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Chinese Project Notes 4: How I Watch Movies, Or How To Make Your Own Radio Play That You’ll Actually Understand

You may not know this from all my writing about drive and discipline, but I am actually a really lazy and fun-oriented guy. And that laziness shows in how I learned Japanese and in how I am learning Chinese. Here’s how I watch a movie:

  1. Get the Chinese version of a movie that I’ve seen before in a language that I’m already good at (generally Japanese, sometimes English)
  2. Loop the movie. I’m not doing anything, just sitting back and enjoying the pretty pictures. I do this several times.
  3. Start pausing, listening closely, perhaps mimicking dialogue.
  4. The main event: start picking out sentences to enter into the SRS (sentence-mining). Again, the pause button receives heavy use. Sometimes I write them down to enter later. Other times I enter them directly — I find direct entry works best, since reading notebooks can be suuuper boring. By the way, I only do this for as long as my energy and concentration allow, which can be anything from hours to minutes.
  5. You’re tired. Go back to step 2.
  6. Rip the audio of the DVD movie to mp3. I use Xilisoft DVD Ripper for this. The effect is one of having a radio play where you already know what all is going on, and you can just focus on dialogue mechanics rather than plot or setting — this is true in general of watching or listening to a target language version of something you’ve already seen in base language (assuming your target and base are separate). Like everything on this site, it may not be the most earth-shaking idea ever, but I came up with it as a way to give myself Japanese “radio” at a time when I could neither (a) get, nor (b) meaningfully follow Japanese radio. It’s also a time-management thing: watching a film requires you to stay in one place and use both your sight and hearing; listening to audio only requires hearing.
  7. Listen to the audio all day while doing other things (and maybe even at night while sleeping), loop, loop, loop.

In each of those repetitions, you will pick up something you didn’t know before. Since you’ll be doing so much repetition, it’s crucial to have fun stuff and lots of it. If you are bored, find something fun. I don’t care who you are, where you’re from, what you did — if you’re bored, do something else, just make sure it’s in the target language.

  19 comments for “Chinese Project Notes 4: How I Watch Movies, Or How To Make Your Own Radio Play That You’ll Actually Understand

  1. August 17, 2007 at 03:43

    Great, thanks! One of my favourite posts of yours in recent memory. I’ve saved it and shall use it! I love the movie Mean Girls but I’d be worried about the possibly ギャルっぽい Japanese I’d pick up from it, so I’ll try and find something else.

    I have a Japanese phone now which plays mp3s so I’ll rip the audio from a DVD and I shall loop as you say!

  2. Yorkii
    August 17, 2007 at 11:38

    The subtitles don’t provide the exact transcript of what is being spoken I have found. So
    what do you do if you can’t understand exactly what is being said in the part you want to remember? Listen to it again and again?

  3. Bill
    August 17, 2007 at 13:52

    Thanks for all of the posts on your Chinese Project. I’m learning Chinese as well and while I have found what you have written about learning Japanese useful, I especially appreciate Chinese-specific posts. Could you share with us some of the other Chinese material you use (music, podcasts, TV shows, etc.)? Also, do you think that Remembering the Kanji would be useful for learning Hanzi as well or is there something better?

  4. khatzumoto
    August 17, 2007 at 23:51

    > So what do you do if you can’t understand exactly what is being said in the part you want to remember?
    Go with the subs. Or pick out the words you think you heard in that part, and find sentences in the dictionary that use them. Whatever you do, don’t go assuming. No matter what you think you heard, GET WRITTEN CONFIRMATION. Failing that, get NATIVE SPEAKER confirmation.

  5. khatzumoto
    August 17, 2007 at 23:53

    >Also, do you think that Remembering the Kanji would be useful for learning Hanzi as well or is there something better?
    RTK combined with is how I went.

  6. shaydwyrm
    October 16, 2007 at 13:02

    Where do you find time to loop a movie several times? Do you watch it over and over for several days? I know lucky to find 3 hours free in a row for my Japanese studies, and from your other posts you sound pretty busy as well. Do you loop sections of a movie?

  7. khatzumoto
    October 16, 2007 at 13:04

    Yeah, I generally only watch a movie all the way through ONCE. Thereafter, I loop it in the background while I’m working on other things, or just loop a favorite section.

  8. khatzumoto
    October 16, 2007 at 23:56

    Yeah, I can watch a movie I like over and over again. But the moment it bores me, I switch that mother out. When hungry, eat. When tired, sleep. When bored, change the movie.

  9. Charles
    November 3, 2007 at 14:47

    I’m enjoying looping movies. I’ve noticed that words “pop out” the more I listen. I consider that a good thing. However, my issue is the accuracy of sentences to put into my SRS. The subtitles don’t always match and I don’t always have someone to ask. BTW thanks for the list of TV with the exact subs, that has helped.

  10. mark
    December 2, 2007 at 11:10

    Hi Khatz,

    Nice summary on dissecting a movie.

    I am probably the very last person in the world to ‘discover’ this, but if there is anyone out there struggling to create an MPEG4 of an American/European movie for their iPod *with* only the Japanese dubbed dialogue and **Japanese subtitles**, here’s how to do it:


  11. mark
    December 2, 2007 at 20:21

    Oh, and I should add this too:

  12. Mark
    January 6, 2008 at 07:27

    I have the Xilisoft utility for converting between video and audio formats.

    It does a great job of converting video, and of ripping the audio from a DVD. But I haven’t had much luck using it to rip the audio from a video file (such as avi or mp4).

    But this does a very good job of ripping audio from video files:

    I haven’t used it for anything else, but it’s definitely good for audio. And it’s free!


  13. Phil
    March 29, 2008 at 19:33

    I’d be careful about those cool “free” apps made by companies with questionable motives…

    Virtualdub does a good job as well… and it’s safe ! Though the option is called “Save WAV”, it does in fact save as mp3 (with a .WAV extension, you can just change it later), provided that your divx file’s audio was originally encoded as mp3. And then split it with mp3-splitter !

  14. burtholomew
    June 23, 2008 at 08:42

    I just got back from the two japanese video stores around here, to see what kind of selection they had, and I’m wondering if the dubbed american movies are going to sound as terrible as english dubbed ninja movies. Do they have grammatically correct sentances or would they just sound “wrong” to a native speaker? I’m still only at around 1400 kanji so I won’t be watching them for another couple weeks but I’m just curious wether i should buy them or not.

  15. khatzumoto
    June 23, 2008 at 11:14

    >Do they have grammatically correct sentences or would they just sound “wrong” to a native speaker?
    They’re perfectly fine. In some cases, you may find a *little* more pronoun use and a *little* less polite language than is usual in Japanese, but by and large it’s very natural. Japan may have made shady products in the past, but now it’s perhaps the wealthiest country in the world — no trade deficit — and along with, like, Germany, has perhaps the highest industrial quality standards in the world (someone correct me if this wrong). Also, the proud tradition of anime voice acting has made its way to dubbing, such that you have people who know what they’re doing, doing the work. Not to mention that Hollywood movies make a ton of cash in Japan, so the movie-makers tend to make a point of (spending enough money to?) get quality dubbing done.

    In short, Japanese dubs are made by Japanese people, for (very picky) Japanese consumers. So feel at ease.

    BTW feel free to watch movies even while doing kanji…simply getting used to the sound of the language matters,too.

    And congratulations on being at 1400 kanji 😀

  16. burtholomew
    June 23, 2008 at 21:33

    Oh, good. Yea, I ‘ve actually been looping the same episode of tiger & dragon at work for about 3 weeks now. It’s the one where jump tei jump(?) steals the masters story, i think o.O. I put some music, yomiuri podcasts and morimoeo podcasts on the ipod as well. Thanks for the quick reply 🙂

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