I know you all have really noble motives for learning Japanese. You want to study ancient Japanese literature, talk to your Japanese grandma, or have a Japanese tea party or whatever the heck you kids do these days. But we all know deep down everybody’s really learning Japanese so they can watch anime and Japanese dramas all day. Let’s be honest!
The problem is, a year has passed, two years have passed, and you still can’t understand them! What’s up with that? Yeah, you know what 絶対大丈夫だよ means and you know who さん, くん, and さま are, but when anybody says anything actually interesting, things start to get really confusing.
You’re getting depressed. You can read a dozen manga and write a blog but when it comes to your リスニングの力 you still look like an idiot. It sucks! I know.
What can you do?
Well, you can keep on listening to Japanese podcasts while you’re driving to work every day and keep having your friends look at you funny for listening to Japanese girly-pop from one earbud while talking to them. Maybe you will get there someday in the future.
Or you could just cheat your way through it. I like cheating, so let’s go with that.
Now you should know by now that everybody around here loves Anki, and for good reason, of course. But when you build the base of your learning on reading, your listening comprehension isn’t going to develop as quickly. That’s just the hard truth, but there’s no need to panic because we can use that to our advantage because we’re resourceful, right? We can use reading as a crutch.
Bridging the gap
The best way to bridge the gap from visual to auditory comprehension is to find something you can read first and then listen to. Obviously, this isn’t going to replace actual Japanese conversation or all-day listening immersion. And I’m not going to tell you you’re going to be able to suddenly understand a dozen anime and every commercial on daytime TV. Even though that would be pretty cool.
But you will be able to understand something you really like, be that an awesome 東京事変 album or that cute kid from My Girl. You’ll also have a big head-start to being able to understand everything else.
We’ll start with reading what we want to be able to understand. This means reading the subtitles of an anime, a podcast transcript, or J-pop lyrics. For most people, especially ones who have spent a lot more time reading than listening, this will be much easier.
The text doesn’t speak really fast or slur words (hopefully . . .)
Take your time. Look up words you don’t know, and crack open a grammar book. Stick them through Anki a few times so you don’t forget them.
Putting it into practice
I billed this post as How To Understand Your Very First Japanese TV Series, so let’s actually do that.
Here’s how I learned how to understand my very first anime with no subtitles, not even Japanese subtitles, in about a month’s worth of time.
1. Pick a good series. I like the 12-episode ones, at least to start off with, because it’s obviously a much easier goal to complete than a 24-episode series or a 1,000-episode series. Pick something that won’t have a lot of weird words, either. Usually, slice-of-lifes are the easiest to understand. I used Another.
2. Grab some Japanese subtitles. Unfortunately, these can be hard to locate. There just aren’t a lot of them on the internet. The best place to check are kitsunekko for anime and D-Addicts for dramas. If you have the DVDs of the series, which I’m sure all you good, undoubtedly law-abiding anime-watchers have, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to find some subtitles on there, too.
Now you’ll have to do some work. Don’t worry, it’s not too bad.
3. Get the series you’re planning on studying into your computer by ripping the DVDs or some way or another. Then you’ll need to take the whole mess of subtitles and video and turn it into Anki cards using Subs2SRS.
If I’ve completely lost you by now, no need to worry. If you don’t know how to do any geeky stuff like that, take a look at Cayenne’s guide for a pretty simple explanation on how to use Subs2SRS for fun and profit (especially profit).
Once you’ve done that, you now have an Anki deck full of cards from the series. This is the fun part.
4. You get to do whatever you want with it. Some people like to fiddle around with it and add definitions and other things. I just go through the deck with my three favorite online dictionaries open next to it. I think that’s simpler. Do whatever you want. If you find a word or a grammar you don’t understand, look it up. If a card is too easy for you or it’s just filler text (stuff like “何？”, “そうですか”, and “恒一くん！”) just hit the delete key.
With a 20-minute-twelve-episode show, you can usually complete it a little more than a month. Of course, this assumes you’re at a fairly intermediate level, like me. I did a hundred lines a day, or about a third of an episode, which isn’t that hard as half of them I already understood. Set yourself a goal. Find a date you want to complete it that’s doable and figure out how many cards you need to go through every day to reach your goal.
Time to rewatch episodes
If you’ve kept up on your reviewing, you should be able to understand just about everything. While I wasn’t able to understand every line, I’d say I was able to understand 95%+ of a show. I don’t know about you, but I call that a 大成功!
Of course, as I’ve mentioned before, you can apply this thinking to a lot of different Japanese media. Use your imagination. There’s a lot you can learn.
If you try this out or have tried anything similar to patch up your listening comprehension, let me know how it works out for you!
Written by: Eric