How To Actually Learn Japanese From Watching Anime

This is not some fanatics guide to learning Japanese through only relentlessly watching anime, and not doing any work at all, a feat that I have seen attempted, and in all cases miserable failure was the result. No, these are some pointers as to how you can better benefit from watching Japanese popular media, adding to your other studying efforts.

There are mainly two things that watching anime, movies, TV shows or even theater can help you with, if you have little to no previous knowledge. You guessed it, listening right? Well that’s one. And the other is vocabulary. You can learn to pick up grammar as well, but that will have to be after you recognize some core sentence structures.

Take Notes

Take notes of all the recurring words that you don’t know. If you see the word used repeatedly over 20 minutes, and it’s not something limited to the confines of sci-fi or fantasy, jot it down and memorize it. The thing about a language that makes it hard to learn from just textbooks and old audio CDs, is that languages don’t stay the same. They change with time, and sometimes keeping up to date with popular media, is the only way to have an up-to-date vocabulary, short of actually living and breathing the language.

Different Dialects

One thing about anime, or movies, or TV shows, is that there can sometimes be an abundance of different dialects in play. If you already have experience from living in Tokyo, or somewhere with a relatively neutral accent, you should be fine. But if not, paying attention and not mixing up accents is a good idea. Identify where the different characters are from, in anime this is often not possible, but usually if you steer clear of the characters using a lot of unique expressions and sentence endings, you should be fine. Checking out some countrywide news could be a good idea, as they are more likely to speak in the standardized accent. If you’re not interested in hyojungo標準語, the standardized accent, but say Kansaiben,é–¢è¥¿å¼ you can do some research by watching comedians from Kansai, although you might want to refrain from using all the expressions you hear.

Speech in anime, or movies for that matter, is often very casual, and omits elements one would have to use in normal or formal speech. On the opposite side of the spectrum, in samurai themed animes or movies, the grammar is riddled with old conjugations, and the vocabulary is archaic. If you try to be polite by following suit, you might actually end up not being understood, or just make an incredibly weird first impression.


If you have already established some base knowledge of Japanese grammar, you can learn some basic casual speech by studying the form. Or you can identify when particles are being omitted, then focus on the other parts of the sentence. As you proceed, you realize some parts of Japanese grammar can be learned almost as vocabulary, you learn the specific context in which to use it, and then you simply expand as you see it used in other situations.

One thing to note is that the subject is often omitted from Japanese, even in semi-formal writing. But on the other hand, if you omit it too often, people will get confused as to what or who you are talking about, and you have to go back and explain. There is a balance to be found however, and media can definitely be a step forward in the right direction.

Picking The Genre

When it comes to learning value, some genres are superior to others. I would have to say that for the most part, slice of life can be the most beneficial. There are two reasons for that. First off, there is just simply more conversation involved, even if battle heavy fantasy or sci-fi is often riddled with crazy monologues, there is actual dialogue. Dialogue made to portray actual conversations between people, from our world.

Then perhaps more importantly, because the challenges they face are not murderous robots, or vampires, they are everyday problems. And in the process of dealing with them, you learn tons of more relevant vocabulary and conjugations than you do through most other genres.

Sometimes you can find that you’re able to pick material that is perfectly suited for you. If you’re going to work, or already work, in a big Japanese company, stories revolving around salarymen or the corporate world can help you remember some of the lingo.

Stay Age Relevant

Try to only absorb things relevant to your age group. While knowing the terms high school students use might seem a way to remain hip, it will only work against you in the long run. If you start slipping in incredibly informal words or conjugations into conversation in a formal context, you’re bound to give a bad impression.

Compliment Intensive Learning

If you find yourself in a position where you have to learn a lot of Japanese in a short time frame, you can substitute all your normal media consumption with the Japanese equivalent. Find a band you like, pick out some movies to watch, instead of TV watch series relevant to what you need the Japanese for. This is especially effective in between study sessions, as it provides a necessary break, while not completely losing focus of the task at hand.

Remember That It’s Not A Substitute

While there are definitely things you can do to benefit more from simply consuming popular media, don’t treat it as a complete substitute to actual studying. If you find yourself lacking motivation, don’t let yourself fall into the pattern of only watching, and not doing any real work. The best effects will be achieved with a combination of the two, and if you have the opportunity, interaction with other people in Japanese as well.

Keeps Your Japanese Fresh

And lastly, a huge benefit is that it can help keep the language in your active memory. If you’re on vacation out of the country, or simply living somewhere else for a few years, watching a movie once a week can be the difference between the knowledge fading away, and remaining almost intact.

Source by Ragnar T M

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