February 8

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How to Learn Japanese from Video Games

By Jake Hallows

February 8, 2021


I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that sitting down and studying with a textbook day after day can get pretty boring. Sometimes you just want to kick back, relax, and play some video games. What if I told you that you could learn Japanese from video games? Interested? Read on.

Learning Japanese from video games is not only fun, but an effective study method. It can improve your reading speed and listening comprehension, as well as help you discover new vocabulary. So, if you’re going to play video games anyway, why not make it productive?

So, how do I study from video games?

To those of you hoping that you can just boot up your favorite game in Japanese and reap the benefits, I’m afraid to say it’s a little harder than that. Just like with any other method of studying, it takes effort and hard work. Let’s get into it!

Take notes!

When you play video games in Japanese, you’re going to come across a lot of words, phrases, and kanji you don’t know. It’s important that you don’t gloss over them, but instead take notes. Then, whilst the game is paused or after you’ve finished playing, you should look up their definitions and add them to your regular vocabulary that you practice.

When you first start playing a game, you’ll probably run into a lot of unknown vocabulary. However, as you progress through the game and keep practicing, the number of words you don’t know should go down, and your understanding of the game should improve. It can be frustrating at first, but stick with it and it’ll improve your experience.

Don’t just read the subtitles!

Subtitles are great for helping you follow difficult sections of dialogue and identifying words, but over-reliance on them is harmful. Focusing on subtitles can lead to you ignoring the game’s audio, which is detrimental for your listening comprehension. If you’re using English subtitles, then it’s even worse!

The optimal way to use subtitles is to use them as a support for when you don’t understand something. Whether you use English or Japanese subtitles is up to you. You should make the decision based on the difference between your Japanese level and the difficulty of the game’s dialogue. If you can, I recommend using Japanese subtitles for full immersion.

Stay focused!

The most important thing to do when learning Japanese from video games is to stay focused. After playing for a while, it can be easy to go on auto-pilot, without taking notes or reading dialogue carefully. That kind of gaming won’t help your studies.

If you find your mind wandering or losing interest, take a break. Whilst playing games in your native language might be relaxing, playing them in Japanese can be tiring. You’ll learn better, and enjoy the game more, if you play when you can concentrate.

What should I play?

Now that you know how to learn Japanese from video games, it’s time to choose one. Access to games with Japanese language settings is better than ever, so you’re sure to be able to find a great game regardless of platform. But what makes a good game to study from? Remember the following points!

Dialogue is important

Conversations between characters is where much of the language learning process is done. As a result, games that don’t have much dialogue are normally pretty bad to learn from. There are exceptions to this rule of course: Many puzzle games lack dialogue but require you to use language to solve challenges. Generally, the following genres are good to learn from:

  • Role-playing games
  • Adventure
  • Strategy
  • Puzzle
The Legend of Zelda is a great series of adventure games to learn from

Pick a game you’re familiar with

When you’re choosing your first game to play in Japanese, choosing one you’re already familiar with is a good idea. By understanding the context of the game before you play it, you’ll find it easier to follow along with the story and conversations that take place.

That isn’t to say that you need to know all the details of a game before you play it. Even just having some idea of the setting can make things much easier to understand. If you’re new to gaming, it can be worth reading an English summary of your game before you start.

Don’t shy away from multiplayer games

Playing games online in Japanese might seem intimidating, but it’s actually a great opportunity. Not only do you get the chance to improve your comprehension skills, but you also get to practice writing or speaking too. Since you already have a shared interest (the game you’re playing) you might find yourself making friends too!

MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role-playing games) in particular make great games to learn with. Not only do you have the opportunity to meet Japanese players, you also have the single player content to learn from and enjoy too. The only downside is that, if you’re not living in Japan, you may suffer from internet difficulties.

Ready to play?

So, have I managed to convince you to try to learn Japanese from video games? If so, then great! My recommendation for a beginner would be to try an easier game, such as one from the Pokémon series. If you feel like you want a bigger challenge, then why not try a role-playing or puzzle game, such as Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney or a game from the Final Fantasy series? Happy gaming!

Pokémon can be a great way to learn Japanese from video games
Pokémon games are a great place to start!

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