Why Can’t I Understand Japanese News?

Anime: check. J-dramas: check. Variety shows: check. News: …

Does this sound like you? If you are in your mid to high levels, this is a frustration you know way too well. The news is that high level dungeon that you want to hunt because of the great loot you can get, but you die as soon as you walk in. You can’t understand the news and you don’t know why.

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You can’t understand the news because you aren’t watching the news.

You should be familiar with the concept. It’s something you already faced with all other forms of media. You can read all the textbooks you want, and finish an infinite number of flash cards, but until you get into the habit of actually watching casual TV, you can’t understand it. You experienced the transition of your brain connecting those 2 worlds.

While that phase was also challenging, it was nothing compared to what the news brings to you. And rightfully so.

You’ve gotten spoiled

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You worked your ass off to understand TV, and you’ve gotten used to it feeling good and enjoyable to some extent. You’ve earned it. So you expect to have it carry over to your newest challenge. And when it doesn’t carry over, the hopelessness begins. It’s like you are starting the phase from zero, despite possible years of work already. There is nothing worse than feeling you deserve something and getting nothing.

But why are you starting at zero?

1. Newscasters Talk

News is spoken in a different tone, speed, and cadence than normal language. It’s news talk. People only talk like the news on the news.

2. New realm of advanced terminology

The news is full of intense terminology you’ve never heard of before. You are under a constant barrage of words you most likely have no experience with.

3. News politeness level

It’s not just the vocabulary of topics you don’t know, but the news uses a specific politeness level, one that you aren’t used to hearing as much, and has its own specific lingo you need to learn.

4. It’s fast and continuous

Conversations have pauses and breaks, are slower paced and give you time to think. Once a news segment starts, it goes and goes until it ends.

The news is boring if you don’t know what’s going on

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When you stepped up to casual TV, you didn’t need to understand everything to enjoy a series. Even at a low comprehension, the music, visuals, action, characters, and story were all substitutes.

The news doesn’t usually have these substitutes. There are visuals but oftentimes they don’t help. News stories are usually brief. A few to several minutes a piece. The information is jam packed. And if you miss something it is very hard to keep up with what is going on. Gaps in understanding destroy news stories.


Everyone feels like the news is this impossible demon. The higher the level you are, the worse it feels. Just like being able to understand the news in your native language feels like a transition from childhood to adulthood, it has that maturing feeling in Japanese. And you don’t want to be missing out on it.

With all of the problems above, you can see why it’s easy to avoid the news. You hope that just by improving your Japanese, continuing to watch TV, continue your flash cards, you’ll get it.

You won’t.

The only way to understand the news is by watching the news. Watch more. And then watch even more than that. Everything makes you not want to watch the news, but if you ever want to watch the news and enjoy it, you are going to have to start off watching it and not.

Not all is lost

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Assuming you are high level going into the news, the adjustment period is quicker than you imagine. It’s not more enjoyable, but if you steadily challenge it every day, you will get it. You can try starting with simpler news programs, especially those that target children, or news programs with a more casual touch to them.

Always remember this: if you ever want fluency (and beyond) in Japanese, understanding the news is a major part of that. And the rewards know no bounds.

Share some techniques

The challenge into the foray of news doesn’t have to be terrible. But let’s hear from you. What was your technique for getting used to the news?

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


Why Can’t I Understand Japanese News? — 12 Comments

  1. Not that I’d claim to be proficient by any stretch of the imagination, but some of my first immersion listening was having news podcasts on in the background. In addition to weather and international news, some programs have social commentary as well. KBS World Radio News, NHK Radio News, and RKB Radio News “Insight” have been on my playlist since I started study a year ago.

    Also for a simpler way in, NHK has the “NHK Web Easy” sight, with news stories edited down to simpler texts, and then read at a slower pace. http://www3.nhk.or.jp/news/easy/

    • Having news in the background is a great idea and really helps you get used to it. And thanks for sharing the link to NHK news.

  2. The news has definitely been something I’ve tried, hadn’t understood “enough” of it, and brushed it off for later. It really has been, “It will probably improve on its own, so why bother with it now?” kind of thought process.

    I think I’m going to try to find a good news podcast/broadcast for my daily commute at the least. Thanks for the push/motivation.

      • I really like the continuous stream feature on that site. Watching the news passively like someone would probably watch the news normally is nice to be able to do. Thanks for the recommendation.


  3. Oh man this is something I’ve needed to read for a while. I keep telling myself I don’t like the news in English so I don’t need to watch it in Japanese either. I was also under the illusion you talked about that if I get good enough at the other things that the news will come naturally. I also encountered this type of thing with a transition from anime to dramas. I watched animes only for so long I was pretty good at 3 star anime but couldn’t watch a 1 star drama. This is good motivation to start watching.

    • I went through the exact same thing. I think it goes along the idea that just because you don’t like the news in English doesn’t mean you can’t or never watch it (as it a necessary part of life).

      There’s no better time than now to get into it!

      • When you click on the home page here (http://news.tv-asahi.co.jp/), wait a few seconds for the video to appear, and click on the orange (再生) button. This has all the news run on stream (occasionally there is an error in the stream, but for the most part it works well.)

        • You are a beautiful man.

          As a reward I gift the website with the knowledge of something I’ve been waiting for 2 years.

          Jp.ign.com has finally launched! Finally a site with western and Japanese gaming, with real unbiased
          (?) review scores. Launched on 8th of April! Enjoy everyone:

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