“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.