Learn japanese with drama subtitles

How to Learn Japanese with Subtitles: 4 Ways to Get Started

So you’re already learning Japanese with dramas.
Want to take your Japanese learning to the next level?

The key is to take full advantage of the subtitles that tend to come with Japanese dramas.

In this post, we’ll go through 4 techniques that you can use to learn more effectively using Japanese subtitles.

Hold Up – Why Learn Japanese through Drama Subtitles?

Here are a few simple reasons:

  • They’re fun! Some of the best dramas in the world are in Japan. They tend to be short, around eleven episodes, and emotionally intense. And extremely addictive!
  • The actors in dramas speak very clearly, and usually only one person speaks at a time.
  • Dramas feature useful, conversational language. This is the best way to learn things like aizuchi.
  • There are constantly new drama series which frequently tackle current cultural concerns or problems. You can not only learn language but also culture.

And in case you’re worried that dramas will be too difficult for you…

Japanese Learners of Any Level Can Learn via Drama Subtitles

Many students at a beginner level feel intimidated by the thought of watching an episode and of trying to understand the language.

But even if you understand very little, your ears will start to pick out individual sounds, and you will start to hear a word now and then that you do know. When you are reading subtitles, you are still listening at some level. Your mind will start to make connections between English words that you see repeatedly and the sound of that particular word.

At an intermediate level, you will find that at times you don’t read the subtitles and at times you do, they will help your comprehension when you most need them to. At this kind of proficiency it can be hard to wean yourself off subtitles, and they really need to be turned off when possible. However, they are still an essential tool for those times when a Japanese dialogue has become impenetrable.

Even an advanced speaker of Japanese will still often use subtitles in order to catch the nuances of a dialogue or just for the odd occasion when they hear something they don’t quite understand.

We are lucky that we live in a day and age where it is easy to accessible some many different dramas, but with subtitles – so take advantage of it for your learning needs!

A Potential Pitfall of Learning with Subtitles

There’s one thing you should watch out for when learning with subtitles.

It can be extremely tiring to listen and try to understand a foreign language over a protracted amount of time. Gradually you might stop actually hearing what the characters say and just read the subtitles.

When this happens it is easy to convince yourself that you are still learning something, but in fact you are gaining nothing. You might find yourself reading with your eyes rather than listening with your ears. If this happens, it’s best to stop watching and take a break.

To a certain extent, subtitles can become a crutch. If you find you can listen and follow what the different characters are saying, then turn off the subtitles. Don’t use them if you really don’t need them.

So, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, how should we find these subtitles?

How to Find Japanese dramas with subtitles

There are many streaming sites where you can find the latest drama series with subtitles, for example, DramaGo (this website is more focused on Korean TV but they also upload Japanese drama). and Dailymotion.

And of course there is tons of subtitled content on YouTube. One great technique to search specifically for subtitled content  is to add the phrases 字幕 (じまく) and セリフ集(せりふあつ) to the end of your search.

If you know the name of the drama you want to watch in English or Japanese then you can usually find it on one of the above streaming sites.

If you want to learn with the subtitles themselves, then there are many “fansubbing” communities online where fans create and share the subtitles for popular shows. D-addicts is a popular one.

Another option is FluentU, which has a collection of the web’s best videos for learning Japanese. This includes things like commercials, music videos, movie trailers, news, and inspiring talks. All videos are carefully selected with Japanese learners in mind, and are leveled so that you can easily find videos that match you Japanese level. And one of the great features of FluentU is interactive captions – hover over any word, and you’ll see a definition. Click to see a more detailed explanation and example sentences (written by professional translators).

4 Techniques for Learning Japanese with Subtitles

1) Simply Rewatch to Learn with Subtitles

One strategy can make a big difference to your Japanese learning experience. This is to simply watch each episode with subtitles, to try and listen out for the grammar and vocabulary that is used, and then to watch the episode again without subtitles.

When you watch the episode the second time you will notice that you will remember the general gist of the conversations and the plot, the challenging part will be to listen and to comprehend.

From your first viewing you would have picked up some new vocabulary, as well as heard the grammar and vocabulary that you do know. With this in mind the first thing you need to do on your second viewing is to pick these out again plus the new vocabulary you heard previously.

You can build upon this by watching the same drama again and again. After enough viewings you will find you can easily watch the episode without subtitles.

A special aspect of this is that Japanese dramas tend to only have eleven episodes, so if you can understand one episode perfectly then you are perfectly positioned to watch the other episodes with little preparation. You could even challenge yourself to watch the rest of the series without subtitles.

Never be afraid to put yourself to the test!

2) Dissect Every Subtitle and Master Every Word

It’s often not enough to just compare the Japanese subtitle and English translation.

To really master the words, you need to dissect the subtitles and study each word individually. This involves steps like:

  • Looking words up in a good dictionary or thesaurus. This helps clarify the meaning, but also by using a thesaurus you can discover similar words.
  • Find good examples so you know how the words are used. It’s often not enough to just use the information provided in a dictionary. You need to get examples and kick the tires a bit.
  • Input words and examples into flashcards. To increase your efficiency and be more systematic, you can create flashcards based on the dictionary and thesaurus. You can either do this online through an app and add your new vocabulary to your flashcard desk, or simply create a physical flashcard deck. For hardcore flashcard aficionados who use Anki and have some technical prowess, this open source project called subs2srs might really speed up your learning process.
  • Review words on a periodic basis with your flashcards. You need to be consistent with your review, and also systematic with scheduling words. You don’t want to spend too much time spending easy words, for example.

If this sounds like too much work, then you might want to consider using FluentU. FluentU basically automates all of the steps above so that you can spend 100% of your time focused on learning.

3) Reverse Engineering – Using subtitles to translate the dialogue back into Japanese

This method is an extremely good way of using subtitles, but it is very challenging and time consuming.

The combination of video, sound and English subtitles are weapons to be used, we just need to learn how to use them.

First of all watch the drama episode with subtitles first in order to give you an idea about the plot, as well as what is said in the dialogues and more specifically the kind of language that is used.

The next step is to try and transcribe the dialogue, with the subtitles turned off, in Japanese. This will require repeated viewings and you will have to listen very carefully in order to get everything written down.

If you are watching on a computer you can take advantage of certain software to slow down the video and sound so that you can hear every syllable.

Once you are finished you will have a transcription of the Japanese dialogue along with the video and audio to listen to, and the subtitles to refer to in order to understand how this Japanese drama has been translated.

You can pick up a lot of vocabulary and grammar, see the differences between how different genders, and generations, speak and also gain an insight into translation.

4) Listen and repeat: An easy method to improve your speaking and listening through dramas with subtitles

A very simple tactic you can use is to simply pick a scene, listen to the dialogue and repeat it out loud. The subtitles provide you with the English meaning for what each character is saying so you don’t have to look it up.

Unlike TV shows, in a drama episode only one character tends to talk in any given moment, so you can usually hear very clear sentences which you can practise saying out loud.

If you can get to the point where you able to easily repeat the dialogue, you will find that you are also making progress in your listening and speaking skills in general.

And One More Thing…

If you love learning Japanese with subtitles, then you’ll also love the FluentU app.

Like the website, the FluentU app takes real-world videos like music videos, commercials, news, and inspiring talks and transforms them into Japanese learning experiences. FluentU gradually eases you into learning Japanese language and culture. You’ll learn real Japanese as it’s actually spoken.

The FluentU app has a wide range of engaging videos – like music videos, dramas, TV shows, and TV commercials:

Learn Japanese with Anime on FluentU

FluentU brings native Japanese videos within reach through interactive transcripts. Tap on any word to instantly look it up.

Learn Japanese with Anime via FluentU

All definitions have several examples, and they’re written to for Japanese learners. Tap to add words you’d like to review to a vocab list.

Learn Japanese Through Anime on FluentU

And FluentU’s learn mode turns each video into a lesson. Swipe left or right to see more examples.

Learn Japanese with Videos on FluentU

The most interesting part is that FluentU tracks your vocabulary, and suggests content and examples based on the words you’re learning. You’ll have a totally personalized experience.

The FluentU App is now available for iPhone, but it’s also accessible as a website that you can use with your computer or tablet. And if you’re an Android user, fear not—our Android app is currently in the works!

If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Japanese with real-world videos.

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