Can you learn to speak Japanese through Anime?

In terms of learning a language, the common understanding is that the earlier you do it the better. At the age of six, the absorption rate for language is at its peak and with the right guidance, a child can learn new languages at an accelerated rate compared to an adult. This absorption rate declines the more you age, making it increasingly more difficult to learn new languages the older you are. This is why it appears incredibly arduous to learn a new language as it is learning subjects with formats and rules to follow. Language, although bound in rules and formats as well, is incredibly fluid and flexible. With factors such as slang, dialects, accents, colloquialisms, and vastly differing speech patterns, the process becomes more complex and intricate. Language learning is almost a lifelong process if you attempt to learn it further in your life.

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Be that as it may, the human mind is capable of learning in many ways. It is sometimes even easier to learn if you’re not actively trying to learn. The intent of learning (for those not keen on it) usually invites pressures such as one’s own ability, the difficulty of the subject matter, time and dedication invested, and the general feeling of boredom. While there are people who can cope and rise above these pressures, it is not for everyone to succeed by learning in this manner. Some people enjoy the learning in a lighter atmosphere where there is a lesser need to follow strict guidelines and formats with more freedom in taking in the knowledge that is there to be internalised.

Anime is a form of entertainment rich in its usage of the Japanese language. On top of being incredibly entertaining and now a medium that is enjoyed globally, it can also be seen as a way to be introduced to the Japanese language. But how well is the language depicted in Anime? With enough exposure, the audience who watch enough Anime may be vaguely aware of the amount of care that goes into perfecting the script, voice acting, and dialogues for optimum delivery in each scene. In actuality, the Anime industry takes casting work incredibly seriously. Aspiring voice actors have to train in voice acting schools to become legitimate voice actors in a highly competitive and saturated market. The added level of care that goes into Anime production leads to voice acting in Anime being far superior to any 2D media. The argument is then raised; can something fun like Anime with near-flawless Japanese voice acting, be a useful tool to learn how to speak Japanese?

A number of factors come into play to determine this, but to put it bluntly; yes. The production of Anime is often high-end in all aspects. The aspect that enables Anime to contribute to language learning mainly falls down on voice acting. Anime’s voice acting is crisp, clear, and perfectly articulated so that the audience can hear word for word what is being said by the characters. To add to that, Anime slows down the speech of its characters compared to real life. Although this impedes the realism slightly, in return it produces a much more comprehensible end product that is even more accessible than live-action foreign shows. It is because it is animated that this advantage exists as voice actors don’t need to act physically, giving them more control over their speech. With less emphasis on having to continue a scene, voice actors can focus on maximising each line for the best experience. This is the ultimate advantage Anime has over other foreign mediums to help non-native speakers understand and to an extent, learn the language better.

Attention to detail in Anime production combined with the high-quality end product by voice actors make way for another factor that facilitates learning the Japanese language with Anime; simplicity in phrase selection. If you’re an Anime watcher, you will remember a few phrases very vividly, as they keep being used in the show. Anime rarely use formal and complicated terms, resorting to simpler and more conversational phrases to depict day-to-day lives as best it could. As a result, shorter phrases that are more colloquial and memorable are used, and these phrases stick more in the viewer’s mind. This is only possible with the quality of voice acting delivered by the voice actors and the pacing of speech, without which the phrases may be harder to listen to and sound vague.

Anime: Hyouka

The resulting impact is that viewers may be able to internalise two important elements of the Japanese language – conversational Japanese and vocabulary. Watching Anime doesn’t give you the materials to learn formal Japanese as it is not used in entertainment, context aside. However, Anime instead familiarises you with conversational Japanese and useful vocabulary, both of which are key in mastering the language. Conversational Japanese is not something you would learn in class as it’s not considered formal. As such, it is something much harder to obtain a grasp on. If you were to go to Japan, conversational Japanese is much more pivotal to your survival there as it is simple and something everybody uses; Anime gives you exactly that. On the other hand, Japanese vocabulary is one of two parts of speech, and knowing it means you’re halfway there. To become a competent speaker of any language, you need to know vocabulary and sentence structure. Anime will improve your vocabulary considerably, and the more you watch it, the bigger your vault of words will become.

Needless to say, these tools won’t be complete. You will not become a competent Japanese speaker simply by learning conversational Japanese and Japanese vocabulary in Anime. Practise makes perfect is something I have to stress. Knowledge that isn’t crystalised will not remain at your disposal for long. Here you have to continue to add onto these aspects with classes, more Anime, or speaking with peers who are competent in the language. However, it is an assurance knowing that you have a basis to fall back on, and Anime can provide you exactly that as a beginner.

On the surface, Anime doesn’t seem to lend its non-native viewers any ease to learn the language. However, perhaps even unbeknownst to the industry itself and the people working behind it, they have prepared the perfect avenue to learn the Japanese language in Anime. All that’s left is to pick up a show, watch it and the (Anime) world is your oyster.

Hartwick is a content writer under Headliner by Newswav, a programme where content creators get to tell their unique stories through articles and at the same time monetize their content within the Newswav app.
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Author: Hartwick

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