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

FAQ

June 17, 2021 — Tatsumoto

This is Tatsumoto's AJATT FAQ. You can search questions you're interested in if you press Ctrl+f. I'm going to update this article as I receive more questions. If your question hasn't been answered, ask it in our chat.


How to learn Japanese?

You learn Japanese by self-study through immersion. Our guide contains everything you need.

Who can teach me Japanese?

No one can. You have to do it yourself. Languages can only be acquired through massive amounts of watching, listening and reading.

What's immersion?

Immersion is the process of reading or listening to your target language. It is not necessary to move to Japan or talk to natives to immerse. As long as you have access any content in natural, native Japanese, you're covered. Watch anime, dramas, read books, light novels, manga in Japanese if you want to learn the language.

Usually immersion is divided into passive (background) and active. Active immersion requires full attention to the content while passive immersion is when you're listening to Japanese while doing something else.

How important is passive immersion?

When you're a beginner, active immersion plays a much bigger role than passive immersion. You need to watch something actively first and make it as comprehensible as possible before reusing the same content for passive immersion. At this stage it is not advised to immerse in something passively for the first time because you haven't worked with the content and haven't comprehended it.

However, when you're already pretty good at understanding Japanese, which happens after around a year if you're serious in your studies, you become able to understand your passive immersion really well. At this stage you gain a lot more from passive immersion. When you reach this point, you can use completely new content for passive immersion and still understand it close to 100% if you pay enough attention. Because of that, it makes sense to value passive immersion more as you progress.

What's fluency?

Fluency is when you understand at least 98% of your immersion.

For example, a typical episode of anime contains 300-400 lines of dialog. If you watch the episode and encounter only 7-8 or less unknown words, you can call yourself fluent.

how many words do i need to know

What's AJATT?

AJATT is a method of reaching fluency in Japanese in a relatively short period of time. This site was inspired by the method.

Should I read the AJATT site?

Only the Table of Contents. Everything else isn't worth your time. Don't enter your Email address and don't buy the paid products it offers, there are free alternatives.

Should I watch anime with English subtitles?

Yes, if you want to learn English.

This is actually how I learned English as a teenager, not even joking. I was so fed up with the quality of subtitles in my native language that one day I just decided to switch and start watching anime with English subs. It was insanely hard at first, and I would spend hours looking up every word in a dictionary. However, after a few months I only had to look up a couple words here and there.

If you are serious about learning Japanese, don't use English subtitles. Watch with Japanese subtitles or without any subtitles at all.

If someone has watched anime with English subs for thousands of hours before starting to learn Japanese, how much of a head start does that give them?

Remember the "watch 10 000 hours of Eng subbed anime" joke from DJT? Well, I actually did watch anime with English subs for thousands of hours before starting to learn Japanese. I can't talk for everybody of course, but my experience was that I knew literally nothing before I sat down and started formally studying the language. I picked up probably no more than about 50 words total, things like お前はもう死んでいる, ただいま and 馬鹿変態.

When you're watching anime with English subtitles, you're reading the subtitles. You're only partially listening to the audio. So I imagine that the only advantage a person who had an experience similar to mine would have is a little bit more phonetic awareness. They would still have to build their understanding of Japanese almost from zero.

I am struggling to switch from English to Japanese media.

You shouldn't have this problem. Most people before they start AJATT already have a passion for otaku content or other types of Japanese media. If you decided to learn Japanese out of the blue, and you don't like any of the above, it's going to be very hard to immerse without going back to English.

If you like anime, there will be no temptation to watch crap in English. But if you're not like that, then why are you learning Japanese in the first place?

Pausing. How often should I look things up?

If you never pause it means you don't look up words at all. The more you look up the faster you progress. Try to find the balance between enjoyment and frequent lookups.

You can watch raw and try to understand only through the visuals, watch with subs and actively look up unknown words, or do something in between.

A community member フェリペ shares the following routine:

I always keep two TV-shows. One for mining everything and the other one for pure enjoyment, without lookups.

Isn't 18 hours each day quite a lot?

Of course. Khatz himself admitted that he was rarely able to do so much, but he always tried.

What good things are there to watch for a complete beginner?

Slice of life shows.

You can divide the language into domains of interest. The easiest domains are shows for children, slice of life and romance anime. Most people start with them and slowly advance until they can consume a wide variety of input and understand it perfectly.

Kanji in the current year

Back in my day RRTK didn't exist. The JP1K method didn't exist either. I did KanjiDamage+.

If I were to start today, I would probably start learning words right away. If I couldn't handle it, I would pause and try the JP1K method.

Is JAV good for immersion?

I'm guessing that's a joke. JAV has extremely poor language density. If you watch JAV, skip all the parts where no one's talking.

If you like erotic content, I recommend reading doujinshi. They offer higher language density.

Should I limit how much dubbed content I immerse with? What are the downsides of dubbed content?

First of all, it's pretty hard to find dubbed content compared to native content in case of Japanese. You can probably do it if you use some paid platform, but torrents contain almost nothing. Second, Japanese has an abundance of native content so there's no need to substitute it with dubbed content. It's not a problem for other languages either. For example, I was surprised how many television dramas exist in Russian, probably even more than in Japanese, and they make new ones every month.

Any dubbed content is stripped of basically all cultural interaction, it's just pure language. You're going to miss out on all the body language, gestures, concepts unique to the country. Taking this into account, dubbed content is not as good as native content, and I advice you limit how much you use it in your immersion.

How to look up words on web pages?

I have a guide on how to set up Yomichan here. Don't forget to install AnkiConnect if you want to make Anki cards.

How do I look up words when I read manga?

Using Tesseract. The Mining from manga article explains how to automate it. If Tesseract can't OCR a certain word, open Google Translate, enable handwriting and draw the word.

Is SuperMemo better than Anki?

SuperMemo is proprietary software, so it should not be used.

What time of day should I do Anki?

As long as you finish your daily reviews any time is fine. Some people do Anki first thing in the morning, some spread their reviews throughout the day.

What do you think of "animecards" (high quality vocab cards)?

When people say "animecards", they mean WCCs.

It's one of worst plagues of the Japanese learning community. I recommend targeted sentence cards (TSCs) or fallback cards instead.

Anki to immersion ratio. How much time should I spend SRSing?

The most popular community guideline is 1 hour a day.

You can't directly control how much time you're going to spend on Anki. The amount of time is determined by what card type (template) you use, how many new cards you add each day and how fast you can read Japanese.

If you notice that you overspend you time on Anki, try TSCs or fallback cards instead of normal sentence cards, reduce the number of new cards you learn, install Speed Focus Mode Anki add-on.

How should I divide my study time?

Roughly in three parts.

  • Spend 1/3 of your time reading, 1/3 listening and 1/3 doing Anki.
  • Don't spend more than 1 hour a day on Anki, distribute the rest.
  • Watching TV with subtitles counts towards reading.

So, on a bad day when you have only 3 hours of study time, you do each activity for 1 hour. On a good day when you have 12 hours a day, you spend 1 hour on Anki, 5.5 hours on listening and 5.5 on reading.

How many new cards to learn each day?

I recommend learning 10 to 30 new cards a day. The more new cards you do, the more reviews you'll have complete.

You can get away with learning more new cards if you increase your Interval modifier, but it in return expect your retention to go down.

Do not cap your reviews by decreasing Maximum reviews/day in order to do more new cards. It's not going to help you, instead you'll build up a huge backlog that will be invisible because Anki will hide it from you.

How to make monolingual TSCs for vocab and grammar?

The process of making monolingual TSCs for grammar and vocab is the same because there's no significant difference between the two.

  • Download and install monolingual dictionaries for Yomichan.
  • Keep JMdict enabled for times when your monolingual dictionaries don't pick up certain words.
  • Mine words as usual, delete English from your cards.

Grammar points often only have English definitions. Rely on Yomichan to pin-point the grammar pattern, then use Weblio, sakura-paris or any search engine to look it up.

Some people would prefer to install as many monolingual dictionaries as possible to cover more ground and minimize the need to look up words online.

How to review and grade TSCs?

TSCs are very flexible in how you can review them.

When you learn a card for the first time, read the full sentence and understand its meaning as a whole, as well as meanings of individual words in isolation.

When you review the card later, you can choose not to read the whole sentence and instead only read the target word. Read the word then reveal the back of the card and read the definition.

Pass the card if you understand the meaning and reading of the target word. Don't recall the definition in case of a monolingual card, or the translation in case of a bilingual card verbatim. Having a general idea of the meaning in your head is enough.

Should I believe mattvsjapan and the Refold site?

Generally, watching or reading the content he produced before around mid 2018 is safe because he seems to be quite honest in it. But in recent years Matt has been criticized by many people for watering down the method because he wanted to appeal to a wider audience, to "normal" or "busy" people.

On this site we try to push as hardcore as we can, so I recommend getting yourself familiar with the AJATT theory before you engage with Refold's content. It will enable you to distinguish hardcore advice from advice for general audience.

Don't get me wrong though, listening to mattvsjapan is still a thousand times better than listening to what certain other people say on the Internet. It's probably the second most valuable source after the AJATT site itself.

Is there a Japanese syntax parser similar to Jisho.org but with no English?

Mecab.

Should I learn kanji forms of words usually written in kana?

Yes. Khatzumoto did it all the time, and it's practically a common thing among ajatters.

Examples:

  • 沢山
  • 蝸牛
  • 海豚
  • 蒟蒻

How can I improve at reading Japanese names?

Make an Anki deck and fill it with Japanese names. This may include names of celebrities, politicians or even anime characters. Most anime characters have normal Japanese names unless it's a weird fantasy show.

On the front of the card you'd have the name itself written in kanji. On the back put the name with furigana, a photo and some basic information about the person.

Don't make cards for random people, instead add names of people you've seen a few times before. This is going to ensure that the names are somewhat frequent.

In order to increase my reading speed, should I force myself to start skimming?

Khatzumoto recommended skimming mostly as a motivational tool. You skim boring parts to get to the fun parts, and it keeps you focused on your immersion. When it comes to reading speed, skimming won't help. If you read a lot, your reading speed will improve naturally.

Should I use a smaller font when reading to get used to small fonts?

Avoid small fonts, they're bad for your eyes.

Because today almost all reading is done on a computer, you can set a larger font no problem. Plus, computers make lookups and sentence mining easier.

Some printed books are written in small fonts, but you don't need to practice reading small fonts in order to read them. If you can read Japanese in a larger font fluently, you're going to be able to read smaller fonts too.

What about reading physical books?

I don't recommend reading physical books because usually they're not free, and they're harder to mine from. Almost all digital books are free and you can use Yomichan with them, which is a great advantage.

What should I be "doing" while actively immersing?

Looking up words.

Active immersion is all about making your input comprehensible. Dictionary lookups are the main way of making input comprehensible. Aside from that you can pay attention to scenery, intonation, pitch accent, levels of politeness and other cultural things.

What is the minimum to maintain fluency?

Depends. The minimum to maintain fluency is highly individual. To maintain fluency, continue immersing as frequently as you can.

The longer you have studied Japanese, the longer you can maintain your ability without immersion. If you've studied Japanese for many years, you can even last multiple months.

Did you track your daily immersion hours during your hardcore phase?

No, never. Change your environment and control your space instead.

How broad or narrow is a "domain" of language?

You can start feeling domain boundaries once you cross different genres.

Don't pay too much attention to domains. Can you really imagine yourself having second-thoughts like "I really want to immerse in this content, but I'm worried I won't enjoy it because it's in a different domain."? Just immerse in what you like.

Having said that, domain boundaries can pose a challenge to beginners. Every time you switch domains, your comprehension drops. For the first few months try to keep your domain small.

How to extract audio from immersion content for passive listening?

Learn how to use FFmpeg from the terminal. It's very versatile.

I also recommend that you take a look at impd. It's a program that is specifically designed to automatically manage background immersion.

I only do passive immersion and things aren't working, what's wrong?

Even if you have headphones on all day, without active immersion you can't expect any improvement. It is possible to learn a language without passive immersion, but it is almost impossible to do with only passive immersion. You need to actively immerse and look up as many words as you can while doing so.

Watching raw or watching with Japanese subs?

Both have their advantages. When you watch with Japanese subs, you train your reading comprehension. When you watch raw, you train your listening comprehension. Try to balance the two.

When do I make a card and when do I just keep going?

You always make a card.

If you're feeling lazy then just don't. Immersion learning is not math, you're not going to get a bad grade if you don't learn something. If the word is important, it will come up again.

I'm not motivated and don't enjoy learning Japanese, is it still worth my time?

Don't learn Japanese.

It's just honestly stupid.

Just don't.

When and how to go about dropping the SRS?

You should never stop using the SRS, even after you "make it". A few minutes of SRSing each day is a hundred times better than no SRSing at all.

Should I read through Tae Kim while going through the Tango decks?

Only if you don't understand some cards in the deck.

Tango decks don't teach grammar points as thoroughly as a grammar guide would do. If you stumble upon a card that you don't understand even after reading its back, refer to Tae Kim for explanations.

Tae Kim: is "essential grammar" enough?

As far as I see, the Tae Kim guide gets divided into 4 sections.

  1. Basic Grammar
  2. Essential Grammar
  3. Special Expressions
  4. Advanced Topics

So the question becomes, "Can I drop Tae Kim after reading the first half?"

The truth is that all 4 sections describe pretty basic grammar. You can stop at any point and start sentence mining. Looking up grammar and making targeted sentence cards with grammar targets is no different from making cards for regular vocabulary. Eventually you'll catch up.

I'm a beginner. Do you recommend learning the "advanced grammar" within Tae Kim's grammar guide?

The above answer applies.

When I learned Japanese, I read Tae Kim's guide completely, but I did it in chunks. First I learned some vocab, then I read the first section. Then I learned more vocab and read the second one, and so on.

Decide if you're ready before starting the "advanced grammar" part.

Should I up my active immersion?

Yes, not only active. You should always aim at 18 hours of total immersion per day, as the AJATT site says. After you've been ajatting for 18 months, you can end your "hardcore phase" and start doing less immersion. However, many choose to continue their hardcore phases until up to several years.

Thoughts on reading before listening?

Reading is very powerful, but it harms you if you don't have enough phonetic awareness. If I were starting today, I would keep reading at minimum for the first 6 months to a year.

How to approach words with multiple meanings?

Usually it's enough to make just one card for one meaning, but it's okay to make multiple cards if you think you need it. To distinguish the cards rely on context around the target word.

What do you think of using MCDs to train production?

Because MCDs require active recall, they can certainly be used to train production. However, I think that MCDs should not be used to train recognition because TSCs do the job better.

How to develop a personality in your L2?

Unless you're a schizo, you shouldn't think about it at all.

How to do monolingual RTK?

Don't do monolingual RTK, it's stupid and tedious. After you've achieved basic fluency, do production TSCs instead.

I'm struggling with kanji while working through Tango decks. Should I go through RTK?

I wouldn't recommend that. Try the JP1K method instead.

How to learn readings after finishing isolated kanji study?

Readings should not be learned in isolation. You're going to learn words with their readings at the same time. You need to read Japanese, look up words and make TSCs.

At first, you may want to use a premade deck. I recommend downloading Ankidrone Starter Pack and learning 1-3 thousand words from it.

I forget kanji readings in sentences. Should I use furigana?

If you add furigana on the front of your cards, you're not going to learn the readings. One of the points of using the SRS is to learn kanji readings, so you're defeating the point.

What I always did is I followed Wozniak's recommendations and memorized different representations of a particular kanji. So, I would take the kanji I have trouble remembering and look it up on Jisho.org like this. Then I would deliberately find example sentences with some of the words and make Anki cards.

Do your Tango decks have audio or text on the front? Which way is better?

Ankidrone Starter Pack contains bilingual TSCs with sentences on the front. Don't put audio on the front of your cards.

How to rep audio-based sentence cards?

By pressing Ctrl+Delete. Audio-based cards are completely useless.

How much listening should I do before I start reading?

As much as you want. Everyone in the community has their own opinion on this. Some even say that reading from day one is the way to go. I recommend only audio-visual input (anime, dramas) in the beginning. After you've done it for 2,000 to 3,000 hours (around 4 months), start reading books and manga.

Thoughts on Khatz's "multiplexed input"

I think condensed audio is a better technique. It's more organized.

How to start reading as a beginner?

Start with reading Japanese subtitles.

Should I put English translations on Bilingual TSCs?

You may put the corresponding line from English subs. However, don't use Google Translate or anything like that.

Passive immersion playlist structure?

It should contain language-dense material that you've actively consumed before. Intermediate learners may include podcasts in the mix.

Is it OK to make cards for sentences I don't fully understand?

Make a card and save it for later instead of learning it right away.

What are your current thoughts on removing cards once they pass a certain interval?

The idea of removing (or suspending) cards once they reach a certain interval is harmful, especially if the interval is relatively short. Once you delete a card, you can't be sure that you will remember it when you need it.

I would speculate that this idea was born in an attempt to lower the review load caused by using sentence cards. Sentence cards take longer to review compared to other card types, so in order to deal with it you could suspend older cards and only spend time on relatively young cards.

Instead of sentence cards I recommend you use targeted sentence cards because they allow you to take shortcuts and review faster.

It's alright to delete cards once they reach obscene intervals like 10-15 years. To find such cards, you can open the Anki Browser and type prop:ivl>3650. The number 3650 corresponds to card's interval in days.

Google or Microsoft IME?

Both Microsoft and Google IMEs are proprietary, and thus are malware. I recommend Fcitx with kkc or any other free/libre input method.

MorphMan for the monolingual transition?

MorphMan is terrible for everything besides counting how many words you know.

How would you go about learning programming?

  • Read books about programming.
  • Get a degree.
  • Study the code others wrote.
  • Make Anki cards for questions and snippets you often look up. For example, "how to shuffle a list in Python".

Should I use pictures instead of English definitions?

Yes, for concrete nouns on your SWCs. It's not that important for TSCs.

How much progress can I expect in a year?

It heavily depends on how much you immerse each day. If you're doing Japanese all the time, after a year you can expect around 95% comprehension of your typical input.

When should I make the monolingual transition?

Once you reach ~2000 TSCs mark. The longer you wait the easier it becomes so don't feel guilty for slacking.

Is learning to understand Kansai-ben difficult?

You pick it up through immersion over time. If you study it deliberately, it's difficult.

Can I get fluent with 1 hour a day?

No, but you can get fluent with 12+ hours a day.

I want to learn a difficult language (Japanese) and an easy language (Spanish). Should I learn them at the same time?

It is possible if you manage it, but I don't recommend it. Learn the easy one first and do laddering.

It's basically 90% Yomichan use. For movies and TV shows, I recommend mpv scripts. For manga, refer to my "Mining from manga" article to set up Tesseract. When you can't use the sentence you've encountered the word in, try to find example sentences online.

How do you learn how to write Japanese?

See my Writing Japanese article.

If you want to learn how to write in Japanese, bear in mind that it's going to take a lot of time. You may want to reach a reasonable level of fluency before you choose to do that.

If you want to live in Japan, writing Japanese is going to be important. Otherwise, only learn writing if you're passionate about it. These days the ability to produce kanji from memory isn't nearly as important as it used to be. Most people type on their phones or computers, and typing is done phonetically.

Should I limit how many sentences I mine from a single source?

No.

Should I make mnemonics to learn new words?

No.

How do Japanese people pronounce “?” and “!”?

How much reading is required to counteract not SRSing?

You can't fully counteract not SRSing.

What Japanese documentaries do you recommend?

Nothing in particular comes to my mind, but in general NHK specials are pretty good. You can find the videos on Nyaa ISS.

What do you think about graded readers?

Never used them. Don't recommend them. AJATT is about reading stuff made for natives.

Why should I avoid Discord, Reddit, 4chan, etc.?

Discord

Discord is substantially worse than any other messaging app. It's a proprietary spyware program. They call it "Discord servers" but that's a lie. You don't really have your own Discord server. It's not free software, you can't actually host it yourself and do anything, it's not serious. Most people there have no idea what they're saying, they don't know Japanese. It's gaymer trash.

Reddit

Recaptcha is required to register. Absolutely terrible privacy policy. People who don't know any Japanese. Requires JavaScript to function.

4chan

Recaptcha is required for every post. Blocks TOR, VPN and proxies. Requires JavaScript to function.

Any good Japanese learning communities?

How do I change language in Telegram to Japanese?

Visit the official Japanese translation page.

Are there any language learning YouTubers that you like? What YouTubers do you like in general?

I don't watch YouTube because almost all content it offers is low quality. I can't recall any good language learning content ever posted on YouTube. If you want to familiarize yourself with language learning theory, search written guides online. It will take you less time to go through them because reading generally is faster than listening.

When it comes to immersion content, however, YouTube can offer something you'll like. Things like streams, podcasts or news are good to listen to, especially for passive immersion.

What are your thoughts on timeboxing?

Ever since I found out about timeboxing from the AJATT site, I've been applying it almost every day. I usually stick to a simple pomodoro routine, but sometimes I use shorter intervals.

What is the anime you mined the most?

The first season of Steins;Gate, simply because it was the first anime I mined.

How many water bottles do you go through in a day?

Zero.

I assume drinking from bottles is some weird American thing. I drink from cups.

Watch anime.

I also make sure to spend some time immersing in English, it's both beneficial and fun.

How many reps did you do a day on average?

My daily average was ~300 cards.

What other languages do you want to learn?

Probably Polish or Czech.

How strict were you about ALL Japanese ALL the time?

When I started AJATT I was a full time university student, so it wasn't easy, but I tried to immerse as much as possible. I had earphones on in class and while commuting. At home, I always kept the immersion going.

Do you still watch anime?

I watch anime almost every day.

Have you talked to Khatzumoto?

No.

What are your plans regarding moving to Japan?

As of now, I don't want to move to Japan. Many Japanese people are very xenophobic, and you can't overlook that. Plus, I don't look Asian, and I don't want to stand out.

Do you play video games? Are video games good for immersion?

I never play video games. Most video games should be avoided since they're proprietary. Video games are bad for immersion because they're hard to mine from.

Have you ever had any plateaus? What to do when you're stuck?

I haven't. You can't be stuck if you're doing AJATT, but you can be stuck if you slack on your immersion.

What operating system do you use?

On my desktop and laptop, I use the GNU operating system with linux-hardened. And the distribution of GNU that I use is Arch Linux.

On mobile, I use LineageOS without Google Apps.

Top 10 anime of all time?

  1. Watashi ni Tenshi ga Maiorita
  2. Mitsuboshi Colors
  3. Yuru Yuri
  4. Adachi to Shimamura
  5. Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu ka
  6. Gabriel DropOut
  7. Machikado Mazoku
  8. Comic Girls
  9. Kiniro Mosaic
  10. Ichigo Mashimaro

Just off the top of my head. The order doesn't imply anything.

Tags: guide