Japanese Inner Monologue – My Experience

I was going to comment on Cure Dolly’s article about changing one’s inner monologue to Japanese, but in thinking about it, my comments seemed long enough for a full article.  I am an extrovert as well, I think, although not so strongly as Cure Dolly has described herself to be.  Still, a lot of my inner monologue is rehearsing conversations.

vlcsnap-2015-04-25-14h57m30s077Like Cure Dolly, I have found that using brute force to change my English thoughts into Japanese is not very useful.  One of the reasons this may be so is that my Japanese thoughts tend to be much different than my English thoughts.  My English mind is very noisy, far, far noisier than my Japanese mind.  The first difficulty I have is just getting my English mind to be quiet.  It goes round and round in circles endlessly, sometimes rehearsing the same conversation over and over again.  Even though I have relationships that are almost exclusively in Japanese, I really do not rehearse my Japanese conversations very much.  Indeed, I only do so when I need to communicate something above my level, and I need to work out what to say.

When I do quiet my English mind, my Japanese mind tends to be rather still, often just enjoying the quiet.  This is great for my soul, but I am not sure that it is all that useful to my Japanese.  Sometimes when words do come to my Japanese mind, they are things like Anime theme songs, or simple things like 幸せ (shiawase), happiness, or 気持ちいい (kimochi ii), good feeling.  I think I am much happier in Japanese.

I am shyer in Japanese than I am in English, I think.  I am realizing that with the Kawaii Japanese Forums.  It is interesting.  I am happy reading and listening, but I find it hard to talk.  Some of it is my current level of Japanese, which is much lower than a lot of other participants.  It is really exciting, we have people of all different levels, from professional translators to those who are just beginning their Japanese journey.   Some of it is that I am just not as talkative in Japanese as I am in English.  I like to be with people and listen to what they say, but I do not always feel the need or pressure to add in my two cents, as it were.  Spoken Japanese is so nice that way, in that one can get along for a long time with 相槌 (aidzuchi), or words and phrases that indicate that you are listening, such as そうですね、そうね、and そのとおり, without having to interject anything at all into the conversation.

Given all of this, I have developed my own strategy for converting my inner monologue to Japanese.  I do not know if it will be helpful to anyone else, but I think it is working for me.  I am letting my English mind be my English mind, and my Japanese mind be my Japanese mind.  In order to quiet my English mind, I have been talking to it in Japanese.

For example, if my mind is going round and round rehearsing a potential English conversation, I might say, 気になるね (ki ni naru ne), “this is worrying you, isn’t it?”.  Then I feel myself responding そうね, and my English mind gets quiet.  Sometimes my Japanese mind gets more forceful, 英語、英語、英語、やめて!(eigo, eigo, eigo, yamete!) “English, English, English, stop!” or even うるさい! (urusai!) “Noisy!”

When I can quiet my English mind, I let my Japanese mind do what it will, even if it just wants to be still.  Sometimes Japanese comes, sometimes it doesn’t, but I am allowing that to be ok.  This seems to me a better strategy than to try to force my English thoughts into Japanese.

Making the Kawaii Japanese Forums More readable

If you are having trouble reading the Kawaii Japanese Forums, here are a few tips to help make it easier.

1. Increase the size. On a personal computer, the site will comfortably enlarge by at least 3 increments (not all sites will, but it works quite well here). Press Ctrl (cmd on a Mac) and the plus key 3 or 4 times and see how it looks.

This should increase readability considerably. Do you know why books for small children have such large print? It isn’t because they have poor eyesight! It is because they need to clearly recognize the shape of each letter in a way people who are more used to the alphabet and the written language don’t.

You will also notice that while the very large print is only for small children, children’s books up to the age of ten or so have larger print than most adult books. It takes a long time to become fully proficient at recognizing letters and words at smaller sizes and there is a sliding scale of familiarity determining how closely the eye needs to examine the characters in order to read comfortably.

So the “younger” you are in Japanese, the bigger the print should be.

2. Use Rikaisama if you need it. You may be nervous of it, and with reason. “Rikai-skimming” with English definitions turned on is a bad habit to acquire. How much help you need clearly depends on your level. If you are a beginner punching well above your weight in reading a certain post at all (good for you! えらいね!)then use all the help you need.

If you are intermediate we would suggest that you set Rikaisama into Sanseido mode (J-J definitions) by default. Go to Configure > Startup > Check Sanseido Mode. Optionally toggle off definitions by pressing D while a Rikai window is up (or turning them off by default in the settings – you can still restore them with D). With this set-up you can use Rikai as “on-demand furigana” for unknown kanji. Look at the Japanese definition if you are still in doubt and only go to the English definition if you are really stuck. O toggles between Sanseido and English definitions.

These two techniques should help you to read the Forums more easily.

Back to Forums


NOTES

On a mobile device, don’t forget to hit the link at the very bottom of the page to switch to the mobile version.

If occasional English definitions turn up in Sanseido mode it doesn’t mean Rikaisama is broken. Unfortunately the Sanseido dictionary is a little limited, and where a J-J definition does not exist Rikaisama uses the English one. This is another argument for having definitions off to begin with.

How to think in Japanese: changing your inner monologue

think-in-japaneseThe idea of learning to think in Japanese—actually switching one’s “inner monologue” from English to Japanese—is one I have been thinking about and working with for some time.

I have read advice on this, which essentially boils down to making yourself say the things you normally say to yourself in Japanese. Like “what a nice day”, or “where did I put that pencil?”

Eventually, because the mind is a creature of habit, Japanese will begin to dethrone English as your default means of thinking.

That is the theory and, given a lot of determination, I think it works. But it is possible to make the process much easier and more effective.

Let us just think things a little further and wonder to what extent does one actually have an inner monologue? In English or Japanese?

Having an inner monologue to a large extent rests on being alone. If you are in company you say what you think to those you are with. If you are alone you say it to yourself. Maybe.

We all work differently, so I can only talk about my own experience. I am an extravert and a person to whom communication is a paramount need, even though circumstances lead me to mostly live the life of a hikikomori (sometimes it is hard being a doll in a human world).

My word-world revolves around communication. When I think things in words it is usually because I am thinking in terms of communicating them. Otherwise I tend to think in a vague non-verbal kind of way.

Now when I say “thinking in terms of communicating them” I don’t mean that I am necessarily going to communicate them. Often I am not. But I am thinking them in words with a view to their potential communication. What I might have said if such-a-person was there. How I might tell the story. How I might blog it. If I used Facebook, I would probably think what I might post there. Etc.

You might state things in a somewhat witty or sardonic manner. You are not trying to amuse yourself. You are saying what you might say to amuse someone in your circle if they were present.

Now you may not be the same. I don’t know how other people are. But in my experience “inner monologue” insofar as it is really “monologue” (i.e. verbal) at all is actually potential outer dialogue.

In practice—at least if you are anything like me—this has important effect on how (and whether) we can change our thinking to Japanese.

When I am thinking about writing or talking, to a person or an audience, in English, I think in English. When I am thinking about writing or talking, to a person or an audience, in Japanese, I think in Japanese. It really is as simple as that.

The “brute force” method of making myself say things to myself in Japanese is really doing it the hard way, and it only lasts as long as I am actually thinking about it. But if I think in terms of expressing it, say, on the Kawaii Japanese Forums, or to someone with whom I habitually communicate in Japanese, it comes out in Japanese naturally.

Language is made for communication, and communication (at least in my case) determines our language. Even in English, we will think differently, make different kinds of joke, be more or less formal, depending on what kind of person we are (vaguely) thinking of speaking to when we verbalize to ourselves.

Mentioning the Kawaii Japanese Forums sounds a little like self-advertisement, but it isn’t as if we make any money out of them, and no one else seems to be doing anything similar. They absolutely aren’t the only way of doing this, and it is good if you have various people that you regularly speak to/correspond with in Japanese only. In my experience that only is important because it determines Japanese as the pure default language in that relationship. When I think about A-san I think in Japanese.

Set up as many such situations as possible. Then when you find your inner monologue is in the wrong language, instead of thinking “I must think in Japanese”, just think of speaking to A-san about whatever you are thinking, or posting it on the Forum (even if it is something you might not actually post). If you have Japanese-only Twitter, think about tweeting it. Or do. (I don’t tweet a lot myself, but if you tweet at me in Japanese, I’ll tweet back). But you don’t have to do it. You just need to gear your mind into that communication-sphere, which is Japanese.

But for that, of course you must establish Japanese communication-spheres. And keep them regularly active. If you don’t know where to start with that, I really do recommend popping along to the Kawaii Japanese Forums. And join in! Really, we welcome newcomers of every level, and we are all learning, so don’t feel shy. えんりょしないで!

Language is communication. Communication is people. Inner monologue is outer dialogue internalized. Thus (certainly in my case and very possibly in yours) the key to inner monologue is outer dialogue.

japanese‐forums

I and Na Adjectives: What the textbooks don’t tell you

i-and-na-adjectives
Enpitsu ga akai. The pencil is red and it writes its own “is”

Like most of Japanese grammar, i and na-adjectives are simple, logical and beautiful. As far as I have seen (and I don’t claim to have seen everything) introductions to grammar do not explain them very clearly.

In a way I can see why. Their aim is to “cut to the chase” and tell you how to use them in practice. The trouble is, to my way of thinking, that this cutting-to-the-chase leaves the impression of a bundle of random quirky “facts” that you have to learn, rather than a complete, clear and beautiful system.

This in turn makes it harder to learn to use them correctly by instinct.

So let me tell you what I think everyone should know from day one of using i and na adjectives (but please use this in conjunction with a conventional explanation of their actual use if you aren’t familiar with it).

1. Na adjectives are essentially nouns. They work like nouns. That is why they need “na” (I’ll explain that bit in a moment).

2. I adjectives are close cousins of verbs. They conjugate like verbs. Na adjectives don’t because nouns don’t conjugate.

3. The “is” function is built into i adjectives. Kirei (na adjective) means “pretty” (or “prettiness”). But utsukushii (i adjective) does not mean “beautiful”, it means “is beautiful”. I put this in red because it is so important.

Now something happens from lesson one that tends to throw this important point into confusion. We learn:

Hana ga kirei desu (“the flower is pretty”: na-adj)

Hana ga akai desu (“the flower is red”: i-adj)

So don’t the two kinds of adjective work identically? Don’t they both require desu?

No, they don’t. The desu on kirei is grammatically necessary. The desu on akai is only used to make the sentence desu/masu polite level. It serves no grammatical function.

That is why, in plain form, we say:

Hana ga kirei da

Hana ga akai

Hana ga akai is the grammatically complete and proper way to say it. Hana ga kirei needs da.

And now that you know this, you are ready for the next important fact.

4. Na is a form of da. “So that is why na adjectives need na! Why didn’t anyone mention that?” You exclaim. So did I.

Connecting two i or na-adjectives

So, when you connect two verb-like i-adjectives, what do you do? You do just what you do when you connect verbs to something. You put them into te-form.

chiisakute kawaii = “is small and cute” (note that converting the final い i to く ku is the “glue” that holds conjugations onto i-adjectives).

And what do you do with na adjectives? Exactly the same thing.

But you can’t conjugate nouns or noun-like adjectives. No. And that is why na adjectives need na/da/desu. And that does conjugate to te-form.

The te-form of da/desu is de. So:

Kirei de yuumei “pretty and famous”.

I think I spent about a month wondering why the de particle was used in such an unpredictable way here. Of course, this de is not the de particle. It is the te-form of that same na/da/desu that always has to appear after a na-adjective.

As you see, the process is identical. chiisai means “is small” to make kirei mean “is pretty” (rather than just “pretty”, or really something closer to “prettiness”) you have to add na/da. Both are then put into te-form: chiisaichiisakute and kirei nakirei de.

Naturally you can join an i-adjective to a na-adjective, or a naadjective to an i-adjective, just so long as you use the appropriate te-form as the connector for the first one.

These are the things I wish I had known right from the start, so I am giving them to you. I hope they make this aspect of Japanese feel clearer, easier and more kirei for you just as they did for me.

One last point that can cause a little confusion. You will sometimes see the words ookii (big) and chiisai (small) used with the final i replaced by na. These are the only two adjectives that I have seen used as both i and na adjectives. The effect of the na-form is to make them feel a little more childlike and story-bookish. As in the children’s song Ookina kuri no ki no shita de “Under the big chestnut tree”.

Learning Japanese through Anime: hearing Japanese without subtitles

Learning to listen like a child
Learning to listen like a child

Our article on learning Japanese through anime has proved to be the most popular page on this site. I know a lot of people are using this method and I can vouch for the fact that it is an excellent way to learn Japanese.

Once one has been using this method for a while, the question starts to arise: “I am definitely learning Japanese through anime. But am I learning to hear Japanese this way?”

So let’s talk about this.

A good friend suggested that using Japanese subtitles is an obstacle to developing the ability to hear Japanese. I would not go that far. In fact I think it helps. However, hearing is a distinct skill in itself, and it is not the primary one that learning Japanese through anime with Japanese subtitles is intended to develop.

It will help, especially in the early stages. You will be associating the sound of actual Japanese voices with the subtitle text. Don’t even think of leaving off the Japanese subtitles for the first six months to a year (assuming you start learning Japanese through anime very early in your Japanese learning adventure).

My Spanish speaking friend, whom I mentioned in the first article, who learned pera‐pera English largely through watching English movies with English subtitles, kept the subtitles for around four years. Since I regard her as my senpai in this area, wouldn’t I recommend the same for learning Japanese through anime?

My answer to this, as my own experience evolves, is “yes and no”. Yes insofar as I think you will want to watch anime with Japanese subtitles for at least four years. The subtitles teach you a huge amount. You are learning new words, and new grammar. You are finding out a lot about the language that you couldn’t discover by listening alone (unless your listening is a whole lot better than mine).

Make no mistake, watching actively with subtitles is labor‐intensive, especially at first when you are looking up every other word. It takes a lot of ganbari in those early days. I would guess that the drop‐out rate from learning Japanese through anime at this stage is high.

If you stick with it (zettai ni akiramenai!) it becomes faster and easier pretty quickly. But if you are assiduous, you are still learning a lot as you move on to more complex and sophisticated anime. You really are learning Japanese through anime. Anime is your university.

So now I am going to surprise you by talking about more passive ways of learning Japanese through anime. Watching without subtitles and watching with Japanese subtitles but at full speed, not stopping for words or grammar you don’t understand, just grasping what you can on the fly.

In the original article, I wrote: “Don’t expect to kick back and enjoy a few episodes and become fluent in Japanese.” Now I am kind of telling you to do just that. But only kind of.

This is phase 2 of learning Japanese through anime. You have already learned a lot by slogging through anime line by line until you are actually able to understand Japanese in action. Now you are ready to start developing your pure listening skills.

This is not instead of watching carefully with Japanese subtitles. You should still be doing that for as long as you need to. Four years? Very likely.

When should you start watching without subtitles? I started in the first six months, firstly with the Paboo Project and then with Anpanman, which is aimed at very young children. As with early learning with Japanese subtitles, it was a struggle. Especially with some of the (wonderful, I may say) Anpanman full‐length movies, I would often have to repeat the same five seconds over and over to catch what was being said.

However, what I want to talk about here is the phase 2 level of learning Japanese through anime where you start aiming to understand spoken Japanese at full speed.

Now you may be saying “I have been learning Japanese through anime for quite a while and I have learned a lot of Japanese, but I am still hopeless at hearing the language.”

Don’t worry. Listening is a skill in itself. You need to work on it separately. That is what we are talking about now. It is one of the harder skills and some people find it harder than others. I am one of those who find it especially hard. To tell the truth my English kikitori isn’t always that good. I’ll tell you a true recent story just for fun.

I was stopped in the street the other day by a nice lady who was clearly selling something related to health. She talked away in English and I had no idea what she was talking about. In the end I said:

“Sumimasen. Eigo wa chotto nigatte desu kara, zenzen wakarimasen.”

Of course she had no idea what I was saying and said:

“Don’t you speak English?”

“Only little.”

“¿Habla español?”

“Sumimasen. Supeingo ga dekinai n desu kedo.”

“Well, God bless you.”

“You also please.”

It was a slightly naughty way of stopping her, perhaps. But it wasn’t really untruthful. I honestly could not understand what she was talking about. I picked up “health” and, well, “health”, and that was about it. I couldn’t even understand enough to ask a question about it. Take me out of areas I understand and my English listening is really not good.

I said “I am sorry but I really had no idea what she was talking about” to my Very Quiet Doll‐Keeper (who had retreated to a safe distance and pretended to be a lamp post as soon as we were approached), and she said “You are lucky”. So I guess she had heard it even from a few yards off and understood it enough to find it icky. Me, I had no idea.

Anyway the point here is that listening is really not a thing I excel at. So if I can do it in Japanese, you can too.

But can I do it? It isn’t easy but I think I am slowly getting there.

I said I was only kind of recommending kicking back and listening. Actually real‐time listening is anything but kicking back, at least at first. It requires a lot of alertness and attention. The full‐speed listening method of learning Japanese through anime is intensive. You are making your brain work hard to grab whatever it can in the time available.

Some schools make students fill in the blanks in a script by listening carefully again and again to a movie clip. I am not saying this is a bad approach. But what I am talking about is different and, I believe, necessary.

The mind is lazy (or, if you prefer, efficient – it is averse to expending excess energy). If it knows it will get two or three (or more) tries at the same passage, it won’t work at full pressure on the first hearing. So by watching at full speed you put it on the spot. Get what you can as fast as you can because the next sentence is coming at you at full speed. And the next. And the next.

“But you don’t learn the new words and grammar that way”. Nope. Let’s be frank. It is going to be a long time before we have sufficient vocabulary and knowledge of sayings, expressions and turns of phrase to perfectly understand everything that comes down the pike (imagine how familiar you have to be with English to understand that “pike” expression).

So unless you are prepared to wait a couple of decades before you can engage in real Japanese with no training wheels, you need to start being able to get the gist even when you don’t catch/know every word. As I just showed you, I am no genius at this even in English. It is a challenge for me. The reason I can write “for dummies” articles is that I am a dummy (doll actually, but why split hairs?)

The indication that hearing is a separate skill from other understanding, and the signal that you are ready for some phase 2 anime watching, is when you can understand an anime pretty easily with Japanese subtitles, but not much at all without them. This is a clear indication that the problem is with listening recognition itself and not primarily with vocabulary or grammar.

In the first anime article I talked about those people who say “Just watch anime without subtitles, let it wash over you and in the end you will start understanding”. I expressed my doubts about this approach.

However, once you are at the stage when you know that you do have a pretty fair understanding of what is being said so long as you can see it written (generally you aren’t looking up a large number of words per episode and you aren’t often stumped by the grammar) it is time to devote some of your anime time to trying to understand the spoken word.

In this case I think one can begin watching like a small child. Try to pick out what you can. Enjoy the story from the visual cues and the little you can gather from the words. At this stage your listening should start to improve.

Shadowing, so that you have a clearer “muscle memory” of what Japanese words are supposed to sound like (rather than what your ear post‐processes them as), is also a help here [I will write more on this soon].

My way of going about this (it isn’t the only way, but I find it works) is along the lines of “wide reading”. Wide reading is a technique based on reading a lot of words (one aims at a million) in books slightly below one’s level, without stopping to look up unknown words or grammar, in order to familiarize oneself with the language.

Similarly I am watching a lot of anime that is not the most complex I can manage fairly fast with Japanese subtitles, at full speed with no subtitles

Doing this at the correct level, you won’t understand everything, but you should start to understand enough to follow what is happening. A very important point, I think, is when you find yourself, from time to time, forgetting you are watching “Japanese” and just watching the story. In those moments, which become more and more frequent, Japanese has stopped being “a language” to you and has become Language.

One has to regain the child’s mentality of just accepting that, say, when grown‐ups are blathering you may only vaguely know what they are talking about (I suppose I haven’t really lost that in English), and when children are talking, or grown‐ups are talking to children, (choose children’s shows) it is quite a lot clearer.

Like a child you become familiar by wide‐watching with turns of phrase. Some things become so familiar because they are said all the time, that you can hardly miss them. Sets of words (collocations) start to “belong” together in your mind because you keep hearing them together.

Like a small child you are beginning to climb the long ladder of spoken‐language comprehension.

This is what I term phase 2 of learning Japanese through anime. It is not sharply demarcated from phase 1. You will continue to use Japanese subtitles a lot. They are still an important key to learning more words, more grammar and all the various things you need to know. And you may already have begun some jimaku nashi (non‐subtitled) listening with simpler anime some time ago, as I did.

The difference in this phase of learning Japanese through anime is that, in your hearing‐oriented wide‐watching, you are watching in real time with anime that are not difficult but not toddler level. And you are aiming for quantity and overall comprehension.

For this level of watching I am finding the productions of the 世界名作劇場 (World Masterpiece Theater) very useful. They are anime adaptations of children’s classics, most of them with a lot of episodes, so there is plenty to watch. Whether these are best for you depends on what interests you.

It is important here that the story holds your interest. Don’t worry too much about what passages you are and are not understanding. That sort of thing is for your more detailed subtitled watching. The aim of this wide watching is to develop your ear, and for this I think it is best not to worry too much. Concentrate, certainly. Do your best to catch what you can.

But remember, for you, at this time, Japanese is the only language. There are no dictionaries here, no grammar explanations. Like any child you are there with a magical story and with Language itself, trying to understand.

The wide‐watching phase of learning Japanese through anime is your first plunge into Total Japanese.

がんばってください。

Return to the original article on learning Japanese through anime.

Using Anime for a Balanced Japanese Study Routine

To learn and maintain Japanese, or any other language, one must must develop a study routine.  If one is in a class, some of this routine will be provided, such as assigned homework and test preparation; however, classes do not last forever, and to keep a language, one must use it.

Learning a language is not just one skill, but many.  For this reason, it is important to have a well balanced routine.  While the different skills build on each other, I have found it necessary to make sure that each skill gets at least some attention, and to grow in a skill one must practice and use that skill.  For example, listening is very helpful to one’s speaking ability; however, one is never going to become proficient in speaking unless she actually spends time speaking.  It is as simple as that.

So, how does one decide what practices to use?  It can be a matter of trial and error, and one’s routine may, and indeed should, change over time as one becomes more proficient.  Something may become too easy to be useful anymore, and something else that was too difficult early on may become useful over time.

vlcsnap-2015-02-22-11h32m07s154In my own routine, Anime watching plays a central role.  I use it in all different ways, and I have found ways to make it useful for every skill (except handwriting).  For me, each way of watching develops different skills.

Below are the ways I watch, and the skills that they develop:

Slowly and carefully, with Japanese jimaku (“subtitles”), as described by Cure Dolly.  This practice develops my vocabulary, kanji recognition, reading, reading comprehension, and grammar.  On the other hand, for myself, this method does very little for my listening ability.  I find that when watching this way, I am concentrating on the written word, and I barely take notice of the spoken words.

With Japanese jimaku, at full speed, with preparationBecause of the difficulty I described above, if I watch an Anime slowly and carefully, I always watch it again with jimaku at full speed.  This matches the words that I have previously read and studied with the spoken word.  It also serves as a review of everything I studied and researched during the careful watch.  I have discovered that I get the best results when I do this at least one day after my first watch, but still within a few days.  This way there is time for the new words and expressions to cycle through my Anki at least once, but it is still fresh in my mind.

With Japanese jimaku, at full speed, without prior preparation.  I started doing this because there were only so many series I could manage at a time using the slow and careful method, and there were a lot of series I wanted to see.  Yet, unexpectedly, I have found that watching some series this way develops some rather important skills, such as reading speed and the ability to understand what is going on from context, even when one does not understand all of the words.  This is also useful in associating the spoken and the written word, because in order to keep pace with the action, one must use spoken and written cues.  On the other hand, this method is not very useful for learning grammar or vocabulary.  It does review the vocabulary and grammar one already has, though, and really forces one to use those skills at a real pace, rather than a practice one.

With English subtitles.  As I discussed more fully here, I have found some limited use for English subtitles, although really this is the least helpful way of watching.  I think that to be of any use at all, it must be accompanied by another form of watching.  The uses I have found for English subtitles are to check my comprehension after watching with Japanese jimaku and to prepare to watch jimaku nashi (without any subtitles).  The best time I have found to watch with English subtitles is a day or so after watching with Japanese jimaku (with or without preparation) and a day or two before watching jimaku nashi.  I only include this step for the series I watch with my spouse (who is not studying Japanese).

Jimaku nashi, with preparation.  For any show I watch with subtitles, I include a final watch jimaku nashi (without subtitles).  For me, this is an essential step in the process.  This reinforces everything I have previously studied in prior watches, and in my mind, this is the only time I feel like I am really “watching” a show, rather than “studying” a show, which is important in and of itself, I think.  Everything prior is preparation for watching it jimaku nashi.  While eventually one will want to be able to listen and understand unprepared in real time, I think that this is a later skill.  I think being able to understand after preparation is a stepping stone to being able to understand unprepared.

Jimaku nashi, with no prior preparationI tried this in my early days of Anime watching, but not for long.  The reason for this was that I was not really getting anything out of it.  I could pick out a few words here and there, and I would find myself making up little stories about what was happening (rather like a small child).  After about six months of working with Anime, I could manage something for small children, like Anpanman, and have a general understanding of what was going on.  Yet, now after over a year of watching Anime, I tried this again with Go! Princess Precure, and I found that I really did understand most of it (which I was able to confirm afterwards, when I watched slowly and carefully with jimaku).  I tried this with a couple of harder Anime as well, and I understood less, but enough for it to be useful, I think.  I still think that it is important to use the other methods I described to work on other skills, such as vocabulary building and reading comprehension.  On the other hand, I think I am now ready to add this practice to my Japanese study routine.

Audio only.  Lastly, I take select episodes and put them on my iPod to listen to over and over again, with only the audio.  Usually, these are my favorite episodes, but they may also be episodes with important vocabulary.  In the beginning, I chose episodes with a lot of singing to help with my pronunciation and ability to form morae, which are different than syllables.  I found that singing along was extremely helpful.  Now, I have about 30 episodes on my iPod, which I cycle through, usually using about about 2 episodes a day.  This is almost completely passive learning, which I do while doing other things, such as housework.  I think that the passive component is really important, because it allows Japanese to slip in at a deeper level than active learning does.  It brings Japanese to the level that one does not have to think about it.

I have also recently found another use for the audio only component.  I recently learned of the technique of shadowing, or trying as much as possible to talk along with the characters.  Pronunciation is my weakest skill, so I am using shadowing to work on this skill.  While this would be impossible with  an unfamiliar episode, I have episodes on my iPod that I have been listening to for over a year, so much so that I almost know them by heart.

This probably sounds like a lot of work, and it is.  I get enough benefit out of it, that for me, it is worth it.   I hope that some of these ideas are useful to the reader.