You’ve got your textbook, your kanji book, your dictionary, and you have been studying like crazy. You have memorized a number of Japanese words and phrases and even a number of Japanese characters. Yet, when you get the chance to hear someone speaking in Japanese, it still sounds alien. Don’t worry, this is completely normal and happens to everyone. You just need to get enough listening practice for your brain to start to distinguish the sounds, and then match them up to the words you have already memorized. Luckily, there is a fun way to do this. Watch a movie in Japanese!
The reason that movies can be great tools to practice listening is because they contain “regular” Japanese, spoken at a normal pace. It will be difficult to understand at first, but like anything, the more you do it the easier it gets. Movies also allow you to choose several viewing options depending on your level of Japanese by changing the audio and subtitle options.
So first, where can you find movies with Japanese audio and subtitles? As you have probably noticed unless you are in Japan, most movies don’t have Japanese options. There are two places in your video store that will. The first of course is the foreign video section. However, this will most likely be very limited and may only contain some of the older samurai classics (which aren’t very helpful because the Japanese used is outdated. The other and probably more helpful, is the animated section. As many of you probably know, Japan is famous for it’s animated films. Many of which have probably been exported to your home country. Because of the different genre you can also hear different types of speaking. And of course, if you can get your favorite movies dubbed in Japanese, then by all means go for it.
So what’s the best way to study using Japanese movies? This partly depends on your level of Japanese. For most everyone, I recommend watching your movie a couple of times. Doing so will help you get a better understanding of the meanings and what is actually being said. I recommend that you make the first watch either in Japanese with English subtitles or in English with Japanese subtitles. This allows you to know what is going on in the movie so you can focus on language learning. I have broken the instructions of viewing into three categories (beginner, intermediate, upper intermediate) below.
- Watch the movie at least once in English. Either in English with Japanese subtitles or Japanese with English subtitles.
- Watch the movie again in Japanese with English subtitles
- Watch a third time and pause/re-watch parts you don’t understand. You can also write down Japanese words you are unsure of to study later. (you may want to use Japanese subtitles to help you learn the words.
- Watch the movie at least once in Japanese with English subtitles.
- Watch it again in Japanese with Japanese subtitles
- Watch again to replay parts you don’t understand creating a list of words and phrases.
- Watch in Japanese with Japanese subtitles
- Watch again to replay parts you don’t understand and create a words/ phrase list
- Watch a third time in Japanese using no subtitles. This will help you focus on just the listening.
Notice that you will be watching the movie or TV show quite a few times, so try to find something you like. Also, even for those who don’t think their Japanese reading level is high enough that subtitles will help, use them anyways. It will help you learn to read Japanese and learn kanji. You may also find that you know more than you think.
Lastly, don’t worry if you are having a hard time understanding. The first times I started doing this with a film I could barely make out a few words. But each time I watched it I would recognize a few more and a few more. Pretty soon I was able to watch the movie without having to focus. It just takes practice.
There are a lot of Japanese anime available, but a good place to start is with Miyazaki Hayao. Many of his movies are not only fun and light hearted, but the pace of speaking is very natural.
If you have a favorite Japanese movie or anime, please feel free to list it in the comments, along with why you think it would be a good choice for learning Japanese.