There are many different things you can do to help with learning Japanese that really aren’t all that difficult and require little to no effort on your part. Maybe you’ve heard of some of them. Maybe you’re even doing some of them already but you just don’t know how they’re helping you. Of course active learning is always beneficial to your studies, but doing nothing but active study can get boring and monotonous after a while. That being said, let’s learn more about all the wonderful things passive (i.e. not much effort required) learning can do for you.

What is Passive Learning

When it comes to Japanese, passive learning (or at least the kind I’ll be talking about here) most often comes from listening to and consuming Japanese audio-visual media. The passive bit is that you’re not actively doing anything other than just listening to the Japanese language. You’re not taking any notes, you’re not stopping the video/audio/game to review what you heard or anything – you’re just listening to it and taking in the language as it is.

This can be done both with and without English subtitles, depending on your current level of Japanese ability, but I’d say that the more Japanese you already know, the more you’ll get out of passive learning in this sense. It’s all about consuming Japanese media and not worrying over vocabulary or anything yucky like that. Sounds great, doesn’t it?

For more about passive learning (and Japanese), you can check out this article and this article from TIME, as well as How Many Hours You Should Study Japanese A Day.

How Passive Learning Helps the Beginner

But how can passive learning benefit you if you don’t know any Japanese at all? Even before you’ve started learning the Japanese language, there are lots of easy things you can do to help you for the future. Just hearing Japanese being used gets you more comfortable with the language. Even if you don’t know what they’re saying, hearing the language over and over causes it to become less strange to you. The more you hear it, the less foreign sounding it is to your ears.

Maybe you’ll hear someone out in public and you’ll be able to realize they’re speaking Japanese (even though you might not be sure exactly what they’re saying). It might not seem like that big of a deal, but it’s definitely one of the first steps in learning the language. You just have to get comfortable with how it sounds. You gotta get used to it.

One of the biggest advantages to listening to lots of Japanese before you actually learn how to speak it is getting nice and familiar with how Japanese should sound. You get a much better handle for pronunciation, accent, and tone than if you just went into it without any prior listening experience. Whether you realize it or not, your brain is subconsciously paying attention to how Japanese sounds. This makes it much easier for you to reproduce these sounds correctly when the time comes. Well, usually at least.

This really helps out, especially by keeping you from getting into any bad pronunciation habits. If you already know how it should sound, you’ll be much less likely to get used to pronouncing things incorrectly or ingraining your personal Japanese with a bad accent because you and your brain already know what a proper accent should sound like. This is a good thing.

Before I started actually learning Japanese at college, I listened to a lot of movies, anime, and music, and I’m very confident that all this passive listening really helped me out a lot with my pronunciation and accent once I started to learn and speak the language. It might not work for everyone like this, but it sure helped me.

The Tools of Passive Learning

So what’s the best way to do this passive learning? What are the best materials to make use of? Well there are tons. We have anime, dramas, movies, music, podcasts, games, and even audio books. Do you have a favorite Japanese show or movie? Watch it in Japanese with the subtitles turned off.

You’ll still be able to follow along with it since you know the story already, and your brain might even start to pick up on some common words and phrases just by watching and listening. Or, you might learn some words you heard in the show at a later date and you’ll remember when you heard them in the show which will help you to retain that information.

This also goes for video games that have a Japanese audio option. If it has that option, you should always make good use of it. It might not be as effective as shows and movies since you’ll still have to read along with that pesky English dialogue, (unless of course you can understand without it, in which case, well done) but listening to the Japanese audio is way better than listening to the English audio. Some Japanese is always better than none at all, I say.

But what about when you’re on the go? Maybe you don’t have time to sit down and play a game or watch a show. Maybe you’re in your car, on the subway, or going for a run or a bike ride. This is the perfect opportunity to make use of audio only media like podcasts, music, and audio books. For those interested, Koichi did a post about Japanese podcasts and how to make good use of them which you can check out here.

Listening to music is also good for pronunciation if you find yourself singing along with the words, even if you don’t know what they mean. Of course, it also helps out a lot if you can make out the words they’re singing. Listening to Fear, and Loathing in Las Vegas, for example, isn’t going to help you out much.

Audio books are another option I think most people forget about. Do you love Harry Potter? Get it on audio book. In Japanese. Even if you don’t know much Japanese, you’ll still be able to pick out the words you do know like Hogwarts, Dumbledore, and Voldemort. Plus you’ll be hearing them like how they’d be said in Japanese which also helps with your pronunciation, especially loan words and other things written in katakana.

Believe me, it’s more useful than you’d think. Listen to bits and pieces on your daily commute. It’ll be much more useful than top 40 tunes, I assure you. Plus it’s much less stressful than trying to follow along with some audio language lesson while you’re dealing with rush hour traffic or something. With these materials you just sit back and listen.

Best When Paired With Active Learning

Unfortunately, passive learning alone won’t get you very far. The only times I’d really recommend passive learning by itself is if you’re a complete beginner, or starting to near that elusive master level. When you’re a complete beginner, passive learning helps a lot with getting comfortable with the sounds of the language and hearing proper pronunciation and accent like I mentioned above. Then once you’re comfortable with how the language sounds, you can actually start to learn and pronounce it with confidence.

And then when you’re nearing master level, you can get away with passive learning because you already know so much of the language already. Most of the new stuff you’re just picking up in your head and making new associations that way. Your brain is automatically doing most of the work for you. Maybe every once in a while you’ll hear a new word that you need to write down and look up later, but most of the time you’ll probably be picking up things through context and intuition.

It’s really during the middle part (and it’s a very big middle, by the way) that you’ll be best off pairing your passive learning with some good old fashioned active learning. This is also the period of learning that requires the most work on your part. Some of the best ways to do this are to pick out one of your favorite shows, like a drama or an anime, and then make an Anki flashcard deck (or find one somebody else made) with all the vocabulary from the show that you want to learn or focus on.

Once you have these cards, you can actively study them, and break up your active studies by passively watching the show and hearing your hard work pay off through the words and phrases you recognize. This also reinforces your learning experience, and makes the words and phrases easier to remember since they’re linked with the show in your brain, with both the audio and the visual aspects. For more information on this, you can check out the post by Koichi that explains how to study with Japanese dramas.

Results May Vary

Okay, you got me. So you really can’t learn Japanese without doing anything, but it is true that there are a handful of easy things that can be done with little to no extra effort that are certainly helpful. Most of them help more when you include some active learning along with them, but it’s always nice to break up your active studies with some passive ones (passive ones are a lot less stressful and more fun anyway).

There’s lots of conversation online in forums and such about the potential benefits and the pros and cons of the passive approach to learning languages like this, but I think all would agree that it certainly doesn’t hurt, and some people will get more out of it than others.

One thing that is true, though, is that the more hours you put into Japanese, the more you’ll get out of it. Even if you aren’t actively studying, and you feel bad about slacking on your studies because of how much anime you’re watching, don’t beat yourself up too much. Watching anime is helping your Japanese a lot more than doing something that doesn’t involve Japanese at all (like basket weaving).

But don’t let passive learning become all that you do either. It’s nice to break up your active studies with passive Japanese exposure, but don’t let it become your only means of study. You don’t want to get yourself into a slump. If you’re at the intermediate level and feel like you’re getting into a slump or losing motivation, check out my other post on How To Conquer the Intermediate Plateau of Japanese. Maybe it can help you out.

I don’t believe that passive learning alone will learn you a language, but like I said, it’s a great way to break up chunks of active study, it’s easy to do, and it’s fun. Having fun while you learn is one of the most important things you can do. Plus, some Japanese is better than no Japanese at all. So get out there and watch an anime or something!

So tell me, what are your thoughts on passive learning and its relationship with active learning? Have you ever had any instances where you realized how much (or how little) passive learning was helping you with your Japanese studies? Share your story in the comments!

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  • ジョサイア

    This is the exact way I started learning Japanese!(Lot’s a anime dramas and jpop) xD
    I like listening to audio books wile reading them. 

    Although, I’m at that hill in Japanese where I feel like i’m learning very slowly…

  • ジョサイア

    I also always have an Anki deck on add cards whenever I watch a drama. =D

  • Balthazorous Rex

    I feel about 95% of people who are ”learning japanese” are passive-only learners. It hurts my boasting power when I tell people I learn Japanese because literally everyone is like ”oh you too, I know about five other people who do that too!”.

    Well, productivity-wise I guess it’s a good thing. One has to actually produce results before the boasting is effective. That’s pretty much productivity 101 anyway: don’t boast until you’ve reached your goal. :p

  • Angela at Box of Unicorns

     Whenever I’ve tried explaining this concept to somebody they always look at me like I’m insane. Not surprisingly, those are the same people who say “kuh-nitch-ih-way” for “konnichiwa” and “yo Hhhhabla uh-SPAN-yul!” etc etc. If you don’t know what it’s meant to sound like, you’re going to make an idiot of yourself. That’s like me trying to build a cat out of a bunch of organs and fur, and having never even seen a cat. You have to absorb a ton of your target language. And besides, it’s a lot more fun that way.

    Next time one of the unwashed masses says I’m crazypants for suggesting they try “absorbing” a bit through passive learning before-hand, I’ll link them here. *Bookmarking*

  • testyal1

    Dunburudō! Harī Pottā! Hāmaionī Gureinjā! Ron Wīzurī!

  • Czime Litwińczuk

    I would like to say that the passive learning is actually inevitable. Obviously if people are moronic and do not do anything besides watching anime and changing their fB language status, then they won’t get any far, HOWEVER… I’ve been attending to JLPT preparation course with some people, and what happened was that there was this guy, who could write in Japanese and undesrtood the written language, however he never had any contact with real or media Japanese! When he read hiragana, we weren’t able to get what he was sayin’!
    I think that I personaly gained loads of experience from watching anime and drama even with subtitles! After 2 years of… really passive learning (lack of resources :C) I found out that I catch JLPT lisening just as if it was in my mothertounge! It DOES give results… still if you believe that by simply watching anime you will become a native, then sorry… and it really takes a lot of time

  • Czime Litwińczuk

    But remember to give chance to some of passive ones!

    I was one too, altough the main reason why was that I got stuck and had no teacher >.>

  • ジョサイア

    That reminds me of Koichi’s video…Learning Japanese though anime in just 5 minutes a day.

  • ジョサイア

    I don’t have a teacher an i’m doing really good! C=

  • Patrick Austin

    I would definitely agree that watching a lot of anime in Japanese has helped me with pronunciation, and I even learned a handful of words and phrases too. In my studies, I plan to use podcasts/shows/music to further help with my pronunciation/tone skills, and also to help with understanding Japanese when spoken in a “natural” sort of way (as opposed to the isolated sentence in a textbook listening activity which you know already). I expect that this approach will be more helpful when I advance from beginner to intermediate (I’m on my way!), since I will be able to understand and pick out more from what I hear, but until then, I think that simply hearing the language regardless of one’s level of understanding is beneficial.

  • Kin’iro Kitsune

    I learned the most part of my japanese knowledge from passive learning, so I agreed with your opinion. Good post

  • ZXNova

    It’s true Passive Learning is good, but most people (especially weeaboos, sorry) Only use passive learning and learn nothin. (Then boast as if they know everything.) Then there are those who only use Active Learning, get bored, and drop it. Which is unfortunete. Using them both together will keep your interest, and help keep you on track. At least, that’s how it is for me.

  • Anne

    Well I definitely agree. This advice goes for any language. As a teacher of English as a Foreign Language, I recommend this to my students all the time and the ones that follow through with this advice are the ones that zoom through my classes faster than the rest. As for my own progress, I first did this a few weeks ago when I discovered Seirei no Moribito and decided to watch it subbed not dubbed. Then re-watched it sans subs altogether. I must say I really enjoyed the experience, because even though I’m like a super-beginner, I already began to recognize the bits and pieces I knew. I also found myself repeating after them when I could retain a sentence… short ones of course. 

  • guyhey

    I talked with several Japanese people who knew 3 languages, one guy was working on his 4th, and I asked “How do you do that?” They all consistently said without hesitation “listen”.

    My question is “when should I turn off the subtitles?”

  • guyhey

     Good point. I’m booking marking this one too, now that you mention it. :)

  • guyhey

     I’m waiting for the point where I don’t feel like I’m learning Japanese very slowly. Does a fast point exist?

  • guyhey

    If you have a Droid phone the app JED is a jisho that has a feature that lets you flag and tag words for export to Anki. That’s what I’ve recently started doing.

     (I’m chatty today)

  • Dino Milačić

    Excellent post! Definitively a good way to do it. I’ve been studying through passive learning with periods of time where I’d also study actively. Now I’m somewhere at the intermediate plateau, after 2 years of self-study, and I’m only using SRS for JLPT2/1 vocab alongside passive learning and communicating with Japanese friends through email and mixi. So basically, passive learning helps a lot and I’d recommend it to anyone. :) 

  • ジョサイア

    Well I’ll put it this way…You will get to a point sometime when It seems like your not learning anything…

  • ジョサイア

    I don’t have a droid… D=
    I do use jisho all the time though!

  • guyhey


  • Chansoriya

    I’ve done it! I watched the movie “But we wanna build a School in Cambodia” without subs because I’m Cambodian it hit home in my interests. I’m only in my first year of learning Japanese, but I heard a lot of similar words and phrases. Thanks to basic grammar and body movements I figured things out. I was really surprised I knew so much!
    It really gets you going :D

  • blueshoe

    I’d say that the more Japanese you already know, the more you’ll get out of passive learning in this sense.” This x100. As you said, I think passive learning can help no matter what your level, but it becomes more and more useful as you progress in your (active) studies.

    Also worth noting that passive learning techniques can be turned into active learning. Listen to a song or podcast, watch a movies or TV show…and jot down a few words you don’t know. You can then look them up later. I’ve gone through Japanese songs or videos on YouTube, playing small pieces over again and again to try and pick out what someone is saying. It helps.

    My main frustration is that some resources can be pretty hard to find in Japanese. I have some of the Harry Potter books in 日本語, but finding audio versions is hard. If you DO happen to find them (for example on iTunes or Amazon), they tend to be very expensive.

  • betty

    Passive learning is a great thing! I’ve never been anything close to good in English until I started to watch movies and stuff. It’s also a motivation to learn more actively, beacause you see the results right away and  you see how useful the language is. (Not just boring grammar and useless vocab)

  • 古戸ヱリカ

     HariPota? That was that line of popular children’s books, Harry the Potato, yes?

  • David Hunt

    Immediately.  If you can get the Japanese subtitles, on the other hand… turn those puppies on.

  • guyhey

     Now that you mention it I had several different Japanese people tell me that I looked like Harry Potter. Also, they all seemed to assume that I liked Harry Potter. That’s fair though I assume they all like giant fighting robots.

  • John

    I felt like I was learning things the fastest in the beginning. I feel like it’s just gotten slower from there, lol.

  • John

    We had a redhead in our group that inevitably got called “Ron” wherever we went. It was hilarious.

  • John

    Awesome, thanks.

  • 古戸ヱリカ

     Do they also look like giant fighting robots? Because that would be awesome.

  • John

    Yeah, definitely.

  • Etwehitow

    you forgot to mention japanese intonation.

  • Keith Stillman

    Great post! I’m just starting to get past the intermediate level, translating short stories and stuff like that, and I found this post to really resonate with me. I’ve been listening to almost strictly Japanese music for the past year whenever I have free time and I have to say it’s helped a lot. However, I couldn’t agree more with “the more Japanese you know the more you’ll get out of it” part. The more work you put in the sooner you can enjoy watching, conversing and speaking! 

  • Sheridan

    I really got my yokuyou down with lots of listening both passive and active like long vowel words vs short vowel words

    I love my Japanese talk variety shows with ame talk, dokkiri shows , kaeuta shows , London hearts , honma dekka , shindootokyoudai and many many more

  • guyhey

     Can you share links to said shows? Or share how you watch them? I’m starving for Japanese TV shows to watch.

  • John

    That’s part of what I was trying to get at when I mentioned pronunciation, accent, and tone, but yeah, definitely intonation too.

  • John

    Thanks! Glad to hear your studies are going well. Keep it up!

  • John

    Totally, variety shows are the best. I’ve always enjoyed AKBingo because they play so many games and stuff, haha.

  • ジョサイア


  • ジョサイア


  • Kelly Phillips

    I’m a rank beginner, but I have stretches of time at work when my brain only needs to be about 30% present and my earphones can be in. I’ve taken to listening to the JUNK podcast (, just parsing the individual syllables, cruising for words or phrases that sound familiar, and getting used to the rhythm of the language. I generally have NO CLUE what these guys are really talking about, but they’re having a good time, and it doesn’t hurt to hear a lot of laughter during the day either.
    Listening to a podcast, as opposed to watching a movie, works on my motivation to continue active learning too – I really want to know what these dudes think is so funny…

  • Lance

    Ive noticed from passive learning that I can pick up what japanese people are saying but not what all of it means so its helped in some way

  • Robert Patrick

    As a Japanese teacher, I wouldn’t recommend EXCLUSIVE passive learning. If you’re THAT motivated to learn Japanese, you should start with remembering at least the hiragana (takes 1 day at most). So you will know what sounds do exist in Japanese, and you won’ think you heard a sound that actually doesn’t exist. Starting with the real sounds of the language points your ears in the right direction and makes passive learning much more efficient.

  • guyhey

     I agree with everything you say, but I ask you, especially as a teacher, to be careful with statements like “takes 1 day at most.” That can be really demotivating for people who can’t learn something like that in a day. I know it took me longer, and I worked really hard on the kana. Also, I’ve noticed some people claim to learn it in hours, or days, but when you watch them in action, even after months, they’re still stumbling through it. Please reconsider your position on that timing. You risk having potentially brilliant linguists give up before they’ve had a chance to shine.

  • Djeiwudu

    Just search on and youku or search name of tv show plus douga. There may be clips in yt

    I like akbingo too but I dont watch episodes with lame kikaku (at least I don’t find it interesting) for ex I would never watch episodes with the burger restaurant game. Also akb has a show called bimyo which I didn’t have high expectations of but I ended up lovIng it.

  • David Hunt

    If you don’t have a teacher, find a partner.  Whatever you think about the ‘passive learning’ concept, becoming used to speaking, or even writing, requires practice and feedback.  One of the best things about having a teacher/partner is not wanting to disappoint them, which can be one of the strongest motivators when your motivation is lagging.

    Leverage your guilt.

  • ジョサイア

    O_o…I use lang-8? I can put audio files in my post for feed back. :D
    Though, don’t get me wrong, I would really like to have a learning partner.

    Ehehe, I can just build a program to be my learning partner. xD LOL

  • Robert Patrick

     You’re completely right. I meant “with the proper method”, it should take one day (for hiragana only). I may add that dwelling too long on the kana may also discourage people, so learning them quickly with the proper method seems to be the best option.

  • guyhey

     What’s this proper method you speak of?

    Forgive me if I sound dubious. I guess if I used an improper method, nothing can be done about it, but perhaps I can share it with others, and Koichi can add it to the site as well.

  • Julien Klein

    Heisig. I didn’t finish all the kana in one sitting, but total, it was around three hours (each). Doing it all in one sitting would have put me to sleep instantaneously. I appreciate what guyhey said about many people taking longer. This is a reality. But like Robert Patrick said, it really does depend on the method.

    That being said, learning katakana after hiragana took more time and was more difficult to recall in the heat of the moment (second kana to learn). On reflection, I wondered if rushed methods such as what Heisig prescribes can cause interference with the second syllabary to be learned.

  • ヒカリノ

    I often come across words and go “wait, I’ve heard this somewhere”, sit there for a little while, and then remember a song I’ve heard the word in. I generally don’t forget the word after that. It’s also fun to be singing a song you memorised years ago, only to realise you actually understand what’s coming out of your mouth now.

    I’m often told I sound like a native speaker when I speak Japanese, despite the fact that I’ve only ever been to Japan for a couple of weeks on a school trip years ago, and this is very much thanks to listening to lots of Japanese through both music and anime throughout the years (and no, I don’t talk like an anime character. Anymore.)

    Twitter is my main method of passive learning. Making friends there, reading their tweets, tweeting to them and over time getting used to the vocabulary they used gave my Japanese a serious boost.

    Live streams/生放送 are also a great thing! There’s so many of them and if you find smaller ones you like it can be a great chance to interact with Japanese people as well. It can be a bit overwhelming if you aren’t managing to follow the conversation though.

  • guyhey

    I also wonder if my definition of “learn” might be stricter than what you guys are talking about. If I didn’t look at or think about kana for a month I have no doubt I could pick it up again as if I never left it. I don’t think most people can do that after one day. It took me some time to get to that place.

    Still, putting my standard aside I’m impressed there exists a method for teaching that rapidly, and I’d love to implement it.

  • Shollum

     I think Robert is referring to a half flash card half SRS type of study (that’s the only thing I can think of that would work for such a short period of time).

    The real question is; what is your definition of ‘learned’. The information is in your head after you see something for the first time. I personally devoted two weeks for the kana (both hiragana and katakana) to learn to write them and recognize them. It still took quite a while to recognize them though. I only got to where I thought they were ‘learned’ when I started reading (by ‘reading’ I mean playing Pokemon in Japanese and going through the kana only dialogue) them in the wild (or tall grass in this case).

    To me learning them in a day is preposterous (unless you have a photographic memory or use short term memory tricks like that guy that remembers the order of the cards in several decks of playing cards). However, to him ‘learned’ may just be a day of studying that plants the knowledge in your head.

  • guyhey

     Live streams? What are these? Where can I find out more?

  • Shollum

    It always amuses me when the people that say “yo Hhhhabla uh-SPAN-yul!” always say ‘habla’ when even I (who never went past Spanish I) knows that it should be ‘hablo’.
    They should save themselves some embarrassment by say ‘no’ in the first place.

  • Shollum

    Passive learning is great and all (I do it too obviously), but once you do hit that intermediate plateau you need something a bit more powerful.
    It doesn’t have to all be boring though. I have some halfway-ideas that could make it more interesting to get to the point that you can read (which to me means ultimate access to knowledge and fun), but I don’t have the skills necessary to create them.
    Instead, I’ve been (trying) to finish the kanji with the ‘Lazy Kanji + Mod’ deck in Anki. It may not give you the retention of focused study, but it’s so easy to use a deck like this that you end up actually using it.

    Anyway, the way I get my passive learning on is to listen to music (hopefully I can find a podcast I like too) while working or exercising. My work (more like steady odd jobs) almost requires me to have something playing in my ear the whole time though, so it’s not for everyone.

  • Erick Reilly

    Harry Potter in Japanese? Sounds like a great idea to me! Lately, I’ve been playing video games in Japanese. Game Boy Advance games such as Mother 3 and Pokemon. The Mother games have a lot of humor, which makes it fun.
    There’s a joke in Mother 2 (or EarthBound in the US) that was lost in translation. There’s a headline in a newspaper published by zombies that says something like “Humans escape.” But in the original Japanese, they use the phrase “ningen o 2hiki.” I was glad to discover that one small joke.

  • ヒカリノ

    Aha, there’s lots of them on sites like Nicovideo and Stickam! It’s probably easiest to find one you like if you have a particular interest besides Japanese. Like I mostly watch musical streams where people sing, play, etc. (they talk between songs) but there’s plenty out there under the 雑談 or idle chatter category, and other things like art, play-throughs, etc.

  • zoomingjapan

    Best (as in most effective) passive learning “tool” ever = moving to Japan! ;)
    I swear I learned so much faster after moving here (though you still need to study actively a lot, too!)

  • Robert Patrick

     The method I use :

    First, when I say “a day”‘, I don’t mean “2 hours after a day’s work”. I mean 12 hours.
    Step 1) you learn them by 5. So あいうえお. Concentrate on each one, drawing it and asking yourself “hey あ and お are similar, WHAT is different (= how can I not mistake one for the other).
    Step 2) when you think you got it, your turn the paper and write them. Check. If it’s not correct, what were the mistakes. Do it again.
    Step 3) do something else for 10-15 minutes. Not Japanese, go play some video games.
    Step 4) retry the first 5 without looking first. Check. If it’s correct learn the next 5.
    Return to step 2) writing all the kana you’ve learnt so far. Rinse and repeat.
    DO NOT skip the pause. Doing somethign else between each serie is essential to help your brain memorize that stuff.

    Last check, you think you got it ? Able to write them from あ to ん? Try writing them in the reverse order. VERY useful when you’ll be checking dictionaries later.

    Last step) use that shit. Read words, use your windows IME or anything, use, read read read !

  • Robert Patrick

    Pokémon, great stuff to practice kana ! I love Pokémons and hate kana-only reading (happens in litterature, too, and Heike Monogatari is kanji+katakana only, you just want to kill yourself), but for a beginner this is such a great way to learn and practice.

    I never use flashcards, though. using what you’ve learned is to me the only way of making sense of the material you put in your head. For instance, beginners are always obsessed with the number of kanji to remember, but seriously, who cares ? The kanji you’re gonna see everyday, you won’t forget it. The one you see once a year, is it THAT vital not to forget it ?

  • John

    Yeah, immersion can definitely be a powerful tool provided you don’t shut yourself off from the outside world and only watch and listen to English media and only talk to other foreigners, haha.

  • legendofleo

    The middle part never ends.

    Nice post btw, I found that passive learning during the early stages definitely helped me with pronunciation and getting familiar with the language. Now it helps me to maintain my level when I’m too tired to do anything that resembles study (which is most days).

  • Britney

    This article s definitely true! Watching anime and listening to J Rock since the age of 12 really helped.  I didn’t start actively studying until recently though.  My pronunciation of words (despite not knowing everything that I’m saying) is very good. :) I also tend to slack off a bit and watch anime instead of studying as well :p  Great article! One of my favorites so far besides the one about host clubs. 

  • guyhey

    True. I was only in Japan for 3 weeks, and I did very little active studying because of my limited time, but I really got a lot of confidence speaking Japanese, listening to Japanese, and figuring out  kanji on the fly.

  • Xsuna

    Hmm, well, I’m still pretty young, and my parents speak Kanada (Indian language, oldest language ever, really) quite often, so this could have helped me learn. I did’t try to learn though, cuz I’m just not that interested in it. However, I can still understand nearly everything in Kanada, but that’s nothing if I can’t talk back I guess.

    Well, there’s my results from passive learning only.

  • Guest

    Thank you! And when I listen to Jrock & say I’m learning Japanese, my mom still refuses to believe me…

    I didn’t know it was called passive learning when I started, I just got the idea from my French teacher – as a lesson for days when she was too tired to actually teach, she put on some French music from her collection & made us do fill-in-the-blank worksheets with the lyrics. Even though it was only French I, we left her class close to half-fluent. Her teaching style is the reason I was able to later teach myself intermediate Japanese (and the reason I listen to Joe Dassin).

    Since it’s the easiest and cheapest method, I mostly stuck to listening to Jrock on Youtube. But now that I’ve figured out how to install the language pack on my computer (やった!!) I also like to explore Japanese sites & blogs. I’m really glad for that fact too, since I was getting close to that icky intermediate slump (Jrock is great, but by itself it gets kinda old after a while).

  • ジョサイア

    I would really like to go to japan when I graduate. C:

  • John

    Do it! You won’t regret it.

  • ジョサイア

    Unless I die of fugu poisoning…There always watching…O_O

  • ジョサイア

    Anyway, I really hope to go when I graduate if I have the money. :D

  • Astronut7

    I’ve been doing something like this during my time studying abroad.  I go home in a month so it’ll really help there too.  But I’ve been buying/renting Japanese DVDs and watching them with Japanese subtitles.  The correlation between the audio and subtitles can be hit or miss, but I’ve had my best luck with Ghibli movies.  I’m an intermediate-level student so it really helps me learn new words and get over that plateau you guys talked about a while back!  I guess this method could also be similar to the transcribed drama article in some ways too.

  • guyhey

    I’m glad to hear you keep subtitles on. People keep telling me to turn them off, but I’m not even at the intermediate level yet, so without them I’m missing way too much. With them I find I can keep my interest in the story enough to focus on what I’m hearing. Also, I am able to read something, think “I should know that.” think back to what I heard, and piece out the words I knew. Without subtitles my mind just wanders because I don’t understand anything, and then when they say something I should know I miss it because I wasn’t paying attention.

    I agree with the idea of turning subtitles off as soon as you can, but I’m feeling like the advice to not use them at all early on, or possibly in the middle is bad.

  • Jonadab

    Yo hobloy muy poco de la Espanyol e todos estan mal.  Tienen treis anyos de el Espanyol en el esquela.  Estudias muchos, perro, no conocer bueno esta.  Hoblos ustedes la Ingles?  Ich bin ein berliner de gozaimas.

  • Guest

    I have for 10 years done a combination of very lazy active learning and lots of passive learning.  I don’t really enjoy TV or movies in general, but have found myself only drawn to watch the occasional anime.  I play games with Japanese voice tracks, listen to some Japanese music.  I occasionally visit Japanese websites and try to read untranslated material.  The result of all this is kind of weird.  I have a learning difficulty that makes the rules of grammar really difficult and so I cannot form many decent sentences.  I can, however, pronounce words better than some of my friends who took Japanese in college.  I am very particular about it, possibly because I have listened to it more.  So I can listen to conversations and translate with some success.  Active learning is good for the at all socially active.  Passive learning is decent for more passive things.  I could go to Japan and get by as a traveler possibly all around the country with just a little stress.  The source or stress would be if people expected me to respond to them! I’d be frozen in fear!   A lot of both types of learning is probably best.

  • guyhey

    Most people do expect you to respond to them in a conversation. ;) However, in my experience,, most Japanese people are incredibly incredibly understanding. The first time I went to Japan I said almost nothing out of fear. This last time I spent the first week starting almost every conversation saying something like “私は日本語をべんきょうしっていますが下手です。” Basically something to say “I study Japanese, but I’m unskilled.” It gave me the confidence to attempt my bad skills at them. After about a week I got to the point where I just let them figure out how bad I was by example. ;)

    Also, I found that the average, young Japanese person, was good enough at English to speak it, but not understand it when it was spoken to them. Additionally, I could form Japanese sentences, but wasn’t ready to listen to it. As a result I found a lot of the time I was speaking to them in Japanese, and they would reply in English. After 3 weeks, I got a lot better at hearing Japanese, but still this system seemed to make things smoother.

    My point is you have nothing to be afraid of. Plenty of times you’ll actually walk away feeling pretty good about how understanding and helpful the other person was. Granted, Japanese people are people too, so you’ll find the occasional grump, but even they’ll likely be polite for a grump. ;)

  • Siri

    Great post! I’ve been learning passively with anime and music for a long time, along with my regular studies, and it has helped me massively. Especially my vocabulary. I just wish there was a way to master grammar like that, though.

  • Melissa

    I REALLY don’t like the layout of this blog, but the information is too interesting and helpful to stay away! Thank you!

  • John

    What don’t you like about the layout? If you let us know, maybe we can improve it!

  • fesc

    I only watched anime without ANY real education for almost eight years, and it hardly even got me to noob level. One needs proper grammar education and training, even if passive learning through anime helps a little.

  • John

    Yeah, definitely. If it’s anything less than total immersion, you’re going to need at least a little bit of structure in there somewhere.

  • th man

    o genki desu ka? lol

  • Deep

    Hey dose it work with other languages

  • Jason Frank

    hey guys i am currently in jap 2 class at community college. the reason i started learning japanese is because i wanted to be able to watch raw anime without the subs. i have since then developed other reasons for wanting to learn. anyway when i first started i was already watching alot of japanese tv and playing games w/ japanese audio and i picked up alot of phrases and singular words here and there thru trial and error ima watashi wa nihongo o hanaseru chotto desuyo i admit my japanese is broken but my college goes up to japanese 4 and i just finished jap 2 so next semester i will b in jap 3

    anyway dude is right passive learning only works for newbies and masters. i tried watching japanese tv w/o subs 2day and i could only recognize a few words here and there, what type of conjugation they were using(past present positive negative) and what form they were using (masu form dictionary form te form potential form etc) so i guess u would find me in that intermediate wasteland ol dude was talkin about… aint that a bitch!!! back to the drawing board

    i wont give up cuz thats my ninja way!!!!

    p.s. thank for this helpful article im gonna check out the article for intermediates that are lacking inspiration next cuz that sounds like me. hope u keep putting out info God knows i need it.

  • Shaun Sticka

    This is one of those areas I really need to improve. I spend a good amount of time actively learning but both passive listening like this mentioned and output are a bit low. The problem is I hate anime and Japanese dramas and television drive me nuts. I haven’t found any music I like outside of maybe one or two bands either. It makes it difficult to get in a ton of listening every day outside of the stuff my coworkers talk about.

    Audiobooks would be a great idea. Any ideas how 1) to find them without paying an arm and a leg and 2) assuming its by means other than iTunes how to import them into my iPod without iTunes mixing the entire thing up? I d/l Harry Potter but when I put it in my iPod every single section was out of place (over 100 I think).

  • guyhey

    That’s a tough spot to learn a language if you don’t enjoy its media. i can think of several reasons why you may still want to learn Japanese, your spouse is Japanese for example, or you work with Japan based businesses, but even then I wonder if you’re making the right choices because if you don’t like Japanese media then your life will be tricky if you’re living a life that exposes you to it. I know anime, and such, is not the only media, but you listed a lot of things you don’t like. I suspect you’ve thought all of this out, but just in case I thought I’d say something. Learning a language, especially Japanese, is a massively huge commitment.

    I can’t speak on audio books, but I’ve found Japanese podcasts like All Night Nippon, and IBC to be helpful.

    Also, is a very useful resource for me when I want to passively practice listening. It’s a list of fly by night web radio stations, mostly run by amateurs, and all of them are Japanese. The tricky part is at any given moment you may find one that appeals to you or not. Still, most of the time I can find one I like. Some of the stations pop up fairly regularly as well. For example, the oddly titled “test3″ with the description “ゆっくり怪談” which means slow ghost stories. This one can appear daily, but not always. Anyway, it’s read by a monotone voice that is telling children’s ghost stories slowly. It’s great listening practice. You may miss out on accents, but you’ll understand more of what is being said the better you get.

  • Jess

    I am still just a little confused. If we are beginners how are we supposed to know how to use the Katakana Chart? As far as myself looking at it, I have no idea what I am supposed to do with it…

  • guyhey

    Learning katakana is something that usually is very earlier on. If you haven’t taken the time to learn it I highly recommend you learn alongside hiragana. I found it was incredibly easy to learn, and have a good grasp of katakana in about a week by using this site:

    I’ve heard some people say you can learn katakana in about a day, but it takes longer to truly be comfortable with it like it’s second nature. Still, you’ll have a decent sense of it in no time. The tool I found most helpful on that website is the one that shows American movie titles in katakana. Even if you don’t know all of the kana in the name, you can figure out the correct answer, and take time to think about the kana you missed which helps you learn it for next time. You can find that quiz here:

  • GinnyWeasley

    I listen to a lot of Vocaloid music, which is how I got myself into all of this to begin with. I’ve learned lyrics to songs, and looked at the translations. Knowing Japanese grammar helps with figuring out which word means what.
    I’m also looking for different ways to learn Japanese. I’m using a free online course called Mango and I’ve recently started with Textfugu (the free part, I’m gonna buy it soon). It’s so cool when I hear words in a song and I know what they mean! Even if it’s only a few little things.
    I like to listen to interviews with the Vocaloid’s voice providers (in particular Saki Fujita) I can’t really understand what she’s saying, but I can sometimes get the general idea.
    I wish most people gave passive learning a little more credit. Great article!

    Now I HAVE to get Harry Potter in a Japanese audio book!!

  • theblueknightgarcia

    lets see ive been trying to teach myself Japanese since 05 by watching anime in Japanese with subs or listening to jpop/jrock or watching sailor moon musicals with sub and recently now that I have more time ive been watching jdramas like my first jdrama was mendol ikemen idol that’s how I got into no3b then watch majisuka gakuen and that help with me loving AKB48 of course with subs dow I still understood some words without reading subs . I also have been listening to hatsune miku to high and mighty color to no3b and recently AKB48 and I actually recently got all of AKB48 singles and ive been watching on daily motion and youtube random AKBINGO and sometimes it came with subs and I for some odd reason I started to understand what they were saying and I could like easily pronounce some of the words used… now I have also their concerts which also helps a lot ive also been teaching my nephew jovi Japanese just some words and he watches AKBINGO and let me tell that kid has been absorbing all I tell him and what he hears he reapeats like he can even named some akb48 members like he can point out and say mariko or rena I also put the akb48 pv for him and he can easily sing along by using acouple of words …I think that the fact that I have someone around that watches or listens to Japanese with me helps a lot even if he just 2 years old I exposed him to hatsune miku then it was sentai and then it was gangnam style but that one is irrelevant and last it was AKB48 he is very intelligent I been teaching him our native language which is Spanish and also English and now Japanese… my mother says that learning as many languages as you can will help a lot with getting amazing life oppurtunities which is true but recently I been well down cause I was about to give up on learning Japanese but now that I read your article I want to keep going so thanks a lot!!! though I have acouple of questions like : whats the best book out there for learning Japanese?, I wanna buy katana and hiragana cue cards is jlist the best place to buy them or should I get them from somewhere else?, I have some japanes video game but they are mostly hatsune miku project diva which are fun but you know they bore me after awhile so heres my last question I wanna get a dating sim a Japanese one and I come to love AKB48 and well Im thinking of getting their new game AKB1/149 Renai Sousenkyo now my question is do you think getting it will help with understanding the language more?

  • Dan Postica

    I really don’t think that Active learning is boring, I learn Japanese at the Japan Foundation in my country and to be right it is very fun, with culture classes , peoples that think just like you and Japanese peoples that teaches you, It is fun , This summer is boring just because we don’t have lessons in summer.

  • Michelle10000

    I Want to learn japanese, so badly. but i get confused with their writing, like that hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji. I Watch japanese shows too such as ” Hana yori dango ” ” Smile ” ect.. i Also Listen to some music.

  • Hans Spijker

    For me, Game Center CX is ‘the’ Japanese show to watch without subtitles. Passive and active studying is the way to go, although, for me, watching Japanese television shows sometimes feels like active learning (if I don’t know a word or kanji, I go look for it on the internet and I try hard to understand the Japanese sentences, which makes me pause and rewind videos a lot of times.)

  • TheSilverShinobi

    Well, I’m technically a beginner, but I watched both Battle Royale and Battle Royale II: Requiem without English subtitles, and I actually managed to to figure things out and piece them together. I think I’ll do pretty good in Japanese, and now I am going to go and study!

  • miguelitopumpum

    Ive been doing passive learning, and with that im trying to translate Captain Tsubasa for Nes, a lot of work.