At what JLPT level can you start understanding japanese media from context?

Hi everyone, while growing up in a country speaking English, I thought to myself that I really only was taught English when I was in school, up until I was 14 or so. But after that I’ve started learning a lot of words through either watching movies/tv shows/books and a variety of other medias, and just hearing friends talk a certain way.

I was wondering if Japanese could be similar once you’ve reached a certain level of JLPT? In particular I was hoping once I knew say JLPT N3, that maybe it will be enough that I can watch shows/videos etc and slowly start to understand more vocabulary based on context instead of grinding vocabulary.

Has anyone found that to be the case? Is learning japanese going to forever be a journey where I reach N1 after years and years of studying and still am unable to understand an average anime a normal teenager can watch?

4 Likes

It really depends on your tolerance for uncertainty. I can say for me personally, I haven’t even studied up to JLPT N5, but I still enjoy listening to japanese learner podcasts, like Teppeis. How much do I understand? Maybe 40%? Am I learning? Definitely. Is it fun? Marginally, but it’s getting better and better the more I understand, and the more I listen, the more I understand. Does a child understand every single word in a show made for adults? Course not. Are they able to enjoy it? Sure. Look at the pretty pictures, look at how angry or happy people look, look at the big scary dragon. Hear the word お金. See money exchanging hands. Do the same thing 10 more times. Realize お金 is money. Hear basic grammatical patterns, a million times. Understand them intuitively.

Fair warning to you. Reaching a “JLPT” level on Wanikani is not the same as being able to take the test. And passing the test is not the same as being able to understand the content you want to understand.

In short, start watching and listening to stuff as soon as you’re able to understand enough for it not to be painful to you, and keep at it, you’ll get better rapidly. My personal experience is that this is not enough in itself, I also supplement it with grammar practice.

I’m never going to pass the JLPT. Am I going to be reading tough stuff at some point? You bet. Am I going to understand everything? Not even remotely. Will it be enjoyable? Probably. Don’t listen to naysayers who say that even passing N1 you can’t do hekk, they’re just salty they spent too long practicing things they didn’t enjoy, only to find out the words they actually needed to learn were ドラゴン and 弓, not 領事館 and 慣習法.

10 Likes

I am no where near proficient but still i can understand what it is said in slow/short sentences. My kanji level is around N4 grammer is also N4. listening i am a beginner so that might be huge factor of why. As to which level i am not sure but i guess it depend on amount of vocabulary you know

1 Like

I’m not sure if there’s much of a correlation between JLPT levels and listening ability… especially considering that the JLPT is mostly a written test and only has a brief listening section.

That being said, if you learn enough vocab and grammar to pass N1 I’d find it hard to believe you couldn’t watch and understand anime unless you literally never listened to the language spoken out loud at all before.

I passed N3 a couple years ago, and these days I’m able to watch and understand a lot of different types of media. Sometimes I understand a good portion without troubles (around 70%), other times I run into difficult sections or difficult topics/genres and it gets a lot harder. I think the bottom line is you won’t really know until you try, and the more you learn about the language and the more you practice listening the easier it’ll get over time.

8 Likes

It heavily depends on what types of things you’re reading or watching. If it’s going to be dense with technical terminology of any field, it’s going to be hard to get a handle on. Slice of life should be a bit more accesible from a lower level, since a lot of everyday words will be used, with the occasional unknown word thrown in.

I am N2 (on the way to N1) right now, and I can watch a Japanese series or movie with Japanese subtitles with little trouble. I’m not sure how well the new words I hear stick in my mind, even if I understand it in the context of the show, but I’m guessing they stick better the more often I hear them.

A big hurdle for understanding Japanese in all contexts, is the kanji. You won’t get the easy reinforcing of knowledge you get with English for example, when you hear a word in one context, and see it written in another. You won’t necessarily make the connection right away, only after you look up the word.

Another thing is, you have to actively be looking for Japanese content suited to your level, instead of just turning on the tv, and there is an American movie (a big factor in my being able to learn English, was the sheer availability of interesting content all around), unless you are in Japan, of course.

At N3 level you’re pretty much intermediate level (assuming all your skills are on par), and all subsequent consuming of native material will go a lot easier grammarwise, but vocab might still be a hurdle. I imagine needing a dictionary a lot more often, than an intermediate level English sudent would need. Also, all subsequent progress will feel a lot less dramatic than getting up there, leading to what’s commonly known as Intermediate Plateau. How quickly you get to intermediate varies wildly between students, though, in my experience.

9 Likes

Thanks mate, honestly I think I’m really looking for something like the above, I guess I see so many posts that range from “If you’re N1 you still won’t understand anime x, y and z” and it makes it feel like all that learning and still understanding so little.

This sounds good though, knowing N3 level and you feel quite good with a good portion of things feels like a goal I can go for!

1 Like

haha I think this is the issue I keep running into, I read somewhere that you won’t even understand Yotsuba until you’re passed N1 was like :open_mouth:.

I guess its sort of like, I’ve watch anime for many years of my life, and I only really have a handful of vocab from it. My assumption is that its because I don’t know enough yet of Japanese to pick up sentences based on whats happening on screen. I know studying has helped a lot to understand more. Maybe I’ll have a bigger go once I start going through N4. And just watch anime for now. Cheers mate!

1 Like

What. Who would say that and be serious.

7 Likes

Thanks so much for this mate, its really helpful! Great to hear that for N2 you can watch Japanese sseries and movies with little trouble. Thats my end goal I think! One I get around N2 I’ll be happier to consume japanese through media/friends/shows etc. Which honestly sounds like a funner way to learn then grinding vocabulary.

I agree though, I try a few times to find things closer to jlpt n5, but for the most part I notice its typically just textbooks and the likes. Its great to hear about the N3 section, I can definetely see myself falling into the intermediate plateau, so just knowing about it will help me right now. That will be my goal until I can get up there to N2!

2 Likes

The subtitles really help, but I can speak with my Japanese friends with little trouble as well.

I would say don’t wait until you get N2. I’m maybe N5 level but I’ve practiced enough with the context sentences and graded readers that I have some understanding of Japanese video games and manga, which helps me learn new expressions and see how the kanji are used. True my understanding is limited but it’s WAY more fun than studying for an exam.

I’ll also add, I can read easy manga at this point around a N4, but my listening skills are shit because I never practice them. You need to practice that skill specifically if you want to understand spoken Japanese from media to any extent. I mean, you’ll still be able to read subs, I can do that a bit, but the words themselves will just be a blur

2 Likes

Just for your information, particularly given how Japanese is taught to foreign students around the world, anime isn’t really a good gauge. Almost all of us are taught polite Japanese that’s appropriate for day-to-day interaction with people we don’t know very well or in professional settings. Anime Japanese is often much closer to what you might use with close friends, and frequently uses colloquial expressions that you probably wouldn’t need in a polite conversation. I have a friend who’s studying at the science faculty of a top Japanese university who passed the N1 a few years ago, and he told me some time in the last six months that very honestly, he isn’t sure he’s able to watch anime without subtitles even now. The issue is not that you won’t be able to deduce things from context, which I think is possible starting around N3 level (if you want a short answer): lots of the things my friend knows are things he picked up in context from anime or via songs, so much so that he knows what they mean based on feel but can’t explain why they work that way. The issue is that anime Japanese and classroom/JLPT Japanese are two different – if related – beasts. My friend isn’t alone, by the way: he knows someone else with an N1 who was shocked when he tried to read manga: ‘Wait, you can write 強い like that? stares at 強ええ

My personal experience with anime is this: watching anime while listening carefully/reading transcripts and checking the dictionary can rapidly expose you to structures that you might find at the N3, N2 or even N1 levels: part of why all but the final chapters (chapter 12 of 15 onwards) of Tobira were fairly unproductive for me is that I had encountered almost all of the grammar via anime, newspapers, general reading or my first textbook, and that’s despite the fact that Tobira is an N3-N2 textbook. There was little left to learn, a little vocabulary aside. On the other hand, studying a ton of JLPT books will only allow you to parse anime sentences better, but probably won’t provide you with the kanji knowledge and specialised vocabulary that you’ll need for dealing with the setting of an anime: 経験値、防護 and the like are things you’ll only learn by watching fantasy/game anime (even if I can’t guarantee their usefulness as phrases, the kanji are useful), and you’re not likely to learn all the names of high school subjects in a textbook. 絆 is another kanji that’s so associated with anime clichés that you’ll have to come across it at some point, but you’ll probably never see it in a textbook.

In short, anime can teach you tons of stuff – including keigo, which you come across fairly often in anime, but which gets ignored by most non-specialised textbooks – provided you know how to convert casual speech into polite speech, and that can feed into JLPT-type knowledge. On the other hand, JLPT-type knowledge may help you get through NHK articles easily, but may not help with manga.

Even more briefly, mathematically speaking,
Studying anime + casual-polite translation skills => JLPT level UP
High JLPT level =x=> Understanding anime

Seconded. Maybe wait till you have roughly N4 grammar if understanding very little frustrates you. I was watching anime before I started studying Japanese, and after starting, I kept watching anime all the way through. As a beginner, watching anime taught me to catch syllables and identify common words that I already knew. As a more advanced learner, it challenges me to listen for words I still don’t know so I can look them up.

3 Likes

I don’t know about Yotsuba specifically, but my experience with anime is that without subtitles, you’re probably going to understand less than 50% at the lower levels (say, below N3), and that even at higher levels, your comprehension will vary based on the use of setting-specific vocabulary (e.g. common words for fantasy, technical terms for technology, academic terms for scholarly subjects). The light novels that many anime are based on are even more challenging, not only because authors tend to use rare kanji, but also because they tend to use compound verbs and sentences full of embedded multi-level relative clauses. It’s not unreasonable to suggest that 100% comprehension of a light novel would require N2/N1 proficiency, even if it’s completely untrue that someone at a lower level wouldn’t understand a thing. In other words, there’s a grain of truth in what was said, even if it’s not the whole truth.

Side note: I have to admit though, I sincerely have no idea what my Japanese level would be if I took a test now. I would assume N2, particularly since full N1 proficiency means knowing lots of obscure grammar that’s rare even for native speakers, but frankly, who knows? Thus, I might be spouting nonsense since I don’t know exactly what usually falls under ‘JLPT knowledge’.

@trustnoone If you want to try studying using anime, get yourself a good EN-JP dictionary (Jisho or ejje.weblio.jp should work – I prefer the latter because it has way more example sentences) and try looking for the transcriptions. Anicobin is a good site because it has screenshots with the relevant dialogue above them. Just google ‘[anime name in Japanese] [episode number]話 感想 anicobin’ to bring it up. It’s actually a reaction blog, so you can see what Japanese viewers say on Twitter in response to an ep, but the transcriptions usually contain all essential dialogue (say… 80% of what was said at least?). It only works for anime that aired after 2013 though. I haven’t been able to find any anime from 2013 or earlier on it.

If you don’t feel motivated enough to look up every single word you don’t know, then don’t bother – it’s exhausting even with motivation. Just leave the subtitles on, try to catch whatever you can, and look up whatever piques your interest.

Yeah for sure, I think it’s also good to be honest with yourself about your own goals (not that you aren’t!), and so if understanding anime is important to you then it makes sense to watch a lot of it. Even if you need English subtitles at first, try to listen very carefully and pick out words you recognize. I can’t even count all the words that I picked up from anime even when I wasn’t really “studying” per se. I’m a bit of a slow learner in terms of Japanese just because I prefer to take things at my own pace, but I’m really happy with the progress I’ve made. I don’t think I would’ve gotten as comfortable listening to Japanese as I am if I hadn’t been doing it almost every day for years. So just keep at it, focus on things that interest you, and try to study grammar even if you find it a bit boring at first. To me, studying grammar is exciting sometimes because I make a connection with something I’ve heard in anime or games before. I often would read about new grammar points and be like “ohh, so that’s what that meant” or “ohh, so that’s why that means that” and so on.

1 Like

I agree with all that you said, but よつばと よつばと! Vol 2 Discussion Thread (Yotsuba&! Reading Club) is a pretty easy manga! I dare say you might have to look up a word or two here and there, simply because there is lots of kids language in there, but it’s definitely not too difficult for N1. You shouldn’t have too much trouble at N4 :joy:

1 Like

Mhm, guess not. I took a look at the latest chapter, and it seems it’s not very difficult, grammatically. Vocabulary is a bit of a challenge, especially since I tend to rely on kanji a lot, but it’s not too hard.

2 Likes

the “kid talk” in yostuba kinda throw me off personally, but you shouldn’t have too much trouble even at n5 if you’re fine with not getting some part of it and are comfortable looking up grammar and vocab often.

JLPT level-wise I’m currently probably somewhere on a road between N4 and N3, and like I wrote in the recent thread about fluency -

I’m mostly reading/playing Visual Novels. I started playing them in Japanese somewhere in the beginning of 2019, when I was “N4-” :wink: with “To Heart”. It took me two months and I had to look up tons of words, but I really enjoyed it. Since that I’ve finished 13 untranslated VNs and am on my 14th one :slight_smile: And I definitely can observe a progress compared to how my reading was those ~2 years ago. It’s still slow, but much smoother.

So I second those who say “don’t wait too long till you get to the high enough level to consume media”. Instead try starting as soon as you can, finding things that are comfortable.

2 Likes