Hi there! So, I decided to turn the English subtitles off on an anime I was rewatching and I can understand perhaps one word every sentence, some simple sentences, some phrases, but roughly no more than 3% of the whole episode. Is this a waste of my time? I noticed that after three episodes or so, I was able to make out a teensy bit more, at least be able to more effectively hear sentence structures and speech patterns, but nothing more than that. Does anyone have experience with this? Should I continue? I take note of some common words, verb endings, phrases that I hear throughout the episode, look them up after and then when they appear next have a better idea of what is being said (not that I get very far, but hey, I’m at least picking up words while listening!). There’s a part of me that thinks I should just continue and see if I improve at all, despite how frustrating and tiring it is to watch an anime, ears on sharp and only catch a bucketful of words. I have once decided to watch anime with Japanese subtitles on animelon, but the site hasn’t loaded anything in ages, and I found myself pausing it every other sentence because I recognised a kanji and wanted to figure out the sentence, which with my limited grammar knowledge admittedly didn’t get me very far! Say, if I do wanikani and just watch a ton of anime without subs, will this get me anywhere, or would I be wasting my time? I’m looking for enjoyable immersion Thanks! Looking forward to hearing your opinions
Not a waste of your time, but I would think you could get the same experience even with subtitles on.
I’ve watched hundreds of episodes with subtitles on and only picked out a handful of words, whereas watching now without, I’ve picked out a whole lot more. I think that with subtitles (English ones anyway) I’d just be reading the subtitles and not really be able to listen at all anymore…
Here are my experiences. Keep in mind that I have a really bad memory, so your results may vary.
This is a fairly long series. My DVD set is a Chinese release with Chinese hard subtitles, and no Japanese (or English) subtitles. I watched with the Japanese audio track, and picked up words like crazy. (I also had a very small vocabulary to start with at the time, probably less than 800 words, at the time.)
I still remember learning the word 落ちる early on in watching this series. I learned many other words, but that was the first, so it stands out for me.
I tried this with the first episode of K-On!, using the following method:
- Watch episode in Japanese (no subtitles)
- Read through first sentence of dialogue in Japanese subtitles.
- Learn all the words in the sentence.
- Watch beginning of episode covering that line over and over until I recognize everything being said.
- Return to step (2) with the next line of dialogue.
Over a month, I made it maybe ten or 15 lines in before I stopped. Here are the issues I faced:
- I didn’t know grammar well enough, and wasn’t properly looking it up and learning it along the way.
- A few lines in, I was having trouble remembering the prior vocabulary (even though I just reviewed them daily for the prior five days…)
- I would occasionally go long periods (a week) without going to the next line.
I learned the word そろそろ, and that’s all I can remember.
Since my K-On! experiment, I’ve learned a lot more vocabulary (I’m 3,000 words into iKnow’s “core” decks), and I’ve learned a lot more grammar thanks to look-ups while reading through manga.
About 40 episodes in, my experience with this has been:
- I recognize a lot of words I already know.
- I miss a lot of words I should recognize.
- If a word I don’t know is used many times in an episode (or over a few episodes), I can usually pick it up (but often forget it in a day).
Cure Dolly’s Method
I haven’t tried Cure Dolly’s method yet, but on her YouTube channel, she recommends you take the audio from an anime episode, and listen to a small portion over and over throughout the day, each day until you’ve able to recognize everything. (You’d still look up the words in the subtitles in advance, and use an SRS program for the vocabulary.) Once you’re able to recognize everything in that piece of audio, you can continue on to the next piece.
If this sounds of interest to you to try, check out what Cure Dolly says rather than my summary above based on my bad memory. Here are some related links:
This is true. Reading the (edit: English) subtitles will essentially block hearing what’s said. You’ll catch some words you already know very well, but that’s probably about it. (Edit: This is based on my own personal experience. Your results may vary.)
I guess it doesn’t work for everybody.
Wouldn’t it be better to say that everyone has different learning methods?
I always watch with subtitles, and I constantly pause and look up words I don’t know from what I hear.
I agree 100%.
I didn’t mention language, but I was referring to English subtitles since the part I responded to mentioned English subtitles. (I’ll edit my prior comment to clarify.) Do you watch with English or Japanese subtitles?
I usually even go, “Wait, that’s not how I would translate what he just said.”
And it gives me something to look up.
I even do it with English manga.
I read a sentence, like “Let me go!” and immediately think “はなせ！”.
Stuff like that.
watching with subtitles( of your native language) is very inneficient in terms of time investment in my opinion. Especially if you are a male since we usually can focus only on one thing.
But if those subtitles are in Japanese, then its definitely going to be useful.
There are a few services dedicated to that. Animelon- anime with Japanese subtitles with automatic translation to English. Sadly they have been offline for 2 months already
I can remember my experience of learning English. I played countless RPG games with English voices and Russian subtitles. 0 improvement in 2 years because 99% of the time I was focused on reading subtitles. But as soon as I turned subtitles on English, in 1 year my vocabulary grew from 4k words to 15k and I could maintain pretty much any topic in any conversation with native English speakers.
I agree with @Kazzeon. If you are willing to pause to look things up, and if you are able to split focus, you can still pick up a lot of words or at the very least reinforce words you’ve learned elsewhere.
It needs to be a conscious effort. If you just want to watch anime for fun without trying to learn that’s fine. But you can still learn with English subtitles if you focus on the spoken language first. If you just listen without subtitles you may not recognize many words (as you’re experiencing now). But when you read the English after listening you should sometimes be able to associate the English words back to the Japanese you heard. This helps reinforce the connection between the Japanese and English words, and hopefully over time you’ll recognize more Japanese words without having to see the English to make the connection.
After doing close to 250 hours of active listening (watching without subtitles), I watched a few shows with English subtitles and I can tell you I barely hear any words I know. That being said, even with subtitles off I still struggle to hear words, but I do notice a lot more words when subtitles are off.
I recently started watching with Japanese subs, and I would highly suggest doing that over English subtitles. However, when you’re watching with subtitles you aren’t using the part of your brain that works with listening. You’re essentially just reading. Of course, you still have the audio to listen to, but it doesn’t develop listening skills as well as watching with no subtitles.
Also, after those 250 hours I do think it helped a lot. I’m able to learn certain words faster because they “sound right”. I also come across new words every so often that I just randomly know right after learning them because I’ve heard them before. But mainly, it helped me become a lot more accustomed to Japanese and how it sounds.
Overall, my suggestion is to not listen with English subtitles if you’re trying to help with your listening skills. However, if you aren’t benefitting at all, and you’re falling asleep because everything is just too boring, then I’d go back to English subtitles. If you’re bored or falling asleep, then you’d be better off with English subs because at least you’d be paying attention then. But, if you can get ahold of Japanese subbed shows then I highly suggest it because I find it a lot more fun and I’m more enganged.
It’s ok. I had the same experience around WK lvl8 \ BunPro mid-N5. I had around ~5% comprehension, and decided to stop for a while, as I could not pick new grammar (or it was N2-N1) or any new words (all the kanji in them were unfamiliar). I returned back to watching things (with Jap subtitles) at WK-lvl 20 \ BunPro mid-N3 less than a year later, and watching slice of life \ comedy with Jap subtitles is now fairly easy (80%-90%+ comprehension). Other stuff (with more complicated plots) is at about ~50% comprehension, but still enjoyable. Watching without Jap subs (just switching off eng ones\audio only) is harder, and turned out to be less fun and not that effective for me study-wise, as you can’t copy-paste unknown words. At WK lvl 20 you should already know enough kanji, so ¼ of the unknown words from subs can be directly added to your dictionary, as you know the kanji for them. I still ignore the words that have unknown kanji in them, unless the kanji is not on WK. So only a year into the studies I’ve started seeing watching anime as a non-frustrating worthwhile time investment.
To give you an example from my experience: around WK lvl8 \ BunPro mid-N5 I’ve tried watching an episode with jap subs. Out of it I got lots of frustration, 3 kana words, 1 N2 super easy grammar point and tried to look up another 3 but failed - they were described in a way totally different from the way they were used in the episode (talk about confusing). 9 months later I rewatched it. I’ve understood 95%, had a fun time, got 11 new words not present on WK, reviewed another 20 that I didn’t recognise (from the pool I’ve learned), brushed some grammar, practiced reading, and recognised that out of 3 grammar points that I’d failed to look up in the past, 1 was a dialect and the other 2 I’ve messed up looking up, because I didn’t know how to do that right. Needless to say that watching the same episode 12 months into the studies was much more efficient than 3 months in. So there is definitely a threshold below which watching media is not fun and inefficient (compared to formal language study).
If I had to write a cheat sheet for someone trying to use anime as a viable learning source, I would note that:
a) Knowing grammar makes a HUGE difference. Watching things with something lower than full N4 is, indeed, frustrating.
b) You need kanji to learn words. I would recommend getting enough kanji (at least WK lvl 16) to start actually finding words in the wild that you can remember right away.
c) Jap subs make things much easier. Audio only will give you less progress at first. Eng subs will result in no progress. Some less popular shows have no Jap subs available, but in this case I watch things with no subs.
d) At first you can pick a show that you’ve already watched once, this helps a lot.
e) Your video player matters. It’s better to pick a player that has hotkeys to jump on sub lines, and support sub text access. There are online services for this like Daiweeb (dead since 2020) and Animelon (gets shows removed, probably for copyright reasons), so I prefer a dedicated video player. Jap subtitles usually need to be timed, but this is easily done by hand for the whole series in a minute in any decent player.
f) Using subs, it’s better to focus on learning words, not grammar (IMHO). The words should be reviewed in any way you prefer (at least write them down).
Honestly, Jap was very different for me in terms of jumping into media content. I’ve previously studied English (not my native language, far from it), German and French, so Jap is my 4th foreign language. In English\French you can just jump into watching things with corresponding subs and learn extra vocabulary, so I’ve tried that with Japanese, and found out that Kanji undermine that process a lot, and it’s better to wait a bit.
Like some of the others said, I have had success learning and hearing things with English subs! It takes effort to listen, but with practice you start seeing things that make you think “hey that’s not what they said!”. Personally I can’t do this well with really long sentences because the subtitles are essentially “backwards”, but it can still work. I do this when watching Japanese content with others.
But since I started watching content on my own with Japanese subtitles only (about 3 years ago how time flies!), even as a beginner it got a lot easier to associate what I’m hearing with words I know – there are a lot of homophones so the kanji in the subtitles often clear things up.
I often hear people saying “if you’re reading you’re not listening“, but this isn’t necessarily true. As a beginner it’s hard to keep reading Japanese subtitles at full speed over the course of a whole episode or movie, but it’s ok because your ears will take over! And you also learn to read fast
As long as you’re ok not understanding everything, you’re studying vocab and grammar on the side, and you’re making a conscious effort to listen, I’m sure you’ll get something out of your immersion anyway (no subs, JP subs, or EN subs). Over a whole season you’ll get used to how characters speak, and learn lots of words they often use (either by context or by looking them up).
I started by choosing “throwaway” series I’d never seen and thought I didn’t care about, but ended up enjoying them more than things I’d watched in English, and JP-only became a habit!
There are a lot of detailed suggestions and explanations on here, but I’m a simple man of simple means.
My suggestion is to watch an episode with subs first. Then right after (or like within a day) re-watch the same episode with no subs or Japanese subs.
This way your able to already know all of the content and its fresh and now your listening more carefully with out the work of not knowing what exactly is being said. I know you said your re-watching the anime but I do suggest having a fresh memory of everything that is said just to squeeze out more detail in your listening.
How is your grammar foundation?
This will be a huge part of being able to decipher anime as you watch
Cure dolly method is actually really good, but she recommends watching her first 20 grammar videos first. I tried to do the anime method last year and it was a terrible experience. After I finished Genki I I tried again and I can pick up a lot now.
Repeating the same episode over and over is really useful
I use JP subs and watch, then I listen to the audio only when I’m walking or cleaning/cooking etc over and over until its really familiar
I’m using subs2srs now to make flashcards for each episode which also helps to internalize the new vocab
Using the right method and having the foundations down will really help you make big strides
I’m glad it works out for you. I just can’t. The biggest issue for me is the sentence structure. In many cases the English subs will reference parts that haven’t been said until the second half of the sentence and vice versa.
I think of these as two different types of watching:
- Comprehension based, which is what you guys are taking about.
- Immersion based, which is watching with no subs or Japanese subs and just picking up what you can without stopping.
The former will improve your comprehension but the latter will improve your comprehension at native speed. I think you need both.
I also think a crucial component is just watching for fun with English subs. If the reason you got into this was for anime, then don’t forget that part.
I’ll usually have three series going:
- Listen and comprehend. English subs, rewind, look up stuff. I usually do this with series that I love and can rewatch multiple times. I’m currently doing this with the first adaptation of Hunter x Hunter.
- Listen with no subs or Japanese subs. I’m currently doing this with Terrace House. For me, it’s interesting enough to watch without subs and you get to hear the way different people talk in various contexts.
- Just for fun. I just finished Season 1 of 血界戦線 and starting on the 2nd. Great series.
It’s never a bad idea to use native material, no matter how much you can currently understand. Exposure helps.
But set yourself up for realistic expectations and worthwhile results.
- What are you hoping to get out of the experience?
Just listening exposure? Maybe there’s nothing wrong with keeping subtitles in your language turned on and just trying to avoid glancing at them while continuing with other study.
Picking up new phrases? Then maybe you want to have Japanese closed captions turned on, so you can identify new phrases and vocabulary more easily.
Specifically drilling listening comprehension? Then you should be avoiding either subtitles or captions, but also focusing on that element specifically, and choosing material that will both accommodate the kinds of phrases you want and your current level.
And then, from there, you can determine 2) What kind of, and level of, material will work best for your goals.
It sounds like you’re already getting something out of the experience simply in terms of exposure, but also not at the level where it could replace formal learning fully. So … idk, keep doing both! Watch the shows, take notes (this is so important; you can make basically any kind of study work if you’re actively engaged with it), jot down and look up things you’re curious about, but also continue on with other forms of dedicated study to unlock more of the shows for you, and in turn to be reinforced by them.
I guess, to get right to your specific final question:
I would say that’s probably a “waste of time,” if you’re not paring it with any other grammar or vocab learning. But absolutely not a waste of time if you couple it with the elementary Japanese course of your choice to help focus your goals.
Learning Japanese with anime is most useful for introductory and immersion study. What I mean by that is that you’ll get the most of anime as a study tool if you use it as a first introduction to Japanese culture and language (absolute beginner) or as an active listening tool once you have a good grasp of basic grammar (advanced beginner / early intermediate).
I watched all of Naruto before beginning to study Japanese, and though I didn’t know it at the time, it was incredibly helpful in introducing the language’s pronunciation, general sentence structure, formal conversational flow, basic honorifics, and more. While Naruto is definitely not the best show to use as an introductory tool (too many fantasy words and sentence enders for example), the series’ length (lots of repetition) and surprisingly decent accuracy of normal casual conversation made easy for me to recognize the sounds and and structure of beginner’s Japanese.
That being said, I wouldn’t recommend anime as a way to learn basic grammar. Broad sentence structure sure (topic-object-verb, verbs always have same root and tense depends on the suffix), but the difference between は and が? No. You should learn this from a grammar textbook for several reasons. A) Anime can be good as a supplemental immersion tool, but it would be hard to learn the nuances of grammar without a textbook or actually living in Japan. And more importantly and specific to anime, B) anime is often a poor representation of real Japanese speech patterns. Yes, some shows are better than others, and people above have recommended good ones above. But you are going to learn super casual (at best) or rude (at worst) Japanese if you try to speak like characters in anime. Once you understand basic grammar, you’ll know enough to grasp what is usable from anime.
- Watch the show with English subtitles first to understand major plot points
- Watch / listen without subtitles and actively try to understand what is going on
- Watch with Japanese subtitles to correct misconceptions and solidify what you learned
If you learn anything as a beginner, learn general sentence / speech patterns but also interjections and expressions. I lived in Japan briefly after only a few months of study, and I knew hiragana and katakana, level 5 WK vocab, and a few chapters of TextFugu (RIP) grammar. These were great when by myself in public for shopping, asking for directions, ordering food, etc. But let me tell you, it is amazing what I got away in conversations with friends by just knowing expressions and interjections from Naruto. It was more about the feel or air of the conversation, but throwing in a few はい and そうか made the conversation flow more smoothly (and made people transition into more casual language which I could actually sort of grasp lol). I learned different ways and contexts for saying hello and goodbye (use しつれい when leaving work) and ways to express emotion (use えと to hesitate and まじ?! for disbelief). These little things express a cultural understanding more so than one of the language, but they went a long way in helping native speakers feel more comfortable talking with me.
TL;DR Set up realistic expectations and goals. Aim for either learning the basics of overall sentence structure or full listening immersion, but try to avoid something inbetween. You can slowly pick up vocabulary and grammar that’s interesting to you from anime, but use WK and textbooks to learn the essential things.
That’s the way it is for me as well… indeed my brain tries to simultaneously comprehend the spoken Japanese and written English and just fails at both because nothing happens in the same order!
I would recommend one of two methods personally:
- Find something you can watch and enjoy even with whatever comprehension level you have. (I like starting with Youtube videos even before I start learning the language), then look up words that occur enough to grab your attention. Another option is to watch stuff you’ve already seen recently enough to know the gist of.
- Use a tool like voracious video player and pause whenever you encounter something that seems +1 to you (i.e. you understand almost everything, except for one word). Then make that into an anki card and practice it that way.
As for grammar, my approach is to study it separately if and when it becomes the biggest obstacle to my comprehension.
The first time I studied Japanese, 20 years ago, I studied anime a lot. This isn’t because watching anime was a method I chose for studying; rather, I studied Japanese because subbed anime was somewhat hard to find so I decided to learn the language, and I watched the anime because I wanted to watch it, so any learning I accomplished was incidental.
I still learned several hundred words, though, I’d guess, and some common set phrases, that sort of thing, as well as picking up some pronunciation. And then a lot of them stuck with me for 20 years, which is pretty damn good retention. So here’s my advice, with no guarantee that it’s good advice.
English subbed anime -
You should be able to learn single words pretty easily. What I mean is one-word sentences - things like “nani?” or “okaasan!” or “mite!” or “itai!” There’s no garble to pick them out of, because they’re by themselves, and you don’t have to figure out which word from the subtitle it was, because there’s only one word it could be.
If you know a word, you should be able to hear it in a very short sentence. This is good listening practice for a beginner, I guess - but you have to actually be listening for it. If you’re a fast reader, and you see the subtitle has your word in it, see if you can catch it in the audio. (Sometimes this won’t work, because they use a synonym instead. Womp womp.) You should also be able to make out simple grammar, if you’ve studied any - short sentences are naturally simple.
If you hear a short sentence, and you don’t know any words in it, see if you can make out one of the words - say, the verb, or the subject. If you know anything about English grammar and you’re familiar with Japanese sentence structure from your studies, then you know where to listen for different parts of speech you see reflected in the subtitle - of course, subtitles are not always literal translations so this won’t work with every line. If you think you heard it correctly, look it up in a dictionary to see if you were right. Alternately, if the characters are talking about a thing that’s so important they keep saying it over and over again, try to pick that word out.
Whatever you understand, mimic. This is good speaking practice. Whether the thing you’re mimicking is a thing you should say to people, or in public, is another matter…
Japanese subs mostly weren’t a thing for me. The exception was OP and ED themes, which were sometimes fansubbed with romaji, so non-Japanese readers could learn the words more easily. Being able to read the romaji certainly helped in understanding the lyrics, and then I could try to pick out words as above. Try to sing along! Lyrics do weird things with pronunciation and sentence structure, though, so be aware of that.
Unsubbed anime -
This will engage your brain more, as you actually have to figure out what they’re saying completely unaided. OTOH, you’ll have to figure out what they say completely unaided, which means 90% of the time you’ll probably have no idea what they’re saying, or you’ll get it wrong. You’ll have to figure out what they’re saying from visual clues, story context, tone of voice, etc. It’s hard. But, you could potentially pick up some new words this way.
For a real challenge, try translating the anime you watch. Just write down/type up everything you understand, even if it’s just part of a sentence. Do the best you can. Watch your anime multiple times, or rewind bits and replay them, trying to make out more words. Look up any words you don’t know in your dictionary. This is super tedious and at this level you need to be really into the show to even want to do this, but I figure it’s good practice too.
Why are you even trying to learn from anime you doofus -
The less Japanese you know, the harder this whole process is, and probably the less rewarding. Getting a starter vocabulary and a grasp on common grammar will help you a good deal - but by the time you have those, you’ve already been studying Japanese quite a bit with some other method, which raises the question of why you want to use anime as a teaching tool if you have other, teachier tools to learn from. Which goes back to what I said: when I did this, my learning was incidental to watching, not the purpose of watching.
For me (and my personality), it’s really difficult to enjoy something without comprehending it. No anime exists that I can enjoy without comprehending the dialogue, no matter how beautiful the animation or soundtrack is. Even with anime I tried rewatching without subtitles, I never managed to finish the whole thing. I always get too annoyed after a few episodes and dropped the show.
So at the very least, this doesn’t work for me with anime. I suppose that would be fine if I could find another type of audio/visual entertainment to try this with, but I don’t know where to look. There are very few topics that interest me.