Japanese News for Learners: 8 Terrific Tips and 17 Reliable Resources
Japanese news helps you learn important vocabulary and improve your listening and reading comprehension.
When you learn Japanese with news, you not only gain vocabulary and phrases but an important life skill if you plan to live in Japan.
When I first moved to Japan 10 years ago, I couldn’t make heads or tails of what anybody was saying on the news—yet I stayed the course and I kept studying and practicing conversation whenever possible.
Here are some tips that made it easier for me (and will for you, too).
- Tips for Learning Japanese with the News
- Resources for Learning Japanese with the News
- News in Slow Japanese
- Hiragana Times
- NHK News Web Easy
- FNN News
- Mainichi Shinbun
- Maisho and Maisho 15
- Japanese News (Android) / Easy Japanese News (iOS)
- Rikaikun for Chrome
- RNN News dictionary
- “News Nihongo: 1000 Vocabulary Words from TV News and Newspapers”
- Japanese News Vocabulary on Memrise
- “How to Sound Intelligent in Japanese”
- And One More Thing...
Tips for Learning Japanese with the News
1. Become a News Junkie
Consume a lot of news on a regular basis. Of course, the more you practice, the better your comprehension will become. But with news, there are certain phrases and words that are used repeatedly, such as:
について — about, concerning
によって — according to, due to
。。。に注意してください (。。。にちゅういしてください) — please beware of…/be careful with…
詐欺に注意してください。(さぎにちゅういしてください。) — Please beware of fraud.
雷雨に注意してください。(らいうにちゅういしてください。) — Please be careful with the thunderstorm.
政府 (せいふ) — government
問題 (もんだい) — problem, issue, question
事件 (じけん) — affair, case
地震 (じしん) — earthquake
You’ll get used to hearing these words and phrases, and this will boost your comprehension.
2. Listen Passively for Immersion
When you first start studying with the news, don’t try to understand everything that’s being said. That will drive you insane. Instead, take in whatever you can pick out and try to get the gist of what they’re saying.
If you find yourself losing the thread of what’s being said, try to start up again with the next story.
3. Take Note of New Words and Phrases
Whenever you hear a new word or phrase, write it down. This will help you remember it the next time you hear it. Before you start your news watching sessions, do a little drilling on your new vocabulary to help it stick so that you’ll be better able to follow your stories.
4. Go Audio
Most of us watch the news on TV, but if you’re studying a language with the news, another option is to listen to the radio or a news podcast.
In an audio format, broadcasters tend to talk more slowly and clearly. With podcasts, you can also save episodes to go back and listen to them again.
5. Use Your Interests
If you’re not particularly interested in the news, choose a specific field of the news that interests you.
If you’re a baseball fan, watch the sports news. If you like cars, find an automotive news podcast. If you’re into music, find some news about the Japanese music scene.
6. Follow a Story
Find a particular story that interests you and follow it. Each day, tune in to news about your story. You’ll remember the vocabulary and have the necessary context to understand the latest broadcast.
I remember doing this with a newspaper story about a high school girl murder case. Pretty morbid subject matter, I know, but it was easier to understand than the political bickering and other news.
7. Keep Up with News in Both English and Japanese
A cool exercise for learning Japanese with news is to find the same story in both English and Japanese. Watch or read the story in Japanese first, then use the English story to see if you understood it.
This is easiest to do with newspaper articles. Often, a news story will originate with a native English news service and be translated into Japanese. It’s relatively easy to find both stories online these days, especially when it’s an international or major news piece.
8. Remember to Supplement Your Japanese News Learning
Keep in mind that when you learn Japanese with news, you’re not learning everyday conversation. I point this out because you don’t want to talk like a news reporter when you hang out with your friends.
I recommend learning with the news as part of an overall study routine that includes colloquial Japanese as well. For example, the FluentU program uses subtitled videos to teach Japanese.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
Resources for Learning Japanese with the News
If you’re new to learning with the news, you may not want to start out with actual news. Otherwise you might end up like me in my first months in Japan, sitting in front of the TV and trying my hardest to understand a word or two where I could.
All the resources below are free and most are aimed at language learners so you can improve your Japanese with news and ease your way into real-world news intake.
CosCom is a site for learning Japanese and they have a page with easy Japanese news stories. The stories on the website are in kana only, but there are also PDF transcripts you can download that include Roman letters, kana and kanji.
Each story has an audio file where it’s read slowly so you can listen only, or listen with the transcripts. If you scroll down, you can see a breakdown of the key vocabulary and sentences used in the story.
News in Slow Japanese
You can probably tell by the site’s name what it has: news in slow Japanese. What I like in particular about this site is that they pick stories that are interesting or unusual.
You can listen to a news story read slowly and read along with a transcript. If you enable the “pop-up” option, you can hover over a word or phrase in the transcript and it provides a translation.
There are slow and natural-speed options, so after practicing with the slow version, you can speed it up and challenge yourself.
Hiragana Times is a monthly magazine and it’s not free. But they do post short news segments that have both the English and Japanese versions on the same page.
This is a great way to practice if you’re not into reading feature-length news stories.
NHK News Web Easy
Like BBC with its resources for English learners, NHK offers short, easy Japanese news stories. The stories are written in kanji but have the kana written above using furigana, so it’s a good way to learn both.
However, I recommend this site for intermediate learners because there’s no English translation provided.
FNN isn’t actually for learning Japanese; it’s a real news site. But I included it because it offers transcripts along with its news stories so that you can read along or listen first, then check your understanding.
It’s a good resource for improving both your listening and reading skills.
FNN also has a YouTube channel with lots of short news clips.
This free news aggregation app is really popular with native speakers. It allows you to customize your feed so you only see news specific to your interests.
There are lots of fun, lighthearted stories, which are perfect for when you want a break, and it works even offline.
One of the nicest features of this smaller news site is that it has many articles written by Japanese journalists, ensuring a native eye on the news rather than seeing it through a Western filter. This site employs a team of translators to ensure that their articles retain their original nuance once translated.
Nippon.com regularly posts on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, so it’s easy to integrate into your social media feed. Best of all? All the content is free.
This widely read newspaper is a major Japanese news source designed for native speakers. It’s free and regularly updated.
Some stories have bilingual versions available. Check on The Mainichi English page, where articles which have English translations will be marked with “Japanese version” just under the headline (this option doesn’t currently seem to be available on the Japanese Mainichi page, so you’d need to navigate through their English homepage).
Maisho and Maisho 15
Easier versions of news from Mainichi Shinbun include their offerings for young native Japanese speakers, Maisho 15 and Maisho. Maisho 15 is aimed at 15-year-old high school students, while Maisho has articles designed for elementary school students (scroll down a little on their homepage, past the ads, for the article links).
These free websites offer simplified news at two levels of difficulty, making the perfect stepping stones toward reading adult newspapers.
Japanese News (Android) / Easy Japanese News (iOS)
These Japanese news curation apps are both very similar to NHK News Web Easy but are unaffiliated with NHK.
They both boast a pop-up dictionary, narration of articles, vocabulary learning and more.
For a lighter news source, complete with lots of lifestyle and entertainment news, as well as the comedic listicles we know and love, check out the Japanese Buzzfeed website.
It hosts original articles aimed at a Japanese audience, so it’s not just a translation of an international Buzzfeed site. This means that you can gain the kind of granular and quirky cultural insight into Japan that your local Buzzfeed site provides into your own culture.
The site boasts the typical nostalgia, memes, opinion pieces and news in Japanese culture. You can catch up on Buzzfeed’s daily news in a synopsis on Twitter, skim the headlines on Instagram or read full stories on Buzzfeed Japan.
It’s great for finding topics to start casual conversations and staying up to date with the latest online and pop culture trends. Meme roundups and photo lists mean that even beginners can enjoy Buzzfeed with a little help from a pop-up dictionary plugin on their browser.
Rikaikun for Chrome
These awesome pop-up dictionaries work with Japanese text in your browser, defining any word with a click. Available for free, the easy-to-use plugins give you the option to make the dictionary text all Japanese or to show English definitions. There’s also the option to display kanji characters either with or without furigana.
RNN News dictionary
This online dictionary is updated daily with key words that appear in that day’s news. It’s designed for Japanese speakers studying English, but can easily be used the other way around, too.
It’s perfect for kanji practice or used in conjunction with a pop-up dictionary plugin for less advanced learners.
This website has lots of articles going over key vocabulary and phrases for various kinds of newspaper articles, covering topics like economics, sports, politics and more.
“News Nihongo: 1000 Vocabulary Words from TV News and Newspapers”
This book, called 新聞・テレビ ニュースの日本語 (しんぶん・てれびにゅーすのにほんご) in Japanese, will help you get to grips with 1,000 vocabulary words for understanding the news. It’s perfect for those intermediate and advanced learners who’ve set their sights on total fluency!
Japanese News Vocabulary on Memrise
This Memrise deck of news vocabulary items is perfect for learners who want to master a lot of specific vocabulary that they’re likely to encounter in Japanese news. There are 660 terms broken up into 12 lessons.
Pronunciations aren’t given, so this deck may be best for more confident learners to review news terms that they need to brush up on.
“How to Sound Intelligent in Japanese”
Charles de Wolf’s book is an excellent vocabulary resource for a range of advanced subjects. While it’s not specifically aimed at understanding the news, many of the terms explained will help comprehension of current affairs and engagement with more complex themes like those often covered in the news.
Topics covered include ideas and theories, philosophy, religion, politics, fine arts, humanities and social sciences, science, law and justice, technology, business and economics. Sample sentences help to give context.
Now you’re ready to learn Japanese with news! Go forth and learn all about the language, culture and a uniquely Japanese perspective.
And One More Thing...
If you love learning Japanese with authentic materials, then I should also tell you more about FluentU.
FluentU naturally and gradually eases you into learning Japanese language and culture. You'll learn real Japanese as it's spoken in real life.
FluentU has a broad range of contemporary videos as you'll see below:
FluentU makes these native Japanese videos approachable through interactive transcripts. Tap on any word to look it up instantly.
All definitions have multiple examples, and they're written for Japanese learners like you. Tap to add words you'd like to review to a vocab list.
And FluentU has a learn mode which turns every video into a language learning lesson. You can always swipe left or right to see more examples.
The best part? FluentU keeps track of your vocabulary, and gives you extra practice with difficult words. It'll even remind you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned. You'll have a 100% personalized experience.
Start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play store. Click here to take advantage of our current sale! (Expires at the end of this month.)