The right way to use subtitles when studying Japanese

By | January 24, 2014

In a recent post I commented how bad of an idea it is to use English subtitles when watching Japanese TV shows. When doing so, your brain gets lazy and stops trying to process the stream of Japanese, or at least reduces focus on it.

Having said that, there is a way to use subtitles productively in your Japanese learning. The secret is to use subtitles in Japanese.

Japanese subtitles will also deemphasize the listening aspect, but in return they train your reading ability. In particular, the subtitles go by so fast that you are forced to learn to speed read, a skill you may not have practiced much before. Also, you will get to learn vocabulary words you otherwise might not pick up, and it will be easier to use those in your own conversation (either speaking or writing) since you know how to properly spell and pronounce them. Your reading of book dialog will also improve, as you match up written passages to those you heard on TV.

Until recently it was difficult to find places to see Japanese subtitles since most DVDs targeting US and related regions only have English and a handful of romance languages. I remember one rare exception was Akira Kurosawa’s “Dreams” DVD which also had Japanese subtitles for the copy I bought in Barnes & Noble.

One option is to buy a region-free DVD player and then buy imports, though this can be quite expensive. Fortunately, thanks to some diligent fan subbing groups there are some places online where you can get files of Japanese dramas with Japanese subtitles. One such place is d-addicts, but there is more out there.

I think its best to support the actors, producers, and other staff involved by purchasing DVDs of movies and TV shows when they are available for a reasonable price domestically, and work on a local-region DVD player. However the market penetration of Japanese movies in places like the US is pretty weak, so for some items you may have to look online, and for new dramas that are still in production, or just finished, online will be the only place you can find these.

With a 2 year old boy running around the house, I’m finding Japanese subtitles more and more useful to help me follow the story, while helping me improve some of my Japanese proficiencies.

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