A method to learn Japanese recommended by nadiatims.
In case it comes off as overly authoritative please realise this is simply because I can't be bothered prefacing every sentence with "I think" or "In my opinion".
Basically what it comes down to for me is the following: accumulating listening and reading practice to get used to the patterns/phrasing and pronunciation/rythm/etc while also steadily accumulating new vocabulary and idioms with some light grammar only if/when it becomes strictly necessary. If you have the opportunity to write and speak in Japanese too, then these skills will improve as you accumulate practice and also as your other (so called passive) skills improve. So the question is how to do this as efficiently and painlessly as possible and getting the biggest bang (effect) for your buck (time).
As a beginner the biggest boost in comprehension are going to come from steady growth of vocabulary. The fastest way to do this is to make use of the advantage you have as an adult, fluency and presumedly literacy in your native language. While theoretically you can learn the language without using the written form and I know one foreigner who is native level but illiterate (after 11 years in Japan), for the sake of argument lets assume for practical reasons it makes sense to become literate. I propose learning hiragana first. Then Move onto Kanji. Kanji would be learned in Heisig order (not strictly necessary but probably easier) by learning vocabulary which uses the different major readings of the characters. This would involve writing the words out in kanji, writing their pronunciation in hiragana and meaning in English. This kanji learning phase would end once one feels they have a decent recognition of say 90% of the words. The purpose of this phase is to demystify the writing system. Basically you should understand the radical system, recognise most of the primitives, have a good amount of kanji readings and a bit of base vocabulary. The next phase would be to do go through the same word learning process to learn katakana but I suppose it could be deferred.
While the learner is learning the writing system and bunch of vocabulary, they would also be making use of dead time (commutes, exercise, cleaning etc) to listen to the target language. I would recommend starting with an audio course, because the translations can be used to comprehend and learn the material. A lot of the vocabulary learned from the kana/kanji study will be recognised, activated and reinforced. Words learned from this passive audio study will also pop up in the kana/kanji word study and be reinforced in the same way.
Once the written system is more or less mastered in this way, it is time for the learner to begin on easy authentic content, or if that is still too difficult parallel texts or phrase books or anything with translations. Something like L-R method might also work well at this point (I've been intending to experiment with it). The point is that by using translations, the texts can be understood quickly and new vocabulary can be gained easily with limited use of a dictionary. Otherwise if the learner feels ready they could jump straight into authentic texts making heavy use of a good electronic or web dictionary. New words should be learned. This might also be a good point to quickly skim through a grammar explanation. Just read through it, reading the example sentences and translations and as always extracting the new vocabulary. Don't bother with any of the exercises.
Keep reading and listening to authentic content, learning new words, and checking grammar if/when necessary. If you have opportunities to speak and write. Do so and those skills will improve further.
No need to bother with:
- Sentence mining
- Sentence cards
- Flash cards (optional, see vocab method below)
- Searching for and inputting sentences
- Making cards with audio/pictures
- Subs to SRS
- Searching for subtitled media
- Fill in the blank exercises
- Monolingual dictionaries
- Short interval review of anything
- Grammar (unless it is felt necessary)
Vocabulary learning during either of the phases above will basically be done in the same way. I recommend limited long interval review involving writing out the words by hand using a method I've written about in other threads. Basically (use an A4 notebook):
- Start a new word list to be filled with 30 or so new vocabulary on a fresh page.
- Write the date above the list.
- Write the words in 3 columns. First column is the word in kanji or kana, second column is the pronunciation in kana, third column is the meaning in your native language.
- Ignore that list for a decent chunk of time (I usually do 2-3 weeks)
- Check which words you still remember.
- Rewrite the forgotten words in a new list
- Write the date above the list.
- Keep repeating steps 4-7 until all items are remembered.
- When one notebook is finished start a new one. You can write the number of words each book contains on the front of each notebook (calculated by multiplying the rough number of words in each by the number of double pages in the notebook). This way you can easily track how much vocabulary is in the system. If you feel it is necessary old completed word lists can be re-reviewed. I can clarify this method further if requested.
- Theoretically you could also just do standard mass SRSing of vocab in the usual manner. It's pretty effective but the reviews will start to pile up, and much of it is redundant. The method above is based on the idea of minimal work by letting items naturally enter the long-term memory rather than trying to force it in by spaced review. Anyone can test this method for themselves by writing a vocab list and ignoring it for a decent chunk of time. However many words you remember, it should prove that the short interval review you might have done on those items is in fact unnecessary.
What it comes down to for me, is quality of immersion. I want high quality (high effectiveness) immersion multiplied by a lot of time. To present an overly simplified equation:
R(result) = T(time) X E(effectiveness).
To me, something like AJATT (an extreme(ish) example of your context heavy sphere), maximises T but E is lower than it needs to be. It may still get results but the time required is huge and time is a valuable resource.
Then on the other end, you have people who supposedly only spend time memorizing grammar rules from textbooks (does anyone actually do this?). These people are likely to think E is high, but it isn't because they are neither training useful (real) language skills nor learning useful information quickly (which would increase E). T will likely be low too due to boredom and low motivation. Then again, people only have a certain amount of T available to them. Increasing E is vital.
So how do you maximise E in a way that doesn't demotivate you from spending sufficient T or motivates you to spend more T. This is the most important question to me. For me the most effective method (high E) is simply consuming the target language in a comprehensible way. The higher the quantity of comprehensible target language entering your brain per unit of time the better. This is why I recommend:
- Bilingual dictionaries (make content comprehensible quickly and without confusion)
- Parallel texts (same reason)
- Phrase books with translated example sentences (same reason)
- Audiobooks (increase comprehension and E of audio content)
- Comprehensible audio content (higher E value)
- Massive vocab learning (increase comprehension and therefore increase E)
- Search for grammar explanations only when strictly necessary (increases E but is time consuming)
There's also a bunch of things (from both of your hypothetical spheres) that I recommend against because their E value is low and I'd be getting better bang(R) for my time(T) by focusing on things with high E value.
I think it's worth mentioning that apart from the vocabulary learning, my study is immersion (your so-called context heavy sphere), but I'm using my L1 when necessary to increase comprehension (your so called efficiency-focused sphere)