Imagine eating at the same restaurant every single day.
Even if we’re talking about a restaurant with great food and a huge menu, after a few weeks you’d probably start craving something else.
A new cuisine. Different flavors. Anything to wake your taste buds back up.
Language learning isn’t always as fun and relaxing as dining out, but the same rule applies: it’s easy to get bored of the same old, same old.
That’s why it’s crucial to mix up your learning resources and look for materials that’ll keep you engaged, challenged and moving forward in your studies. Whether you’re trying to branch out from textbook learning or searching for your options outside of YouTube channels, you can discover many Japanese videos for students that provide diverse but effective materials to incorporate into your learning.
In this article I’ll not only guide you toward some excellent Japanese videos, but will also lay out how they can be used to master a range of language skills. We’ll stay away from the tried-and-true YouTube menu and explore some options that have their own unique advantages for language learners.
Get ready for some wonderful new flavors in your Japanese studies!
Why Should Students Use These Video Resources for Learning Japanese?
They’re High Quality and Reliable
While there are some excellent YouTube channels out there, it’s fair to say that materials on YouTube can vary quite a lot in quality. If you think you may feel more confident using materials prepared by professional teachers working in a more formal way than the typical YouTuber, then read on.
Videos hosted on independent learning platforms are likely to have been made by a team of people with experience and specialist training in language education. In the case of news materials, hosted by Japanese media outlets, videos will have been accurately researched and quality checked. Videos such as those we’ll cover later in this post will also have gone through a process of checks for both linguistic and factual accuracy.
What this means is learners can rest assured that they’re using high quality materials to study with, and that the information contained is both reliable and relevant.
Typically these resources are available across just as many devices as YouTube videos are. Some even have dedicated apps you can download to make them easy to watch on-the-go.
They Can Expose You to Authentic Japanese
Perhaps the most compelling reason to integrate videos into your study regimen is that textbook learning alone only prepares students for using Japanese in theory. Many learners, even at advanced levels, who’ve studied solely from textbooks will struggle when faced with a conference call in Japanese, understanding overhead announcements on a train, speaking with elderly relatives and neighbors or just going out for drinks with friends.
None of these situations are at all unusual to encounter in daily life, and yet even with textbooks that include audio materials, students can be left floundering.
That’s because textbooks are designed with maximum clarity in mind. Speakers on CDs tend to have clear diction and avoid regional speech or slang. Textbooks are written to teach correct grammar and the theoretical workings behind the language. Without these fundamentals, Japanese would be incredibly hard to get to grips with—but you still need more in your learning diet.
So try to mix it up with some video resources (like several that we’ll cover later in this post) that aren’t in the standard textbook format and expose you to authentic Japanese in realistic or real-world situations. This will allow you to:
- Bridge the gap between “textbook” Japanese and “real” everyday language as it’s spoken in Japan.
- Get accustomed to native-speed conversations.
- Practice following group conversations between native speakers.
- Become accustomed to masculine or feminine Japanese speaking styles.
- Encounter differences in speakers of different ages and perhaps even some regional variations in speech with group conversations.
- Intermediate and advanced learners can get a lot of exposure to different honorific levels to help them master keigo, as well as more challenging vocabulary through the news resources in this article.
Using videos can prepare learners to keep up with native speakers and learn strategies for communicating fluently in Japanese as it’s spoken in real life interactions.
How to Find Videos That Match Your Learning Needs
It’s essential to find interesting videos if you’re going to stay motivated in your Japanese studies. Try searching for videos that align with your personal tastes; if you’re a science fan, look for Japanese science videos that explain concepts you’re already familiar with; if you love technology, then look for tech news channels and videos.
You need to watch a video more than once (several times, at least!) to truly learn from it, so try to avoid any presenters you find annoying or content that won’t hold your interest.
Also look for videos where you can understand 50 to 75 percent of the content. You’ll be overwhelmed and get lost too easily if you can’t understand anything. If the video is too easy, your learning time won’t be as effective.
When searching, try typing in the name of your interest in Japanese in combination with these terms:
ドキュメンタリー (どきゅめんたりー) — documentary
字幕 (じまく) — subtitles
動画 (どうが) — video
吹替 (ふきかえ) — dubbing
After you find some good results, pay attention to the title or tags used on the video, so you can find similar content and refine your searches in the future.
How to Use Japanese Videos for Listening, Speaking and Even Reading Practice
One of the best reasons to study with Japanese videos is to improve listening comprehension and stamina. It takes time, so be patient with yourself—but also recognize that with diligence and smart study techniques you can make steady progress.
To improve comprehension you can try the following five-step technique:
- Watch the video through twice without pausing, taking notes on meaning, filling in gaps on the second viewing. Try to catch any phrases that were too fast and keep going even if you get a bit lost.
- Watch again, this time breaking the video into short bursts, making it easier to comprehend.
- If there are subtitles in your native language or transcripts available, then you can use those to fill in any gaps in your comprehension once you’ve got all the information you think you can from the video.
- Use a dictionary and note new vocabulary, grammar and phrases. Remember that guessing and inferring are skills you’ll use very often when talking with native speakers, so it’s a good chance to polish those skills too, making predictions about what events will happen next, for example.
- Finally, you can go over the video meticulously again, using any supporting transcripts to pick up parts you didn’t understand. Once you’ve got really good comprehension of the whole video, move it to your review list and be sure to watch it again fairly regularly, to help consolidate the new words and phrases you learned.
To adjust the difficulty level of a video you can use speed settings on playback where available. If you can cope with double-speed videos and still follow along, you’ll be ready to cope with even the chattiest native speaker.
Dedication and efficient use of learning time are key to success when using Japanese videos. The above steps will only give you the desired results if you stay focused and learn actively. So do your best to avoid distractions when watching videos. Keep your notes, stay organized and regularly review to consolidate your learning.
You can also try a more “passive” technique by playing videos in the background while you do something else, but the benefits to this kind of unfocused learning may be limited to helping you acclimate yourself to the speed, rhythm and intonation of Japanese speech.
One of the few advantages to taking a relaxed approach and not straining to understand content is that it’s easier to hear the musicality of the spoken word.
To improve your speaking, consider looking for specialist pronunciation or conversation videos. Pay attention to intonation, accent and regional variations in sounds, mimicking as you watch.
Recording yourself on video and playing your video alongside the native speaker’s should help you analyze your speech and work out how to improve. Look at your expressions and different mouth shapes, which tend to be far less pronounced in Japanese than English, to help refine your speaking skills.
You can even try muting the sound to more closely follow the movements, gestures and body language in the video. All of these techniques will help you be able to communicate more effectively with native speakers.
A technique called “shadowing” can be very effective to improve intonation, speed and fix bad speaking habits. Shadowing involves listening and mimicking speech as quickly as possible. It’s not the same as simply listening and repeating with pauses for thought between; when shadowing, you speak while you’re still listening.
As your speaking skills develop, you can even try vocal training videos designed for native speakers. Tongue twisters, warm up exercises for actors, regional dialect and accent resources and elocution materials all exist in Japanese. By seeking out materials designed to refine native speakers’ speech, you can be sure to gain exposure to the finer points of diction.
If you find your reading speed is hampering your Japanese learning progress, then you can use subtitled videos as speed drills.
Choose a video that’s only a few minutes long, turn on subtitles, mute the video and read along as it plays. The goal is to challenge yourself, while avoiding videos that are so fast you can’t catch anything meaningful. When reading subtitles on muted videos, if it helps, toggle the speed settings where possible to find a pace that matches your comprehension level.
It’s better to avoid pausing or re-starting the video, as this defeats the purpose of the speed drill exercise. You’ll probably miss some parts, don’t worry. Just catch as much as you can and make quick notes of key words or meaning as soon as you finish.
After the first reading, try to go through again and see if you can catch any extra information.
Finally, turn on the sound with the subtitles and read along with the audio to assess your comprehension. Pause and check any parts you don’t understand by this point with a dictionary, or English subtitles if available.
Beyond YouTube: Finding and Effectively Using Videos for Japanese Students
Set your homepage to one of the learning sources below, or set a daily reminder to watch a video. Building regular study into your daily routine is the best way to ensure strong long-term retention of new Japanese words and concepts.
This could mean watching a video on the train every morning, doing some shadowing as you peel vegetables for dinner or running over pronunciation drills aloud when you’re in the shower.
Use bookmarks, Evernote, Pinterest or your preferred cross-platform organization system to store links to sites. You can stay organized with just three categories: “already studied” for videos to regularly review, “currently studying” for the videos you’re focusing on now and “to study” for content you think is interesting, but is beyond your current level.
Video Japanese Language Courses
Waseda University is one of the best respected universities in Japan, and they’ve recently released their Japanese Pronunciation for Communication course on video. I’m excited to check this one out as pronunciation is often overlooked and there aren’t a lot of good resources. Hopefully Waseda will add more courses soon and other universities will follow suit. For further learning, you can explore many more university-level Japanese language and culture courses on edX, totally free and often on a flexible schedule.
Erin’s Challenge is a really helpful conversational Japanese course. If you’re a beginner you can read four reasons why Erin’s Challenge may be the best website to learn Japanese.
Not only are the teachers at Nihongonomori lively and motivating, but they also make great quality, entertaining videos that are all Japanese. Their website has a lot of supplemental information and resources, as well as chat forums to connect with the teachers, so it’s well worth a visit.
Videos That Supplement Textbook Learning
Supplementing existing materials can really help to boost your progress, so whatever textbook you’re using, be sure to search for video content. Many of the most popular books such as the “Genki” series have websites with video. Their site is free and accessible to all.
There’s also a video collection to supplement the “Tobira” textbook, though this one requires a password contained within the physical textbook.
Video Platforms Designed for Japanese Learners
If you’re ready to take that next step to devouring authentic Japanese content, but still want some dedicated learning tools designed for students, check out FluentU. This video platforms transforms real Japanese videos into language learning experiences. The videos are both motivating and entertaining, because you’re learning by watching real Japanese anime, music videos, movie trailers, commercials and more.
Here’s how it works. Each FluentU video comes with interactive subtitles. You can click on any unfamiliar word to get an in-context definition and example sentences—then, after you’ve watched a video, you’ll get flashcards, quizzes and other activities that help ensure you actually learned from what you watched.
FluentU has built-in progress tracking and also suggests new content based on what you’ve already watched, creating a truly personalized Japanese learning experience.
Another useful platform designed specifically for language learners is JapanesePod101. Here you’ll get video lessons designed by professional teachers, but don’t expect dry coursework. JapanesePod101 puts an emphasis on engaging, culturally relevant video courses. There’s tons of supplementary material, too, with PDF lesson notes, kanji learning tools and more.
Educational Programs in Japanese
Videos designed for Japanese viewers provide an awesome entry point to authentic language and culture lessons. Exploring educational content in Japanese can help you hear Japanese as it’s naturally spoken, but without the quick talk, slang or tricky accents that can make other authentic videos difficult for students.
A great place to start is learning Japanese with the news. Especially intermediate and advanced learners can benefit from resources such as “NEWS24”, which covers many different categories including sports, entertainment, economics, politics and so on. You’re bound to find coverage of topics you’re inherently interested in.
TED Talks in Japanese will expose you to a lot of specialist vocabulary while engaging and inspiring you. The TED website provides transcripts and subtitles in a variety of languages, and has adjustable speed. While no dubbing is available, the vast array of engaging content means that there’s something for everyone. TED Talks can still be used for advanced reading practice and speed reading training at a very high level and are the perfect way to learn how to give short, persuasive presentations in Japanese.
NHK, home of the adorable Domo Kun mascot, hosts a huge amount of high quality programming for all ages. Take advantage of educational videos designed to slowly introduce new concepts and vocabulary, which covers junior high and high school level programming, in addition to the general NHK for School site.
If you’re up for a challenge, then Science Channel may be just the thing: this website hosts science programs created for native speakers and also has a lot of supplemental information that you can use to deepen your studies.
Crunchyroll is the go-to site to find anime and TV drama. As an anime resource, it’s better than YouTube because it has a clean interface, is well organized and has a variety of subtitling and audio options. That means you can use the combination to hone your listening or reading skills, or even use it for shadowing with ease.
Check out this article about using anime to learn Japanese for more tips and advice.
Japanese Cooking Shows
If you have a passion for cooking, or just want to find a way to regularly integrate Japanese study into your day, try using recipe videos. Recipes are a fantastic way to learn vocabulary, including basic verbs and nouns that you’ll need in everyday life, plus they can get pretty addictive to watch!
There are many great cooking show resources available for Japanese learners. Check out Delish Kitchen, Cookpad and Kurashiru, which all have cute recipe videos that are perfect for reading practice. Their short and sweet videos have text but no narration, so you can get a bit of on-the-go reading review.
Somewhat more involved are the Kewpie three-minute cooking videos. This website is full of videos with chef narration.
As you can see from the techniques and resources above, there are tons of Japanese videos that students can use to boost their skills. If you find using Japanese videos suits you then it could be a worthwhile investment in your language learning. However you choose to use videos, try to set small, achievable goals and track your progress as you learn.
Jennifer Willett has been teaching since 2004, and she now works in Tokyo as an English Curriculum Manager. She has been living in Japan and studying Japanese for eight years.
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