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.
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.
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!