I hate SRS (spaced repetition system), even though I have used it for more than ten years for various languages. I can’t stand the sight of it anymore, yet, I know of no better alternative for a language like Japanese.

I know about 400 kanjis, which I have learned through SRS. I know about 1,000 Japanese words and the basic grammar. I have accepted that I will have to keep learning kanjis via SRS – as there is no alternative. It’s the rest of the language that I want to stop using SRS for.

I am an introvert and I don’t enjoy speaking with strangers over Skype.

I have pondered long and hard about whether I can learn just by listening and reading, but there are problems:

  • I can’t just pick up a book and start reading it because my vocabulary is very limited. I’d have to look up every word and it’d be excruciatingly painful.

  • I’d forget the readings of the words within a few seconds of seeing them, in a deluge of other words. And no matter how many times I see a word, the reading is unlikely to stick to my mind unless I invoke it actively, or I make an emotional connection to it (not sure how).

Has anyone from a non-East Asian background taught themselves Japanese only by listening and reading, and how did you do it?

Additional information: I don't like artificial "learning"-type activities, e.g. transcribing, repeating what I heard, talking to myself, and so on. I'd like to learn languages naturally, which involves consuming native media, and looking stuff up in a dictionary.

  • Yes, but the question is: is it actually possible with a language like Japanese? Has anyone done it?
    – user584
    Commented Jun 6, 2018 at 15:49
  • I gave an answer below, but keep in mind that the answer is applicable to any language, really. Japanese may be harder (take longer) from the perspective of an English speaker, but the basic principles apply to any L2.
    – AML
    Commented Jun 6, 2018 at 15:52

2 Answers 2


Sometimes, SRS really does just feel like a chore. I'm definitely not sufficiently consistent with my reviews. However, specifically with Japanese, I have discovered some other ways to improve my vocabulary and kanji reading skills. Note that these items are all items I do now and continue to find useful.

  1. I use Anki, typically, but sometimes making flashcards and researching the correct definitions, finding example sentences, properly creating the cards, etc. is just boring, not to mention extremely time-consuming. In order to keep up with the basic necessity of expanding your vocabulary (which is absolutely critical where you are now), you still need to do some sort of flashcards/SRS/lists. Specific to Japanese, I've found renshuu.org to be absolutely great at this.
  2. Find some Japanese music you really do like, then memorize the lyrics. Here's a vocab word for today: 歌詞 (かし) "lyrics". The problems with many Japanese songs, however, are that the grammar is all over the place, and that the vocabulary (particularly anything relational or terribly artistic/fancy/descriptive, unfortunately) is not for everyday usage. I've still found it useful though.
  3. Read manga on your phone along with an OCR dictionary app such as Kaku. Depending on the manga you choose, there may be enough everyday conversation to keep your attention up between passages of dense vocab.
  4. This one I'm not very good at, partly because I don't really have much of a taste for anime, but try watching a TV show with subtitles in Japanese, and just try to understand as much as you possibly can, but without resorting to resources in your native language.
  5. Last and best option is to make friends with people who speak Japanese AND who speak every other language you have in common worse than you speak Japanese. If you're in uni, see if there's a Japanese culture club or Japanese exchange student support club. Otherwise, move to Japan. That's definitely the best thing you could do, and it's been pretty effective in my experience.

Keep in mind that reading and listening are, generally speaking, passive learning activities. And while passive learning is better than nothing, Active approaches (speaking, writing in the case of language learning) are much more effective for ANY type of learning, including language learning.

That said, I think that ReadLang is a good partial solution for you. It will allow for easier reading and looking up of unknown words. Also, graded readers are super useful because they start with easier words/phrases and progress to harder words/phrases. As for listening, try to take an active approach, as described here (cloze deletion listening is one good example).

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