Why is the Japanese in Anime so Difficult to Understand

Anime is one of the major influences of people who decide to study Japanese. So it is most natural that you want to get to studying with anime, and later just basking in the enjoyment of anime, as quickly as possible. What better tool to advance in Japanese than anime right? It’s mostly meant to be understood for all ages, including children, leaving any annoying complexities you aren’t ready to handle.

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Anime is simple, easy to grasp, and was destined to be the most perfect Japanese learning tool in the land…

If it wasn’t so ridiculously difficult for early Japanese learners. The seemingly ultimate study tool is riddled with issues that affect foreigners trying to use it. What are some of the causes of this problem?

6. Voices

People that talk in anime often sound nothing like real life people. This is to make characters stand out more, give them a unique flavor, and allow the viewer to engage in a different reality than their own. Voice alone has to be enough to express what a character is feeling or thinking. While there are standard voices as well, they aren’t the typical voices you are used to hearing from whatever textbooks you have been using.

Even in the real world it takes time to get used to new types of voices, and anime magnifies this 100 times over.

5. Noise

Anime isn’t just talking. There is background music and sound effects that are often playing at the same time as speaking. The more action involved an anime the more likely things are to get in the way of what you are trying to hear.

4. Accents/dialects

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To add even more to characters, they are often given regional dialects or accents that aren’t standard. If you have only heard Tokyo talk (which is the default most audio from textbooks give), a lot of this will be new to you.

3. Anime Casual

Japanese is split into many levels of politeness. Anime often adds an extremely casual or rude Japanese style that you would rarely ever see a Japanese person use in real life (outside of a fight or very hostile encounter).

2. Themed vocabulary

Anime covers every theme possible. From spaceships to dinosaurs to ninjas to time travel. Every theme has its own large set of specialty vocabulary, most likely which you’ve never heard. Without the specialty vocabulary it can be hard to keep up with the story.

1. Made up words

Anime is infamous for creating an entire world of words that doesn’t actually exist. With all the fantasy and science fiction running around, there is nowhere you can learn those set of words unless you actually watch that anime, and it is hard to know if you don’t know a word because it is made up or not.

Anime viewing mindset

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If anime is your main reason for studying Japanese, you are probably quite experienced in getting fully absorbed in another world, its detailed stories and amazing characters. You want to know everything about that world, even what appears hidden or up to the viewer’s imagination.

Going into anime when you are studying Japanese punches major holes throughout all the reasons you have enjoyed it in the past. Eventually these holes are filled up, but you are going to for a while have to find a temporary and different way to enjoy the anime that you aren’t used to. If you don’t change your mindset, it’ll lead to nothing but frustration.

Bad study tool then?

No. If you like anime, it is the best possible study technique for you. You just need to go about it smartly. Find level suitable material. Find material that allows you to enjoy it without complete understanding. Add it to your repeated immersion. Give yourself time to get used to it even if you thought your Japanese was at a good level already. And remember that your anime enjoyment will grow with every passing day.

Anime is difficult for Japanese learners. But the fruit it yields is sweeter than you can possibly imagine.

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Founder of Jalup. Spends most of his time absorbing and spreading thrilling information about learning Japanese.


Why is the Japanese in Anime so Difficult to Understand — 2 Comments

  1. I might add that while anime is an amazing learning tool, from experience I’ve found it’s better not to strictly rely on it for immersion and instead use other media in conjunction with it for balance. Besides music, I generally only listen to anime and drama cds, and while my comprehension of spoken Japanese and knowledge of grammar and vocabulary has gone up significantly, I’ve noticed a downside– when I think something in Japanese or go to say something in Japanese, the rude or tough masculine-sounding language I’ve learned from anime often to tries to come out. As a non-confrontational female, saying stuff like 問題じゃねぇ or おめーら、何なんだよ、これって is not how I want to talk to most people.

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