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: watching 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.
How to Learn Japanese Just by Watching Videos
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.
7 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.
American expat Victor, aka Gimmeabreakman, is the self-described “Godfather of J-vlogging.” On his YouTube channel, Japanese for Morons, he teams up with Tomoko-sensei, a Japanese native speaker, to make bilingual videos covering phrases and vocabulary that can be very useful in various real-world contexts.
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 Tomoko-sensei.
FluentU uses real-world videos to bring Japanese learning to life.
Authentic videos from around the world are equipped with interactive captions that are translated into English (though you’re free to remove both the Japanese and English subtitles if you so choose). With these subtitles on, you can click on any word to instantly see an in-context definition, audio pronunciation, example sentences and clips of the word being used in other authentic videos across the site. FluentU also uses videos in its quizzes, exercises and flashcards to help you naturally learn and recall vocabulary with tons of juicy context.
This complete Japanese immersion program includes movie trailers, music videos, news clips and inspiring talks, just to name a few types of authentic videos in the Japanese library. The varied and topical nature of FluentU’s videos always make for a highly engaging and exciting study session.
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. Keep in mind that a reliable, secure VPN can be helpful for any videos not made available in your country of residence.
Essentially, a VPN makes it appear as if you’re using the internet in Japan rather than the United States (or wherever you are). An easy way to set up a VPN and magically change your location to Japan is by installing HideMyAss! VPN on any of your devices—it works on your computer, smartphone and internet-enabled TVs and game systems.
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.
I find her personal and travel vlogs the most 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.
Learner’s TV provides a solid collection of free video lessons on various aspects of Japanese language learning. The videos are generally around 5 minutes long and teach one Japanese skill in a simple and clear way. The videos come from all over the Internet, including from paid programs—which is why the example video above hails from JapanesePod101—but they’re conveniently hosted on this one site.
Of course, if you love that sample of JapanesePod101, then you can branch out and explore their official site. You’d quickly be able to see that it features ample audio and video material made by professional teachers, and it’s one of the most prolific and consistent language sites in the game. From there, you might opt to test out JapanesePod101 with its free trial and even stick around with a paid membership.
That’s the beauty of Learner’s TV, it gets you turned onto new resources for learning Japanese that you might never have discovered otherwise.
You can watch lectures covering useful phrases, basic kana, everyday kanji and categories of vocabulary that will prove very helpful for beginners to advanced learners as well as travelers planning to visit Japan soon.
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.
When my classmates and I were learning Japanese in an Australian high school, we were taught all new content entirely in English and then asked to practice in Japanese. Now that I’m a language teacher myself, I’m aware that this is an extremely ineffective way to teach and learn a language. We have to work much harder and really pay attention to understand the exact meaning and form of new content. Just practicing Japanese doesn’t cut the mustard. Learning the lesson itself in Japanese makes a huge difference.
This immersive style of learning new language 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 2-3 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 recipe in Japanese!
She narrates her videos in English and includes Japanese subtitles, so you can look more deeply into the vocabulary and kanji as you watch.
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.