Is it Okay to Use English subtitles? — 41 Comments

  1. Thanks for the clarification. I’ve been immersing with shows I’ve previously watched subbed for a while now, and it certainly feels like it’s been useful.

    Something I remind myself of periodically is that if the goal is not to miss even a single percent of nuance than subtitles are also a loss. A good series will convey a lot in subtle moments of direction, animation, voice acting and so on, and it’s easy to miss these moments while reading and processing the text. Which is why I’ve also been rewatching series unsubbed. I experimented with rewatching each week’s episode unsubbed later in the week and that didn’t work too well (at least for me) but revisiting a whole series some time after it ended has been great. It’s all the stuff I loved the first time, plus several whole new dimensions.

    Also, my usual pattern has been to go through the chart of new series each season and group them into “check out” and “skip.” This season for the first time I added a third category, “check out raw”, which I think of as sitting between the other two. There’s been some migration between categories in both directions, but overall it’s been working pretty well.

    (I should really start doing the same thing with dramas… I’ve watched several older series, but somehow I’ve found it harder to get on board the currently-airing-drama bus).

    BTW, in case anyone hasn’t discovered this already, most (if not all) of the subtitles on Crunchyroll can be disabled from a menu that’s accessible by right-clicking on the player.

    • “BTW, in case anyone hasn’t discovered this already, most (if not all) of the subtitles on Crunchyroll can be disabled from a menu that’s accessible by right-clicking on the player.”

      Do someone knows another site which has more raw animes?
      This one is good but it lacks the majority of the series.

    • You bring up an important negative point that isn’t covered by Adshap’s summary above. Fansubs often are not very good translations. Most of these translators don’t know Japanese very well yet and generally once they get to a the point where they do know it well they give up fansubs for paying work.

      I think you also rob yourself of that feeling of achievement when you start to understand more of the plot subtleties and the nuances from the voice acting.

      If you want to increase your comprehension of a series your time is well spent repping a subs2srs deck. That knowledge will carry over to future episodes and future content. Watching the subtitles does neither.

      • Even official subs can be off. I’ve come across many Ghibli subs that just don’t do the work justice. In fact, it seems like they just pull the dialogue from the English dub, rather than translate the Japanese. In Kiki’s Delivery Service, coffee was translated to hot cocoa, for instance, because in America kids don’t drink coffee so they must have felt it wouldn’t make sense to kids.

        • That particular example is pretty amusing. For one it’s more of an issue of localization rather than translation but more importantly I think more Japanese kids would drink hot cocoa as opposed to coffee! I guess maybe there’s less social stigma in Japan against giving kids coffee?

          • Good point! I don’t think the stigma is any different in Japan than America with kids and coffee. Perhaps the coffee was to show that Kiki was coming of age at 13-years-old, and perhaps it gave the anime more of a western feel. Ghibli movies are filled with western things such as bread and cheese, maybe it’s just one of those things.

            • Either way, I think we can all agree that it is a terrible idea to give kids coffee… the little pests have enough energy as it is :P
              So maybe we can just consider this an instance of mercy towards the poor parents of western kids?

  2. I don’t use English subtitles very often, only every now and again.

    I try to watch a show first without them. If I find that it’s just too hard to follow what’s going on, I go to the English subtitles to at least get a gist of what’s going on. Then, I go back and watch the show again a bit later without the subtitles and pick out the words I don’t know according to what I remember in English during that scene.

    I’ve only done with this a few dramas and anime out of the near hundred I have watched, so it’s not something I do too frequently. I just use them when I really feel like I need them.

  3. Don’t use English subtitles at all, apart for one show. But when I do watch subtitles with it, I always mentally notice the grammar and the vocabulary and tell myself if it is a formal word or informal word. I only glimpse at the subtitles to get a gist but then focus on the actual speech. I gave up subtitles a month ago. They were just slowing me down.

  4. what about using japanese subtitles on japanese media? i picked up drama and added japanese subtitles files for it, do you think that can be beneficial if you have input in reading and hearing at the same time?

    • I would say it depends on what you’re aiming for.

      I find that if there are Japanese subtitles, I rely on my reading skills to understand which takes away from my listening skills. So, if you want to focus on listening skills, I’d cut out the subtitles. If you want to focus on reading Japanese really fast, the subtitles are helpful.

      But if you need subtitles, better they be in Japanese in any case.

  5. There’s one thing I’m wondering though. How do people get their anime’s audio in their iPod? The only way I could think of would be to use something like audacity to record the sounds from your soundcard while playing an episode, but is there a simple way that you guys do it?

  6. It is great to use L1 subs to keep Japanese media interesting to you. But I would recommend to drop them asap when you get sufficient enough with your Japanese fluency.

  7. Well, I generally suggest my students to watch something they don’t know first with L1 subtitles (I’m an English teacher). After that, to watch with L2 subtitles and then, after the third time, watch it forever without subtitles. Do you think this is wrong?

      • It’s not to do that in a single sitting. They can do that at different times. I do that with Japanese and I feel really comfortable. I can’t find Japanese subtitled dramas, but I’m watching GTO. I watch it first with subtitles, then put it into my cell phone so I can listen to all the audio during the day and then, on the following day, I watch it covering the subtitles. And whenever I want to repeat the episode, I do it without subtitles. Whenever I want to watch “The Lion King” or the first 10 seasons or so of “Pokémon”, I watch them only in Japanese, with no subtitles.

  8. My situation is completely different than most of you out there, because I’m not from an English-speaking country.
    I’m Brazilian thus English is already my L2. And despite being at a business level, I don’t consider myself native level yet.

    I’m using the laddering languages technique, learning Japanese through English, in order to keep improving my L2.

    That being said, I’m using English subtitles because that way I’m training my English reading at the same time that I absorb Japanese media. After that, I put everything in my cell phone and listen to it thousands of times.

      • It’s not actually clear what you are trying to ask about exactly, but I’ll try to answer the question of whether it makes sense for you to count using subtitles as improving your L2.

        Incidentally, my L1 is also Portuguese (mas de Portugal em vez de do Brasil). The main difference between our cases is probably that I would consider my English to be at native level.
        That said, given that you mentioned elsewhere that you read 100+ books in English in a single year, I really don’t see how reading subtitles is doing much of anything to improve your English, unless you are watching material that somehow covers holes in your vocabulary. Rather, I would expect that whatever shortcomings still remain in your English are particular to the skills other than reading and need hence to be addressed by actually practicing those skills.

        Edit: I think a good way to know whether subtitles are doing much for you is the following test: try watching something with subtitles but try not to read them. If actually avoiding reading the subtitles requires more focus than reading them (which is how I feel), you’re probably getting little to none L2 improvement out of them.

        • Honestly, I just want to use more English than Portuguese. And I watch animes and I read manga without English help. But Dramas for me are a whole different story. They are deep and they have many deep stories that we should understand. I prefer to watch them for fun with subtitles, and then load them into my cell phone and after that listen to them until I get tired of them (I’ve been listening to GTO 2012 for like two months and I’m not tired of it yet).

          • If you are going to use subtitles, I agree that you might as well use your L2 (English). I also assume that it would be hard to find dramas subbed in Portuguese even if you tried?

            • There are some, but they are subbed by people who don’t even know Portuguese correctly. I’m a Portuguese teacher, it’s a pain for me to read wrong Portuguese. And even in this case, we have only the most popular animes, some of the best ones are impossible.


  9. Hello folks. Hoping I don’t get massively ridiculed or blasted for going slightly off topic (I mean, this is japaneselevelup after all right?), I could really use some help and hoping someone here can offer some insight as to what my next purchase should be. I’ve been studying Japanese off and on and really have the time this summer to sit down and practice 24/7. I’ve purchased the following book recommended to me by a friend (I’ve actually ordered it from Japan):

    You can check the pages this book has from that link above to get a feel for how good the book would be. It was recommended to me by a native Japanese speaker in Japan.
    I am wondering what book I could use to supplement this? Perhaps one that could teach me Kanji? Any suggestions?

  10. I am still definitely a level 1 learner. I can introduce myself and that’s about it. In no way shape or form am I able to understand anime. What should I do then? I am working with other books and sources to actually learn Japanese, but I would love to be able to pick up some Japanese when I am watching anime as well. Any ideas?

    • You can still listen to anime in the background, to learn to differentiate between the sounds, but I would only do this with series you have watched in the past and know well, and don’t need to focus on.

      At level one, watching new anime, with or without subs, will have minimal value towards your Japanese ability.

      However they can be used as a great motivator, since I’m sure that is a big reason in wanting to study Japanese.

      For example, for every hour you study Japanese, reward yourself with a 20 minute subbed anime.

      • At what level do you feel that watching new anime (or drama) starts to have value?

        I just finished RTK and am about 300 J-E sentences deep and still find a lot of things to be white noise. According to the level test, I’m a solid Level 10.

        • I usually recommend the half way mark:

          Around 900-1000 on RTK
          500 J-E sentences

          It will have value a little before this, so it also becomes a bit of a personal feel.

  11. Do you think it is okay to refer to the subs for the meaning of phrases/words that I have heard multiple times but don’t understand, or will I eventually learn them through immersion? Sometimes I find that it is hard to look up spoken words since I am unable to guess the spelling of the word I want to look up.

    • The problem with that is the subs don’t often match the original word. Translation is a bit of an art, which changes meanings slightly to match the situation.

      If you are trying to pull out the words, try subs2srs. That provides them for you in text format.

  12. Go to school to learn japanese, also watch english subbed japanese anime take a pen and paper and write down word for word first in eglish then bellow that word in japanese i use the program i had to get for my class i casted 379$ fudhe man i am going to sac city college in sacramento california

  13. I have been looking everywhere, but I can’t seem to find anime with Japanese subtitles… I have tried looking on but I can’t seem to track anything down…

    If anyone knows of any reliable places where I can buy anime with Japanese subtitles I would appreciate it very much.

  14. For me, the whole reason I’m learning Japanese in the first place is because of anime. I’ll admit I’m a “casual gamer” when it comes to this, since I don’t have that much motivation for learning Japanese, but watching anime without subs for learning Japanese would just ruin my anime watching experience.

    You see, the anime I watch tend to lean toward sci-fi, mystery, and psychological themes, so without subtitles there would be no way for me to understand the anime in the first place, and that seems pretty dumb to me for now, where I can’t even translate the first line from most of the anime I watch.

    When I started out watching anime with subtitles it’s true that I basically didn’t listen to the conversations, and only read them. But after you’ve watched a lot of anime this doesn’t seem to be a problem anymore. Sure, I’m only properly listening when they aren’t speaking what seems to be complete nonsense, but I would rather not learn Japanese than to lose out on all the plot.

    • I found the best way to handle that problem was to get your sub-free time in by expanding into something new.

      Consider picking up an anime with a simpler theme that you might not have otherwise watched, and watching that without subs. Alternatively, you could do what I did and give Dramas a try. I was honestly surprised by how much I ended up enjoying them.

      Beyond that, there’s manga. Maybe you could get the JP manga of an anime you like, and try to read that? It’s a huge boost to go through something a second time in Japanese that you’ve already done in English. Same applies to Video Games if that’s your cup of tea (that’s how I get most of my JP-only time at this point, outside Anki).

      I think Adam is right that the less you rely on subtitles, the faster you’ll progress. But I also think motivation is your most critical resource in moving forward, and that it’s worth sacrificing some efficiency to avoid burning out. It’s all about finding the right balance.

  15. I’m using subtitles to watch an anime episode once or twice (depending on it’s difficulty level) and then it goes into my immersion pod. I seem to be picking up a lot more when I’ve first understood what’s going on in the anime, and at my current level I can’t understand anything interesting without subs. I can also enjoy the same manga with a dictionary, after having watched the anime. I’m pretty sure that on my level it’d be frustrating to read a completely unknown story.

    I’ve also noticed that it’s very important for the immersion material to be something I love and something that really sticks to my mind, so that I can really see the events in my mind’s eye when immersing. I try to listen to the Japanese when I first watch it and often pause it to skim the subs first and then listen. I’d like to think that using subs like this can’t be too bad.

  16. I am the beginnerest of beginners. Haven’t even invested in a textbook or touched Anki yet. But I still love watching Doraemon without subtitles (or more specifically, with Chinese subtitles, cause that’s the best I could find). I can’t understand 99% of what they are saying, but most of the comedy is visual, so I still get to enjoy the show while subconsciously training my Japanese ;3

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