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Why you Can’t Understand Japanese Song Lyrics — 11 Comments

  1. At 30 seconds I got 突き進め、果てるまで and that’s about it. I looked up the rest of the line and yeah, I don’t think I ever would’ve gotten that. It’s a deadly combination of English that isn’t really used in Japanese being used in a way that doesn’t really make sense in English being pronounced in a middle-ground between both of them. Luckily, for being the hardest medium to understand, it’s also the one with the most easy-to-find transcriptions.

    • I don’t think any human being could ever get it. I’m looking at the lyrics and listening and still don’t get it :)

      While transcriptions are abundant and great, you have to prepare in advance just to understand the song!

  2. Oh thank you! So many people seem to suggest that listening to Japanese songs is a great way to learn Japanese, but, as you say, the pronunciation is so different. Often every syllable gets pronounced so 言います for instance becomes いーいーまーす with the u in す pronounced to add extra confusion.

    • There are ways to use songs to learn Japanese, but that comes down to taking apart the written lyrics that you have provided for you. Or maybe memorizing the lyrics and singing karaoke with them. Not just listening to the song.

      I think Japanese songs fall more into the “great way to motivate you to learn Japanese” category.

  3. I’ve been a Nirvana fan since 1991 and I still can’t understand the lyrics.

    *mumblemumble* Penny Royal Teeeeeaaaaa *mumblemumble*

    Lyrics are hard even in your native language so you have nothing to be than be excited every time you do understand a lyric in another language!

  4. Yeah, this always confused me when my Japanese started to get better. I was like, I can understand most conversations I hear in Japanese with friends but still can’t understand a word of most songs. But yeah, I realised words are split up, particles and other grammar forms sound like they make new words because of where they end up being placed in the melody and stuff like that.

    I understand korean in k-pop ten times easier than Japanese music and my korean isn’t even close to my Japanese. One of the main reasons I never thought about until this article was in k-pop the English is spoken usually with an American accent which greatly lowers the confusion between the English and korean parts and also korean just seems to flow better in music. Have no idea why, just does.

    • That would do it. English spoken with an American accent rather than spoken with a strong Japanese accent (where anything goes) would definitely make a big difference.

  5. I think it varies widely depending on what artist you listen to.

    Try for example listening to 光の中へ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lXPit9RiOTE) by Sakamoto Maaya, 手紙 by Angela Aki (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=siQJhIp-UTU), or the Vampire Princess Miyu TV ending song (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=noHeyv85FHs).

    I challenge anyone to listen to these songs (of course without looking at the lyrics) and NOT be able to make out the majority of what is being said (that is, not necessarily knowing all the vocabulary, but being able to make out the sounds of the words being said). Depending on who is listening there might be some people who don’t know all of the vocabulary in these songs yet, but making out the singer’s pronunciation shouldn’t be very difficult.

    And I don’t think that clearly-sung lyrics are really the exception, either. Sometimes I like to listen to Japanese radio, and I would say that when listening to a song on the radio for the first time that I have never heard before, usually while doing something else at the same time (like driving), the vast majority of the time I can make out more than 50% of the lyrics.

    Of course I wouldn’t recommend trying to study Japanese with something that you hate, but people who either already like or are able to develop an appreciation for J-pop are going to have the advantage of the time spent listening to Japanese music being actually somewhat useful, rather than “just for enjoyment” or “just for motivation,” so it might be worth it to try it out and see if you can find something you like.

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