5 Tips to Learn Japanese with Videos, No Matter What Interests You
Videos have become a part of just about everyone’s life.
Whether we’re scrolling through YouTube, binging a Netflix show or absorbing the latest political news through social media, we watch videos pretty often.
Thirty minutes a day on average, to be exact.
It’s not a bad thing, really. We often communicate using videos and can learn quite a bit from watching them. Through videos, you can perfect your eyebrow game, build yourself a new coffee table from scratch or learn a language.
That’s right: You can use the power of videos to learn Japanese!
However, it’s not as simple as searching YouTube for “Japanese videos.” There are several ways to approach learning Japanese with videos that will result in consistent, tangible knowledge about the Japanese language and culture.
Lucky for you, we have five great tips for successfully learning Japanese with videos.
But first, let’s look at how exactly doing something as leisurely as watching videos online can really make an impact on your Japanese language skills.
How Can Watching Japanese Videos Help Me Learn Japanese?
Videos offer a more interesting way to learn.
Japanese courses, lessons and the “academic” side of learning a new language are all vital elements.
However, they can get tedious and some can even become boring. Watching videos designed to help you learn Japanese is a great way to liven up your study routine and reinforce the concepts you learn with more traditional learning methods.
Watching Japanese videos can help improve your listening skills.
Being able to read in Japanese is a great first step, but understanding spoken Japanese can be tough without practice. Watching Japanese videos is a great way to get some listening practice in.
Hearing Japanese being used can also help you perfect your pronunciation. Try to repeat what you hear!
Authentic Japanese videos introduce you to Japanese culture.
Studying a language is about more than learning the words; you also learn the culture.
Whether you’re learning Japanese for fun., business or any other reason, it’s wise to also discover a thing or two about Japanese culture.
You can do this by watching videos of people living in Japan and compare modern Japanese life to your own. You can also learn what Japanese speakers find important, how they see foreigners like you and so many other important cultural notes that’ll help you understand Japan—and its language.
How to Learn Japanese with Videos: 5 Tips for Success
As we stated before, learning with videos is more effective if you start with a plan. Here are five methods you can use to study Japanese with videos, some specific tips for each and a whole lot of recommendations!
1. Watch Japanese Music Videos
Who doesn’t love a good song? There are plenty of Japanese music videos out there that aren’t only entertaining but also great for learning Japanese.
If you want to focus on authentic Japanese, like slang or “modern” words, watching music videos is a good idea. Songs, especially modern pop, often use the most current informal expressions.
Tips and tricks:
- Try to find music videos that include both kana (Japanese characters) and romaji (Japanese romanization) subtitles. This’ll help with word association and translating unfamiliar words.
- Find music that you actually enjoy. That way, you can listen to the tunes in your free time and memorize lyrics, further improving your fluency.
- Nico Video: A Japanese video-sharing website known for being a great place to discover music videos.
- Tokuma Japan: You’ll find pop, rock and some indie Japanese tunes with full music videos on this site.
- Ganshin Records: Do you love J-Rock and Japanese hardcore? This is definitely the label for you.
- Kyary Pamyu Pamyu — “PONPONPON”: A fun, upbeat song with a quirky video to boot. You’ll definitely be entertained as you learn!
- ONE OK ROCK — “The Beginning”: This rock song is largely in English, giving you plenty of context for the Japanese parts and allowing you to really focus your learning.
There are full subtitles for both the English and Japanese parts, so sing along!
- Frederic — “Oddloop”: This one has no subtitles (though you can turn on closed captioning) and the singing is fairly quick, so strap in for a challenge.
You’ll need to watch it a few times to catch all the words but that’s fine—something about the lifeless glares of the dancing girls is mesmerizing.
2. Watch Japanese Films and Television with Subtitles
Watching Japanese movies and shows is a great way to familiarize yourself with Japanese culture and history, and to improve your Japanese language skills.
Plus, who doesn’t love binge-watching some awesome movies?
Tips and tricks:
- Newbies can start picking up on commonly spoken words by watching Japanese films or movies with English subtitles.
- Try turning the subtitles off or switching to kana subtitles if available. This’ll help intermediate and advanced learners improve their listening skills and speaking speed by listening and translating spoken Japanese in real time.
- If you’re a super beginner, watch Japanese kids’ movies or shows. The Japanese spoken in these types of media are often slow, basic and easy to follow.
- Crunchyroll: The ultimate spot for anime, drama, films, shows and more!
- Netflix: This streaming site has come a long way when it comes to Japanese content. Expect a lot of documentaries and anime.
- “Terrace House” on Netflix: This remarkably popular reality show follows a group of people who must live together in a little house in the woods as they try to fulfill their dreams.
Since this is a reality show, you get plenty of unscripted, authentic language (and tons of drama, to boot!).
- “Attack on Titan” on Crunchyroll: The remnants of civilization live surrounded by a series of tall walls and in fear of the grotesque Titans that roam outside. When the Titans manage to breach the walls, a great battle for humanity’s survival begins.
This action-packed anime is full of dramatic monologues and various types of speech from different levels of social status.
3. Watch Language Lessons on YouTube
If you’d like a more direct approach to improving your Japanese, try out some instructional language videos on YouTube.
There are tons of videos aimed towards novice, intermediate and advanced Japanese learners that focus on different aspects of the language. Learn about grammar, sentence structure, vocabulary, pronunciation and much more!
If you like learning visually rather than by reading a textbook, add some Japanese lesson channels to your YouTube playlist.
Tips and tricks:
- Shop around. There are quite a few different channels on YouTube where you can find Japanese language tutorials and not every one may be ideal for you.
- Try searching for keywords like “Japanese language tutorial,” “Japanese language lessons” or “Japanese 101.” Or, just search for the specific topic you need help with!
- JapanesePod’s YouTube channel: This YouTube channel is awesome for taking video lessons in an organized, chronological fashion.
- Hello Japanese: There’s so much content on this channel, which focuses on spoken Japanese. All levels of learners can benefit from it!
- Learn Japanese from Zero!: Are you a casual Japanese learner who just wants to learn travel and basic phrases? This is the YouTube channel for you.
- Learn basic greetings with Japan Society and their charming instructor.
- Work on your listening skills with Japan Pod’s 51 minutes of interactive Japanese listening comprehension. It’s a quiz, in video form!
- Have some fun with Dogen’s “Advanced Japanese Lesson #1”—which is probably not at all what you’re expecting.
4. Utilize FluentU’s Videos
FluentU uses YouTube videos, but there’s an extra kick to really help you along your Japanese language-learning journey: Every video features interactive subtitles in Japanese and English.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
Click on any vocabulary word you don’t recognize and get a full and accurate translation and definition of that word.
You also get to add words to your vocab list, then get tested on them by a smart quiz system that knows what you’ve already learned and adjusts accordingly.
You can try the program out totally free. What have you got to lose?
Tips and tricks:
- Add FluentU video-watching to your daily study regimen. The videos are usually short and each acts like a mini lesson for learning grammar concepts, vocab, culture and more. With just one video a day, you’ll be learning a lot!
- Be sure to stick to your correct difficulty setting so you don’t get too under- or overwhelmed with the vocabulary. Videos are organized according to difficulty, and the descriptions often let you know what topic, area of grammar and type of vocabulary you can expect from each clip.
- Turn off the translations in the subtitles the first time you watch, then watch again with the translations on to see how well you understood.
- Hoshino Gen — “Idea”: Learn how to express feelings and emotions with this uplifting song.
- “Change Can Be Surprising” from Marukome: Time changes everyone, and kids grow into adults before you know it. This touching video shows an elderly mother visiting her son and marveling at the adult he’s become.
Expect casual language with lots of vocabulary about family and people.
- “What Is Children’s Day in Japan Like?”: Learn about this Japanese cultural day and how it’s celebrated in this video perfect for beginners.
5. Follow YouTubers in Japan
If you’re an advanced learner looking to improve conversational listening skills, following Japanese YouTubers is a great idea.
If you’re a beginner who wants to learn more about Japanese modern culture in addition to a few new Japanese vocabulary words, there are some expats that create vlogs around Japan and explain the differences between Western and Japanese culture.
These don’t generally use Japanese in their videos so we didn’t include them in our recommendations below, but for some excellent insight into Japanese culture, check out the awesome adventures of Only in Japan, or learn about Japanese relations with foreigners with Rachel and Jun.
There are many other YouTubers who live in or travel through Japan, who share their experiences with the rest of the world. Watch both in English and Japanese to enrich your knowledge of the culture and language!
Tips and tricks:
- Tune in to those listening skills. Try to keep captions off (if they’re even available) and do your best to practice keeping up with multiple speakers. This’ll definitely help with your ability to listen and comprehend Japanese words.
- If you’re not an advanced learner, leave the subtitles on to help with word-kana association and seeing grammar in action.
Use these keywords to find more channels:
- “Japanese vlog”
- “Japanese YouTubers”
- “ブログ (ぶろぐ) /ブイログ (ぶいろぐ) — vlog”
- “ユーチューバー (ゆーちゅーばー) — YouTuber”
- Ask Japanese: This channel features interviews of real people in the streets of Japan. The topics cover Japanese versus Western culture, foreigners and tourism and other interesting thoughts on life in Japan.
Conversations are unscripted and authentic, which means they’re also quite fast—beginners will want to turn on closed captioning for this one.
- Yuka Kinoshita: There’s something oddly satisfying about watching people eat. Yuka Kinoshita spends her videos raving about copious amounts of food in Japanese, then eating it. All of it. It’s as incredible to watch as it is to educational to listen to her Japanese!
- Joe Vlog: This Japanese “extreme” YouTuber travels the world doing crazy challenges. Imbue your learning with some excitement!
Subtitles are available both in Japanese and English, but both are auto-generated, meaning you’ll get the gist of things but there might be some mistakes.
Ready to binge-watch some awesome Japanese videos? Now that you have a plan and plenty of recommendations, you’ll make your watching an educational and fun trip.
Watch and learn!
Em Casalena is a published author, freelance writer and music columnist. They write about a lot of stuff, from music to films to language.