Everyone who studies Japanese to be able to watch anime would love to be able to study Japanese with and through that anime. While I wanted to do the same, I had no idea how to approach this.
I’m a fan of a little known anime series called Naruto. A while ago I tried an experiment with some friends (also Naruto fans) where I had them try to solve the following puzzle. They had never studied Japanese and had no knowledge of kanji.
Naruto is a 忍者
Naruto wants to be 火影 of the village.
Naruto has crush on a girl whose full name is “Sakura 春野.”
Naruto is a 下忍 and remains as such while Shikamaru becomes the first 中忍 of their group.
The Japanese word for spring is 春.
Task: Solve the readings for every kanji
If you are not a Naruto fan, you wouldn’t have a clue. But for my Naruto fan friends? They got every reading right, despite not learning Japanese. The readings and kanji stuck with them even a week later. That’s longer than the first standard Anki recall period (3 days).
This led me to a simple but powerful thought:
Learn kanji readings through anime lingo that you knew even before starting to study Japanese.
Through this, you have built in context, strong association, and already have the feel for an extensive library of vocabulary you are passionate about. The best thing about it is you did most of the legwork while watching subbed (or even dubbed) anime and put in no painful effort to learn that Japanese.
When you can save time and lessen your work, do it.
Here are some tips to help you get started actually turning that built in anime association into Japanese learning.
1. Find anime lingo
Wikia for anime is one of the best places to start. Try to look for stuff like list of “ranks”, “transformation”, “abilities” and “character names.” Observation and RTK will be your ally. The process should be fairly intuitive.
2. Multiple readings
Many kanji have multiple readings. For example 中 can be both ちゅう and じゅう. You can use Rikai-Sama or a dictionary to cover everything or just focus on learning specific readings from the anime and worry about the others later. But sometimes even the anime lingo alone is enough to cover this. For example, learning both readings of 忍 through words like 忍者 (ninja) and 忍び(shinobi).
3. Lesser used kanji
Anime has a lot of words that are common or just sometimes plain made up. That’s fine, because usually the readings are the same as most other words, and what you are after are the readings.
4. Keep the method to pre-Japanese learning knowledge
The point of this method is to save you time by tapping into your potential word knowledge that you didn’t realize you had. Once you start learning Japanese, don’t bother going out of your way to watch new subbed or dubbed anime just to gain the lingo. Stick with familiar series.
5. Keep it fun
Since you are using the fun you had while watching all that old anime and gaining a mastery over the language of it, you don’t want to destroy that by obsessing over understanding and remembering everything. Choose what’s easy, what you remember, what’s nostalgic, and what you are interested in.
Star Trek fans learn klingon because its fun. Use that mindset.
6. Reading boost
Using anime like this is meant to give you a nice kanji boost in a different way. It can’t/won’t cover everything and is meant to compliment other kanji acquisition methods.
Give your vast anime knowledge a purpose
How have you used your built in anime lingo to aid in your Japanese?
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