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Japanese Learning Badassery Part II: Watch Anime But Actually Learn Japanese

This post is the second in a series about real Japanese practice out of fun Japanese things. Be sure to check out the first part, about using video games to study Japanese as well.

Anime is fun to watch, but surely it's a cornucopia of Japanese to be learned too, right?

If you’ve read anything on the internet about teenagers and young adults trying to learn Japanese, you’ve probably come across the story of the sad little anime fan—the weeaboo as he is also known—who attempts to learn Japanese, only to fail horribly. His excitement over anime leads him to believe he’d be good at learning Japanese; after all, when he finished watching all 500 episodes of One Piece he feels he has acquired a rather extensive vocabulary, such as the words 仲間 (nakama), 大丈夫 (daijobu), and 海賊 (kaizoku).

This reason this happens is simple: watching (english subtitled) anime will not help you improve your Japanese beyond getting used to hearing Japanese being spoken. Watching subtitled anime requires no effort on the learners part; in other words, there’s no resistance.

As I’ve said before, self-studying requires that you incorporate resistance into your reviews. In other words, you need to challenge yourself.

Watching anime in hard mode (AKA: resistance ON; subtitles OFF)

The first thing I should mention is that complete beginners should not try to learn a lot of Japanese from anime. It’s fun to pick up common words, and useful to learn various 相づち (aizuchi / filler words), but beyond that, I’m going to require the same prerequisites that I stated in my shadowing post:

  • Knowledge of Kana and basic Kanji
  • Decent Japanese grammar skills
  • At least a month or two listening to and understanding beginner-level Japanese. For example, after having gone through a level or two of Pimsleur Japanese.

To learn from anime, you need to set up a consistent study system where in which you’re not just watching anime—you’re learning from it. That means simply watching un-subtitled anime straight through is not particularly helpful: it’s too easy and quick. There’s no way to avoid actually spending the necessary study time.

Watch your anime with Japanese subtitles

Japanese subtitles are great things. You get to read and hear Japanese at the same time without any English interference. As a someone who (supposedly) isn’t completely fluent in Japanese, having the words written down will help with comprehension greatly. There’s a large collection of Japanese subtitles that can be found here. I’ll go with a personal favorite: Death Note.

Now let’s go over how I would go about studying:

1. Write down the Japanese sentence (from the subtitles). It’s important to write the sentence yourself even if you can just copy-paste it from your subtitle file: you’ll end up remembering more.


2. If you want to study vocabulary, follow the same five-side flashcard procedure I’ve detailed before. To refresh your memory, here’s a sample card for 「性格」:

Side 1: 性格

Side 2: せいかく

Side 3: character; personality

Side 4: そんなことしたら、[性格]悪いのはお前だけになるぞ。

Side 5: そんなことしたら、[せ…]悪いのはお前だけになるぞ。

3. However, since this is an anime, you can also rip the audio using any recording program of your choice and use it in conjunction with your Japanese text. I used WireTap Anywhere to choose my video player as my input audio source, and recorded the audio to Audacity:

[audio https://sites.google.com/site/coldfrost/files/ryuk.mp3]

The test of your listening and speaking ability comes when you can repeat the sentence after you hear it without looking at the Japanese text—but you should look in order to see if you get the reading correct. Remember, there is no penalty for being unoriginal when learning Japanese. Even if you’re unoriginal, and are merely repeating, you’re correct. The point is to get yourself speaking in real Japanese rather than a strange mess of incorrect grammar and Japanese-sounding English words that beginners often find themselves using.

4. After you feel you’ve reviewed enough, such as making flashcards for all of the words you didn’t know, and after having gone through a good number of listen-and-repeat sentences as well, test yourself! Go back to the episode after a few days and watch it without subtitles. Hopefully you’ll be surprised at how much you’ll understand.

There’s no secret trick to any of this.

By using anime as your study material, you essentially turn your favorite episodes into your Japanese textbook. You have to create the study material yourself, but you’ll be better served in your learning process by doing so. While the Japanese in a good textbook will be no less valid than the Japanese in an episode of Death Note, hopefully you find anime more interesting so you feel actually interested in studying it.

I know that when I go through textbook sentences, while they’re not bad, they don’t exactly make me super-excited about Japanese either. However, as an anime fan, I’m able to vest more energy into studying because I enjoy it. And frankly, when I study something I enjoy, I’m much more efficient and I enjoy it much more.


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Filed under anime, Japan, Japanese, Language, Self-studying

Using Pimsleur to Jumpstart your Language Learning

Alternate Title: Why Repeating “I am going to eat” 40 times in 30 minutes will help you learn Japanese.

About two months into my Japanese 101 class in college, I had made it a habit of going to office hours to practice my Japanese. I was a bright-eyed freshman, and I was eager to show off the breadth of my Japanese vocabulary—all 10 words or so. Nonetheless, I dutifully showed up every week, and I recall at one point in conversation I used the phrase けっこうです (kekko-desu / That’s fine) in response to something my teacher said—a phrase we had not yet explicitly covered in class, but something I had picked up using Pimsleur.

Now, this is nothing to write home about, but my teacher responded positively, telling me she was impressed at how even with my limited vocabulary, I was able to effectively communicate my thoughts in Japanese compared to some of my peers. This turned out to be a very good thing in the end, as I was able to score a very good recommendation letter from this same teacher for an intensive Japanese program that summer—which I got into!

I attribute a lot of my success in Japanese 101 to having used Pimsleur outside of class, so it’s worth going over.

What is Pimsleur, and how does it work?

Pimsleur is a well-known audi0-based language learning course for beginners that’s available in a variety of languages, and I know I’m not the first person to write about it. Nonetheless, for Japanese consists of the following:

  • Three levels with 30 audio-lessons in each level (for a total of 90 lessons). Each lesson is an audio track about 30 minutes long.
  • When the lesson beings you listen to a dialogue. Then you repeat the words from the dialogue after a native speaker multiple times.
  • Once you have the word down, the narrator will prompt you in English to either repeat a word, or use the correct phrase in response to some scenario.
  • Do one lesson a day, making sure you successfully repeat about 80% of the time.

All of this takes place over the course of 30 minutes, and by the end of the lesson, you should be able to understand and use the phrases from the dialogue from the beginning of the lesson.

Pimsleur seems to offer free sample lessons on its website, so if you’re curious, I’d give one a try in the language of your choice. If you’re interested in what the Japanese lessons specifically will offer you, you can find unofficial transcripts for all 3 levels right here.

Why Pimsleur is worth your time

For the absolute beginner, this is a great program. You won’t be fluent by the end—after all, 90 lessons amounts to only 45 hours, less than amount of time you’ll spend on your average Final Fantasy game—and you may not be using the most natural Japanese either, but you’ll be able to communicate. In other words, you’ll have formed a powerful knowledge-base for future study.

By being forced to repeat certain tricky grammar constructions or particularly difficult-to-pronounce words over and over, you smooth out any language problems you might have had. Furthermore, actually speaking puts your language ability to the test: it’s all too easy to read over some Japanese and believe you understand it, but then when it comes to say it out loud, you get tongue-tied and confused.

I have seen people point out that Pimsleur is boring, but I’ve never found this to be the case for me. Figuring out the syntax and construction of sentences from pure audio is difficult, especially when the built-in pauses during the audio are short enough to keep you on your toes. Remember, you want resistance when you study, and as a complete language beginner, you will be challenged when using Pimsleur from scratch.

Plus, unlike shadowing, there are no prerequisites to using Pimsleur: it’s a self-contained course for the pure beginner, and can be used alone or in conjunction with your basic-level college course or textbook. With Pimsleur, you will memorize the heck out of a small number of words and sentences, and you will see a difference in your language ability.

Why this works over other study methods

Beyond the usual marketing-sounding stuff you’ll find about the “Pimsleur method” on the official website, it works because you spend 30 minutes a day, every day. That takes some serious commitment—I know I have trouble sticking to a daily schedule with regards to most things. When you self-study, it’s easy to put off for later; with Pimsleur, you’re forced to keep at it, and that’s what makes the difference.

In a future post I’ll be going over some ideas for reading and writing Japanese.

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Filed under Japan, Japanese, Language, pimsleur, Self-studying