Can you piece together this past news event?
Here are the hints:
- March, 2011
- Three nuclear reactors
Do you have it? It’s the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
Now ask yourself: Would you have known the answer if the hints had been given in Japanese?
A great way to study Japanese is by watching, listening to or reading ニュース(にゅーす), the news.
The news helps you learn important vocabulary and improve your listening and comprehension. Another advantage is that you can know what the heck is going on. All of the studying I did with the news came in really handy during the nuclear meltdown in Fukushima a few years ago. I was very glad I’d done it.
But I have to say that it’s tough at the start. When I first moved to Japan ten years ago, I planted myself in front of the news nearly every night and couldn’t make heads or tails of what anybody was saying. But I stayed the course and I kept studying, along with practicing conversation whenever possible.
Here are some tips that made it easier for me (and will for you too).
8 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. Let It Wash over You
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. Remember New Words and Phrases
Whenever you’re able to pick out 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. I noticed this when I discovered the talk radio stations in Tokyo. With podcasts, you can 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. Japanese and English
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, and 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. With the internet, it’s relatively easy to find both stories.
8. Not Necessarily for Conversation
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.
5 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. You may 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 of the resources below are free and most are aimed at Japanese language learners.
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 click on the sidebar where it says “vocabulary,” it shows the words used in the story.
You can probably tell by the site’s name what it has: news in slow Japanese. 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. What I like in particular about this site is that they pick stories that are interesting or unusual. They also have a YouTube channel where you can watch videos.
Hiragana Times is a monthly magazine and it’s not free. But on their Facebook page, they post headlines and snippets of their news stories in English, kana and kanji. This is a great way to practice if you’re not into reading whole stories. I haven’t subscribed to the actual magazine, so I don’t know how it is for studying.
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, so it’s a good way to learn both. However, I recommend this site for intermediate learners because there is 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 check back later for listening comprehension. It’s a good resource for improving both your listening and reading. FNN also has a YouTube channel with lots of short news clips.
Improve Your Vocabulary and Get Informed
When the Fukushima meltdown happened, I was away from home without internet access and I didn’t have a smartphone yet. All I had was a TV set and my electronic dictionary. I learned a lot of new vocabulary at that time, like 放射線 (ほうしゃせん – radiation) and 避難場所 (ひなんばしょ – evacuation site). But because I’d already been listening to the news on a regular basis, I could understand the bulk of what was being said, so I knew what was going on. It definitely helped to alleviate the panic.
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.
And One More Thing…
If you love learning the correct Japanese for every possible real-life situation you might encounter, then I should also tell you about FluentU.
FluentU takes real-world videos like music videos, commercials, news, and inspiring talks and turns them into Japanese learning experiences. It naturally and gradually eases you into learning Japanese language and culture. You’ll learn real Japanese as it’s spoken in real life.
FluentU offers a broad range of contemporary videos—like music videos, dramas, TV shows and TV commercials:
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 it suggests content and examples based on your vocabulary. You’ll have a 100% personalized experience.
The FluentU App is now available for iPhone, and it’s also available as a website that you can use with your computer or tablet. If you’re an Android user, fear not, for our Android app is 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.