Tagged: Japanese, language learning
23 June 2020
Ok, I know this is an odd request, but I thought one of you out there would have a recommendation for a modern (i.e. modern Japanese language) film or TV show for intensive rewatching.
I’ve been dabbling in learning Japanese for a few years now, without having put any real focus into pushing beyond ‘arigato’ beginner level. I’ve made a little progress on reading, but my conversation and communication skills are non-existent, and its tough to make progress not having any native speakers to practice with, and all classes have been cancelled for the foreseeable future for reasons I think we all know about.
I’ve been following an American teacher known as Dogen who seems to be very admired by other teachers, his focus is very much on getting pitch and pronunciation correct from a very early stage of learning, which makes sense to me. One of his key recommendations for those not living in Japan is to find a film or TV series and watch it repeatedly, while voice shadowing the actors. When I say ‘repeatedly’, I really mean it – watching it over and over again over months and years until you can say the lines by heart, with the same pace, pitch and enunciation as the actors.
Now the problem is finding something that is bearable to watch over and over again, and won’t end up making me speak Japanese like an 18th Century Samurai, a teenage girl, or an Osakan street hustler. So while I’d happily watch Seven Samurai or Spirited Away or some of the racier episodes of Naked Director on repeat, I don’t think thats a great idea. Dogen’s recommendation is the first two episodes of the popular rom-com series ‘Orange Days‘, or the film ‘Tokyo Sonata‘.
So, has anyone any recommendations? Preferably something on youtube or Netflix so I can access it anywhere and anytime.
I have often thought about taking the Japanese subtitles of Kurosawa’s films and making vocabulary and sentence decks for each of them to help in spaced reptition learning, as well as with my later enjoyment of each film. Maybe that could even be a new way to approach a Kurosawa film club season — learn Japanese with Kurosawa? But like you, I always end up wondering how relevant that vocabulary would really be in today’s world. Plus, I don’t have the subtitle files.
From a language learning perspective, how would a western film or series work for your purposes, if watched with a Japanese dub? I haven’t tried it, but my understanding is that if you switch your Netflix profile to Japanese, you will be able to select Japanese dubs, at least to some of the Netflix produced shows and films. If no suitable Japanese film exists in the service, perhaps this could be an option? And if watching real life actors dubbed is too much to bear, maybe one of the more grown up animated series like Bojack Horseman could work?
As for contemporary Japanese films or series, I really don’t know. I know so very little about what’s come out since… ummm… 1999?
It’s hard for me to make recommendations, as I find a lot of modern Japanese films and certainly the majority of modern Japanese television a little hard to sit through. However, I think Hirokazu Kore-eda’s movies — After the Storm (2016), Shoplifters (2018), Still Walking (2008), etc. — might be helpful in this situation. I don’t think he’s ever made a movie that wasn’t set in the modern age (I could be wrong, though), and he’s one of the few Japanese directors still active today whose work I would actively recommend. I think he’s still pretty accessible in English-speaking markets.
One director whose films I wish were more accessible is Yoshimitsu Morita. He was one of those craftsmen who was always trying something different — making a dark comedy, then a romantic tragedy, then a serial killer movie, then a Kurosawa remake — so that every movie he made was completely different from what he’d made before. Morita directed the Sanjuro remake from 2007, which is not one of his better efforts, but his diversity makes him pretty interesting in my book. He unfortunately died in 2011, and I don’t think his films are particularly easy to find outside of Japan. But if you can find subtitled copies of his modern films — Lost Paradise (1997), Copycat Killer (2002), etc. — they might also be helpful.
24 June 2020
Thanks for those suggestions!
Just to clarify – when I say ‘modern Japanese’, I just mean that I don’t want to choose something and find out after 50 viewings that I’m developing a weird accent – I don’t know, for example, how the speech in a 1950’s Ozu or Naruse film would differ from regular Japanese today. I just want to ensure I have a reasonably neutral accent, although I guess plenty of Japanese would consider it funny if I swore like a typical Osakan. I suppose its not necessarily a bad thing. I once met a Taiwanese girl who was obsessed with 19th Century costume dramas, and so her English had the clipped rounded tone of a BBC trained actress wearing a corset. It actually sounded really cute and every English person who met her assumed she’d gone to some really posh school in the Home Counties, when in fact she’d never left Taiwan.
Vili- thats a great idea about looking for something dubbed. I watched a Ted talk one time from a multi-linguist, and she said she learned a new language by watching endless repeats of Friends, dubbed into whatever language she was interested in. I’ll have a look to see whats available, although I would guess the same potential problem applies, that the dubbing might have some deliberately non-standard accents. And your learning Japanese with Kurosawa idea is brilliant! I could actually see a series like that being a big hit on Patreon.
Patrick – thanks for those suggestions. I was thinking about Kore-eda, especially Still Walking, which is maybe my favourite Japanese film from the last couple of decades. It also has some of my favourite contemporary actors (I was recently watching Terrace House to see if it would help my studies – I was surprised to see You on it, she’s really good fun to watch). I did a quick search to see if there was a good quality downloadable version, I haven’t found one yet, but I’d consider it.
Anyway, for now I’ll stick with my Anki cards and Duolingo, and keep an eye out for the right film. I did watch a bit of Orange Days (apparently it was a big hit back in the 00’s), and its quite bearable if a little twee, I think it would get irritating after a few watches.
Tampopo is from the 80s and you might learn how to make fantastic ramen on repeated viewings. 🙂
25 June 2020
Oh yes, I’d forgotten about Tampopo! Definitely a film worth repeated views. Especially the egg scene….
27 June 2020
I second the Kore-eda suggestion too, contemporary settings and mostly everyday life situations with a variety of age groups from a language point of view. As an aside, he has made one historical film , a samurai film called Hana, it’s great and the Japanese Blu-ray had English subtitles.
I think Kore-eda’s TV series would be a great language tool, or an episode from it , watching all 9+ hours hundreds of times would take some doing but “Going My Home” again covers multiple age groups in a lot of situations such as work , hospital, countryside , city etc. Not sure how easy it is to find these days , I picked up an English subtitled set issued in Hong Kong or Taiwan I think.
28 June 2020
Thanks Longstone, I’ll have a look out, I didn’t know Kore-eda did a TV series, and I see it had some of my favourite actors. He does seem to have a lot of regulars in his films over the years.
As an aside, I was looking at possible dubbed series and according to Dogen, Japanese actors when dubbing western films usually stick to strict Japanese intonations and pronunciations but are trained to talk deeper into their chests to get a lower tone – this apparently sounds a little more ‘western’ to Japanese audiences.
3 July 2020
To be honest, I wonder if you might be overthinking this accent thing a little, Ugetsu. You will likely never develop a fully “native” accent (if such a thing even exists), and from what I remember from my degree in language pedagogy, the research was at least in the mid-2000s indicating that it is not necessarily even that beneficial for students to focus too much on accent development.
And besides, as an Irishman, one could say that you don’t really pronounce English properly, either. 😛
When I lived in Japan, I came across all sorts of interesting foreign accents. My absolute favourite was a guy from Texas who, in terms of vocabulary and grammar, spoke really good Japanese, maybe not fluent but certainly past what you would call an intermediate student. But he had apparently never bothered working on his pronunciation too much, and spoke Japanese with what can only be described as a heavy Texan accent. It was brilliant. And everyone understood him.
As someone who has for the majority of his life lived in countries and language areas where he doesn’t speak the local language(s) natively, I would say that your accent is also a part of your identity, and a bit of a foreign accent also makes it easier for your interlocutors to immediately understand that you are not a native speaker, which can help with both linguistic and cultural contexts, without you having to always explain your cluelessness. In that sense, an accent actually helps in communication. Obviously, you do still want to be understood without problems, but once you get past that point, I would say that vocabulary, grammar and an understanding of idioms and the wider cultural context of the language are what make you a more native-like speaker, rather than your accent.
I’m sure you are right Vili! I’m just intrigued by the number of teachers who recommend trying to get pronunciation right from the beginning – presumably because it can be so much harder to unlearn a bad habit. But I’m probably way ahead of myself, I really should just do some proper study first….
4 July 2020
My friend’s wife is Japanese and a language teacher who taught English to Japanese students and now teaches Japanese to English speakers, she absolutely insists the only way to learn Japanese pronunciation seriously is to learn the hiragana alphabet first, thus pronouncing the words from the way they are spelled in hiragana because it is almost impossible to unlearn how we pronounce romanised spellings from our own languages.
Oh definitely, I think it’s important to get the basic pronunciation right, as it’s difficult to unlearn mistakes. But I would say that native levels, or where you start to consider things like whether to speak with a chest tone or not, are another thing entirely.
What Longstone wrote about learning hiragana early on is, I think, good advice. Although writing is generally secondary to speaking and pronunciation, in the case of Japanese, learning what syllable or sound each hiragana character stands for gives you a good structured overview of Japanese phonetics.
Also, if anyone likes to learn languages more widely, I would very much recommend learning the basics of the international phonetic alphabet, as it makes understanding pronunciation so much easier.
Oh yes, I’ve no issue with hiragana and I’m ok with katakana. Kanji of course is a yama to climb. Interestingly, Apples in built Japanese dictionary is almost unique in giving the pitch of Japanese words, the one thing you rarely get in other sources and the one thing hiragana does not help with.
I’m actually making progress on reading comprehension, its conversational Japanese that I’m stuck on, mainly through having almost no practice, and even then its been with other learners, which I’m told is a guaranteed way to pick up terrible pronunciation.
Like nearly every other learner I tried following Terrace House (horribly addictive), but I quickly found that the casual Japanese spoken is far too fast for me to catch so I doubt it did me much good. At least three different sources have recommended shadowing films as being the best way to catch the rhythm of regular speech.
For kanji, I can definitely recommend James W. Heisig’s Remembering the Kanji, at least if you (like me) naturally memorize things with story-like mnemonics anyway. It’s not going to teach you vocabulary, but it does make learning (written) vocabulary easier when you are familiar with the characters and their general meanings. There are a number of Anki decks for it as well, some of which even link to kanji.koohii.com which is sort of a hub for user generated mnemonics.
But yeah, conversational competence is difficult to acquire without people to talk to. 🙁 And in my case, also the fact that I can do about half a year of rigorous, concentrated study, after which I always lapse, first for a day, then for two, then a week, a month, and in the end my Anki decks become an unmanageable mess of things that I just don’t remember any more, and I struggle with whatever material I am trying to learn, and I lose motivation, and stop everything.
And then, two or three years later, I start again, this time promising myself that I will see through the materials that I’m trying to tackle.
5 July 2020
Thanks for the recommendation Vili, I’ll order that book.
I’ve been trying not to go for the rigorous concentrated study angle, as I know I could not keep it up for the long term, at least not without a concrete plan to live in Japan, or someone standing over me with a club. So I’ve been trying to take several different angles simultaneously, from Duolingo to Anki decks to random youtube tutorials in the hope that just constant daily short exposure will help me advance to a stage where I can consider a suitable immersion course in a couple of years time to push myself up to conversational level. The theory is that if I get tired of one option, then I can just pick up another option if I’ve a few minutes to spare between doing other things. I’ve no idea if this is the right way to do things, as everyone seems to have a different theory of language learning. The main negative of this approach is that I may pick up bad habits.
So far, the results are pretty mixed – I do feel I’m making progress in understanding the structure of Japanese sentences (Duolingo is great for this), and I’m slowly building up a vocabulary and an ability not to trip up my tongue on some of those ‘r’ sounds. But its very slow progress and a little frustrating, especially when I watch a film or something like Terrace House and realise that I would have zero idea what they are saying without subtitles, unless they are doing nothing but should ‘baka’ at each other, and I knew that anyway..
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