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Can You Learn Japanese from Watching Anime?

Can You Learn Japanese from Watching Anime?

So, you want to know if you can learn Japanese from watching anime.
With almost all answers from me, the response is it depends. Yes and no.

We’re in for a long read here, so just to start off, I’m going to shoot out a bunch of yes no answers real quick:

  • No, you can’t learn Japanese JUST from watching anime (unless you’re some kind of genius).
  • Yes, you can IMPROVE your Japanese from watching anime
  • No, you should not speak Japanese like how anime characters do
  • No, this doesn’t mean you can’t learn other things from anime such as vocabulary terms and grammar patterns
  • Yes, You can spend years studying Japanese formally at university or any other kind of institution, and still learn things from watching anime, even if it’s just a new vocabulary or common phrase here and there.
  • Yes, there are certain types or genres of anime much more suited to learning from (romantic comedies set in a school campus are much more friendly than science fiction mecha series with an overload of technical jargon).
  • Yes anime is cool as hell, no matter how old you become.
  • And lastly, but most relevantly now: No, watching anime is nowhere near the most efficient way to learn Japanese.

This is where my personal advice comes in:

If you intend to start studying Japanese seriously, as in you have a set goal to be this level within this amount of time or are going to be moving to Japan or anything like that, do not put hard time and effort into trying to learn Japanese from anime. Instead, put that time and effort into studying more educational resources, and the ability to understand the Japanese in anime will naturally come along with that.

This approach that we’re going to talk about should only really apply to people who love anime, watch a lot of it, and want to turn that enjoyable experience into the seeds of an educational opportunity too , even if just super casually at first. For example,  maybe you’re in high school right now and plan to take Japanese classes and study it seriously in college, but have a couple of years and a lot of anime you’ll be wanting to watch until then. For example, maybe you’re not invested in learning the language enough to study kanji 2 hours every single day or are too shy to practice speaking to a stranger online for practice. But what you do do is watch an episode of anime every day while eating dinner or something. Even with something as simple as that, that’s 2.333 hours of being exposed to Japanese speech a week. If you been a fan of anime for even just a year, that’s roughly 120 hours total. The idea here is to take advantage of that decent amount of exposure and turn it from Japanese just sounding like an alien language to Japanese being something you’re able to at least make a bit of sense of and in turn have an opportunity to learn some new-say a new word, or phrase, or grammar pattern, from each line of dialogue you hear.

So basically, what you want to do is introduce yourself to the absolute basics of the language and reach a bare minimum level.

And the good news is that if you watch enough anime, it’s already very likely that you’ve done this, just to a lesser degree. Lots of anime fans will know and are likely to never forget the definitions of words like (Ready? Anime word recognition test in 3,2,1…) kanojo, kokoro, suki, baka, kawaii, senpai, tsundere, bakemono, chikara, daijoubu, ganbaru, jigoku, kareshi, mochiron, sasuga, sugoi, tomodachi, etc. despite never having learned hiragana (the Japanese characters) or what sounds the Japanese language even uses. Why? Simply because those words are among the most commonly used words in anime and after you’ve heard them so many times, they’ve become ingrained in your memory. We’re going by the same principle here. We just have to establish the foundation for it to happen for a wider range of words-and even further, for grammar.

And so, the approach that we’re going to recommend for people interested in accomplishing this is to:

Spend a good week or two at least learning the absolute basics of the Japanese language:

  • The letters, or more correctly termed, characters it uses. While there are three different writing systems for the Japanese language, they all use the same pronunciation, so you theoretically could get by with just learning the first of the three, hiragana, in the beginning. (1-4 days)
  • After that, you learn the basic sentence structure to Japanese sentences. (1 day)
  • Then get introduced to word types, adjectives, nouns, verbs, particles, etc. and get an idea of how to distinguish a given word as one of those types. (1-5 days)

So now you might be going, whoa, whoa, whoa, 1-2 weeks to learn all that information? Just because you’re calling it the basics, doesn’t mean it takes that little time to learn.

Well, let’s see if we can boost your confidence a bit by doing a condensed, proportional example version right now and get a glimpse of the process. First, we’ll try to introduce you to the utmost introductory information about each of those subjects, then we’ll jump into an example line from an anime and break it down with just that information.

-We are going to skip hiragana/katakana/kanji because that simply cannot be taught in the span of a few minutes-

Basic Japanese Sentence Structure (loosely the opposite order of English sentence structure):

In English:
I ate a hamburger.”
(SUBJECT > VERB > OBJECT)

In Japanese:
“Watashi wa hamburger o tabemashita.”
私はハンバーガーを食べました。
(Literal English translation: “I hamburger ate.”)
(SUBJECT > OBJECT > VERB)
*plus particles after NOUN words to mark them as such, e.g. topic/subject marker particle wa after the noun watashi to mark it as the subject/topic and direct object marker o after the noun hamburger to mark it as the direct object

Japanese Word Types:

Adjectives: 2 Types. What we call i-adjectives (い) and na-adjectives (な). i-adjectives are called that because they end in the i-sound. On the other hand, na adjectives can end in anything and are called that because the character na appears after them when they modify nouns.

Nouns: The most vast word group, these words can end in essentially any character/sound.

Verbs: Also a very vast word group. Has the most forms of conjugation, which take a lot of time to learn but become easier to distinguish once done (e.g. words ending in (ました, ませんでした, etc. are obvious verb words). Generally divided into two sub-groups, ru-verbs and u-verbs, because they end in ru (る) and u (う) respectively. However, this only applies when they are in what is called the Dictionary Form, which is the superficial equivalent of the present/future tense in English.

です (desu) and だ (da): A copula, a word used to link subject and predicate. Usually marks the end of a clause or sentence.

Now, a short and simple line from one of my favorite anime series, One Piece.

ルフィは海賊王になる男だ!
“Luffy wa kaizokuou ni naru otoko da!”
(Literal translation: “Luffy is Pirate King become man!”)
(Proper translation: “Luffy is the man who will become Pirate King!”)

Of course, the English translation of the line right there is going to be something you’ll be given if you’re watching the show with subtitles. The Japanese line we have provided and written out is something you’d have to pick up yourself by ear. It goes without saying that this is why learning at least hiragana would be important.

Now for the analysis. How many of these words in this Japanese line, of the seven, do we recognize with our current knowledge?

  • (Luffy/ルフィ) = name of character = noun (also appears before subject/topic marker wa, which means it is a subject/topic/noun)
  • (wa/は) = particle/topic marker
  • (kaizokuou/海賊王) – one of the words we’re likely to not know as a complete beginner
  • (ni/に) = particle
  • (naru/なる) = another word we’re likely to not know as complete beginners, but from what we just learned, we could assume it’s a verb because the ru ending
  • (otoko/男) = the last of three words here that we’re likely to not know, but we might be able to presume that it’s maybe a noun based on the spelling
  • (da/だ) = copula to end the sentence.

So, four out of seven. Not bad. This gives us:

“Luffy is [UNKNOWN NOUN] [UNKNOWN VERB] [UNKNOWN NOUN].”

The only verb in the English translation we have available is “become”, so then we now have:

“Luffy is [UNKNOWN NOUN] become [UNKNOWN NOUN].”

We know from Japanese sentence structure that object type words such as direct objects, indirect objects, etc. are positioned before the verb action unlike in English where they appear after the verb.

So this means the word positioned before our verb, naru/なる, is connected to the action. We refer to the English translation and see that that word is “pirate king”. So then we confirm that kaizokuou/海賊王 means “pirate king.”

“Luffy is Pirate King become [UNKNOWN NOUN].”

Which leaves the last unknown word to become the last word left in our English translations, “man.” Thus, otoko/男 means “man.”

“Luffy is Pirate King become man.”

While this is our definitive answer when it comes to meaning, but we do need to naturalize it to make it sounds like proper English.

”Luffy is the man who will become Pirate King.”

In the end, if we didn’t take the time to learn about Japanese sentence structure, verb words, noun words, adjectives, particles, etc. we would not have had any means to engage in this process of elimination and potentially learn 3 new words from one line of dialogue: kaizokuou/海賊王 means “pirate king,” naru/なる means “to become,” otoko/男 means “man.”

Even if you’re not catching the Japanese lines by ear perfectly and are barely only making sense of two of the seven words-say you only heard the “ni naru” part of that sentence, that can still be good for you because it’s reaffirming for you various nuances about the language such as the fact that you use the particle ni with naru to make the grammar pattern that is “to become.” Admittedly, ni naru is perhaps an overly simple example, but there are in fact a lot of verbs out there wherein it’s hard to remember whether to use them with the particle ni/に or some other particle like o/を.

 

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Is There Really No Such Thing as Swear Words in Japanese?

Is There Really No Such Thing as Swear Words in Japanese?

A. No. There is such a thing as swear words in Japanese, but the “profanity” often heard on Japanese TV isn’t the same kind of profanity as English swear words because they’re not considered “taboo” language.

If you watch a decent amount of Japanese TV such as anime, movies, live-action dramas, etc., you might have noticed that a lot of times subtitles will translate the dialogue to include English profanity or cussing, like the words “shit,” “fuck,” “bitch,” etc.. You might in turn then be wondering if these are accurate translations, because surely the Japanese-equivalent of these words wouldn’t be a part of something like an anime or TV show meant for kids airing in the middle of the day.

This will be the context for this lesson.

Perhaps the simplest way to distinguish between profanity in English and profanity in Japanese is that in English swear words have a double-function of being harsher (or cooler) than normal language and being taboo. And as you can probably already tell, the coolness or the harshness is something that directly derives from the fact that the words are considered inappropriate/taboo. Calling someone “a fucking idiot” as opposed to “a complete idiot”-despite the fact that they both mean the same thing, is way harsher or cooler because the word “fuck” is considered inappropriate/taboo.

Japanese profanity for the most part does not have this double-function. It separates the two functions into two different realms.

It has taboo words but they are scarce, represent a minority of “Japanese profanity,” and you’ll pretty much never hear someone say them in public, even if they’re adults. These will be words such as racially discriminatory terms or perhaps the most infamous example: the Japanese word for vagina. The thing to point out regarding this minority is that they’re typically used for literally cursing someone and do not become flexible like English swear words in which you can say something like “fucking X” or “piece of shit X,” wherein you add on the swear to any given statement to make it sound harsher/cooler overall.

The same pretty much goes for the other way around in that there are also ways the Japanese language makes things sound harsher or more aggressive, but these words won’t be taboo. In fact, most of the time, it won’t even be the actual words but rather the grammar of the entire speech that makes a statement insulting/harsh in Japanese.

If you aren’t a complete beginner of the Japanese language, you’ll know that it has a pretty extensive system of enforcing grammatical specifics like conjugating words a certain way to maintain your speech as-say: polite, formal, honorific, humble, casual, etc. For better or for worse, simply not using polite language to someone in Japanese could be considered insulting enough. This inherent cultural and linguistic difference between Japanese and English in turn influences the way speakers of those respective languages “swear.”

To exhibit this, see the following examples of common Japanese “swearing” and how they are actually words you could perfectly use in formal, real-life conversations, but once you “grammatize” them a certain way they become full-on insulting and frowned upon.

Example(s):

糞 (くそ/kuso)
Definition: “feces, excrement, dung, poop, bullshit, shit, damn”
This is considered a swear when it is said alone and likened to the English exclamation of “Shit!” or “Damnit!” But the word itself is not profane at all, as shown by the following perfectly normal compound words that contain it.

糞虫 (くそむし/kusomushi)
“dung beetle”

鼻糞 (はなくそ/hanakuso)
“booger, snot, mucus, nasal discharge”

糞食らえ (くそくらえ/kuso kurae)
“eat shit!”
In this example, it returns to being part of a swear but it still is not because the word 糞 (くそ/kuso) itself is considered profane. Instead, it is the imperative/command form of the verb 食らう that makes this statement insulting.

糞餓鬼 (くそがき/kusogaki)
“piece of shit brat, son of a bitch”
Another example of it being a part of a swear because the overall statement is offensive

ふざけるなよ! (fuzakeru na yo!)
“cut the shit! stop fucking around!”
This derives from the perfectly normal verb word 巫山戯る (ふざける/fuzakeru), which simply means “to fool around, to joke around, to kid around, to jest, to screw around, etc.”
It becomes an offensive swear not because the word itself is profane but because the casual verb conjugation of it is considered rude. (ふざけんな! would be even stronger with its even shorter/slang-ish form.)
Alternatively, if we were to conjugate it into the more polite, て-Form + 下さい to mean “please do VERB,” then it would become ふざけないで下さい and would be a perfectly okay statement to say in a real life conversation without insulting someone, translating to “please stop fooling around”

うるさい (urusai)
Literal definition: ”noisy, loud“
Likelier English translation (due to how rude it is to be telling someone straight to their face that they are being loud): “Be quiet! Shut up!”

どけ! (doke)
Literal definition of original verb word 退く: “to step aside, to move, to make way”
Likelier English translation (again, due to the imperative command form verb conjugation that expresses aggression): “Get out of my way! Fuck off!”

くたばれ! (kutabare)
Literal definition of original verb くたばる: “to kick the bucket, to drop dead, to die, to croak”
Likelier English translation (again, due to the imperative command form verb conjugation that expresses aggression): “Drop dead! Go to hell!“

Exception Example(s):
These word(s) are both insulting/offensive and considered taboo.

手前 (てめえ/temee)
Definition: “you” (used when the speaker is extremely angry and implies that the addressee is of an inferior stature, therefore it is usually translated into English to something along the lines of “bastard, motherfucker, etc.” instead)

Conclusion: 
While there is such a thing as Japanese profanity, it is very different from English profanity. English profanity is more imaginative, colorful, and has something of a subculture to it, in which new profane, slang words are being termed pretty much everyday (e.g. fuckboy, asshat, dickweed, cumswallow, cocknose shitbucket, etc.). Japanese profanity for the most part consistently derives from the technical points of its grammar due to the language being influenced by Japanese polite culture.

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How-to say “sometimes ____” with Dictionary-Form-VERB + ことがある

How-to say “sometimes ____” with Dictionary-Form-VERB + ことがある

The grammar pattern Dictionary-Form-VERB + ことがある is used to express “sometimes VERB” or “there are times when VERB” (the latter definition being more represented of another grammar pattern, がある’s influence).

*While the Dictionary-Form of a VERB word is most commonly used, there are times when ADJECTIVE words and Negative Form can be used as well.

*Sometimes, particle other than が will be used for additional nuance (e.g. は to emphasize a contrast or も to mean “also”).

Construction:
Dictionary-Form VERB + ことがある = “there are times when VERB (is done)”
ADJECTIVE + ことがある = “there are times when ADJECTIVE”

Example(s):
一人で夜に散歩することがある。
Hitori de yoru ni sanpo suru koto ga aru.
“Sometimes I’ll go for an evening stroll by myself.”

流暢に英語が話せるが、簡単な言葉の意味を忘れることがある。
Ryuuchou ni eigo ga hanaseru ga, kantan na kotoba no imi o wasureru koto ga aru.
“I can speak English fluently, but there are times when I forget the definitions of simple words.”

部屋で一日を過ごすことがある。
Heya de ichinichi o sugosu koto ga aru
“There are times when I’ll just spend the whole day in my room.”

たまに外で食事をすることがある。
Tama ni soto de shokuji o suru koto ga aru
“Occasionally, I’ll have my meal outside.”

少しも眠れないことがある。
Sukoshi mo nemurenai koto ga aru.
“There are times when I can’t get even one good bit of sleep.”

お返事が遅いことがあります。
Ohenji ga osoi koto ga arimasu
“Sometimes it takes a while to respond.”

Similar Grammar Pattern(s):
Past-Plain-た-Form-VERB + ことがある as “have VERBed before”

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Pre-ます-Form VERB + (切る/切れない) as “to do VERB to completion/to not be able to do VERB to completion”

Pre-ます-Form VERB + (切る/切れない) as “to do VERB to completion/to not be able to do VERB to completion”

The Japanese verb word 切る not only has more than 20 different definitions but also forms a grammar pattern with its own meaning when followed by the Pre-ます-Form of another VERB word. Drawing from the same general idea that some of 切る’s definitions represent (e.g. “to cut,” “to sever,” “to terminate” etc.), this construction of Pre-ます-Form VERB + 切る means “to do something to completion” or “to successfully do something.”

In accordance with the latter definition, this grammar pattern is typically used to express that one is satisfied from their performance of the VERB word action.

*When this grammar pattern is used with VERB words that express states of being or mind, the translation of “to do VERB to completion” becomes unnatural, and the better interpretation is “to be very VERB.”

Adversely, the negative form of this grammar pattern is the construction of Pre-ます-Form VERB + 切れない and is used to express a dissatisfaction at one’s inability to do VERB to completion. (The fact that 切れない is the Negative-Form of the Potential Form of 切る instead of just the regular Negative-Form may be indicative of the association of this grammar pattern with feelings of satisfaction/dissatisfaction, as the wording of “was not able to finish doing VERB” expresses more dissatisfaction than the more objective wording of “did not finish VERB.”)

Construction:
Pre-ます-Form VERB + 切る = “to VERB completely”
Pre-ます-Form VERB + 切れない = “not able to VERB completely”

Example(s):
思い切る
Omoikiru
“to make up one’s mind, to make a momentous decision”

昨晩は徹夜して教科書を読み切った。
Sakuban wa tetsuya shite kyoukasho o yomikitta.
“Last night I pulled an all-nighter and read the textbook entirely.”

満漢全席を食べ切りました!!
Mankanzenseki o tabekirimashita!!
“I finish eating the Manchu Han Imperial Feast!”

疲れ切った選手たちはバスで眠り込んだ。
Tsukarekitta senshutachi wa bus de nemurikonda.
“The exhausted players fell asleep on the bus.”

彼女はいまだに彼を信じきっている.
Kanojo wa imada ni kare o shinjikitte iru
“Even now, she still blindly believes in him.”

待ちきれない。
Machikirenai
“I can’t wait. (I can’t finish waiting.)”

数えきれない量
Kazoekirenai ryou
“An innumerable amount. (An amount one cannot finish counting)”

感謝しきれない
Kansha shikirenai
“I can’t thank you enough. (I can’t finish thanking you.)”

抑え切れない笑い.
Osaekirenai warai.
“An uncontrollable laugh. (A laugh that cannot be completely held back)”

日本語には、難しい漢字がたくさんあって、覚えきれない。
Nihongo ni wa, muzukashii kanji ga takusan atte, oboekirenai.
“The Japanese language has so many difficult kanji that I can’t remember them all.”

Similar Grammar Pattern(s):
~て-Form VERB + しまう as “to doing something completely (with a sense of irreversibility and regret)”

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Pre-ます-Form VERB + 出す as “to start VERBing” (or “to VERB and make X available”)

Pre-ます-Form VERB + 出す as “to start VERBing” (or “to VERB and make X available”)

The Japanese word 出す has a plethora of definitions (e.g. to take out, to put out, to show, to get out, to publish, to produce, to serve, etc.), many of which are associated with a outward directionality to the action. When this word is preceded by the Pre-ます-Form of another VERB word, it forms a compound verb and the grammar pattern Pre-ます-Form VERB + 出す, which has two definitions:
1.) First, it is used to express the beginning of a verb action. This is very similar to but differs in a way to the other grammar patterns Pre-ます-Form VERB + 始める and Pre-ます-Form VERB + かける, which are used to express a more general beginning of a verb action and a beginning of a verb action that is usually halted before completion respectively. Pre-ます-Form VERB + 出す as a grammar pattern has its own nuance of expressing the beginning of a verb action that begins abruptly, suddenly, or non-volitionally. As such, it is commonly used with certain types of VERB words, such as those associated with sudden emotions (e.g. crying, yelling, etc.) as opposed to premeditation.
2.) Second, it is used to express that something performs a verb action and in doing so makes something (usually the direct object the verb action) available or accessible when it wasn’t before.
*出す’s association with outward directionality can be useful in remembering both of these definitions as “to start VERBing” can be alternatively worded and interpretted as “to burst out into VERBing” and “making something available/accessible when it was not before” can be considered a “birthing” or “putting out into the world” of something, so to speak.

Construction:
Pre-ます-Form VERB + 出す = “to start VERBing”
or
X + を + Pre-ます-Form VERB + 出す = “to VERB and make X available”

Example(s):
昨日の試合の途中で、急に雨が降り出した。
Kinou no shiai no tochuu de, kyuu ni ame ga furidashita.
“In the middle of yesterday’s match, rain suddenly started falling.”

何も言わなかったのに彼は急に怒り出した。
Nanimo iwanakatta no ni, kare wa kyuu ni ikaridashita.
“Even though I didn’t say anything, he suddenly started getting angry.”

彼は時計を見て走り出した。
Kare wa tokei o mite hashiridashita.
“He looked at his watch and started running off.”

赤ちゃんが夜中に泣き出したから、よく寝なかった。
Akachan ga yonaka ni nakidashita kara, yoku nenakatta.
“The baby started crying in the middle of the night, so I didn’t sleep well.”

ロボットが動き出した。
Robot ga ugokidashita.
“The robot started moving.”

妹が五時までに宿題を完成して夕食を作り出した。
Imouto ga goji made ni shukudai o kansei shite yuushoku o tsukuridashita.
“My little sister finished her homework by 5 and made dinner.”

掲示板にプリントを張り出した。
Keijiban ni print o baridashita.
“I posted the flyer on the bulletin board.”

Similar Grammar Pattern(s):
Pre-ます-Form VERB + 始める
Pre-ます-Form VERB + かける

 

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How-to say “on the way” with がけに

How-to say “on the way” with がけに

Pre-ます-Form (Going) VERB + がけに as “on the way of VERBing, ~”

The phrasing がけに can be inserted directly after the Pre-ます-Form of what is considered a “going” type VERB word (e.g. 行く, 帰る, くる) to modify its meaning to be “on the way of VERBing.” In this usage, がけに is typically seen written in kana form.

Construction:
Pre-ます-Form (Going) VERB + がけに

Example(s):
来がけに自分のしっぽを追いかける犬を見ました。
Kigake ni jibun no shippo o oikakeru inu o mimashita.
“On the way (coming) here, I saw a dog that was chasing its own tail.”

高校生の頃は、学校への行きがけにコンビニからコロッケを買った。

Koukousei no koro wa, gakkou e no ikigake ni konbini kara croquette o katta.
“When I was a high schooler, on the way (going) to school I would stop by the convenience store and buy croquettes.”

今日、帰りがけに新しく人気なクレープ店に寄るつもりだ。
Kyou, kaerigake ni atarashiku ninki na crepe mise ni yoru tsumori da.
“Today I plan on stopping by that new, popular crepe store on the way returning home.”