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The Pros and Cons of Learning Japanese From Anime

I’ve talked before about the 5-step process of Learning Japanese from Anime (LjFA), and I’ve also done a case study showing you exactly how I do it.

But what I haven’t talked about is “Should you use anime to learn the language?”

Is it the really best way to improve your Japanese? Or is it actually a terrible way to study?

I’ve identified four key aspects of anime as a source of language learning material, and I’m going to explain the advantages and disadvantages of each.

If you haven’t read those other two articles yet, you can do so by clicking on the links below:

  1. The 5-Step Process to Learning Japanese From Anime.
  2. Case Study: See Exactly How I Used I Did It Myself.

If you’ve already read them, then let’s continue!

Aspect #1: It’s Heavy On The Spoken Part.

Generally speaking (heh!) you “watch” anime when you want to enjoy it, taking in most of the information with your eyes as you see what occurs in each scene.

But you don’t read what the characters say to one another, you hear it. This means that in order to enjoy Japanese anime, you have to have a high level of listening comprehension.

It also means that when you use anime to get better at Japanese, you will be primarily using your ears do to so.

The advantage to this is that you will get tons of exposure to the verbal side of the language, and you will rapidly improve your listening skills.

This is something that cannot be understated. Most students of Japanese struggle with listening at the intermediate level and above. Getting massive exposure to it using this method will put you leagues ahead of your peers who learn primarily through reading.

The downside is that it is typically harder to improve listening comprehension than it is improve reading comprehension.

Despite the fact that written Japanese has several different scripts and thousands of Chinese characters, it is actually (and surprisingly) a lot easier to learn Japanese through reading than it is through listening.

I’ll talk about why this is true in the next section.

As a final note for this first part, I would say that “not having a chance to improve reading skills” would also be a downside to learning Japanese from anime, BUT when you use the flash cards like I explained in the method, you actually will get to improve reading at the same time!

That’s called 一石二鳥!

Aspect #2: The Story’s Characters Use “Fast” Japanese.

Most students who learn Japanese start with a book or a beginner’s course. They are taught how to pronounce Japanese words in a slow and controlled manner.

It’s no surprise then that when they start listing to natives speaking amongst one another, it all seems too fast!

This is especially true in anime where the dialog is crafted to catch the viewer’s attention and hold it there throughout the show.

Many times that means a phrase will be spoken even faster than normal, or with an exaggeration in the character’s tone of voice.

This is one of the reasons why it’s actually pretty hard for most people to learn Japanese by watching TV. After all, you can’t really learn words if they go by so quickly that you miss them, right?

After listening to Japanese like this for a while, the normal reaction is to tune it out and go back to something that’s easier to understand – i.e. reading and “slow Japanese.”

That’s one of the major reasons why I have people learn the show’s lines separately from listening to it.

You read the flash cards at your normal pace so that you can lock the phrases into your memory.

Then when you hear it in the anime, even though it’s a lot faster than what you’re used to, you actually understand all of it since you already know that particular pattern.

So what’s the advantage of learning this way? Well, you actually get pretty good at understanding “fast” Japanese!

It takes a little practice, but once you break through to that higher level, it actually becomes the new normal for you from then on.

You will get to the point where it no longer feels like “fast” Japanese.

It just feels, like… normal.

Aspect #3: What’s With That Crazy Anime Vocabulary?

Anime has a lot of genres, and each one has its own special words that don’t often appear anywhere else.

If you’re watching one that is geared towards kids, or if it’s a plain Slice of Life anime, then it will probably use common words and simple phrasing.

But if you’re watching one that deals with giant mechs and outer space, then you’ll run into lots of lesser used words and more complex sentences.

The general rule is that the further away from “real life” the show is, the harder it will be to learn from.

So the downside to learning this way is that, depending on which show you choose, you might spend a lot of time learning words that people don’t actually use in their day to day lives.

This is a bummer if you want to achieve a certain level of fluency quickly, as you’ll be spending your time learning uncommon words.

But it is actually a good thing if your end goal is to watch more shows that are similar to the one you’re learning from (and you’re not worried about how long fluency will take).

So if there’s a particular type of anime that you love to watch, it will probably be worth it for you to spend that extra time learning the “science fiction words” or the “fantasy words” that are used in that genre.

You might not be able to transfer that specialized knowledge into a normal conversation, but you CAN transfer it into manga, books, video games, and anything else that is similar in nature.

Plus these unique words usually appear within a normal sentence structure, and that sentence can almost always be transferred to a normal part of your life.

For example, in the phrase “I’m looking for the Net Terminal Gene” the Net Terminal Gene part may be unique to the story, but the I’m looking for… part is a phrase that can be used for anything IRL.

See how that works?

Nice! Let’s continue.

Aspect #4: It’s Pretty Much Random Learning.

This is perhaps the hardest part of using anime for your study material: It’s all random, and there are no explanations!

What happens in a typical book or course is that you are taught basic things in the beginning, and then every chapter builds and expands upon what you’ve previously learned.

This is great since you can start with very simple things, and by the time you get to the complicated stuff, it still feel pretty easy since you were eased into it gradually.

But none of that happens in anime since it’s meant to entertain, and not to educate.

The bad thing is that it is very hard for people who are beginners to learn in this way.

Since beginners need to learn about things like particles, word order, common omissions and so on, it is unlikely that they would get much value from jumping into full-on, sometimes crazy, anime phrases.

I say this becuase the majority of time would be spent looking up grammar rules and sentence patterns, instead of learning and internalizing the dialog.

But when you’re at an intermediate level and all you really need to do is increase your vocabulary, practice what you already know in order to make it second nature, and perhaps learn some advanced grammar stuff, then anime becomes perfect!

This is because you can look at a phrase, and even if you’re not sure what the exact words are, you can tell what functions they are performing when you see the particles, how the verbs are conjugated, etc.

The approach I take on constructing flashcards gives you a translation by phrase approach which is much easier to understand and use once you are already at the intermediate level.

As a beginner, you probably will want to start with a translation by word approach since it will allow you to “wade into the pool” of the Japanese language one step at a time.

How To Tell If LjFA is The Right Technique For You:

Now that I’ve explained what I see as the four major aspects of the language found in anime, it’s time to answer the big question question:

“Should YOU learn Japanese from anime?”

Here’s a check list that you should answer either yes or no to:

  • Is one of your goals with Japanese to be able to watch anime without SUBs?
  • Are you currently at an intermediate level of Japanese?
  • Are you okay with taking an unstructured approach to learning new words and phrases?
  • Do you know the 5-Step Process for learning Japanese from anime?
  • Are you willing to commit to putting in the daily effort needed to succeed?

I would say that if you answered “yes” to three or more of the above questions, then this approach is a good fit for you!

But if not, then don’t worry about it. There are lots of other ways to learn a language and the most important part is finding one that you’ll use each and every day.

It’s far better to take a less effective approach that you’re consistent with, rather than a more effective method that you don’t enjoy and are likely to quit or procrastinate with.

What do guys you think? Is this the right method for you? Let me know in the comments section!

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