The Definitive Guide on Learning Japanese from Anime

Most people love the idea of learning Japanese from anime. What’s not to love, right? You get to enjoy your favorite shows and become better at the native language at the same time.

But most people go about it in the wrong way, and therefore never achieve any real level of success with the method.

I’m going to change that.

Below is the exact, step by step method that I use to learn Japanese from any show I want to.

If you learn the system described below, and then you do it yourself, you will achieve the same results.

It’s simply a matter of cause and effect.

Just like in nature, if you water it and provide sunshine, it will blossom.

There are a total of five steps. Let’s begin with number one!

1 – Pick A Single Episode Of An Anime

Here’s where everyone gets it wrong. You don’t need to watch 100 episodes of Japanese anime to learn the language.

You need to watch one episode, 100 times!

How else are you going to learn the words that are being said unless you hear them over and over again, right?

The simple fact of the matter is that each episode typically contains several hundred lines of dialog. This can easily be over 1,000 words depending on how chatty the characters are, all within the span of a 20-minute episode.

In other words, one episode has enough material in it, in terms of both vocabulary and grammar, to keep you busy for weeks, and possibly months at a time.

You will learn and master the lines of a single episode of anime before moving on to the next.

Now is an appropriate time to tell you that I am going to be doing a case study in a week or two where I show myself going through each step in this process so that you can clearly see how it all works.

The guide you’re reading right now has all of the principles you need to know in order to be successful.

But I realize that it’s helpful to watch someone else go through it so that you can see it in action.

In addition to that, I will also provide you with some additional recommendations in case you want to do it a little differently yourself.

Don’t worry, it’s a robust system that can handle any personal change you want to make to it!

For example, in Step-1 I will show you the exact anime episode I chose to learn from, but then I will also give you some guidelines and ideas for picking the right episode for yourself, just in case you don’t want to use the same as me.

2 – Watch It In Japanese WITH Subtitles Three Nights In A Row, And Then Once A Week.

What you are going to notice with this whole process is that each step is done for a very specific reason, and each one is necessary in order for you to get the most out of the subsequent steps.

The goal of Step-2 is comprehension.

You need to understand, from a general perspective, what is going on in the episode and what the characters are saying.

Having the general gist of what is going on in each scene is going to accelerate your progress when you’re in the next step and you’re only using Japanese.

Certain words and phrases that you hear in Japanese will trigger your memory of watching it with English subtitles on and then you’ll remember, “Oh yeah! This is when that character was yelling for help!”

At times like these, new connections are made in your brain because you will hear Japanese words you don’t quite know yet, but since you DO know what was being said in English, your brain will link the two together.

I’ll talk more about the importance of these kinds of connections at the end of this article.

Now I’m sure you’re wondering, “Why watch it three nights in a row, and then once a week?”

According to renowned polyglot and Glossika founder Michael Campbell:

“After three sleep cycles, consider a memory gone if you haven’t recalled it.” [source]

One of the things your brain does when you sleep is organize and categorize the information you took in during the day.

However, there is simply too much stuff for your brain to remember all of it. So what happens is that the important stuff gets filed away, and the unimportant stuff gets dumped.

One of the ways that your brain knows something is important is if it keeps reoccurring.

So you need to watch the anime episode three nights in a row at the beginning of this process so that the dialog gets marked as “important information” and therefore stored into your long-term memory.

After that, you should continue to watch it once a week in order to keep the momentum going. “Things in motion tend to stay in motion,” and all that jazz.

3 – Listen To ONLY The Japanese Audio For 1-2 Hours Per Day.

Now things begin to get serious. Don’t freak out just yet, because it’s actually not as bad as the title makes it sound.

Here’s the thing: in order for you to become skilled at hearing Japanese words and understanding what they mean, you have to listen to a lot of audio.

This is something that happens naturally when you’re a kid learning your native language.

However, when people begin to learn a second language, getting enough audio exposure (“air time”) is actually one of the biggest struggles.

It’s not because people can’t do it. It’s because most people don’t truly appreciate the importance of it.

So this step in the system takes that fact into account and accommodates for it. You are going to be listening to those same 1,000ish Japanese words (several hundred phrases) several times each day.

The optimal situation is where you can focus your attention on not only what words that are being said by the characters (comprehension), but also on how they are saying them (pronunciation, pitch accent, etc.).

At first you might not notice much, and that’s okay.

Repeated listening is like magic. The more you listen to the same things over and over again, the more your brain is able to fully process it.

You will be amazed at all the things you missed the first couple of times, that you are now able to notice after you’ve heard it a couple dozen times.

In fact, you’ve probably already experienced this phenomenon with songs on the radio.

It is worth the effort. Trust me on this.

But here’s the thing: You don’t necessarily have to be paying full attention the whole time!

Actively listening is certainly better than passively listening, but this is one of those cases where you can compensate for a lack of quality by increasing the quantity.

You can have the audio playing when you are busy doing other things, such as:

  • Going for a run
  • Cleaning the house
  • Driving to work
  • Doing homework
  • Taking a shower
  • Etc.

The trick is to have the episode playing on repeat and let it continue as long as possible.

There will be plenty of times throughout the day where you need to take a break from what you’re doing, and you can “tune in” to the Japanese audio for a 5-minute break before going back to your work.

This is why I say 1-2 hours per day. If you spend more time listening actively, then you don’t have to listen for quite as long.

Just take it on a day by day basis and remain flexible.

I would say that this step and the next one are by far the most important in the entire process!

Keep that in mind, and let’s continue.

4 – Create REGULAR Flashcards Of Each Line Of Dialog And Practice Them For 30 Minutes Each Day.

Repeatedly listening to the audio and watching the episode with the SUBs on will actually help you a lot.

But we need to take it a step further and drill down into the exact words and phrases that are being used.

This is one of those cases where your eyes become invaluable!

The first thing you need to do is create a flashcard for every line in the episode.

You will put the full Japanese sentence on the front, and then the English translation on the back, along with any pronunciation notes that you might want include.

Side note: Creating these flashcards is probably the hardest part of the entire process. After all, how can you write the Japanese words down if you’re not able to understand them, right?

This is something that I am going to go into in depth during the case study. I will give you a few ways to find the actual Japanese subtitles in a digital format so that you can simply copy them over to your flash cards.

Once you have created the flashcards, I want you to spend 30-minutes each day going over them, reading the Japanese words, trying to understand what they mean, and then verifying how well you did on the back of the card.

What is going to happen is that you won’t be able to do all of them at first. That’s perfectly fine.

Actually, that is the exact reason I say “30-minutes” per day and not an arbitrary number of cards (such as 50 cards/day).

The first day you might only be able to do 30 cards in 30-minutes. But after a week you will probably improve to 50-70 cards per 30-minute session.

Eventually you will know these specific words and phrases so well that you will fly through them and do the entire deck of 300ish cards in a single session.

Remember, it’s a process. At first it’s hard, but with repeated effort it become easy.

A couple things to note:

1-They need to be NORMAL flashcards and not SRS.

The reason is because SRS will push the easy cards out further and further into the future to where you only see them once every couple of months.

I want you to know these words so well that it only takes you 1-2 seconds per card!

That will only happen if you are seeing the same cards every few days, regardless of how well you know them.

2-You need to make the cards before you can review them.

This one seems obvious, right? You can’t review cards that you haven’t created yet.

But on the flip side of things, depending on how fast or slow you are, it might take a week or two before you complete the deck and are able to start reviewing them.

This situation isn’t exactly ideal either. So what’s the compromise?

If you can knock out all of the cards in a day or two, then do so, and move on to your 30-minute daily reviews.

But if you can’t knock them all out like that, then I want you to spend the first 15-minutes creating new cards, and then the following 15-minutes reviewing cards you’ve already created.

This will create a nice “middle ground” where you can both practice the actual Japanese and also progress with the deck’s creation.

3-This is the time to look up new words and grammar patterns.

There’s no doubt that you’re going to be encountering a lot of new words. You should be able to figure them out when you flip the card over and see the English translation.

But if something doesn’t quite make sense, or if there’s a grammatical pattern that you’ve never seen before, then this is the appropriate time to look them up so that you can not only understand the Japanese phrase as a whole, but you can also understand the individual pieces of it.

This will slow down the speed at which you progress through the deck, but the overall point is to learn Japanese, so it’s right in line with the spirit of this method.

You should only have to look things up once or twice before you start recognizing them right away.

Again, don’t be discouraged if it’s really hard or slow when you’re first starting out. Everything is hard before it is easy.

So to wrap this step up:

You are going to make and then review flash cards so that you can fully understand what the characters are saying in the show.

Then you are going to combine that with the daily audio practice so that you can understand the dialog at the speed of normal Japanese conversations.

By the way, 30-minutes per day is the minimum. If you would like to do more, and therefore learn faster, please do so.

5 – Watch The Episode In Japanese As A Test Of Your Progress (NO SUBS).

So how do you know when you are ready to move on to a different episode? You test yourself.

I want you to watch the episode in Japanese without the English subtitles and then grade yourself on how much of it you understood.

Once you understand 80% or more of what is being said, it’s time to move on to another episode.

You’ve graduated! Congratulations!

I would recommend that you do this step once a week, and preferable the day before you watch it with the English subtitles.

Now allow me to clarify a couple of things:

I don’t want to you “understand the gist” of 80%. I want you to KNOW the 80%!!!

So how do you know if you “know” it? Simple, you reproduce it yourself. Or you at least know that you can reproduce it.

So if a character says a line of words, and you know what they are saying and you can say those same words yourself right now, then that counts as “you know it.”

Once you can do this for 80% or more, it’s time to move on to something new.

This part of the process is going to require some honestly on your part, but I think you’ll actually be pretty surprised at how quickly you can learn Japanese this way.

Here’s a schedule for you to use:

~Excel Download HERE

~PDF Download HERE

I wanted to make things easy, so I created this schedule for you. It lists what you need to do each day, so all you have to do is fill in the dates and then stay committed to the process.

By the way, I’ve put formulas into the Excel Spread sheet so all you have to do is enter a date, for example 1/25/18, into the yellow cell and it should auto populate after that.

You can also print it out and just write the dates in yourself if you prefer to do it that way.

The Last Thing I Want To Go Over Is why The Process Works.

Language is memory game.

New memories are formed in the brain by making connections (called synapses) between neurons.

So when you learn that the Japanese word “neko” means “cat” a new connection is formed between those two things.

As I mentioned though, these connections naturally decay after a few days of disuse.

So how do you lock in a new memory so that you don’t forget it? There are two ways:

  1. Make a single connection stronger.
  2. Make multiple connections to the new memory.

When you re-experience the same memory over and over again, you reactivate that particular synapse and make it stronger.

Have you noticed the amount of repetition in this method? You listen to the same audio every day. You read the same flash cards over and over again.

That covers the first way to improve memory.

However, when you experience the same information in lots of different ways, a separate connection is made for each one:

  • There will be a connection for the way a Japanese phrase sounds.
  • There will be a connection for the way it looks in its written form.
  • There will be a connection with the way in which the anime character says it (goofy, angry, sad, etc.)

Did you wonder why you needed to encounter the same information in lots of different formats?

It’s so that you can create these multiple new connections that all lead back to the same memory.

This will cover the second part of improving your memory.

You then make all of those new connections stronger through repetition!

As you can see from the way that the system is laid out, and the way that memory works, you are going to be learning Japanese at full force!

This type of learning is far more involved, and effective, than the way most people learn the language.

Keep in mind that I never said this was going to be easy.

But, it will work, as long as you do.

That’s the method in its entirety.

You should be able to take this new knowledge that you’ve acquired and turn it into action, which will then lead to real world results.

But like I mentioned before, I’m going to do a case study in a little while so that you can get a literal example of how to do it.

If you have any questions or comments at all about the things I’ve talked about, I would love to hear them from you.


8 thoughts on “The Definitive Guide on Learning Japanese from Anime”

  1. Hey Nick

    Thank you for the useful article. I agree to each and every word in it as we used the same guide for teaching English to my son. At first, I didn’t believe it could work but I decided to try it out as we had nothing to lose. My son watched animations anyway so with just a little added effort we could benefit from this. And now – after several years of practicing this – I can assure that this tactic is working. And the great thing about it is that this is a fun way of learning the language.

    • Yeah, nowadays I feel like a lot of us learn a decent amount of language watching cartoons as a kid. I know I watched a lot when I was growing up.

      One of the things I particular like about learning a language through anime is that, even though sometime the characters sound a little crazy, for the most part the dialog is “alive” – by that I mean it sounds like people who are actually talking to one another.

      When you listen to most audio files that come in a language learning CD, the people talk a little slower and there seems to be less emotion in the phrases. This is probably because the recordings are done at a studio with the intention of helping beginner’s to fully hear what’s being said.

      But I feel like when you water down the language for beginners, then they are unprepared when they encounter the actually language spoken by natives. Anyway, watching a lot of anime helps to avoid this by giving you the language at full speed, and with that feeling of emotion.


  2. Hi Nick! I like the approach. I am teaching Portuguese to foreigners and thus, I am always keen on seeing people trying to learn a new language. In my opinion, even without being able to make the flashcards, only studying the sounds of the language and repeat the sounds is a huge advantage when it comes to learning the language later on. Just think of babies, they are not learning to read first or to understand the grammar. They are repeating the sounds that they hear and put them together in their head. I also always encourage my students to listen to foreign language music or watch series in a foreign language, as it has a big impact in the learning process.

    • I completely agree! Getting enough native exposure in an audio format is one of the biggest challenges for people learning languages (Japanese in particular).

      Usually the reason isn’t because the material isn’t available, but rather because the learner doesn’t really understand how important it is to hear the native sounds over and over again.

      It’s pretty cool to connect with another language enthusiast! Good luck with helping people learn Portuguese!

    • Yeah, since anime is becoming more and more popular around the world, you could use the exact same process I’ve outlined above for any other language. All you would need to do is find the anime you want to watch in the target language you want to learn.

      I know that Spanish has a LOT of anime that someone could use in order to get better at that particular language, for example. Try checking out Netflix and see which anime on there have alternative audio.

  3. Hello Nick!

    Well being a huge anime myself I know it’s possible to learn Japanese from them or at least a fair amount of words. I fall under the second category, however I think that the methods you suggested will absolutely work! My only concern is that probably it’s not going to be very effective when it comes to reading them! Their letters are so unfamiliar to us!

    • That’s a really good point. You would have to be able to read the basic kana scripts and a little bit amount of kanji in order to use the flash cards step in the process – which is a super important part!

      So I should probably put out a post sometime talking about the advantages and disadvantages or learning this way. One of them being that you will already need to be able to read Japanese.

      And being at an intermediate level would also probably be appropriate so that you would already understand the basic grammar structure of Japanese and you could then learn from the method at full force.

      Stay tuned and I’ll put out my thoughts in a new post sometime soon! Thanks! 


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