A language-learner’s lament

Last time I tried to learn a language, we used card catalogs in the library, phones had a cord, and Kurt Cobain was alive. To study Spanish almost required taking a class (though I suppose learning by book or cassette tape were options). My classroom learning in the early nineties was mostly worksheets, and lots of listening and repeating.

A few months ago, I decided to try teaching myself Japanese. On the internets.

And I mean, duh — it has been amazing. Of course learning a language on the internet is the best. I can learn at my own pace. Watch tutorials in my spare time. Play a Japanese TV show in the background while making dinner. Take two minutes to watch a Puni Puni video. Use online flashcards that adapt to help me work harder on words I can’t remember. Listen to podcasts while taking a walk. Rewind a YouTube video over (and over) in order to catch a particular phrase. Or perhaps my favorite time-waster of all, the anime show Polar Bear Cafe.

But. Yes, I’m sorry, a but. Why, oh why, does the internet ignore what I think it the most important language skill … listening??

Just like we can practice speaking using repetition or drill vocabulary with flashcards, it ought to be possible to work on listening comprehension with audio/video. Start with a very limited vocab and simple grammar structures, and say the sentences extremely slowly. (“I want a soda.” “My husband wants coffee.”) Speed the sentences up, swap around different subjects, change simple tenses, slow them down and add some new vocab, introduce a new verb concept.

The videos would haven’t to be boring; it seems like the internet/anime/YouTube would be perfect for this. Something not too far away from children’s videos, but specifically geared toward language learning. Fun to watch, with a narrative, and charming characters.

Please? Can someone make this, for Japanese?

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Fully agree that the Internet makes language learning more enjoyable, relevant, easier, and the time invested is far better (more efficiently) spent than in a classroom. Best to find a learning program that structures the free exploration and exercises somewhat. As far as listening goes, I know of websites for many languages that have for example the news in “slow German” with the same news at regular speed and the text you can follow later. (Must be something similar for Japanese.) I used to use these site all the time in my second-year classes in the latter years of my career. Had students repeat what they heard for both listening and pronunciation practice. Another good listening exercise is to listen to a film clip and then fill in blanks in a transcript provided by the instructor/program.


  2. The “news in slow ” series holds a ton of promise, but the current incarnation is still waaay too advanced for me.

    Here’s an example sentence from one of their “basic listening” dialogues: “Even I, hadn’t thought about going to Japan until now, but, because of an encounter with a certain person, I came to want to know about Japan.” C’mon, man.

    I guess my rant is that was treat grammar like a skill to be learned, and vocabulary like a skill to be learned, and we come up with tools to practice and improve. But for listening comprehension, I can’t find much out there.

    Liked by 1 person

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