Easing into a Language – A Simple Hack

Your emotions are the most likely cause that you will give up on a language

A lot of people seem to have issues with getting started learning a language or struggle with their confidence in the beginning stages.

This post is for those people.


So you really want to learn Japanese, but every time you try to watch a show without subtitles, or read a book, you instantly get lost, frustrated and give up.

If this happens to you, it literally means that the material you are using is beyond your level.

However, there is a way to sort of overcome this pain while you continue to bring your level up via studying your flashcards.

Whether this actually works with language acquisition or not is yet to be confirmed but it can at least ease your stress, making you more efficient in the end game.

According to Dr. Stephen Krashen,

“Low motivation, low self-esteem, and debilitating anxiety can combine to ‘raise’ the affective filter and form a ‘mental block’ that prevents comprehensible input from being used for acquisition. In other words, when the filter is ‘up’ it impedes language acquisition.

Stephen is an amazing guy whose done some brilliant research in the field of linguistics. You can get his books on Amazon here. 

So to reduce this anxiety and make the beginning stages seem easier, I’ve devised a quick cheat for you.

I will say it here and now.

I highly recommend going no English from day 1. If you can do this, then ignore this advice.

But lets face it, not everyone can do this. It’s not a bad thing if you can’t. I didn’t go full on Japanese from day 1, in my opinion it’s way too hard. Kudos to you if you can do it though.

Sometimes when you are attempting something as big as learning a new language, you just have to use a crutch.

This is what I suggest you do
  1. Find a piece of listening material that has an English and Japanese version (the original media should preferably be in Japanese)
  2. Listen to the English version once all the way through, as quickly as you can (2x playback speed).
  3. Now switch to the Japanese version and watch/listen to the content again, as slow as you like. Listen to it as many times as you can within a day. Keep listening for an entire week.
  4. Once you feel you understand the gist of whats going on in the Japanese version (even if you can’t understand any individual words) then move on to the next piece of material.
  5. Do this for 1 month. By this time you should be ready to move on to Japanese only material without an original crutch in English.

If you keep doing this after 1 month, PLEASE STOP DOING IT. It will not help you if you use this as your main study method. It is just to ease you into Japanese immersion. You only really start learning a lot of Japanese once you are fully immersed in the language.

Using English as a crutch is great for your confidence but it won’t benefit you long-term.

You want to get away from English as soon as possible to prevent any form of translation going on in your head when trying to speak.

The main benefit of this technique is that it gives you an original understanding of the content you are consuming. This makes comprehensible acquisition more likely to occur as well as tuning your ears to the new language.

The goal when listening to a new language shouldn’t be to understand it.

Your goal should be getting used to how the language sounds. So try not to worry too much if you can’t understand everything. Just leave it playing, it will all come clear to you soon.

I would also suggest that you use 500 (max 1000) Japanese to English SRS flashcards to build your vocabulary up.

Building your vocabulary is also another great way to improve your comprehension. It’s pretty obvious but the more words you know the more words you are likely to hear in speech. Therefore I recommend trying to use Anki as much as you can without making it painful.

I hope this post was useful and provided some tips to help you finally get into immersion. Feel free to subscribe to my newsletter if you want more information about language learning.

Thanks for reading!

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By Matthew Hawkins

北海道札幌市 – 2017/09/01


Here are some of my favorite tools and sites for learning Japanese

Thank you for reading this blog post, which I hope you found useful for learning Japanese. Here are some of the most useful websites that I’ve found for finding Japanese content to use for immersion as well as some really useful learning tools to help you through your Japanese studies. Some of these are affiliate links which just means that if you decide to use these sites by clicking the following links, then I will earn a commission. But honestly speaking, these are the sites that I use and recommend language learners, even my friends, to use anyway.

Anki Tools: To get started, I really like Migaku for Anki. By itself, Anki is already a super useful tool for language learners but Migaku allows for integration with websites like YouTube and Netflix, allowing it’s users to create flashcards from the shows and videos that they are watching, as they are watching them. If you use my link you can get an extra month for free.

Speaking Practice: For this I absolutely love iTalki. There are thousands of Japanese teachers on the platform that are available at all times of the day to have conversations with you, in Japanese. Some teachers take a more traditional approach while others are just there to chat, these are the ones I would recommend if you are looking to improve your conversational Japanese. Lessons start from just $5 and there’s no long term commitment, I highly recommend them.

Immersion: I’ve used a lot of different earphones / headphones over the years but by far the one that has come out on top is the NENRENT S570. This is a singular in-ear earphone that matches your skin tone to keep it discrete, meaning you can listen to the language you are learning while at work, or school. For a full list of tools and gadgets I recommend for maximizing your immersion time, check out this blog post.

3 Replies to “Easing into a Language – A Simple Hack”

  1. I found I did this anyway, when I started learning Cantonese I had already watched a bunch of Hong Kong Dramas with English subtitles. Instead of picking new ones its much easier to start with ones I have already watched before. Even watching some of the Cantonese dubbed anime such as FMAB really help because I know the plot off by hand.
    When I first started I didn’t enjoy watching new dramas without subs because I had no idea what’s going on so instead of stopping all together, switching is a much better option. At least it’s doing something, even if its not perfect.
    I just found your blog via your youtube channel, pretty interesting read. Keep up the good work man

    1. Yeah I did the exact same and so have many others. It is so much easier reading or watching something in a new language when you have already done so in a language you already understand. It gives you a massive amount of context which is so important when trying to learn a language as you can’t learn new stuff without first understanding the message.

      Thanks for the comment and for reading, sorry for the late reply!

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