Japanese subtitles becoming a crutch

Obviously subtitles can be an excellent tool for recognition and it helps with understanding the dialogue, but does anybody else feel like they’re too dependent on them? Lately I feel like when I have them on while watching something, it hinders my ability to focus on the audio and instead I end up relying on them too much as a visual aid. This might seem obvious to some, but I never actually considered that they would eventually hinder my listening progress.


Any tool can hinder your progress if you rely too much on it.


Very true! I alway just figured I could kill two birds with one stone, practice my listening and reading at the same time, but I guess the time has come to turn the subtitles off (at least some of the time!)


I never thought too much of it, since I always need subs for English audio as well to fully comprehend alongside the audio.


Japanese subtitles can definitely be a crutch, although a lot of the time I find them helping my listening. I don’t know if it’s just a habit I’ve gotten myself into or if it’s content at just the right level, but I often find myself using subtitles as a kind of ‘double check’ to make sure what I heard was right. Or, if I don’t get most of a sentence, I’ll go back and listen to it again with subtitles, and then once I hear it or know what to listen out for, I can play it a third time to confirm it in my head.

I think it’s important realizing where you should/shouldn’t use subtitles though. If you’re understanding >90% of what’s being said / you don’t need to fully focus on the content to get the meaning, you should probably be avoiding subtitles.


I always have and always will stand by the claim that watching with JP subtitles is reading practice and not listening practice.


I wonder about inexact JP sub, e.g. western series with JP dub and JP sub. Also, EN sub with JP dub might work as a listening practice?

Then, subtitles can be distracting enough that turning off sub feels easier to understand.

I believe videos with JP text, but not as subtitles or spoken lines, should be helpful?

I definitely felt like that, and so I just listened to everything twice: once without subtitles, and once with. It showed me how much I depended on them and how little I could translate my knowledge of Japanese into understanding spoken Japanese. There definitely were a lot of things I knew how to read, but when listening to them being spoken I understood not a single word (apart from ‘boku’).

Training the ear seems to be more difficult than the eye. Maybe because we as humans are so dependant on visual pattern recognition?


To watch English shows I relied on subtitles for years. I slowly started phasing them out, when I rewatched stuff and by now I feel safe enough without them.

With Japanese for me right now basically subs are the only chance I have of at least understanding the bare minimum. They speak too fast and I’m not familiar enough with the words and grammar structure, but the Kanji actually help :smiley:

I just recently stopped using them because I already am reading so much. It’s kind of redundant. I linked an article on getting started reading Japanese and basically the same applies for listening.

It’s perfectly fine as an assist but at some point it’s good to graduate from them eventually.


Watching with subtitles helps your reading ability, not your listening ability. To improve your raw listening ability, you need to raw listen. I’ve had this problem since I use to always watch anime with Japanese subtitles, then I released when I took them off I could barely understand anything. Now I only watch things raw and read books and manga for reading. Remember, listening and reading are two separate skills, they help each other, but you still need to do a lot of both to get good at both. If reading novels is still too challenging, I recommend splitting your time between watching anime with subtitles and watching them without.


I have two activities I rotate between when listening to Japanese TV/movies:

  1. If it has English subtitles, press Pause as soon as a new subtitle appears. Read the subtitle, then proceed to listen really hard for what the character is saying. If you are tired/just relaxing, then you can just press Play and continue. If you are at the computer, you can write what you hear on a Word doc. You can go back and try to catch the words you missed immediately or try again during another session. If you aren’t sure on the word you heard, type your best guesses in Jisho.org (ex: aren’t sure if you heard an “o” or an “ou” being used, so check both spellings).

  2. Download either the audio or video from the TV show/movie (ex: if it’s a YouTube video use a converter for mp3 or mp4, if it’s a DVD or something that you can’t get the URL from then I just use Bandicam or Audacity). If you got the audio, put it on your mp3 player and re-listen to the audio a few times (basically you are turning the TV show into a bootleg drama CD you can listen to while folding laundry or driving). If you got the video, then you can just play the mp4 in the background while working or watch it again but cover the subtitles with a sticky note. Watching it again will be different compared to the first since you won’t get distracted by the “Oooh, shiny” new episode and can focus on listening.

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subtitles were always an excelent tool for me, since the days I was learning English and now using with japanese studies.

For me it always worked as a way to keep the vocab list fresh in my head.

The probem is finding subtitles for latest anime episodes like Nier or ars no kyouju. Kitsunekko is almost abandoned now.

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I remember trying to some anime (probably Pokemon or Sazae-san) around the N5 level with no subs and being excited by the fact that I could follow the plot. Around the N3 level I tried watching the new Fruits Basket, something simple enough that I definitely should have understood it, with Japanese subs. I found myself becoming extremely frustrated because I felt like I understood less than I had when I was at the N5 level.

I realized that it was because when I was N5, I couldn’t understand 90% of the words, but I was focusing on the 10% that I could understand, which led me to grasp the plot. When I was at the N3 level, I could understand 80% of the words, but instead of focusing on those 80%, I was focusing on the 20% I couldn’t understand, leading me to feel confused. The subs just exacerbated this by allowing me to visually see how much I couldn’t understand.

What helped me was turning off all subs and telling myself that I wasn’t allowed to pause or rewind. It really forced me to focus on what I understood and ignore what I didn’t. I found my listening comprehension improved dramatically as a result

So yeah, I think depending on where you are in your journey, subs can sometimes be a hindrance


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