Is Twitter good for learning Japanese?
Some things I like about Twitter for Japanese-learning:
- Bite-size. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by long Japanese paragraphs. Twitter’s character limit means that this is something you don’t have to worry about!
- Easy to sentence mine. If you are using a sentence mining approach to learn Japanese (which you probably should be), then Twitter is a great place to get sentences. With a few tricks, you can even automate most of the process.
- Natural language. You get to see how Japanese people really communicate on the Internet. This is both a feature and a bug, though— some Japanese is so “slangy” that it’s impossible to look up in a dictionary.
- Interaction! Since I’m an introvert, I don’t care much for socializing on the Internet. But, in theory, Twitter can be a nice way to interact in Japanese with other native speakers.
As we’ll see in the final section, Twitter is “shallow learning” tool that is best used in combination with other “deep learning” tools. But, for now, let’s look at how you can get started with Japanese Twitter.
1. Set up a Twitter ‘alt’
I recommend creating a separate Twitter account just for Japanese twitter.
Why not just use your main Twitter account? Here are a few downsides:
- It’s easy to get distracted. When you are following non-Japanese accounts, it is easier to get distracted by stuff that will not help you learn (cat videos, Twitter fights, random articles, etc.)
- It’s easy to slack off. Although I told myself I would read the Japanese tweets too, I actually found that I often could not make the effort to do so. It’s too easy to just skip over Japanese tweets because reading the English ones are so much easier.
There aren’t any risks to creating a separate Twitter account, and this guarantees that all of the tweets you see are in Japanese. All you need to do is to (a) have/create a different email address and (b) sign up and start following!
But what accounts should you follow?
2. Follow some good Japanese Twitter accounts
After you’ve created an account, you’ll want to follow enough accounts to have enough daily study material. But what makes a Twitter account good to follow?
The best Japanese Twitter accounts to follow will, of course, vary by your current Japanese ability. If you have JLPT N1, almost any account is a good follow. This is not the case if you barely passed JLPT N3.
However, here are some general criteria you can use:
- Meets the 70% rule. As I write about in my book, you learn the most when you are able to understand 70% of what you are reading. Look over an account’s page before you follow. Can you read and understand 60-80% of what is going on? If not, pass on the follow.
- High signal-to-noise ratio. Are most of the account’s tweets good for Japanese learning? Do they seem interesting and useful?
- You like the subject or person. This is obvious to me, but I think many people forget about this. The more interested you are in a person or a subject, the more likely you are to put the effort in and read the Tweet. I like Japanese comedy, so I follow a lot of Japanese comedians. If you like Japanese pop stars, then by all means follow their channels!
Here’s a look at what my feed looks like:
My Japanese is fairly advanced, so I have been following a lot of poetry and literature accounts. I find this to be just the right level of difficulty.
One nice thing about Twitter is that it will recommend accounts to follow. So just follow a few Japanese musicians, artists, writers, actors, etc. that you like and you will start receiving recommendations. Don’t overthink it!
If you’re not sure who to follow, click around in the “Explore” page and follow whoever seems interesting. You can always unfollow people later if they are boring or the Japanese they use is too difficult.
3. How to study Japanese from Twitter accounts
Although you can still learn a lot by (a) reading your Twitter feed and (b) looking up the occasional word or grammar point, this is by no means the best way to go about learning. In this section, we’ll look at a possible Japanese learning workflow that uses Twitter.
As with many of the other workflows on this site (for example, on learning from manga and learning from anime), the Twitter workflow will include the use of the SRS app Anki. This will help shift us from passive learning to active learning.
Here’s how the workflow works:
- Browse your Twitter feed.
- ‘Like’ tweets worth learning.
- Sync (automatically) with a spreadsheet. Use and app like IFTTT to automatically save ‘liked’ tweets to a spreadsheet. I use this recipe.
- Import saved tweets into Anki. When you have the time, you can then import the spreadsheet into Anki to make flashcards. After some pruning (dictionary lookup, editing, etc.), you’ll have a big batch of Anki cards ready for your studying pleasure!
Notice how the above workflow combines (a) casual reading on Twitter with (b) focused learning in the Anki SRS app. This is a recurring theme in many of our posts on language learning: you can’t get away from deep, focused study.
Twitter is great as a casual learning tool, but it works best when combined with study methods of greater depth. Cheers!