How To Use Focused Immersion To Learn Japanese

One of the oldest and best techniques for learning Japanese is through the use of immersion. But just because you’re completely surrounded by Japanese doesn’t mean that you have to put up with not understanding it. That’s where Focused Immersion (FI) comes into play.

Today I’m going to explain exactly what FI is, how it is different from Regular Immersion (RI), and finally, how to use Focused Immersion to learn Japanese.

First let’s start off with a small section on RI so that we’re all on the same page, and then let’s move on to FI.

What Is Regular Immersion?

Basically speaking, Regular Immersion is when you surround yourself completely with a second language (Japanese in this case) in both an audio and visual format.

The big takeaway with this form of immersion is that, by virtue of its very nature, most of it is completely incomprehensible!

I mean, if you’re just starting out, or even at an intermediate level, there are going to be tens of thousands of words that you hear, see, and encounter that you simply don’t know… yet.

This is both a good thing and a bad thing. Let me explain.

It’s good in the sense that you get massive expose to the language in a very natural way. This will help you to pick up on things like learning like the sounds of Japanese, the basic rhythm and pitch, and a lot of things like fillers and common Japanese words: 「かわいい、すごい、やばい… etc.」.

But it’s bad because there are often feelings of confusion, lack of progress, and frustration. It’s hard to study Japanese this way since the language tends to go by rather quickly, and if you’ve never heard a word before, you’re likely to miss it.

When it comes to reading Japanese, it can be even worse as you see hundreds and hundreds of kanji whose meanings you don’t know. Compound that with the fact that you won’t know the readings either, which prevents you from looking them up easily, and you can see why most people don’t like this technique.

Many people have stated that they got the most benefit from using immersion once they were already fluent with the core Japanese words that get used most often (about 5,000ish) and could learn from immersion in an i+1 type of way from that solid base of information.

So how can you take advantage of using immersion when you’re still a beginner/intermediate?

Enter Focused Immersion.

What Is Focused Immersion?

FI takes the massive exposure that RI grants you, but it does so in a very comprehensible manner do to the selection of materials.

Simply put, you immerse yourself in the same small selection of audio and reading materials until you’ve gotten a solid grasp on them, and then you move on to new stuff or simple expand from where you’re at.

So if you were going through a book that taught Japanese and had an audio accompaniment, you would focus primarily on reading that material over and over again, and listening to that particular audio all day long.

What this means is that you would quickly learn the meanings, readings, and sounds of that limited dialog and vocabulary before moving on to the next thing.

This is a process that might take a little longer when you are brand new, but once you’ve gotten the hang of it you should actually be able to move through a session of FI at a pretty decent pace.

This is exactly the type of process that I recommend people do when they want to learn Japanese from anime.

From my own experience with using it, and from listening to other who have done similar things, it is incredibly effective.

And I mean, it makes a lot of sense doesn’t it?

Which will help you to learn Japanese faster:

  1. Listening to 10,000 different words once.
  2. Listening to 1,000 words ten times each.

I think that while you are still relatively new to the Japanese language, say the first year or two of study, then this is a phenomenal way to go.

Now, I’m not completely excluding RI from your studies. I think that there are two ways that you can take on RI depending on how you want to do it. Let’s talk about that next.

How Can You Incorporate Both RI and FI?

One of the main problems with FI is that, after listening to the same thing 10, 20, or even 30 times it runs the risk of becoming boring.

That’s a red flag!

You always want to avoid things like boredom and stress when studying Japanese as these states of mind have been repeated shown to hinder the learning process.

So the way I see it, you’ve got two options to avoid this kind of burnout.

The first one is to do a mix of both FI and RI at the same time. I would say 50% of the time you use the FI, where you go over the same words and phrases, both reading and listening, for half of the time that you devote to Japanese.

Then the other 50% of the time can be used to listen to completely new and random things, or be used to read a new Japanese manga or book that you picked up.

This is a pretty cool way to go about it since you can have both an intensive mode of learning Japanese, and also an extensive mode as well.

This is actually the way that I used most often myself, and I feel that it satisfies most people’s desires.

The other way that you can mix up FI is to have a larger rotation of materials. This can be applied to anything really, books, online courses, learning through anime, etc. But let me use anime as the example for illustration purposes.

Say you’ve got an episode of Dragon Ball that you’re using in a FI way. You listen to the same episode for several hours each day and you practice flash cards of the dialog for at least 30 minutes.

To avoid becoming board with this one episode, switch to a completely different one, or even a different anime, every day or even every week.

But don’t kill the old ones just yet! You don’t want to give them up until you’ve mastered about 80% or more of the material.

What you can do is take a broader approach to it and say “Anime-1 will be all I do in week-1 of the month, and then Anime-2 the second week, Anime-3 the third” and so on for the entire month.

This ought to allow you to spend time with new and different material so as to keep things fresh, but also come back after a while to the stuff you visited before in order to continue learning and mastering it.

Depending on how many anime shows you choose, and how long it takes to complete a circuit and return to the first one, this may actually be a superior way to learn.

It will allow you to focus intensely on a small selection of Japanese words and phrases, and then set them aside for several weeks (allowing your brain to solidify it) and then revisit it later to see what all stuck, and what needs more reviewing.

The only downside to this method is the amount of work it takes to get the different episodes and create flash cards for the dialog, but besides that it’s a solid approach that you can utilize to your advantage.

When Do You Return To Regular Immersion?

Like I said, Regular Immersion is a good thing! But at first you won’t understand, and therefore learn very little.

However, after using Focused Immersion for a while, and gotten your database of Japanese buffed up, you can then return to the randomness that is RI and this next time around you will more than likely understand 50% or more of what you encounter.

Once you are at the 80% comprehension rate or higher, you can generally learn new words and phrases from nothing but the context that they are used in.

This is really when people’s vocabulary and comprehension skyrocket since you can spend all your time enjoying native materials that are created for entertainment, and therefore acquire new words that you come into contact with, rather than spend the majority of your time with the language by studying it.

You can certainly use the normal immersion method if you would prefer to, but if you haven’t yet, then I would highly encourage you to give this alternate a try.

Test out Focused Immersion for yourself for a month or two and see how much progress you can make using the general principles that I’ve outlined above.

Then come back here and let me know how it went!

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