneficial in some way, then there is fundamentally nothing wrong with that. However, should you continue to fail it, the card will eventually become a leech. If Anki suspends the card, you need to create a new one with the same target word but a different sentence.

Tags: faq

Should I watch with Japanese subtitles while going through the kanji phase?

February 16, 2023 — Tatsumoto

It is not a bad idea to watch with Japanese subtitles while progressing through the kanji phase (JP1K or isolated kanji). Doing so can improve motivation and further increase your learning rate as it provides opportunities to practice the knowledge gained from studying kanji in a different context than SRS cards.

However, I think one must be careful when watching with Japanese subtitles as a beginner. It should not constitute the majority of your immersion, as the focus should be on building listening skills. Watching with subtitles is more akin to reading than listening, and premature reading negatively affects one's ability to perceive sounds and understand spoken language. So you have to be really moderate about it, maybe keep it to less than one third of all your active immersion.

Subtitles can be of help no matter what stage in the process of learning Japanese you are at, but it is also important to spend a lot of time without them. Watching with subtitles is acceptable as long as you regularly train your listening ability as well.

Tags: faq