How to Learn Japanese from Anime: Is it Possible?

A lot of anime fans say how nice it would be to speak Japanese, the language of their beloved media. They fantasize over watching anime without subtitles, playing games in Japanese, or living life like an anime character. Not only would it be fun, but it would allow them to enjoy certain anime, video games, manga, and light novels without having to wait for a translation to their native language.

Unfortunately, most of the people who say they want to learn Japanese, never get past the basics.

In addition, most of these people never consider the beneficial nature of being able to speak Japanese as a second language. If one were to speak multiple languages, they could get a job translating, teaching a language, or editing translations. Not only would it entertain you to know Japanese, but it would help fund those expensive anime goods.

But how does one go about learning Japanese? Most people do not recommend trying to learn Japanese from anime. It’s true, there is a delusion around the fanbase that one could learn the entire language of Japanese purely from watching anime.

As a baby, you learned your native language(s) from listening to your parents and their friends speak. How can you not be able to learn Japanese in the same way, now that you are an adult? After all, you’ve done it before, right? The answer is, not quite. Babies soak up language information so well because they are still in their early stages of development and do not start off knowing a language. It’s not the same as an adult.

The reason why anime fans rarely get past the basics in the Japanese language is because they simply do not try to get any further. They think it would be nice, and they have every intention to learn, but either they don’t know how to learn a foreign language, or they’re unmotivated to study.

Chihayafuru Karuta Anime

That’s right, “study”. Learning a language requires work. It’s not about staring at a screen, enjoying a plot, and thinking some characters are cute. It’s about getting a pen and a piece of paper, and memorizing the writing. It’s about making flashcards and testing your vocabulary. It’s about putting together sentences and practicing the grammar.

At this point, I imagine you are thinking that it’s impossible to learn Japanese from anime and other similar media. While it’s true that you cannot learn Japanese simply by enjoying an anime or video game, they can still prove to be useful tools in studying the language. I’ve used them myself in the same way.

I have passed the Japanese Language Proficiency Test at the N3 level, and I’m currently studying for N2. To those who are unfamiliar with the test, N1 is the highest level while N5 is the lowest. I’m right in the middle at a low-intermediate level. While it’s certainly not the most impressive, it’s enough to say that I know how to study my Japanese.

Japanese Language Proficiency Test JLPT N2 Vocabulary Goi 日本語能力試験 語彙

So how do I study Japanese? I have actually always used anime, video games, manga, and J-pop to study Japanese. At this current point in time, I use not only the standard methods of flashcards, writing until memorization, and speaking/listening to audio CD’s, but I also pick through manga and light novels to find new words and Kanji (Chinese characters) I don’t know.

For example, the other day I started picking through my Eromanga-Sensei light novels. I wrote down all the words and Kanji I didn’t know, and once I finished a page, I looked them up, found the best translations that worked for the context used in the story, and made flashcards for each one. After making flashcards, I used them the normal way that flashcards are used: by testing myself with them.

When I started to learn Japanese in my pre-teens, I was pretty obsessed with studying languages. I was also obsessed with Japanese media. I found many ways to study and practice my newly-learned Japanese using anime and video games. For example, did you know that there is no Kanji in the old Pokémon games? It’s great for practicing reading while still learning Hiragana and Katakana. I also used to study as many basic words as I could, until I started picking through J-pop songs for words I didn’t know. Singing along also helps you get used to the pronunciation!

Sometimes I’d watch anime just to practice what I had learned. I’d listen closely for things I knew, and then sometimes, I’d hear something familiar. Now, this was special. It was familiar, but I didn’t know it, so I looked at the subtitles and picked apart what I did know. I came to the conclusion that such would mean such because everything else meant everything else. It was almost like deciphering math.

I remember one particular time that happened, I was watching the anime Gravitation. I heard a verb, and it ended with this sound: ~rarenai. I understood everything else in the sentence, so what could be ~rarenai? Simple, it was the only thing I didn’t understand. However, the only thing I didn’t understand was the word “can’t”. How can ~rarenai mean “can’t” if it’s part of a verb? And then it clicked. ~rarenai is the negative form of ~rareru, which tells whether or not the subject is capable of doing something.

I didn’t know the ~rareru ending beforehand, but I knew that ~ru is often replaced with ~nai in order to become negative. The hard part was realizing how another verb can tell whether or not the subject can do something. However, you’ve got to think outside the box when it comes to Japanese, because its grammar is totally different from that of English. Be open to anything. Of course, if you do think you learn something in this way, make sure you Google it to make sure you are correct. Never burn into your mind false information.

My verdict? It is entirely possible to learn Japanese from anime, manga, video games, and etc. What’s impossible is to learn it all from scratch without studying beforehand. You need prior knowledge in order to pick these things apart, after all. It’s also fun to listen for the things you’ve recently learned!

I hope I’ve inspired some of you to take action and study the Japanese language. It’s totally worth the effort!

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9 thoughts on “How to Learn Japanese from Anime: Is it Possible?

  1. Good post. Indeed, learning a completely new language like Japanese takes work. Just the desire to learn it isn’t enough. You actually have to study. I find that watching Japanese variety shows are more helpful in learning the language than anime, to be honest, as most of them also have these sort of subtitles or captions of what the people are saying in Japanese. So in addition to getting used to listening to the language, you’re also having visual input of the language in actual kana & kanji.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good points! Japanese game shows and similar will often show characters on the screen in Japanese, so you can read it as you listen. I also used to watch a J-drama called Nihonjin no Shiranai Nihongo which had Japanese subtitles as well. It’s a really funny show by the way, so if you like J-drama I would recommend it. 😛 In any case, I grew up using anime and the like in the ways I mentioned more so than Japanese variety shows, so I just thought I’d mention my experience with that here. Oh, another good way to read while listening is to look up Japanese karaoke on YouTube with the tag “on vocal”. You usually have to search in Japanese, though.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, and Japanese news, as well. And some documentaries which are great for learning the language. It’s been a while since I watched some J-drama, so no I have not watched that drama. But I’ll check it out and see.
        Oh, I see. Makes sense. I love anime, as well, and it was such a thrilling experience the first time I was able to watch anime without subtitles. But it’s just that for a lot of the anime I like watching, the type of language they use aren’t really that helpful in actual social situations in real-life when conversing with Japanese people. That’s why I think I learn more whenever I watch variety and news programs because they’re using language that are used by actual people.
        Oh! Thanks for the tip. I don’t really search for karaoke, but I’ll try it out. Cheers!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Yeah, you definitely have to have some basic grammar structures and words down before watching anime is in any way helpful to learning more. While my interest in the language came from my love of anime, it wasn’t until I’d completed some basic studies that I realised I could pick up new words and phrases just from watching because I was starting to build on existing knowledge rather than going in with nothing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Exactly. 😀 I suppose I can see where newer anime fans get the idea that being exposed to the Japanese language while reading subtitles can lead to learning it… However, it’s sadly not the way it works, or else every anime fan who watches subs would know Japanese by now.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Like this post! and yeah I agree, mostly people quit or don’t start studying Japanese is because they have no idea where to start. I started japanese and quit studying japanese many times. Not because I was unmotivated, but because I didn’t have any idea where to start. The most important thing is to have a study plan and you can and watch, read and think Japanese. Really liked this post 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad you agree and like the post. 🙂 I have another blog about studying Japanese but it doesn’t have many posts yet. I plan to write about things like that (where to start etc). I’ve been busy with school and some other things, so I’ve decided to focus only on my anime blog for now, and get back into writing about Japanese studies when I have more free time. ^^

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Yeah I agree that watching anime or games or drama or actually everything can help! I am a beginner still but by watching the drama I have learned so much and can talk in my class. My blog also has Japanese learning experience and if you like pls check it out and let me know any suggestions/ feedback! Thanks


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