How to Watch the News in Japanese

“Oh, maybe you can speak conversational Japanese, but the news, that’s impossibe, man. The news is so hard. You’ll never understand the news. Even Japanese people don’t understand the news, man”.

I’m allergic to BS, so that type of thing is really hard for me to hear. And even harder to type out. Time for more myth-busting. You can watch and understand the news in Japanese. I’ve been doing it since 2005, and my intelligence is famously questionable.

Don’t believe the hype. There’s nothing especially complex about the news. How could a type of program that uses a fixed set of phrases, and (due to the nature of news) repeats itself for weeks at a time…be difficult? How can a form of television invented to inform a non-expert audience be difficult? If anything, news is very much a lowest common denominator of television.

As with most so-called “difficult” things, there is no magic to watching the news. You just have to get used to it. And the way you do that is by watching a lot of it. I mean a LOT. A. LOT. There was a time when I watched and listened to the news exclusively on a close to 24-hour basis (yes, when sleeping as well). I would even watch a news broadcast, record the audio from it, and replay it for days at a time. Watching, watching, watching. Listening. Listening. Listening.

The news source I used for that was the Fuji News Network (FNN). Then and now, they offer a 30-minute news digest that updates once a day. The news streams in clips of about 90 seconds. Each clip has an accompanying text section on the FNN site, often this text is an exact transcript of the words spoken by the newscaster. Even when it isn’t, it’s very close.

I would loop the FNN webcast all day. It only updates once a day, so that means a lot of repetition for you. But not in a boring way — each time the news repeats, you will catch something you may have missed the last time. Pretty soon, you’ll start to pick up the set phrases (“逮捕されたのは・・・”、”警察は事故の原因を調べています”) and the keywords (“北朝鮮”, “拉致問題”) and such.

Eventually, you’ll understand the entire broadcast. It will take a while (weeks and months), but you’ll learn a lot and you’ll feel yourself learning a lot along the way. In the end, news will cease to be a challenge for you. After that, you can either continue being a news junkie, or become a jaded news refusenik like me ;).

Either way, the vocabulary you learned from watching news will remain with you through your SRS. And since TV news and newspapers are related, I imagine your TV news proficiency will help you read the papers as well.

Finally, you’ll learn about more formal words and styles of Japanese speech, for example, that people when speaking formally, use filler words like “まあ” rather than “さあ”, and “ですね” rather than just “ね”, and tend to end their sentences in “・・・と、いう風に思います”. All these things that born native speakers take for granted, you the self-made native speaker can learn just like they did — through intense observation, followed by imitation.

FNN was the main news source I used; while I was using it, Yomiuri News Podcasts came into being. They offer news in both audio and video formats; which may save you having to record audio from the Fuji News Network site (although, I would still recommend doing that; it’s more fun to listen to something you’ve watched, as well as being easier to understand when you’re still learning a lot). Also, being podcasts, updates can be “hands-free” in a sense.

  35 comments for “How to Watch the News in Japanese

  1. james
    April 25, 2007 at 23:09

    Hello again khatzumoto,

    I would also like to recommend news.tbs.co.jp to your readers /fans as It has been invaluable in my understanding of the news. It is similiar to the FNN you described and very useful for copying and pasting into mnemosyne.

    2児拉致、総連最高幹部らに聴取要請 etc

    james

  2. james
    April 25, 2007 at 23:18

    sorry, me again.

    I’ve also been experimenting with something one of my Japanese friends told me. Basically listening to something in Japanese i.e. a news broadcast as it streams and repeating it whilst its being said.

    This methd has really increased my understanding of the news and I feel like my vocab is now more ‘active’ than it was before as I not only hear the word but say it in the sentence that the news announcer just said.

    What are your thoughts on this? did you use it?

    I was also wondering if you ever went in for the Japanese language proficiency test level 1 or any kind of test like that?

    james

  3. khatzumoto
    April 25, 2007 at 23:27

    >I was also wondering if you ever went in for the Japanese language proficiency test level >1 or any kind of test like that?
    I hate tests. I had to study for the SAT Verbal test even though I’m a native speaker of English…I’ve read some JLPT materials and they gave me a similar feeling to the SAT: i.e. that the JLPT may be measuring proficiency in taking JLPTs as much as actual proficiency in Japanese. Of course you need to be good at Japanese to succeed at the JLPT. But the real Japanese language proficiency test is living, reading and speaking independently, as an adult, in a Japanese environment.

    >Basically listening to something in Japanese i.e. a news broadcast as it streams and >repeating it whilst its being said.
    Yes, I did (and do) do things like that. With movies like “The Matrix” and “Independence Day” [Japanese dubs]. I like them both so much that I know most of the dialogue now; I like to speak along with Agent Smith and Morpheus :). Also, I parrot things I watch on Japanese TV, especially jokes; I’m watching TV as I write this. Also, I used to record my voice reading newspaper articles and dictionary definitions. I even downloaded some beats and recorded myself rapping newspaper articles. All of these work well, and I think they’re a great idea, because they do give you that output practice minus the risk of making mistakes because you’re merely imitating good (native) Japanese.

  4. khatzumoto
    April 25, 2007 at 23:28

    Oh and, memorizing lyrics to real songs, especially hip-hop, was also great, effective fun.

  5. khatzumoto
    April 25, 2007 at 23:29

    >your readers /fans
    (笑)”fans”…I love it

  6. April 26, 2007 at 04:54

    I’m not studying Japanese, but on the topic of music, I love Tujiko Noriko lots. In addition to the links you gave, wwitv.com/portal.htm has *a lot* of Japanese TV stations streaming live, as well as those from other countries. Personally, I prefer listening to the radio for news than TV, since 1.) the commercials aren’t as distracting, and 2.) understanding radio news usually means one can understand TV news, though it doesn’t seem to go the other way around. At any rate, good entry. I enjoy reading your blog :^).

  7. JDog
    April 30, 2007 at 12:35

    OK, I tried to do that news while I was sleeping thing last night. I just couldn’t do it. I put my laptop on a chair, but had to turn it off because it lit up my room too much and it would’ve hindered my sleep. How can you do it LOL? My sleep is precious to me! OK, so this isn’t really a question, just a comment.

  8. khatzumoto
    April 30, 2007 at 14:54

    LOL. Yeah, if it hinders your sleep, let it go. I actually have trouble sleeping *without* something going, although I did once wake up in absolute terror when Frodo (Lord of the Rings, Japanese dub) started screaming in my ears.
    >it lit up my room too much
    If it’s light and not noise that’s the problem for you, you could change your laptop power settings so that closing the lid doesn’t put the machine into sleep mode.

  9. JDog
    May 2, 2007 at 00:24

    Haha, that’s funny about the Frodo thing. Yeah, good idea about changing the power settings…I think that sound might be the problem, too, but I’ll give it a try.

  10. James S
    June 30, 2007 at 14:46

    Hey man, nice content you have on your blogs. I’ve been studying Chinese hardcore for the past year… not quite as hardcore as you though…. maybe 4-5 hours of listening/speaking/study per day. Anyway… I thought my vocabulary was good until I started listening to the news this past week. Such a ****ing wake up call.. So I’ve just incorporated 2 hours of news into my studies everyday.

    But… I have translating-OCD… so like if i here something I dont understand, I immediately stop it, and bring up the transscript and translate it. And since this is all new vocab to me.. it feels like I am constantly pausing and translating. It took me 4 hours to get through a 9 minute broadcast, and then when I played it again after translating it all.. I still had trouble understanding most of it. Please tell me it will get easier!

  11. khatzumoto
    June 30, 2007 at 14:59

    >Please tell me it will get easier!
    Haha! It definitely will get easier, James S. It will take a while. It may not be soon. But it is a finite process. There are a finite number of words and it will take you a finite amount of time to learn them. And that “translating OCD” you speak of, I have it, too. A compulsion to know…to really, really, know. Because of that drive, I look up words that I really don’t need to look up any more because I can now infer their readings and meanings (in Japanese). But it is also because of that drive that I can read and watch whatever I want know. So, it’s all good.

    >It took me 4 hours to get through a 9 minute broadcast
    That’s some serious mining. But is is natural to have a very assymetric relationship between the running length of the material and the time to process it. When I think about it, it would take me several hours spread out over 7-10 days to learn a 4-minute song.

  12. Yorkii
    July 22, 2007 at 23:56

    thanks for the link to the TBS website. Absolutely perfect!! short and sweet videos with a near perfect transcription written next to it.

    m(__)m

  13. Kevin
    January 13, 2008 at 05:21

    NHK also does a world news podcast – I’ve yet to check out the ones you recommend Khatz, so I can’t say how it stacks up but it’s more input nonetheless:

    www.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/japanese/index_body_j.html

    Click on either the windows media player or real player (shudder) link underneath “日本語” on the right-hand side.

    Cheers

  14. Steffen
    April 8, 2008 at 18:53

    Hey Khatzumoto, thanks for a great site. I’ve been reading about your techniques for about a week now and I’ve started mining for sentences. I gotta say, I really believe in the method, although I of course haven’t seen any real results yet.
    Anyway, I was wondering what kind of application do you use to rip the sound of the FNN newscast?

    Again, thanks for a great site
    Steffen

  15. khatzumoto
    April 16, 2008 at 10:35

    Actually, I just recorded it analog, in real time, to my minidisc player that was plugged into the headphone jack of my laptop…a little old school, but it worked.

  16. Steffen
    April 16, 2008 at 17:38

    In case there’s anyone else wondering about software, I’ve found the perfect solution. The application is called SoundTap and can be found at www.nch.com.au/soundtap/index.html
    It’s not freeware, but I don’t think 20 bucks is a lot to pay for an application you will use a lot. There’s probably some good freewares out there though, if anyone bothers to look

  17. Tyler
    June 22, 2008 at 08:24

    @steffen (and anybody wanting to record streaming audio):

    Unless I’m misunderstanding, you can do the same thing for free with Audacity (audacity.sourceforge.net) by recording with the Stereo Mix option. (on Windows, make sure it’s enabled for your sound card). The downside is it’s realtime so you have to listen to all of it while you’re recording all of it.

    Btw thanks for such a great site Khatz! :D

  18. Noah
    July 17, 2008 at 10:42

    Yes, I agree completely with Tyler. I have used Audacity for all my sound needs, including editing, and I love how well and simple it works.

    Thank you Khatz for the great article!! I am really excited to try your method. How much of your blog do you recommend reading before starting hardcore Heisig Kanji learning? So far I have about 50 or so learned.

    Also, thanks everyone for the news links because where I live we have only one public TV station that broadcasts Japanese Television, and thats only on Saturday nights! :(

  19. Mentat
    December 17, 2008 at 02:57

    I’m in 8 month, with about 2500 sentences. I think it is the right time for me.

    Hi Katz, In what timeframe did you started reading/listening the news?
    These news posts are now pretty old, do you have any news about the news in the chinese project?

  20. Dorftrottel
    January 12, 2009 at 03:01

    About the sound recording thing: You can use the free tool Avidemux to rip the sound from videos (or even from just a portion of the video) and simultaneously convert it to mp3 or whatever your media player can handle. It runs on Linux, OS X and Windows.
    fixounet.free.fr/avidemux/

  21. Paul
    March 21, 2009 at 04:17

    Gonna start trying this now!

    Lol… within 3 seconds of turning on the news I heard one of your keywords, ”北朝鮮”.

  22. Gaz
    April 22, 2009 at 03:24

    I am ready for the FNN news casts, but the only reason I want to use the site is so I can use these “write ups” that everyone says is on the “corresponding article” on the FNN website.

    But for the life of me, i can not find these transcripts!!!

    Where are they? So i can have written confirmation of what I am listening to?

    Thanks,
    Gaz

  23. Silas
    May 24, 2009 at 04:59

    i’m a beginner at this
    planning to go to japan next year
    basically i just listen to the news and mime even if i don’t understand the meanings yet?
    listening to everything Japanese that i can and learning kanji
    i already learnt the kanas
    am i doing it right?

  24. June 19, 2009 at 12:41

    Would you know a sight having a true video newscast in Japanese for ipod? I can only find audio podcasts. Thank you.

  25. マッカ
    August 23, 2009 at 17:30

    I’ve been using this method for the past month and a half now, listening to the news 24-7 and inputting about 30 sentences every day. I can read the newspaper and understand the news on the first time about 80%. Freakin’ love the news.
    I’m dropping all other Japanese focuses and am going absolutely ‘hard core’ at the news for the next 2 weeks so I can wrap it up and move on.
    Of course, I’ll pick up a newspaper every now and then and mine some sentences I don’t understand, but the news is only one part of Japanese, and the vocab is endless.

  26. マッカ
    August 23, 2009 at 17:34

    One thing I’d have to recommend:
    If you want to become fluent at reading the newspaper, then it’s best to combine sentences from FNN/TTS with news articles from newspaper websites like:
    www.asahi.com
    www.yomiuri.co.jp

    The content of actual newspaper articles is far more expansive then news reports. I’ve made the effort to make half of my sentences from newspaper articles everyday, and its benefited me enormously in reading the newspaper.

  27. マッカ
    August 23, 2009 at 17:35

    Sorry, just can’t stand spelling errors:
    its > it’s benefited me……

  28. キアオ
    September 3, 2009 at 01:47

    Hi All!

    First I’d like to say that my friend who just started as a JET recently pointed me to this site and it has completely redefined the way I think about learning Japanese, especially after taking it for two years in college.

    That being said, I currently have my immersion environment rollin’. I am doing the Heisig Kanji but also some sentences because of my previous experience. Anyways, here is my main concern: Accurate News Translations. I see the transcripts on the sites mentioned above; however, I want to make sure I get the grammar correct. Any tips?

    Thanks!
    ブランドン・キアオ

  29. Sybil
    April 2, 2010 at 07:48

    Hello,

    First of all, thank you for this site. It is most helpful.
    I would like to listen to the yomiuri podcasts but it seems that we need to be registered. As the site web is in Japanese (not my level…yet),do you know how to proceed?

    Thanks a lot
    Sybil

  30. Herman
    September 19, 2010 at 11:16

    khatzumoto,

    How do you explain as native speakers we understand what’s said on the news without previous exposure to it. I personally hate news programs, but it doesn’t mean i cannot understand them. Does it give the proves that as second language learners we’d eventually understand the news programs in our L2 even without being exposed to it, not to mention the quantity of the exposure? Looking forward to hearing what you think of this.

    • Falconpikachu
      January 30, 2012 at 03:05

      I think it is because the news in themselves are not an isolated chunk of the language, the vocab used in newspapers and TV news is the same found elsewhere. It is just that this is a “shortcut” to the vocab that is used primarily by the news.

  31. T
    June 14, 2013 at 08:58

    HI
    Thanks for all the tips on language learning.
    Unfortunately, I cant seem to get the FNN news site to work consistently, does anyone know any other websites which play japanese news??
    Ideally ones that have the script written below the video/voice recording.

    Thanks a lot

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