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How To Enjoy Movies You Don’t Understand, Like A Kid

Rout gripeth 😛

…watching movies in Japanese is so boring when you can’t understand more than a few words or an occasional simple sentence. Even if you’ve seen the movie in a language you can understand before.

And just leaving them on in the background and doing something else is so distracting and gets annoying after a while. The same, sadly, goes for podcasts or ebooks.

ahndoruuu lovingly answers:

I used to feel this exact same way. What changed the experience for me was a realization. I’m not quite sure what the realization was, in that I can’t verbalize it well, but basically when you’re watching stuff in a language you barely understand/don’t understand well, the entire experience is different. I had to change the way I watched movies.

Rather than just kinda passively stare at the screen and let the story and dialogue over me, when I watch L2/L3 movies it becomes an opportunity just to people-watch. See how they act, their facial expressions, intonation, stuff in the background. I’m explaining this terribly but I kinda just take it like I’m observing another world. Frankly, I don’t really care what the story is. I’m just trying to get used to all of this new stuff. 「Hey cool explosions.」 「Hey cute/hot girls.」 「Hey cool-looking guys fighting.」 「Hey that was funny; I don’t know why but I’m laughing anyway.」 Whatever yo.

From what I recall, this was kinda how I watched stuff when I was a kid. I think one important AJATT principle is to, as much as possible, mentally return to childhood. That has helped me more than anything else but it’s such a personal thing and so hard to verbalize…which is, I think, why I haven’t seen anyone else try to write about it. But the way I see it is kinda like…each new language you learn is a chance to sorta relive childhood. While your Chinese/Japanese/French/whatever self grows. Luckily your other nationalities grow a lot faster than your native one. ^^

P.S. Another thing that helps is to put all your movies/tv shows into a giant playlist and just have it playing all the time. If they’re actual dvds (hah) rip them. When you shift your attention to what’s playing, just keep hitting the skip button until you hit something that can hold your interest at that point. If you skip into a long video file, keep skipping a few minutes at a time through the video if need be. Screw continuity.

Also, screw trying to figure out what’s going on unless you REALLY want to. most of the time it’s just a pain in the a$$ and makes you want to stop watching entirely and run back to Englishland where things make sense.

ブライアン addeth:

The funny thing is, you’ll find that language isn’t actually necessary to get the gist of what’s going on, in terms of character interaction at least. This also requires some skill on the part of the production. If it’s a bunch of people siting and talking without much emotion, 1 good luck with that. But that’s a boring movie in any language.

Also, don’t automatically assume your tastes will be consistent between languages. In English, I love science fiction and crime shows and don’t really care for sitcoms. In Japanese, I’m all about sitcoms and character drama. YMMV.

Final tip: if your reading is better than your listening, Japanese subtitles 2 are extremely useful.

Key word: Observe. It’s like you’re an ethnographer, method actor and stalker-voyeur. All rolled into one. Linguist? Not so much, actually 😛 .

AJATTeers are way more articulate than I am. It’s hard for me to use more than the simple English, so I just get angry and yell and fake swear. Thanks, ブライ and ahndy 😀 .


  1. THIS! THIS! THIS! Emotions. Violence. Arguments. Yelling. Screaming. Yelling. Crying. Gut- and heart-wrenching stuff. Very good for the lymph!
  2. i.e. subtitles that are in Japanese, wise guy 😛

  16 comments for “How To Enjoy Movies You Don’t Understand, Like A Kid

  1. July 31, 2011 at 12:55

    I wrote about this about one year ago! 🙂 I’m thrilled to see it being independently rediscovered by such great minds.

  2. Carl
    July 31, 2011 at 14:41

    I realize this when I’m watching Korean news. Just watching what’s going on and understanding that before I understand the words. Although, I do know some Korean.

  3. ライトニング
    July 31, 2011 at 16:03

    Great post.

    I’ve Only been doing sentences for around 4 months Now, so obviously my knowledge is still very lacking, but it is still high enough to enjoy stuff. Even before i started sentences, I would pop in my 16 Gig USB full of unsubbed anime

    (or I blurred them out in camtasia, just took a blur tool over the bottom 1/6 of the screen and set it to be there for the whole video)

    And watch them, even though i really had no idea of what happened, I still had a great time. Now i’ve watched them so much that i can understand maybe 75-85% Of them, and other random animes That i didn’t watch so much or new are maybe 30%-40%

    I just watched ガンツ(映画版)、 And could understand enough to somewhat get the idea (~40%?)。 「お前らはFAX出て来た人間だ」 。。。That was from the manga but whatever :P Or the 「あと80点で終わり」 Or whatever. But At the times when i didn’t understand, i just watched. And had a great time.

    I remember when I was probably 5-6, I would play video games even though I didn’t understand half of the words used, and you know what? I Still understood what to do,And still had a good time. So that means full comprehension is not needed for enjoyment. I would just recommend some 😛

    It seems pretty pathetic to me, but every time i didn’t understand a word i would run to my parents working out in the yard and spell it out, and hope they would explain.

  4. Eri
    July 31, 2011 at 16:52

    I think the not needing to know what’s going on is a guy thing, because it bores me to death not knowing what’s going on. I’ve seriously tried to just pay attention to what the characters are doing and such, rather than what they’re saying, but it gets boring very quickly for me… maybe I just have too short an attention span…

  5. July 31, 2011 at 19:38

    I’m tempted by ahndoruuu’s suggestion of a big video playlist. It’s very easy to tune music out, but even though I don’t like watching stuff much (in any language), I’ll easily get distracted and watch some hot Russian chicks with guns for twenty minutes. Or whatever I have playing.

  6. August 1, 2011 at 06:37

    There is another option: find stuff to watch that’s easier to understand. NHK Educational, which you can watch streaming for free on the internet using this tool: , has a large block of children’s programming in the morning (Which begins at 4pm Central for those of us in the US). There is also the 世界名作劇場(World Masterpiece Theater ) series of anime. There are something like 50 of these series, each of them a classic work of literature, animated for children over the course of a year. What’s awesome about these is that while the language is fairly simple, the stories and characters are not. Sometimes the sex and violence in the original works are toned down a bit, but the themes and character development are anything but. I’d really recommend starting with ポルフィの長い旅 , as it was excellently blogged here: with very detailed plot summaries of each episode, so after you watch, you can verify your understanding of what happened and not get too mixed up from episode to episode.

    Now, all that said, most of the time, I’d rather watch something where I can’t understand as much that has a lot of interesting stuff going on than something really easy to understand that is incredibly boring because its for preschoolers. But, you know, your mileage may vary. Also, I will mention that just because you can’t understand the language being used doesn’t mean you cant understand enough to follow the story just from watching closely what’s going on. In fact, you’ll get far more out of your watching if you’ll quit listening so closely to the language, and just try to sit and guess at what’s going on. Turn it into a mystery. Why are these characters behaving this way? Doing these things? Make up your own story in your head, then go back later when you understand more and see how close your guesses were. I often watch RAW anime with my young son, and that’s exactly what he does. He never complains that its boring, or gets frustrated at not understanding. He just enjoys watching a cool cartoon, and turns it into an interactive activity, and more often than not, his guesses at what is happening are quite correct.
    This isn’t a male or female thing, its just a different way of watching something, that we adults, whose minds have become lazy and uncreative, have forgotten how to do. It takes getting used to, is all.

  7. ライトニング
    August 1, 2011 at 09:41

    I’ve noticed something, And i think I should be happy about it, except for 1 reason.

    I’ve noticed that sometimes when I type in english subconsciously I leave out some things that english uses but japanese doesn’t, and I think the immersion is having something to do with it. Don’t get me wrong, If it’s true, i sure am glad, except for 1 thing. I am only just starting highschool, so I have many english classes ahead, So that will be a draw back, no?

    I noticed that I leave out “you” a lot, Which japanese doesn’t really use in the sense such as

    “so will format your hard drive and install linux on it right away”

    I noticed today (posted yesterday) that I forgot a you, and i also noticed it happens a lot, a little too often.


    “we can all get together and join open source community, program drivers so we can get our video cards to work correctly on linux, then create an open source environment that will emulate windows so can use all windows programs.”

    Pretty basic errors, all with things that japanese doesn’t use like english, such as the or it

    “join open source community” -> “join the open source community”

    missing the

    “emulate windows so can use…” -> “emulate windows so it can use..”

    missing it

    Also sometimes i mix up the R in english with a らりるれろ sound

    such as “read” is pronounced like リーd

    I wonder if immersion has to do with it, i think it’s pretty cool 😀

  8. aphasiac
    August 2, 2011 at 17:20

    The way I got over this problem was to find Japanese media that is fun and easy to follow even when you can’t understand the dialogue. Things like:
    – Random gameshows. Stuff like human Tetris, Takashi’s castle – fun physical stuff.
    – Random comedies – lots of these on youtube. Hard Gay etc
    – Japanese sports. These are good because fun to watch and lots of constant fast commentary. I like Mixed Martial Arts (K1, Pride) and wrestling (not technically a sport, but it’s taken pretty seriously in Japan and is quite brutal compared to WWE)
    – JAV. Nuff said..

  9. August 4, 2011 at 12:33

    I can totally relate to this!!!

    I remember that when I was 4 years old I used to watch almost everyday a Betamax tape called “Sports Goofy”, which was a compilation of several Goofy cartoons involving hockey, baseball, golf and other sports. It was (of course) in English, and I couldn’t understand anything that the narrator or the Goofies (yes, more than one Goofy!) said because… my native language is Spanish! And despite of that I would watch the tape endless times just to see (OBSERVE!) the Goofies running, getting mad, laughing, crying, hurting each other very badly and just doing overall craziness and havoc. Seeing Goofy trying to make a “put” in golf, biting his fingernails in despair and failing miserably was pure hilarity gold! xD

    Fast-forward 18 years in the future, I watched all the cartoons from the tape in YouTube… and it was extremely satisfying to finally be able to understand what the heck were saying the narrator and the Goofies. The first line of “How to play golf” is… simply priceless :3
    I would place a link here, but… no English videos for you AJATTers!! xD

    And you know what? YOU AJATTers (I don’t include myself yet because I put my AJATT journey on hold in favor of improving my English listening :[ ) can get this same feeling. As Khatz says, observe and return to childhood. And just keep freaking doing it, one day of immersion at a time…

    BTW, what’s your “holy grail” in Japanese guys? What’s that piece of media in Japanese that you really want to be able to understand? For me, in English, it was “Sports Goofy” and the instruction manual of “Diddy Kong Racing”… I know, weird xD

    • August 4, 2011 at 17:57

      I’m learning Russian, but my ultimate goal is to read and understand and enjoy fully Vladimir Nabokov’s Russian translation of ‘Lolita’. The language makes me so hard in English, I imagine it to be just as linguistically sexy in Russian.

  10. Jason
    August 10, 2011 at 10:18

    Reruns of One Piece, Bleach and Naruto fixes the problem easily.
    Even if you understand anything…you kinda know what’s going on when watching those shows.

  11. Emi
    September 18, 2011 at 18:14

    I may be far too late posting on here now, seeing the majority of recent comments being posted in August, but I’m having a really hard time getting my head around this one problem – and I mean a REALLY HARD TIME. The problem is this:
    If one is to start Heisig, and go through the book dilligently learning the kanji, then one gets a really good understanding of the physical look and writing of the characters. But no where in Heisig RTK1 (as far as I’m aware) is there anything regarding the actual Japanese words for the kanji. In the first chapter, you’ve got the Kanji for ‘one’, the explanantion that that horizontal line means ‘one’, but no where do you have the Japanese word for it. So, you’re learning the kanji but with entirely English definitions. I won’t be able to speak a word of Japanese even if I ace Heisig’s book.
    My issue lies in reconcilling what you read and what you hear. I may have learned the kanji for ‘heart’, but if I hear ‘kokoro’ in an anime, I have absolutely no idea that they are one and the same thing. No where on this website do I see Japanese subtitles hugely endorsed – just learning your kanji, and randomly listening to what you’re interested in seems to be what people do. But how on earth do you ‘link’ what you learn to read, and what you hear, if not by way of Japanese subtitles?
    I’d REALLY appreciate anyone’s help on this, because being unable to figure this out is really taking away my motivation – I feel like I’m going to get really proficient at reading kanji, but be unable to utter any of their meanings in Japanese.

    • Drewskie
      September 19, 2011 at 01:43

      You’re forgetting about the sentences phase. That’s where you learn how to actually read.

      Think of it this way: When you learned your first language, you knew hundreds, maybe thousands of words before the concept of reading was introduced to you. When someone finally sat down and started teaching you how to read, the first thing they did was teach you the alphabet. THEN they started teaching you how the alphabet worked to form words. Remembering the Kanji can be considered a book about the alphabet, and actually learning how to read is taken care of when you start looking up words for sentence cards.

  12. flippo
    October 31, 2011 at 13:32

    In my opinion, this is a post that every AJATTer should read.  After reading it, I was immediately able to enjoy the talk shows on TBS and other TV stations a lot more, just because they do so many unusual things.  I remember being a child and playing Final Fantasy VI (FFIII in the US) on my SNES, and I didn’t understand a word of it.  I didn’t even understand the concept of dialogue (i.e. having “LOCKE:” before Locke’s dialogue).  It is, to this day, my favorite RPG.  I went from enjoying unusual artwork and cool ways to fight to analyzing every detail to the plot, which I now consider to be a masterpiece.  Don’t worry about what’s going on, just enjoy it!

  13. sly
    December 12, 2011 at 15:32

    i have a hard time finding movies with subtitles in Japanese. maybe i’ll start trying to find japanese tv and youtube-esque sites to watch. seems like a few hours of watching the text and listening to the words each day would prove doubly beneficial. 

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