Using Japanese subs

Hello everyone!

When I tend to watch entertainment in Japanese (dramas and what not) I have been using Japanese subs. I find myself being able to follow along much more smoothly with Japanese subs than without.

Now, I’ve heard from various sources that this can become a crutch, but without subs my listening comprehension drops quite fast from understanding 80-90% to going down to 60-70% (estimate obvs). Like I can still make out the main plot and characters but a lot of details are lost.

Do you all think it’s okay to carry on with subtitles? Or should I forge ahead without them and hope for the best. The enjoyment goes down slightly without subs since I understand less but I’m still able to enjoy.


I recommend having one series that you watch with subs, and a separate series that you watch without. This way you’re slowly transitioning to subless content without diving in head first. I also recommend trying to ignore the subs as much as you can (only stealing quick glances) when you’re watching the subbed series.


If you’re watching for practice primarily, then you should try watching without subs first and then rewatching the scenes you didn’t get with subs.

If you’re watching for enjoyment then do as you wish. Even watching with subs is extra practice.

Sounds reasonable! I’ve been doing this myself by watching an easier show without subs (Cardcaptor Sakura). And I could understand almost everything if I focused on it.


I would recommend checking out this article, if you haven’t already, specifically the section called “Should I Use Subtitles?”. I think they do a decent job explaining the pros and cons of using subtitles when immersing.

I’ve personally noticed that when I listen with subs, I tend to ignore what they’re actually saying and instead just read along, which is great for reading practice, but not so good for listening comprehension.

Like others have said, I think it’s best to have some shows that you watch with subs and some without. Sometimes I actually find it more fun to just not have any subs on because even though I understand less, it’s easier to enjoy when I’m not as tempted to look up every word I don’t know in the subs.


If you’re watching with Netflix, the language learning plugin lets you blur the subs by default, and only show them when you mouse over. I think this is quite a good compromise - you can watch without subtitles and then if there’s a bit you really don’t get, you can skip back and check (it also lets you jump forward and backward by subtitle, which is handy for repeating stuff).


I don’t think theres any harm in it and intend to keep doing it myself.

I think it would make sense to transition if one has a very good comprehension with subs on (like >99%). But untill that point i believe its more beneficial to keep the subs on.

To me using subs is mainly about building familiarity with both the spoken and written and allow my mind to forge connections between the two. The more i understand the more connections and familiarity i can create, and since subs allows me to understand a great deal more, thats what ill stick with.
However if i decide at one point i want to practice pure listening (i believe i need to know the words before theres any benefit to that) i would turn them off obviously, so in the end it depends what your goal is id say.


Since May (May 11th to be specific lol) I have spent approx 150hours reading subtitles so I think I might be in a position to answer this.

However, what are your specific goals with Japanese? Depending on the answer it will vary.

If you are already at a point where you understand a lot of the story without subs I’d recommend watching easier series without subs to get used to that. But there is no harm in watching more difficult series with subs or when you only watch for enjoyment and don’t want to concentrate that much. You can also watch a more difficult series without subs first and then rewatch it with subs (or rewatch certain parts of it with subs).

I think the biggest problems with subs is that it is easy to say: “oh here is a lot of background noise; the actor mumbles etc”. so you turn subs on to make life easier for you and then you miss the chance to get better at understanding spoken language because you avoid to challenge yourself. As long as you use it because you really need it or when you just watch for entertainment without the aim to become better there is no problem. In general I think you should definitely try to gradually lessen the series you watch with subs to challenge yourself.
But there is no need to go a “no subs” way.

I am not at a point where I can watch Japanese even with Japanese subtitles so that is just based on years of watching spanish and english shows. I usually watch them without subs now but for shows with specific vocabulary (or also a lot of background noise) like fantasy or science fiction I usually have subs on because I have still trouble to recognize made up words from real (medieval) rare words and reading them helps me a lot to understand them. (Also I often don’t understand latin with english accent which is used for spells and so on, so reading helps a lot with understanding that).


I still have with certain English shows I want English subs for my own convenience. I go what I feel is natural.

Rather than switching off subs, seek out content you can listen to without much trouble. News, kids shows, maybe variety programs.

@damlurker @Emiloow

It’s really hard to say what my goal is in Japanese. I guess to live my life with as much ease communicating. I’m in the middle of moving from B1 (everyday life and conversation) to my academic B2 so that’s a bit of time suck lol. I’m preparing (fruitlessly) for the SPI/CAB.

I generally watch workplace comedies and romances so the stuff I watch is already pretty everyday life.

I’m also a bit hard of hearing from my time in the military. But I don’t really need English subs when I watch USA shows (mostly)

I can put it another way. If turning off the subs isnt specifically for the sake of listening practice, i dont really see any benefit to removing them. Especially not if it reduces enjoyment (which is probably the most important thing for learning a language).
But i also have a hard time seeing how it would become a crutch, sure it may take a bit of transition to get more used to speech recognition if not getting any other listening practice. But there are many better alternatives for that tbh. And you probably already get a fair amount.

I’d say worry not and carry on.

1 Like

This I completely agree with. I actually watch with English subs, not even Japanese. I find it’s easier when I encounter new words, since I’m quickly able to identify their meaning with subs on. Otherwise, it’s more of a guessing game.

Not that that is bad. I do that all the time with Drama CDs where there is no text to help you follow the story. But, I do find that a different experience of learning, where I need to focus more intensely.

In any case. @monkeyshine89 I wouldn’t switch subs off if you feel it will diminish your experience of what your are watching. You’ll pick up on words even with subs on. There is not harm that I can see to keep doing what you are doing.

Though, for extra practice, you could pick up something audio only and give that a try! :slight_smile:

This is something I’ve been going through the last couple of years. I ended up deciding to almost never use Japanese subs, but I have a specific goal of wanting to be able to watch whatever I want in Japanese without subtitles with good understanding, so I’ve been sacrificing some of my enjoyment in the interim in pursuit of that goal. … It’s a long-term goal for me. Lately I’ve been realizing that my yardstick for understanding has shifted–for a lot of years, I watched things with English subtitles, and once my Japanese was good enough, between the subtitles and the Japanese I was hearing, I got almost everything. When I first started without subtitles (after a brief period with Japanese subtitles), it was very hard not to focus on how much I was missing. Now, I am nowhere near as good as I hoped to be by this point, but because my normal is expecting to miss things, I feel like building back up becomes more noticeable. Like, if my standard before was 100%, moving from 60% to 61% doesn’t feel like anything to celebrate or possibly even notice. But if my standard is 60% (I think it’s higher than that but I have no idea, really), practicing and listening and studying and attaining another percentage point of understanding feels like a real accomplishment. So even though it’s frustrating that it is taking a much longer time than I (foolishly) expected, I am going to keep going with no subs. Hopefully I can keep building up those percentages points slowly but surely!

… All that to say, if listening comprehension isn’t a main goal of yours, and you enjoy things more with Japanese subtitles, it seems like keeping them is the way to go. :+1:


In real life I generally don’t have a hard time hearing people since they are talking directly to me or close to me. Honestly it might be some weird ADD focus thing. Then again when I’m having conversations and such the context is there.

1 Like

Though I don’t have as much real life conversation experience, this is true for me as well. I guess in a conversation, I know what I said, so then there is a ton of context for what they’re going to say, and they’re actively trying to make themselves understood, and if I don’t understand, I can ask… with dramas, I am just throwing my ears to the wolves.

1 Like

I’m not sure what all those acronyms mean but I can gather that you actually live and work in Japan.
My circumstances are quite different so my experiences probably won’t be very valid for you.

デンゾさん THANK YOU for the Language Learning with Netflix recommendation! I am now “locked and loaded” with Full Metal Alchemist cued up!! BLISS

1 Like

I try to turn off subs for things which are everyday and not that technical. I am now at the point where if Japanese subs are available, I’ll use those over English subs when watching alone. So it depends a lot on the series and what I am trying to get out of it.

This topic was automatically closed 365 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.