In Japan, there’s a proverb: “継続は力なり” (けいぞくはちからなり).
It means “in anything you do, persevering every day will reap rewards.”
What I love about this idea is that it doesn’t proclaim that we must take enormous steps or knock down significant goals every day—it simply encourages us to quietly chip away at whatever we’re trying to achieve.
Basically it says: Put your head down and do some work—any work. Always a helpful reminder.
This philosophy is never more helpful than it is when applied to language learning. Regular, daily immersion has been shown time and again to be the most effective way to learn another language.
But committing to study every day without fail is hard. Even the best tools and apps can get tedious after a while.
This is why we need variety.
Knowing that you’re going to do something completely new makes the idea of getting your daily studying in far more enticing.
So here’s something new that you can bring into your language practice that costs nothing, takes very little time and can be used to learn in many different ways: learning Japanese with videos.
Most of us probably watch at least one video online every day without even really meaning to. They play automatically on our News Feeds, they teach us how to cook perfect spaghetti and unclog the sink.
They can also teach us Japanese.
How to Learn Japanese with Videos on YouTube
There are several different ways to use videos as learning tools, and how you use them will depend on the type of learner you are and what you’re trying to learn.
You can play it straight by watching video lessons, which are designed for language learners in particular. Learn specific grammar, vocabulary or phrases by watching lessons provided by language teachers, fellow learners and native speakers online. Explanations are generally brief, clear and easy to understand.
The visual aspect of video lessons, delivered to you along with clearly-spoken explanations of any topic, can make your study time far more engaging—and therefore much easier to remember—than reading an explanation in a textbook.
You can focus on developing your functional listening skills by watching vlogs about something specific that you’re interested in. These vlogs can cover anything from travel, food, fashion and expat life in Japan to modern technology, video games, movies and more.
If you’re already passionate about the topic then you’re certain to avoid getting bored. If you’re honestly curious to learn more then you’ll work hard to understand as much as you can about what’s being said.
By watching Japanese videos featuring native speakers you can familiarize yourself with Japanese culture and learn about life in Japan, all the while learning Japanese language that’s usable in the real world and always culturally-appropriate.
Pay close attention to who’s speaking, what their tone of voice is, to whom they’re speaking and the degree of formality required by the overall conversational situation.
6 Online Channels for Learning Japanese with Vivid Videos
Below are several online video channels that I personally recommend, as well as learning tools that use videos to teach Japanese.
There’s never a dull moment on Gimmeabreakman, an eclectic YouTube channel dedicated to the weird, the wonderful and the entertaining.
The channel covers festivals, short travelogues, interviews on Japanese streets and video lessons. All are conducted in English sprinkled with a mix of Japanese words and phrases.
Among the attention-grabbing video titles you’ll find “The Japanese Naked Festival” and “How Japanese Women Ask Men to Make Love.” Some of the videos are seriously popular with hundreds of thousands of viewings.
Victor’s style is wonderfully tongue-in-cheek, and some of the video lessons will teach you vocabulary and phrases that you would never, ever find in a textbook. There’s a rare and very helpful focus on pronunciation, provided by the charming Tomoko-sensei.
The channel also has a series of lessons called “Japanese for Morons” that covers all the basics of Japanese.
Studying Japanese on YouTube is always an excellent idea, but FluentU has taken the experience one step further.
FluentU is an innovative site that takes real-world videos—like commercials, anime, music videos, TV shows and home videos—and uses them as powerful Japanese learning tools. And all of these videos come directly to you from YouTube!
There’s just one big improvement on this learning platform—all the videos are made approachable for any learner at any skill level.
FluentU has amassed a broad range of authentic videos—just take a look at one small sample:
You’ll get reading practice too, as every video is subtitled. FluentU makes these native Japanese videos approachable through interactive captions. These interactive captions will show you the definition of a word (and simultaneously pause the video) whenever you hover your mouse over it.
All definitions have multiple in-context usage examples, and they’re written for Japanese learners like you. You’ll also find audio pronunciations, synonyms, helpful images and more. Tap again to add words you’d like to review later to your running vocab list.
And that’s not all. FluentU lets you learn Japanese even better by turning your selected videos into personalized language lessons. You’ll go through exercises that show the video clips as the prompts, multimedia flashcards, quizzes and fun activities like “fill in the blank.”
The best part?
Every time you use FluentU, the site keeps track of the grammar and vocab you’ve learned and the words you struggle with, personalizing video suggestions and learning sessions based on your unique set of knowledge.
It’ll then recommend the natural next step in the progression of your learning. You’re delivered a 100% personalized experience.
Access FluentU on the website to use it with your computer or tablet or, better yet, start learning Japanese on the go with the FluentU app.
Let’s talk even more about sheer variety. If you’re just looking to browse YouTube and watch videos in Japanese on any topic, this channel is fantastic. If you want to know what’s hot in Japan and what videos native speakers are sharing with their friends, make this your first stop.
Check out the latest viral hits in Japan—there’s always something weird and wonderful to behold—keep up-to-date with the latest J-pop releases, political news, movie trailers and TV specials, all with this one channel.
Some YouTube videos are equipped with subtitles, making them more accessible for beginner learners, but don’t be afraid to challenge yourself and ditch the subtitles—the content in the video should give you plenty of hints about what’s going on, and by matching that with the language you can pick up, your Japanese listening skills will skyrocket.
Japanese-American Chika lives in Japan and vlogs in both English and Japanese about life in Japan. Many of her videos are really helpful if you’re planning to move to Japan or go on a trip there.
Her vlogs cover a range of topics including useful Japanese, travel and lifestyle and English lessons for Japanese viewers. All her videos are bilingual and can be immensely helpful for learning new phrases.
Her personal and travel vlogs are very interesting to watch, and they’re fantastic for learning—she follows every sentence in English with the same sentence in Japanese, and you can use this to learn new, full sentences very quickly.
Her pronunciation is crystal clear, and she speaks at a great, even pace for practicing listening and parroting back what she says, even for beginners.
For slightly more advanced students of Japanese, the Japonin YouTube channel could be a great way to learn new Japanese language while also challenging your existing skills.
The video lectures are basic—just narration and text on the screen—but as there’s no English at all, it’s a considerable immersion challenge to understand the terms and explanations and learn each new kanji character, phrase, grammar rule or vocabulary word.
This immersive style of learning entirely in Japanese can be daunting at first—what if you misunderstand completely? But provided the lessons are well-designed and the language kept to an appropriate pace, it can actually be managed from an early-beginner stage.
And given that Japonin’s videos are only two to three minutes long, you can always watch them again (and again and again, if need be) until you’re certain that you understood.
Ochikeron is a famous YouTube cooking vlogger in Japan. Her recipes are original and unique, covering a range from kawaii bento box ideas to lesser-known dishes from regions throughout Japan.
If you find that you really love some of her recipes, you could copy the steps down to make your own Japanese meal!
She narrates her videos in English and includes Japanese subtitles, so you can look more deeply into the vocabulary and kanji as you watch.
This channel now boasts VR videos, so you can tempt yourself cruelly by having delicious food in front of you, yet so, so far away.
If you want to learn a language and be able to use it forever more, immersion truly is the best way to learn. If you can find ways to make your study relevant to your life and interests, you’ll find yourself learning almost by osmosis. You’ll be more engaged with your learning and you’ll find yourself better able to recall new language quickly and easily.
When we immerse ourselves in a language regularly, and when we practice 継続は力なり, we teach our brains to think in our new language—and speaking fluently is the natural next step.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Japanese with real-world videos.