Learning japanese with anime questions and opinions

It seems like this topic is already pretty fleshed out, but I thought I’d add my own thoughts since this hits pretty close to home.

I agree with others on these general points:

  • No Subs is useful for immersion study and just getting your brain to recognize speech patterns in general
  • The less Japanese you know, the less watching raw is useful
  • If you put on subs, your brain will take the path of least resistance and ignore the speech most of the time

To add to these points:

Spanish Case Study

  • I don’t have the source, but I read once a study was done on Spanish speaking immigrants and language learning through TV. It turned out that Spanish subs didn’t improve English at all, whereas no subs improved slightly.
  • What improved significantly was English Subs + English Dub

This is to say that having both foreign audio and foreign subs is actually much more useful than audio alone. I would like to add that Japanese is different because if you can’t read kanji, its much harder to push through text you physically or mentally cannot produce an associated sound with.

It will help though if you know the word, but not the kanji. If you see the kanji and hear the word, it helps form a connection in your brain better.

Process of elimination & Easy Lookup

  • I found that after a certain point I was able to benefit from English subs only after I could understand everything except for an occasional noun or verb here and there.
  • If you understand an entire sentence except one word, it is very easy to focus on the one word you don’t know, and to use the subs as a dictionary.
  • I’ve found that quick lookup times is essential for learning new vocabulary, and I would prefer this method of learning (listening) over reading and fumbling with a kanji dictionary every 15 seconds.

Re-immersion & De-rust

  • I lived and worked in Japan for a year, but after I came home I took a break from studying out of pure exhaustion. When i came back to study I was actually pretty rusty and almost embarrassed at how much I remembered.
  • After binging a few shows over a couple weekends, I was already subconsciously close to where I was before.
  • Using TV as a de-rust tool is something I can highly recommend to get your brain working and thinking in another language again.
  • Watching passively will make it comes back quick, but doesn’t necessarily improve your skill unless you actively watch.

Helpful study method (intermediate-advanced only)

  • Watch shows that use real Japanese

    • for example: Don’t watch knights, swords, and magic…watch reality shows!
    • Beware that some slice-of-life are closer to works of literature than real spoken Japanese
    • I recommend Terrace House (Netflix has JP subs) and Hololive (Youtube)
  • Do a short exercise of self-conversation about what you watched

    • talk to yourself in Japanese about what you watched and confirm what happened
    • Do you agree with the character’s decision?
    • Who do you side with from the argument you just watched?
  • Watch with JP subs, then re-watch segments you didn’t understand with EN subs

  • Listen and Sing in Japanese

    • this isn’t TV and maybe not related, but I find this more helpful than listening to the TV since its repetitive (and you don’t really re-watch TV shows that much), its fun, and its easy to remember lyrics you don’t understand and its fun finally realizing what you’ve been singing about months later by chance.

My goodness, this got so many people responding, thank you so much for all your input!

So, I prooobably should have added that I have worked through half of Genki I (which admittedly, really wasn’t very fun. I find that learning Japanese with Genki isn’t very helpful because of the lacking grammar explanations, using grammatical terms. It’s a personal issue which I’m trying to find a solution for. I’ve purchased the Dictionary of Japanese Grammar (the beginner one) and I’m now using bunpro, lingodeer and I’ve also ordered an JLPT N5 book to give me more options and things to turn to for practice.), so have a basic comprehension of some grammar.

I think that what I can take away from all of the comments is that learning Japanese from listening exposure above my level alone is not going to teach me Japanese, but it can help with recognising native speech patterns, the sounds, pronounciation and may help me learn some new words. I was mostly curious because I’ve read many instances where people have picked up a language by watching TV in that language, without subtitles. This is mostly between languages that are reeeelatively similar (English and Norwegian, for example), so I know that that would be a whole lot harder with Japanese. The reason I mostly decided to start doing this was because I’m trying to find an enjoyable way of learning, almost like a ‘what if I could learn by just listening to this language for hours and hours, aided with visual cues: anime’. Because I enjoy it, I feel like I’m training my brain to hear words, to pick up sounds, sentence structure and rhythm of the language. So, I think because I find this quite fun, I am going to continue doing this, as well as continue with graded readers, grammar exercises… trying not to get absolutely lost, haha! (I honestly find it so hard to track/see progress with my Japanese comprehension.)

I’m going to check out Terrace House and look at trying watching anime with Japanese subs (even though animelon is down, I believe there’s a way to add subtitle tracks to netflix?). 皆さんありがとうございます!


Don’t mean to flog a dead horse (and I admittedly skipped the last couple of replies because everyone has been giving such detailed answers), but I figured I’d share my own experience: my opinion is that it’s best to watch anime (or something else you like) with subtitles first, and to try to drop them or switch to Japanese subtitles later.

I watched Konosuba for a long time (yes, I repeated the series several times) with English subtitles. I sometimes started watching before bed and dozed off in the middle of an episode. The more Japanese I knew, the more words I caught, but I honestly don’t think I learnt many new words by watching the show because I just didn’t know enough Japanese to pick out the more complicated expressions. I definitely learnt a few things, but I wouldn’t say it was particularly productive. However, what that did do for me (because I made a conscious effort to avoid relying on the subtitles and to listen for words I already knew) was that it helped me improve my listening comprehension. When I started the Tobira textbook, I had a lot of trouble recognising words on the page at the same speed as the recording, but my ears would continue to tell me what was going on even though my eyes were glazing over. :stuck_out_tongue:

At the moment, I’m watching The Rising of the Shield Hero without subtitles with an Anicobin reaction blog open on the side. (The blog is basically Japanese subtitles, because the blog transcribes what’s being said for each screenshot.) It’s definitely true that I’m picking up more than when I watched it with subtitles: I can fully engage with what’s being said and how it’s being phrased, and any emotional experiences that I once had with the show are now magnified because all my attention is on the events that are unfolding on screen. I’m also starting to be able to extrapolate what’s being said even when I don’t know what words are being used, because I can make guesses based on the sounds I hear and kanji/words that I already know. However, if I really want to understand 100% (I think my comprehension is probably at 70-80% of the words used), I still have to stop the video quite frequently to consult the transcription on the blog. Maybe I’m just no good at picking things up with my ears, but sometimes, the syllables just come out way too quickly for me to catch them when I don’t know the words being used. For that matter, sometimes, even after consulting the transcription, I’m not able to process the words at the speed they’re being said until after I’ve listened to the relevant segment 4-5 times. If you’re very good at picking out Japanese syllables even when people speak fast, then it might be possible to learn directly from anime. Otherwise though, you’re probably going to need subtitles or transcriptions to help you learn new words, and you’re definitely going to need grammatical knowledge to help you along. At this point, I rarely run into grammatical structures that are genuinely new when watching anime, but not knowing the verbs involved means it’s as good as Greek to me (because I really am not at all fluent in Greek).

Side note: I'd like to add that I found this to be true while learning French as well (I am now fluent in French)

I couldn’t pick up many new words by listening until I was really quite advanced – let’s say fluent enough to read short news articles without too much trouble –, and even then, I could only do it because French has a system of prefixes and root words that are extensively used. Throw me a word in some sort of French slang (argot, verlan and so on) and I will probably be stuck as to its meaning even if I can guess how to write it, unless context makes things obvious. Verlan is OK because it’s made literally by inverting syllables, so it’s fairly obvious, but stuff that doesn’t follow the system of word formation I’m used to? I’ll need to ask a friend or check the dictionary. I’m getting better at it because now that I’m a student in France, my classmates use such words a lot, but guessing wouldn’t be possible without a foundation in French slang.

To sum up: unless your Japanese listening skills are already particularly advanced and you’re able to pick syllables out very easily, you’re probably better off with English subtitles at first. It’s more enjoyable that way, and some words will start to stick because you always hear them when the same English words are on the screen, especially characters’ speech tics. When you’re more advanced and you can feel yourself recognising most of the basic structures without the help of the subtitles, then you might want to consider watching without subtitles, but probably with a transcription nearby so it’s easier to look things up. In the meantime, keep studying grammar and easier Japanese texts so you can build up a sense of how Japanese sentences work, possibly with a textbook.


I think this might be doable for Japanese if you start by watching shows for children. Maybe family television or Doraemon. Those should have easier sentences that you’ll be able to decipher even with minimal grammatical knowledge. Otherwise though… what I said about the dialogue being too rapid to follow making it hard to make out the words that are being said.

That’s exactly how my journey into Japanese began. So, I certainly don’t think you’re wasting your time watching anime. As you get into grammar you’ll learn to correct stuff like learning keigo. It’s great to use your passion for something to help you improve you Japanese, whatever that is. ^^

Agreed. It’s also great to get to do two things you enjoy at once. :stuck_out_tongue:

@medisd Speaking of keigo, if you pick the right anime, you can learn/revise keigo while watching. I just watched ‘My Next Life as a Villainess’, and almost all of the characters use keigo 90% of the time. (They’re all nobles, you see.) It was pretty cute watching little children addressing each other using keigo and still becoming close friends. Other examples include Raphtalia in Shield Hero, who uses keigo maybe 70% of the time when talking to Naofumi and to Princess Melty. Anime is stereotypically the best way to learn to ‘swear like a sailor’ (or at least, to get as close as you can to that in Japanese), but once you’ve got a bit of a grammatical foundation, you may start noticing that you can learn more than just informal speech and interesting verbs from anime.


Absolutely. And even if you pick something at random, there might be a variety of characters, so you get to hear different degrees of politeness and speaking habits. Hearing the difference between them is also good for recognize what keigo is about.