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

Passive listening

April 13, 2021 — 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 in idle 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.

We do passive immersion during times in a day when we can't actively engage with the language, such as when cooking, cleaning or commuting. Although your attention is divided during passive immersion, because you're left with no other choice, it is still better compared to no immersion at all.

As noted in one of the previous articles, there are countless opportunities to do passive listening throughout the day. Make passive listening a habit. Every moment of your life has to be spent interacting with Japanese.

Passive listening is one of the key components of the AJATT method, so it is important to make it as convenient as possible. If preparing immersion content is tedious, you are not going to do it.

Role of passive listening

In the beginning passive immersion doesn't contribute much to comprehension gains, instead it helps you start distinguishing sounds and phonemes of your target language. Focus your attention on hearing the sounds. Maybe at first you won't even be able to hear where one word ends and another one starts, but as you progress expect passive listening to boost your phonetic awareness and eventually start contributing to your comprehension. Passive immersion doesn't do much without active immersion. You shouldn't neglect either of them.

Rules of passive immersion

Passive immersion can lead to very little or no language gains if done wrong. Stick to the following whenever you engage in passive immersion.

  • Re-listen. Focus on listening passively to the content you've already engaged with actively and comprehended via dictionary lookups, attention to scenery and other means of making input more comprehensible. Re-listening creates repetition, and repetition is good for the brain. If you listen to something you haven't previously watched and comprehended, it is essentially going to be white noise, and it won't help you much.
  • Rotate immersion content. Repetition becomes boring if done too many times, and boredom impedes learning. It's important to rotate immersion, in other words regularly add new content and remove old content from your playlist.

In this article you'll find out how to automatically extract audio from what you've watched and how to rotate immersion content.

Choosing content

The best source of passive immersion is audio from TV shows you've already watched. Another option is to listen to an audiobook of a novel you've previously read. These two options help the most because you already know the story.

Beginners are not recommended listening to podcasts and radio shows. It is difficult to make such content comprehensible because it lacks transcriptions and visual context. Though if you're outside, and you have nothing else to listen to, you must choose something.

If you're an advanced learner, it is okay to use purely audio-based material such as podcasts as one of the primary sources of both passive and active immersion.

Music is the worst content for passive immersion. It contains unnatural speech, and it is difficult to hear the lyrics. We tend to mishear lyrics even when we listen to songs in our native language.


First, to start listening you have to install a music player. mpd is a music player with a server-client architecture, it runs in the background as a daemon, and you need a separate client application to connect to it. The most widely used mpd client is ncmpcpp, but there are many alternatives listed on Arch Wiki, such as Cantata or GMPC.

After you've installed mpd, create the config and playlists directories:

$ mkdir -p ~/.config/mpd/playlists

To configure mpd, edit ~/.config/mpd/mpd.conf. Make sure to specify your music_directory correctly.

Example configuration file

mpd must run in the background to be able to play music. To enable autostart, add mpd & (mind the trailing &) to your ~/.xprofile or ~/.xinitrc. Alternatively, use autostart settings of your DE/WM.


ncmpcpp is a ncurses-based MPD client. It can help you manage your audio files and playlists, start and stop playback, and everything else you'd expect from an audio player.

ncmpcpp reads user's settings from the ~/.ncmpcpp/config file. When configuring ncmpcpp make sure that mpd_music_dir points to the same directory as specified in music_directory in mpd.conf.

Example configuration file

Key bindings are configured in ~/.config/ncmpcpp/bindings.

Example bindings file

Condensing audio

The quantity of immersion is the greatest predictor of how quick you're going to be making language gains. One of the ways of increasing quantity of immersion is making it more language-dense. This is done by condensing the material you use for passive immersion.

Language density is the amount of language per unit of time. If we look at subtitle files for episodes of anime, one episode may contain 450 lines of dialogue, while another may only contain 250 lines of dialogue. The two episodes differ greatly in language density, but if you remove the spaces where no one is talking, the densities will be equal.

To increase immersion density of a given episode of a TV show, we need to extract all fragments where something was being said and combine them into a single file. As a result we get audio for the original show with all the blank spaces taken out. In practice, for a typical episode of anime the corresponding condensed audio file is usually around 50% shorter, which means that you're getting twice as much immersion when you listen to condensed audio compared to the original video file.

Condensing audio enables you to spend all available time listening to your target language while passively immersing.


To create, store and play condensed audio files we're going to use impd, a small tool that simplifies passive listening down to a few commands. You can give it a folder with the anime and dramas you've recently watched, and it's going to make condensed audio for all the episodes stored there, automatically add them to your mpd music directory and start playing.

To get impd, install the impd-git AUR package or follow the installation steps on GitHub.

$ trizen -S impd-git # or yay

To complete the installation, create a config file to tell impd where to search for the video files.

$ mkdir ~/.config/immersionpod
$ echo 'video_dir=/mnt/archive/video/anime' > ~/.config/immersionpod/config

impd operates by rotating immersion material. To rotate your immersion, call impd rotate.

Rotation consists of two steps:

  1. impd searches for recently added files in your video directory, extracts audio and condenses it if possible. The resulting audio is saved to the mpd music directory. By default, impd considers recent all videos that were downloaded or modified less than 10 days ago. impd doesn't touch old videos by default, so it won't pick up anime and dramas that you downloaded a long time ago.
  2. Old immersion material gets archived, i.e., moved to the archive folder inside your mpd music directory. By default impd considers old audio files that were added to immersion pod more than 10 days ago.

If you're rewatching an older TV-show or if the video file is stored outside the configured video_dir folder, you can add individual files to immersion pod by calling impd add. This command ignores modification dates of the video files.

When you're not home

Synchronize your immersionpod folder to your mobile device. There are many programs for file synchronization.

When you're out, use a compatible music player of your choice to continue immersing.

AntennaPod, a podcast player, can be used to play condensed audio instead of a conventional music player. After you synchronize your immersionpod directory, open AntennaPod, press "Add podcast" > "Add local folder" and select path to immersionpod/current.

Condensing audiobooks

Audiobooks contain a lot of silence which lowers density of immersion. After you've read a book, you might want to condense it to listen to it later, but because audiobooks don't have subtitles, tools like impd won't help. Fortunately, Audacity has a function to truncate silence.

Select the entire clip by pressing Ctrl+A, then press Effect > Truncate silence. After you adjust the settings, press OK.

Truncate silence

Truncate silence.


I've got an immersion tip for constant passive listening involving podcasts.

  1. Take an Android device.
  2. Install AntennaPod or a similar podcast player.
  3. Import this podcasts.opml file (direct download).
  4. Start playing and just leave the device in the corner of your room.

You can use this tip if you already understand Japanese to an extent. Listening to something you don't understand is not good for immersion. It's a very easy way to immerse, but it doesn't beat condensed audio.

I also tried this method with radio, specifically RadioDroid, though the results weren't as good because radio is often more about music than talking.

Tags: guide