Can You Learn Japanese From Anime? — 33 Comments

      • haha, a lot of manga books are actually harder than a lot of novels I know of. I have the whole complete manga set for ruouni kenshin>るろうに剣心.
        I don’t have trouble reading it due to have a strong kanji knowledge. But the phrases they use in that manga/kanji. You would almost never see in real-life use. It goes to tell you that, anime/manga are sometimes even harder then normal fiction books and others as well.

          • anything we learn is pretty much useful in some way.Even if it’s rare kanji/rare phrases. That’s why I like learning Japanese, so much more to learn. Although in my native-level language(english), I’m pretty lazy actually lol

  1. It was driven home to me again just yesterday how important it is to turn off the subtitles if you expect to learn any Japanese at all. I was watching a TV show at my relatives’ place (in English). I could of course hear it perfectly well, but my aunt is hard of hearing so she had the closed captioning on … and I found very quickly I was paying hardly any attention to the spoken dialogue, just reading the subtitles. And that’s in English! Imagine how useless a foreign language audio track would be if you had the subs on.

    • Really great point Lan! I think many people may have experienced something similar to this, so this idea can really reinforce the importance of avoiding subtitles at all costs.

  2. I totally agree with you. 100%. I learn Japanese from many sources, including anime, manga and Japanese music. Watching anime has helped me reinforce what I already learn from books. While watching, I understand contexts, learn subtleties of grammar and expression, discover the beautiful culture, and most of all, have fun! My vocabulary is always improving. I think anime is a wonderful tool for learning alongside other things, like books or classes!

    Great post here. I love it!

  3. Learning SOLELY and PURELY from anime won’t help that’s for sure. However, there are people who think they can do it. Only very young children can pick up a language that way though. But I even have a 10 year old cousin who has been watching English cartoons ever since and still can’t speak straight English with me.

    My main source is from textbooks and iPhone apps. I also have penpals to help me out (I don’t go to classes, I self-study). And I think J-drama is a better supplement than anime.

    I can speak to little kids too, even though I’ve been practicing with adults. I guess it’s usually those who learned in a classroom who have the problem with kids.

  4. of course you can talk to children if you don’t know anything about anime,
    most of the children s parents don’t know much about the anime their children are watching. i know, i lived with a Japanese family for quit a long time because i was engaged to their daughter. and i could talk to the children fine about how school was going, what they did that day, and so on, now understanding a conversation between two kids is a different story because they will rant on about their favorite anime characters and about how sasuke’s eyes are cooler than naruto’s nine tailed fox and why…. but the parents don’t know what the heck they were talking about either….. but i did, and when i chimed in the conversation we could talk together about things they liked and not just the routine day to day life they had. plus Kids are not the only people talking about anime in Japan, but people of almost all generations have some anime stories they love to talk about.
    Anime if a colorful expression of old Japanese culture values and if you are in japan for something other than a business trip, you will be the fool if you don’t know anything about anime, sports and japanese food.
    some thing to think about

  5. I can testify from personal experience that anime can act as a valuable source of Japanese immersion, especially in early stages. Simply watching anime with english subtitles carried me through JLPT4 and half-way through JLPT3 with minimal studying and top scores (although I turned up at JLPT4 believing that the subject marker は was actually written わ *blush*). Using subtitles is not all bad, since it works wonders for hammering grammar points into your mind if you have an auditory-oriented brain. I will agree however that it can only take you so far, since after a certain point you see very little improvement in your Japanese from anime alone (except from picking up more convoluted vocabulary, such as “undead” or “afterlife” or “ammo” depending on what you’re watching). At that point, you need to variate your sources a bit. But with Japanese being my 4th language, I can assure you from experience that no studying will ever replace good old honest I’m-having-fun immersion.

    • It is interesting to consider how being an auditory or visual person really changes what methods of studying are effective.

      I watch anime with subtitles because I’m watching it with someone who isn’t studying Japanese but I’m a visual person and all I’m getting out of it is some examples of usage of words I already know.

      To get something like your experience, I’d have to watch it dubbed with Japanese subtitles (possibly kana/furigana’d subtitles depending on what I was trying to study.) But watching dubbed anime isn’t any fun, so: this gives me the idea that if I can find Japanese subtitles for any of this stuff and add them with subs2srs’s deuling subtitles feature I’d probably pick up more Japanese than I am with this time as well as learn some kanji.

      Does anyone who has used subs2srs have tips on finding Japanese subtitles? I feel like I’ve found enough that if I were trying to make anki cards of some anime I enjoyed I’d be set for a while, but my chances of finding them for a specific show that we’re watching aren’t very good. This may just be the situation.

  6. Do you have any specific techniques to share regarding learning Japanese from watching Anime? I have mostly been watching with subtitles until now because I have hardly understood anything without them. I will give it another go since my Japanese has improved somewhat – for reference, I have recently finished Genki II and just started an intermediate course. Some specific questions I have are:

    How often should I be writing down words that I don’t know? Should I stop the anime and search the meaning in the dictionary?

    If I didn’t really understand an episode, should I watch it again? Multiple times? Consecutively? A month later? With subtitles on and then again with them off?

    • First get rid of the English subtitles immediately. If you still need a slight handicap, try using Japanese subtitles.

      Second, put episodes that you have already watched (even if you understood nothing) on your music device, and listen passively throughout the day, repeatedly. You should be building a playlist of hundreds of thousands of shows that you listen to constantly and repeatedly.

      Finally, I don’t like destroying the flow of watching TV to write things down. However, you can come back to it after with something like subs2srs (post on this method coming soon).

  7. What is your opinion about watching anime/movies with Japanese subtitles as opposed to without any subtitles at all?

        • You have to get used to understanding spoken Japanese without subtitles, because not everything will come with subtitles. Real life conversations certainly won’t :p

        • The wording is a little funky. To put it another way:
          “Japanese subtitles are great, but you should also try to do some things without subtitles”

  8. I don’t agree with the need to turn off the subtitles. I’m not learning Japanese right now (well, I am picking up some words from anime but I am not learning seriously) but I have learned English from books and television and I found subtitles extremely valuable on several stages (all of them, actually) of learning:
    – when I started with the language, I was far from knowing enough words to really understand what’s going on in a conversation without the translation, but I could already start to get used to English sounds and try to spot the words I had already learned. I was using Czech (my native language) subtitles at that time.
    – as I got to the lower intermediate level, I was able to understand most of a conversation, but I was still weak in deciphering phrasal verbs, idioms and slang. Without Czech translation, I wouldn’t be able to learn the proper meaning of these expressions (this, of course, works only when the translators know these expressions themselves which is unfortunately not the case with many Czech translators :/ I hope Japanese-English translators are better…).
    – When I was quite advanced, I switched for English subtitles. By then, I was able to understand almost everything even without the subtitles, but they was very useful in case I didn’t catch some specific expressions like places, slang, words borrowed from other languages and pronounced with English pronunciation (Latin expressions and names are tricky for example, our pronunciation is very different from how they’re pronounced in English) – English subtitles are like a safety net for these situations. Also, you can learn spelling (and kanji in your case) of new words.
    – These days I am turning back to Czech subtitles, I am amusing myself by searching for bad translations and exercising my own translator skills by thinking about how to translate it better.
    In short, I think that without subtitles, my English would never be as good as it is now and I would never recommend anyone to never use subtitles when learning a foreign language. You just need to teach yourself to pay attention to both spoken word and the subtitles and not just to the subtitles.
    Btw. if English isn’t your native language, you can actually improve both your new language AND English by using English subtitles – it works for me when I watch French movies with English subtitles. My French sucks, I would catch half of what’s going on on the screen without translation but this way I’m learning new French words and I have also added some useful culture-specific terms to my English vocabulary. :)

  9. I haven’t learned Japanese yet but I plan on taking a course soon. Once I complete a years worth I’ll start to learn take away subtitles and use more ear. I think I will be ok with the kanji part as I am chinese.

    I alo want to add that you should use subtitles at first. It’s useless if you listen toa phrase and not understand it. If you can read and also understand what they are saying at the same time, that’s a good way to learn.

    Also, for advanced learners I think using JAPANESE subtitles is noteworthy. You get to improve both sides at the same time.

  10. Hey I’m 10 and I just started learning Japanese.So should I start turning of the subtitles now?Because I wouldn’t understand anything.Also the subtitles are helping me because I do listen to the words they are saying.Just wondering.:P

    • Only 10?! You’re gonna be a Japanese master when you reach adulthood.

      I would say you should turn off the subtitles, or at least make an attempt towards functioning without them. If you never turn them off, it will be difficult to get adjusted to understanding spoken Japanese without the English crutch. But motivation is a key factor here: suddenly being cut off in a sense from your favorite shows can be disheartening, and the most important thing you can do for your Japanese is never put yourself in a position where you want to give up. Maybe try watching one show with subtitles and one show without?

  11. Two more reasons why anime makes for good study material:

    1. There is not only an abundance of it, but the abundance cuts across a huge variety of genres. Whatever your interest might be, there is probably anime for it. And then some.

    2. Anime episodes are just about the perfect length for a session of active listening.

    Something else I rarely see people mention is that the Japanese also produce radio/audio drama, which uses the same voice acting talent as anime and foreign film dubbing. Even manga that doesn’t get an anime often gets at least an audio drama. And it is frequently near verbatim, which is awesome practice.

    I got turned on to Japanese exclusively through manga and anime. I like languages in general (speak 3 fluently, and 8 others at at least a basic conversational level), but I hadn’t intended to learn Japanese — I’ve had direct reasons for learning all the others, such as traveling and living in different countries, or working for specific language departments at a university. But Japanese wasn’t even on my language horizon; Japan seemed too far to travel to, too unfamiliar, had no connection with anything in my life.

    Thanks to manga and anime I’ve branched out into several other areas of interest (arts, crafts, history), I am now actively learning Japanese, and I hope one day to walk the Nakasendo Trail. Oh, and I am nearly 60. Nobody puts down manga and anime within my hearing (at least while it’s not failing yet ;).

  12. My first language is Italina and I’ve been watching anime with Italian subtitles since I was a child, this way I was able to pick up some Japanese words and common sentences, three years ago (I’m 17 now) I started watching them subtitled in English because they were released faster. Since I wasn’t very good with English either, I couldn’t understand much at first, but after some time and a bit of self study I noticed I could watch anime without subtitles and understand most of it (except for genres like sci-fi and stuff, with all the weird vocabulary) and I also improved my English a lot. Now that I can understand English subs so well that I don’t have to pay much attention to the Japanese I think I should drop them as well.

  13. I’m planning on learning Japanese in order to watch anime, but I’m probably going to start with books and videos for a while. To be honest, I’ve only really gotten into a few anime series, but I’ve heard of multiple anime with LGBT+ representation (Sailor Moon and Evangelion, for example) that’s completely censored in the American translations, and I’m pretty desperate for representation, haha. Plus, I really like some american cartoons, so why not? It would also be a good chance to research what LGBT+ culture and history is like in another country.

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