Can you learn Japanese by watching anime? This is the truth
Every fan of anime, and Japanese culture in general, has dreamed of learning Japanese. Whether to travel to Japan, watch anime without subtitles, or simply for personal growth. And, to the same extent, those fans have asked themselves the following question:
Can you learn Japanese by watching anime? This article will try to answer this question. Ready?
The Japanese Language: Beyond Anime
Before starting, it is necessary to review some particular characteristics of the Japanese language, such as its origin and its writing system, which will be very useful when answering our main question.
In the beginning, Japan did not have a writing system, so all communications were made orally, whether it was a daily conversation or transmitting some knowledge. It was not until the introduction of the Chinese writing system (approximately 6th century AD) that a script of its own began to develop.
The Japanese writing system actually combines two systems: a syllabic (or phonetic) one and an ideographic one. The first is called kana and the second kanji, the latter being the legacy of the Chinese system.
The kana is made up of two sets of syllabic letters (called syllabaries): hiragana and katakana, made up of 46 symbols each. A Japanese character is generally equivalent to a two-letter syllable in the English language.
Hiragana is the more important and widely used of the two syllabaries, as it is used to write actual Japanese words, while katakana is used for words adopted from abroad. Hiragana is usually taught first in schools and courses, followed by katakana. It should be noted that Japanese is a language that has many foreign words, the vast majority from English.
On the other hand, kanjis are ideograms that represent complete words. The difficulty of this writing system lies in the fact that it has two forms of pronunciation: one from Chinese and another from Japanese. It is up to the person, based on the context of the conversation, to determine which is the correct pronunciation for the situation.
Also, as in any other language, Japanese has rules of grammar and semantics that are important when building sentences to achieve correct communication. Without these rules, the speaker would only be saying meaningless words.
Another important point of the language is that there are honorific levels, since talking to a stranger is not the same as talking to a boss or a friend. For the first two situations, the "honorific language" or keigo is used, while for the last one, futsukei is used. According to the context and the status of the person with whom you are speaking, one or the other is used.
Lastly, the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) is a reliable means of assessing and certifying the language level of a non-native speaker, rating proficiency on a scale of 5 to 1 (with N5 being most basic and N1 the most advanced). As a curious fact, it is suggested to have an N3 level to be able to watch anime without subtitles. Now if, after giving the context, it is time to answer the question:
Can you learn Japanese by watching anime?
Short answer: No, you can't learn Japanese just by watching anime.
Long answer: Due to the language's own rules, anime is not a recommended medium for learning Japanese. Some points that support this idea are:
Use of honorific language: In anime, futsukei is usually used, that is, informal language directed at friends or closest people. Using this modality of the language with people with whom you do not have a close relationship is considered rude or disrespectful.
Adaptation vs. Translation: The subtitles that we see in the anime, more than a literal translation, are an adaptation to the English language. A word in Japanese can have several meanings (and readings) according to the context and not using it properly would indicate the lack of knowledge of the language.
Repetition: When you learn anime phrases and apply them to a conversation, what you are doing is repeating a script, limiting the responsiveness you can have in a conversation. In addition, you would not be sure if the phrase being used is the correct one or if it is something disrespectful.
Speaking and Writing: Anime is more focused on speaking than writing, making it almost impossible to learn to use its writing system if it is used as the only means of learning. Speech and writing are two sides of the same coin called communication, so it is advisable to train them at the same time.
Therefore, anime should not be used as the only learning medium for learning Japanese.
Can I learn something from the anime?
At this point, most of you will be thinking, "So anime isn't useful to fulfill my dream of learning Japanese?" But actually, anime is useful to learn the language. Not as a main course material, but as extra material to reinforce learning, especially vocabulary and pronunciation.
Although futsukei is used in the anime, after all, it is still Japanese, so the pronunciation is the same. Continual exposure to language strengthens the ability to identify words and phrases, even if the rate of speech is rapid or a little slurred.
In addition to the above, the Japanese vocabulary that is acquired in the classes can be put into practice through the conversations that are seen in the anime, where they are used more naturally than in a textbook.
It is worth mentioning that anime is not the only extra material to strengthen Japanese classes. Songs and dramas are also very helpful in reinforcing the same points. Especially the dramas, which use a Japanese closer to the one used on a daily basis and, therefore, have many examples from daily life.
Although anime by itself is not a substitute for a Japanese course, it is a useful tool to reinforce vocabulary and pronunciation, fundamental factors in any communication process. The important thing when studying is to use all the tools at our disposal to achieve our goals.
By the way, if you want to start studying Japanese in a self-taught way (apart from the well-known Duolingo application), I recommend that you take a look at the following pages:
Minato: It is a Japanese learning platform of the Japan Foundation (The Japan Foundation). It has several self-study courses (and some with tutors) aimed at both beginners and those looking to retake or reinforce what they already know. The good thing about being self-study courses is that you manage your progress yourself.
Blog Go! Go! Nihon: It is a page that has several articles that explain, in a simple and understandable way, various topics in Japan, such as culture, customs and, of course, the Japanese language.