Tips for studying Japanese using subtitles

I personally think that one of the best ways of studying Japanese on your own is by using tv shows or movies that include subtitles. This can improve both your listening and reading abilities, while also introducing you to new vocabulary and sentence patterns. I also think that Netflix is one of the best resources for following the tips that I am about to lay out, although if you have other ways of obtaining videos and SRT subtitles (such as torrents), that can work as well.

The following tips don’t all need to be followed, but are simply to give you some suggestions on things that I find useful or effective. You can work out your own study regimen based on what works best for you.

Choose a show that you like

I think it’s important to choose a show that you actually enjoy, because you are going to be spending some time with it! You should also try to aim for something with dialogue that is around your level, but this isn’t as important as choosing something that you like. Even shows with the most difficult language are going to have some sentences that you can understand, and no one is forcing you to understand every single sentence. With that said, however, it can be disappointing to struggle through an episode and not be able to understand significant parts of it, so you should at least try to avoid shows with more difficult speech when you are just starting out.

You also need to make sure that whatever show you select has Japanese subtitles available. The main reason that I like Netflix is that it has a large selection of native Japanese material in a variety of different genres that all have Japanese subtitles available. This makes it very easy to get started.

If you are still at a beginner level and don’t think you can work through an actual episode of something, then I recommend you start off with Erin’s Challenge. This is specifically developed for Japanese beginners, and you can follow many of the same tips and techniques that I outline below.

Set a goal for how quickly to progress

You also want to set a goal for yourself as to how quickly you want to progress through a series. This is to keep yourself on track and hopefully avoid giving up, or “taking a break” for a few days that turns into a few months. You might want to aim for an episode a week, though this may depend on a few different factors, such as the length of the episodes, or the level that you are currently at.

Watch the episode

For beginners, I would recommend starting out by watching the episode with subtitles in your native language. As you become better at Japanese this will likely just be a waste of time, and takes away from the important skill of trying to figure things out on your own. The main purpose of this is just so that you can understand what is actually happening in the show, and to spend some time actually enjoying what you are going to be studying from. While watching, you should be listening intently to the audio, trying to pick out words or understand what the characters are actually saying.

Once you are advanced to the point that you can understand a large portion of the episodes, then I would recommend initially watching with Japanese subtitles instead.

Go through line-by-line with Japanese subtitles

Our goal here is to try to come to understand as many lines of dialogue from the episode as possible, and learn new vocabulary and phrases. This is going to be the most significant part of the process, and where you will be spending the most of your time. There are a LOT of different things that you can do here, so I’ll go through a few of the things that I have tried:

– Use Subadub to study Netflix subtitles.

The Subadub browser extension lets you watch shows on Netflix while overlaying the subtitles in text format. This allows you to easily copy and past text (for example into a dictionary or into your SRS), or use assistive reading extensions like Rikai-kun or Yomichan. You can also turn on English subtitles within Netflix and Japanese subtitles within Subadub, to view both languages at the same time, which can help you understand new words without having to look them up. You can also download the subtitles as SRT files.

– Watch Anime and Dramas with Japanese subtitles using Animelon or Anjsub

Animelon and Anjsub are two sites that let you watch Japanese content with subtitles. I’m pretty sure that they are not entirely legal, but if you are ok with that, then they are pretty nice options, especially if you don’t have a Netflix subscription.

– Watch downloaded shows using PotPlayer

If you like to download videos files onto your PC from torrent sites (or wherever), then PotPlayer is a pretty nice video player to use for studying from them. You can get Japanese subtitles for many anime from Kitsuneko.net to use with this. PotPlayer lets you have multiple subtitle languages at once, lets you easily copy a word or entire line to the clipboard, and you can easily seek to the previous or next subtitle, letting you replay lines over and over.

– Use Subs2SRS to study subtitles anytime, anywhere

Subs2SRS is a fantastic tool that can generate Anki flashcards from subtitle files. This works pretty good with subtitles that you download from Netflix using the Subadub extension mentioned above. A lot of people use Subs2SRS in different ways, but I prefer to use it for a technique that I have dubbed micro reading. That link will show you how exactly I set it up, but I essentially just create flashcards for an entire episode, then use Anki to read through them all once, discarding ones that I understand, and keeping ones that I want to study further. This lets me work my way through an episode whenever I have a few minutes free throughout the day, rather than having to sit down at my PC for a long period of time trying to work through the episode.

SRS what you want to remember

Once you have gone through the episode looking up words, then you might want to add them into your SRS software (such as Anki) to study and remember them. It’s up to you how you do this. Some people might want to try to learn everything that they didn’t understand at first, while others might just go for what they feel might be most important. If you hate doing SRS reviews, then maybe don’t even do this. Figure out what works for you. One thing I do strongly recommend though, is to study short phrases or collocations rather than an entire subtitle line.

Watch the episode again with Japanese subtitles

Finally, once you have gone through the episode, studying and learning lots of new material, then it’s time to watch once more. This time you will just watch the episode normally, with Japanese subtitles. You might be shocked at how much you can understand now!

Move on to the next episode

Each episode will probably become a little bit easier than the last one, as you start to accumulate more knowledge. Once you have made it through an entire season of a tv series, you might even want to go back and watch them all again, either with Japanese subtitles, or without subtitles at all.

Subadub – A great new browser extension for Netflix subtitles

I recently became aware of a brand new extension for both Chrome and Firefox called Subadub, which enhances subtitles in Netflix to make language study easier.

This extension will add some additional on-screen options when you are watching Netflix through your web browser. It will display subtitles as an additional text-based overlay on top of the video, allowing you to copy and paste text as you like, or even use Japanese reading-assistance addons like Rikaikun or Yomichan with it. In addition, you can download the subtitles in SRT format.

Anyone who has been following this blog for a while may know that I have had an obsession with Netflix subtitles for a few years now, and have worked to find better and easier ways of using the subtitles for language learning purposes. I am overjoyed to finally see a plugin like this, because it is basically what I have wanted from the very beginning, and is far better than the other methods that I have been using.

Please check it out!

Chrome version
Firefox version

Japanese Learning Podcasts

Podcasts can be a useful source for learning Japanese. Some of them are great for practicing your listening comprehension or for shadowing. Others try to “teach” you things, through explanations of grammar or vocabulary. I’m really not a fan of this “teaching” type of podcast, as I prefer to learn things like grammar through a textbook or web site where I can see things written down and take it at my own pace. But, I can understand that some people might be interested in that sort of thing.

I think a big problem with Japanese learning podcasts is that it seems to be rather difficult to make material that is interesting enough that you actually enjoy listening to it. There are a lot of podcasts that I feel have some nice content, but I find that I have stopped paying attention a few minutes in. If you aren’t really paying attention to what you are listening to, then it’s not going to be of much help. I realize that this is a totally subjective thing though, so some of the podcasts that would put me to sleep might actually be fairly interesting to someone else.

Here, I’ll introduce you to some of my favorite podcasts, ranked according to how entertaining I personally find them to be!

GoGoエイブ会話

GoGo Eibukaiwa is a casual, mixed English-Japanese conversation podcast. It’s just two dudes chillin’ and talking about stuff. One guy speaks in English and the other guy speaks in Japanese. The main reason that I love this podcast is that it is actually entertaining to listen to. A lot of other podcasts feel so boring, but this one is often funny and interesting. The guy speaking English keeps you from ever feeling lost, so it doesn’t require a lot of mental effort to listen to this one. The only downside I would say, is that its really more of an English-focused podcast than a Japanese-focused one. There are over 200 episodes as of this posting.

JapanesePod101

There is a lot of content here. They have been around for over a decade and are still putting out new lessons on a weekly basis. You can always get the newest lessons through their free podcast feed. If you pay for a premium subscription (or opt for a free trial) you can access the whole back catalogue of lessons, download the dialogues seperately from the lesson audio, get supplemental materials like vocabulary lists and transcripts, and access their “line by line audio” tool. Some of their lessons are pretty great, and some are pretty awful. I have written an article a while back on what lessons I think are most worth your time (I really need to go back and update this some time). They cater heavily to beginners but also have some content for intermediate and advanced learners. I still regularly listen to some of the older dialogues for listening practice.

LearnJapanesePod

I remember trying this a few years ago and not liking it much. I decided to give it another shot recently, and I like it a lot better now! It looks like it improved a lot when they started “Season 2”. They only put out about 1 podcast month, but the content is both useful and interesting, and you can download the dialogues separately for listening practice.

News in Slow Japanese

In theory, this is a great idea for a podcast. Listen to a short news article in both slow and normal-speed Japanese. The website also includes transcripts and vocabulary lists. There are over 300 free articles to listen to! There are additional lessons for premium subscribers. A lot of people seem to like this, so I don’t want to be too hard on it, but I honestly don’t think I could choose more boring articles if I tried! I wouldn’t even bother reading most of these articles if they were in English. I would love this podcast if it just had stories that were half-way interesting.

NHK Easy Japanese

This set of 48 lessons aims to teach basic Japanese. It all comes across very clinical and boring, basically reading out an explanation of every word from a dialogue and then talking about some grammar points. The website does have a lot of good supplemental content and the lessons are available in 17 different languages. They have recently begun a new series called “Easy Japanese: Step-up” which is being broadcast on NHK World television.

Where to find free Japanese Manga

I have recently been looking for websites where I can read manga in Japanese for free (legally), and I have managed to find quite a few! Manga is great for reading practice because the pictures can really help give you additional context about what is happening in the story. If you live in Japan, its pretty easy to find cheap manga all over the place, but for people living elsewhere, it has traditionally been both difficult to get and expensive. So knowing that there are so many online sources now is fantastic!

Some of the manga websites below will let you read titles in their entirity for free, and some will only let you read a few chapters for free, and encourage you to either purchase the rest or subscribe to their service. I have not subscribed to any of these services, so I’m not sure what difficulties you might face if trying to do so outside of Japan. However, there are so many different titles available, there is enough free content to last you for ages!

ComicWalker

Featuring titles from Kadokawa publishing, you can find some famous classics here, such as Evangelion and Lucky Star, as well as the often-recommended manga for Japanese beginners, Yotsubato! There are typically several free chapters available for each manga, including the first few chapters and the latest few chapters.

Shonen Jump+

I think almost everyone knows of Shonen Jump, due to their mega hits like Dragon Ball and One Piece. It looks like they make certain titles available for free in their entirity on certain days of the week.

pixiv comic

Pixiv features a lot of works from amateur artists, but it looks like they also carry titles that were published in popular magazines as well. Many of the titles here only feature a few chapters for free, but I have seen some titles that have every chapter available!

S-MANGA

S-Manga is run by Shueisha publishing, which is the parent company of Shonen Jump, so you can find many Jump titles here in addition to others. For each volume or book of a series, you can typically read the first chapter online for free.

MangaZ

Formerly known as J-comi, according to Wikipedia, this site was created to make out-of-print manga available online. You can read titles in their entirity for free. It includes some classics like Love Hina, but it looks like a lot of the most popular items on here are erotic titles.

eBookJapan

They want you to buy the full books, but select titles will let you read several entire volumes for free! If you just want to buy books in electronic form, it seems that you can find almost any popular title on here.

Sai-Zen-Sen

I think the most interesting parts of this site are the Twitter 4-koma and the 4Pages sections.  These are particularly nice for beginners because they are so short, so its much easier to read a bit whenever you get some free time. The Twitter 4-koma section has several manga where each chapter consists of just 4 panels. There are links to allow you to go back and read each one from the very beginning. The 4pages section is similar, but each chapter is 4 pages long, and they all seem to be in full color, which is nice.

Are there any other good sites that I missed? Let me know!

Free Japanese Readers

I recently came across an archive of free readers that I’ve never seen before, created by the Japan Foundation. They are quite basic and each one is very short, so they are good for beginners of Japanese. These aren’t as good as some of the ones that you can buy, but you can’t beat free. There are about 25 of them and they are licensed under creative commons.

KCよむよむ