How long will NativShark last me?

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We sometimes get questions about the amount of content that NativShark has available, and if it’s worth purchasing an annual subscription or if they’ll run out of things to study in less than that time.

The short answer is that NativShark already has more content than just about any other resource* out there, and if you started today, it’s unlikely that you’ll ever run out of content to study due to the constant updates.

It’s the most comprehensive one-resource learning path there is, and it’s the only core resource you need to reach a high level of proficiency in Japanese.

But there is something more important that we should also consider when asking this question.

*We still teach fewer words than, say, a dictionary.

The problem with counting vocab

I’m sure many of us have seen resources emphasizing the sheer number of vocab, kanji, or otherwise they teach.

While a number like 10,000+ vocab and 3,000+ kanji to study certainly seems enticing, it does not contain an accurate picture of what your ability in Japanese will be like when you come out on the other side.

To give my personal experience with this (Ty here!), I have gone through many different resources including two flashcard decks of ~2,400 kanji and 10,000 pieces of vocab. I did 20 new cards a day, every day until it was done, with probably less than 10 days worth of exceptions.

And while your first assumption upon hearing this is that I would be fantastic at Japanese after completing it…

That wasn’t the case. At all.

Even after completing both decks, I couldn’t handle even the most basic of interactions when I came to Japan.

I couldn’t understand the conbini worker asking if I wanted chopsticks or my food microwaved.

I couldn’t understand my friends asking me to give them the rice scoop when having dinner with them, or asking me to put away the spoons after cleaning up.

I couldn’t even express my birthday or any essential information when asked about it when I went to the ward office, assuming I even understood what they were asking for in the first place.

I couldn’t effectively use my Japanese, even though I had memorized 10,000+ pieces of vocab and probably around 3,000 kanji at that point.

I found myself asking, what on earth is the cause of this? How can I know so many words but still feel so utterly lost when trying to do such simple things in Japanese?

And upon sharing the resources I used with native friends, I realized that I wasn’t being set up for success by them.

Something missing

It turns out that textbooks, classrooms, and most resources found (for free or not) online tend to share a big common problem.

The language they teach isn’t natural, and people don’t speak like that in real life.

This is what caused the problems I ran into above.

My resources weren’t telling me how things were used out in the world, and due to Japanese (obviously) being a fundamentally different language from English in almost every way, I had no idea how to connect the language I was learning to how it’s used in everyday life.

Let me prove it to you with some examples.

One of the many issues textbooks etc. contain is the overuse of pronouns like わたし and ぼく (meaning “I”), きみ and あなた (meaning “you”), along with the overuse of particles in example sentences.

This leads to really unnatural sentences such as:

あなたの学校がっこう日本人にほんじん学生がくせいがいますか。

Are there Japanese students in your school?

If you’re used to reading textbooks, you may not see the immediate problem with this sentence. If you’ve had a lot of exposure to Japanese as used in the wild, especially in everyday life in Japan, the entire sentence will likely sound… off. It won’t feel like a human wrote this.

As to why this is, あなた is being used to mean “you”. In English, this makes sense. But Japanese is a high-context language, which means we don’t need it because the rest of our sentence is clearly a question.

On top of that, if you say あなた to someone who you know the name of, it’s actually quite rude. Not the best habit to instill in learners with no other reference point, causing us to think that’s the right thing to do and we should be using it like we do in English.

They’re also using the particle が when most people speaking naturally would drop it. In fact, I asked a native Japanese-speaking team member and they were quite confused why this sentence had が there because it was so unnatural.

They also use 学生がくせい when 生徒せいと would likely be more natural. It’s hard to say due to the lack of context, but teaching weird words over natural ones is a common theme with textbooks and similar resources.

You can never say for sure what’s best because there is never enough context given.

Lastly, their sentence ends with a 。 instead of a question mark. The vast majority of people use question marks in everyday life. Only the highest levels of formality need a 。 when questions are being asked, but I see countless learners of Japanese making this mistake over and over because they aren’t being set up for success by their resources.

So if we wanted this question to be more natural, then we’re likely to see something along the lines of:

学校がっこう日本人にほんじん生徒せいといますか?

But even this sentence has problems. Since there is no context, it’s impossible to make a fully accurate guess at how to make it more natural.

For example, if it’s obvious from the situation that we’re talking about school, we could reduce it even further:

日本人にほんじん生徒せいといますか?

If we were already talking about students, or it was easy to imply that we mean students, we could even say:

日本人にほんじんいますか?

Again, I can’t say any of these sentences are correct or incorrect because the situation/context is not presented with this question. Depending on what the situation and surrounding conversation is, these questions could change entirely.

Instead, all we get is this question with no reference point in reality.

What I can say for sure is that only learning the first sentence we saw will give you unrealistic expectations of what Japanese is. And many, many headaches down the road.

But this, perhaps, is a more common example that’s easier to pick apart. Let’s take a look at a small conversation from a textbook:

A phone call.

ロバート: もしもし、みちこさん、いまなにをしていますか。
みちこ: べつなにもしていません。いま、スーさんの写真しゃしんています。

Robert: Hello, Michiko, what are you doing right now?
Michiko: I’m not really doing anything. I’m looking at Sue’s pictures right now.

Real people don’t speak like this. This is so obviously written for a textbook that it is painful to read.

We have a lot of the same issues as above, with excessive particle use and completely unnatural phrasing.

There’s a lot to break down, such as the unnatural use of を, a particle that is almost always dropped in spoken conversation (formal and casual), along with the extra い in していません, which is spoken and written like してません very often.

On top of that, this doesn’t cover the odd tone that Michiko, the second speaker, is giving off by using べつに with the -ません formal negative form. It’s just way too formal and stiff to use with someone who calls you enough that they don’t need to introduce themselves before starting a conversation on the phone.

While it is problematic to even attempt to make Japanese like this more natural, (i.e. why would you be calling someone and asking them what they’re doing right now if you’re not close enough to use casual language?) here’s what you may be more likely to expect in an actual phone conversation between two real people:

ロバート: もしもし?いまなにしてますか?
みちこ: べつなんもしてないですけど、あ、スーさんの写真しゃしんてます。

Robert: Hello? What are you up to right now?
Michiko: Not much. Oh, I’m looking at Sue’s pictures though.

Notice how the いま is not repeated by the second speaker, because it has already been said by the first speaker. And the sentences flow much better. Both of these are starting to feel like something that real people would actually say.

If this Japanese is a bit hard to understand, then looking at the translations is fine for now. There is a noticeable difference in what feels like what a real person would say vs what feels like is just written in a textbook, right?

This all said, it’s hard to force naturalness onto sentences that were entirely unnatural to begin with, so I’d like to not linger on that “correction” for too long.

So all we need to do is learn the ways people use it and we can continue to just learn as normal with our textbooks or flashcard decks, right?

Well, it’s not that simple.

The biggest problem with the above is that the vast majority of resources don’t even tell you this is unnatural language, and they present it as though it’s the only language that exists.

The further and further you get into these resources, the harder it gets to spot this weirdness because unnatural language becomes your baseline.

And remember, learning natural language isn’t just to sound a bit better at Japanese when you’re speaking.

These resources teach Japanese that is so vastly different from how it’s used in everyday life that your comprehension ability will suffer.

Textbooks being full of unnatural language is likely caused by the fact that they are written for academic purposes. In academic settings, especially when writing, you might see language used in a somewhat (not fully) similar way.

Other resources may scrape sentences from newspapers or other online written sources, causing a similar issue with the naturalness of their language. Imagine speaking like a newspaper 24/7. Both your comprehension and production skills would be pretty off.

When you use these resources as a core resource, you’re only getting exposure to this very specific kind of language. That’s going to result in shock and, unfortunately, lots of feelings of helplessness when you venture outside of that bubble.

NativShark is designed to solve this problem, as it’s one of the biggest grievances we learners on the team have with traditional learning resources.

NativShark: a natural solution

NativShark teaches language used everywhere. Spoken casual and formal, written casual and formal, language used in academic or research settings, on signs, anything.

So you do learn this textbook style of language with NativShark as well. You’ll get a firm foundational understanding of the language, and then we show you how to go above and beyond by teaching you how it’s used in everyday life.

This means you’ll be able to navigate Japan, consume whatever media you enjoy, and pass the JLPT all from a single resource.

NativShark gives you the tools you need for success in your exposure to Japanese. You’ll understand things faster and more thoroughly than if you had to try to piece all of this together yourself, which often results in burnout instead of learning.

Thinking about comparing naturalness with the conversation we saw above, here’s what real people sound like when in a real conversation, which comes from a Dialogue in Phase Three, Unit 109 in NativShark:

A conversation between a brother and sister.

A:

最近さいきん菓子かしつくはじめたんだ。
I started making confectioneries recently.
Literal: recently
お-
sweets
making
started
んだ
Male Voice

B:

いま流行はやってるよね。どんなのつくってるの?
That's popular these days, isn't it? What have you been making?
Literal: now
is popular
what kind of
is making
Female Voice

This is an excerpt of the first two sentences of the Dialogue. If you have an account with an active free trial or a paid subscription, you can view the full dialogue here. Feel free to reach out to our support and ask for more free trial time if you ran out.

It’s good to note that Dialogue content is always a review of previous concepts that have been learned, so this would be easy for you once you reach this point in NativShark. No need to worry about not understanding it in case you aren’t there yet.

By the way, be sure to play the audio too if you can.

You’ll be able to hear how people speak in everyday life as well, instead of the slowed-down recordings which completely change how Japanese sounds and creates yet another barrier to success. And don’t get me started on the auto-generated stuff. *shudders*

If you’re curious about what more advanced NativShark content looks like, feel free to browse these as well:

Inferring others' behaviors with のことだから

Various ways to make words out of numbers

Japanese household manners

With all that said, let’s take a look at exactly how much content NativShark has.

How long will NativShark “last”?

Long enough to get you to a high level of functional usage, without building walls between your study and real exposure environment like many other resources tend to do.

NativShark is designed to get you into native materials* and other things you want to enjoy in Japanese as quickly as possible, such as speaking with friends or living your life in Japan.

*native materials are anything written or made for a Japanese-speaking audience. This includes manga, Japanese TV, anime, Japanese games, and much more.

In other words, NativShark gives you the tools you need to handle unknown Japanese as smoothly and efficiently as possible.

This means you can jump from NativShark to native materials + doing what you want to with Japanese at a much faster pace than with any other resource.

This is because:

  • Every single sentence is hand-written by a native speaker of Japanese, and we include context, which helps you deeply understand how each word is used in real situations.
  • Every lesson and vocab sentence has two pieces of audio spoken naturally (not a robotic, slow textbook voice that completely changes how words are pronounced, setting your ears up to not be able to understand natural Japanese) from a male and female native Japanese speaker.
  • Every lesson is hand-written by a learner of Japanese who has reached a high level of proficiency as an adult (then all lessons are checked and edited by a native speaker). This means they have experienced the joys, potential pitfalls, and challenges of learning Japanese from scratch and know how to guide you through to your goals.
  • Every Unit contains a Dialogue at the end, which contains Japanese you have already been taught while introducing it to you in new contexts and preparing your brain to understand and use it naturally.

Now that we have that cleared up, let’s take a look at the amount of content that is contained within NativShark, and how long it can “last” the both the adamant studier and the average student.

As of December 6, 2023, there are a total of 649 Units* in NativShark, across Three Phases**. It is important to note that NativShark has new content added to it every week, currently at the pace of 4 new Units a week.

*A “Unit” is essentially a “chunk” of complete studies. Units contain lessons, vocab, kanji, Dialogues, tips on how to study, and various other things depending on the concept being introduced.

** A “Phase” is a way to divide what your abilities will look like based on where you are in NativShark. There are 4 Phases which each correlate to a certain level of ability in Japanese.

There are*:

  • ~649+ Dialogues, which are natural conversations in Japanese all with naturally spoken recordings and appropriate context
  • ~2,300+ lesson sentences each with two naturally spoken recordings from both male and female speakers and appropriate context
  • ~5,400+ vocab sentences each with two naturally spoken recordings from both male and female speakers and appropriate context**
  • ~2,300+ Kanji, which includes all the normal-use (jouyou) kanji + more

*These numbers are all estimates and are always growing over time.

**Every vocab sentence has context beginning in Phase Two. Phase One will include this feature in a future update.

The average student usually does 3-4 new Units a week, and the other days are review days.

With our update schedule of 4 new Units a week, these students will nearly never run out of content to learn, because NativShark will continue being updated for many years to come. There are always more things to learn in a language.

Allow me to say that one more time.

The average learner will never run out of content to learn from if they start today.

NativShark already has more content than any other learning material out there, holistically teaches every aspect you need to become highly proficient in the Japanese language, and is constantly being updated.

A faster-paced student does a Unit a day. This means it will take them 649 days, or about a year and 9 months to reach where content is currently.

But due to the constant content updates, they will still have another ~11 months of content left on top of that. And by the time they reach the end of that, there will be another buffer of content waiting for them.

In realistic terms, this means it will take a fast-paced student more than 3 years to catch up to current content if they start today.

By that point, the student will have seen everything they need to be a highly functional adult in Japanese, be able to handle most Japanese thrown at them with ease, and the rest would be comprehensible with some amount of effort.

In other words, their ability would be far beyond what any other single core resource could take them, and they probably wouldn’t even be thinking about where to go from that point. They could just do whatever they felt like doing with the language from there.

On top of that, you wouldn’t run into all of the walls that I have directly faceplanted on in the past when you start going out into the wilds of Japanese exposure.

So now this begs the question…

Is NativShark worth it?

We had a community member ask this recently:

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And besides the fact that I passed the JLPT N1 4+ years ago and am constantly learning new things in my daily NativShark studies, here are some responses from active users:

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But why don’t you try it and find out for yourself? You don’t need any payment info to sign up.

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Go here to begin your journey if you don’t have an account yet!

If you’re on the fence but ran out of trial time, feel free to reach out to our email at [email protected] and ask for some extra time to help you decide.

Good luck and happy studies everyone^^