Chain Reaction

連鎖反応 (れんさはんのう) i.e. “chain reaction” isn’t on the WaniKani menu as linguistics meal, but its ingredients 連鎖 (level 52) and 反応 (level 22) are.

The expression came to my mind while watching Japanese tv entertainment recently. Pretty much all of these shows have Japanese subtitles and additional text elements, although the shows are made exclusively for home audience.

So, here is my chain reaction hypothesis, which kind of adds to the recent study about languages being learnt “sound first”.

  1. Japanese people actually need those subtitles to understand what people on tv shows are saying. Why else they would be there? It is marvelous a feature for anyone studying Japanese to always have the transcript available, but I don’t think that’s the reason.

  2. It would be too confusing for the same audience to read Japanese subtitles when foreign people are interviewed in the news or entertainment shows.

  3. Thus most foreign language content from movies to interviews is dubbed, although the interpretation often imitates the original voice tone.

  4. However, this leads to the current situation where Japanese people sit quietly in classrooms for a decade listening to the teacher speaking Japanese without subtitles. And television or movies won’t come to help, as they are always dubbed.

The end of the chain reaction? Internationally prominent Japanese art gallery shares the image below on social media. They probably made an actual printed version too.


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For the same reason most TikTok videos have subtitles as well. It’s an attention grabbing thing and helps follow along if you’re not listening in good conditions.

I don’t follow the reasoning here.

That’s true well outside of Japan. That’s the standard in France and Germany too for instance. It’s not that people can’t read subtitles, it’s that most of them prefer not to because they find them distracting and require more focus. As such most foreign media is dubbed, not subtitled.

Having subtitles in the same language is a completely different proposition, here it reinforces what’s being said, it’s not the only way to understand what’s being said.

I think I’m missing a link of that chain reaction, what’s wrong with the picture besides it being the wrong month?

If your overall point is that lack of contact with English due to mainstream dubbing leads to Japanese people being weaker in the language than they could otherwise be, then I completely agree.

A good case study for this is Spain and Portugal: culturally and especially linguistically the two countries are rather similar but in Spain dubbing is widespread, while in Portugal everything outside of kid shows is subtitled.

The result:

There are other factors at play but lack of widely available pt-pt adaptations of English-language media certainly plays a role.


Subtitles also help the hard of hearing and deaf people. So in that way, I guess Japan is very accessible. Whether that is the reason or not. (I have no clue.)


Someone has just straight-up… excised several countries from Europe, there. Croatia. Greece, Albania and Northern Macedonia. The Baltic states and Belarus. Moldova replaced by Lake Moldova.

How about the UK and Ireland? What’s their English proficiency? :stuck_out_tongue:


I forgot to point out that the source wasn’t great but it does mirror my personal experiences in Portugal and Spain and I couldn’t find a better one in two minutes of internet searching. I think they simply did not have any data for any of the missing countries (except for the UK and Ireland that are missing for obvious reasons).


The obvious reason being that it turns out they’re only in the teal region and don’t want to be shamed? :stuck_out_tongue:


Brexit means brexit. And all the Irish answered in Gaelic.


Also, Japanese walls are thin so people probably watch TV with the volume very low out of respect for their neighbors.


Ha! That’s actually an interesting thesis.


Yeah, this seems from a bit of googling around to be the usually cited reason. They started in the 1990s, as the TV became less “something you pay serious attention to” and more “something you have on while you’re doing something else”; the rise of the remote control and channel-hopping behaviour also made it important for viewers dipping in mid-programme to be able to immediately pick up what the programme was doing right now and to have enough visual interest on screen to capture their attention before they moved on to the next channel. Technology improvements since then have also contributed – the TV programmes can display more text more easily, so they do.

(テロップ is a good word to search for on this topic, meaning all this onscreen text and images in a wider sense than just “subtitles of the dialogue”.)