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If Anime Is Bad For Your Japanese, Then Nursery Rhymes Are Bad For Your English

This entry is part 11 of 12 in the series Secrets of Speaking

If anime is bad for you, then so are nursery rhymes.

What is a “tuffet” anyway? 1

When was the last time you even saw a live sheep, let alone found a black one, and asked him for wool?

Do you know any masters and dames?


Don’t even get me started on fairy tales and immigrants.

When was the last time you were asked about your family background and started your explanation with “once upon a time…”?

Yeah, immigrants. That wasn’t typo 2. That was deliberate ironic prejudice. Picture this. Vancouver. Iranian cab driver. What mistakes do you think he made in his English? Hint: He didn’t talk like Dr. Seuss. He did, however, say “too many” when he meant “so many”. Another Punjabi guy said “can’t” when he meant “won’t”. It was the little things. The little things that, I would add, MCDs pound you on.

Can I tell you something I know about you?
Here goes, then. Here it is. The secret of the Universe:


You’re not effing stupid. You weren’t effing stupid when you were a toddler and you’re no more stupid now. In fact, the only stupid thing about you is that you think you’re so stupid that unless someone spells everything out to you in excruciating detail, including all qualifiers, classifications and possible variations, then you won’t understand anything and you’ll get it wrong and start a war because of some minor verbal faux pas.

That isn’t true. But you think it’s true. And yet, at the same time, your actions betray you. Wanna know how I know? Because I know you’ve never read the Apple End User License Agreement on your iPad. Oh, you did once for kicks, but you’ve never been through any of the revisions. Why? Precisely because legalese is so explicit that it tires and confuses you. It literally wears you down. In fact, some legalese is said to be intentionally written and typeset like this, i.e. to discourage reading and comprehension.


The Japanese i[n] anime is as real as the English in books by Dr. Seuss. And as we all know nobody learned from them.
(Oh, wait…)

Malcolm Gladwell:

“Reading is a form of explicit learning… Video games are an example of collateral learning, which is no less important.”

You are capable of implicit learning. Yes, even from books. You are capable of unconsciously internalizing the context and appropriateness of the words you hear and see. You can tell just by the situation and tone of voice what phrases connote — often enough, you can even tell the entire meaning. You are smart in a way that computers aren’t. What you lack in linear, machine intelligence you make up for in parallelized, organic smarts.

You can learn things that haven’t been explained to you. Heck, you can learn things without even realizing you’re learning them! Arguably, most of what you learn works this way. 3 Most of your learning is not only incidental, but unconscious.

Here’s another interesting idea to ponder. One drawback of your “organic intelligence” — that actually turns out to be a blessing in disguise — is that it usually takes more than one “pass” for you to learn something, if by “learn” we mean “remember a fact to the point that you can retrieve (ouput) it”. In other words, with very few exceptions, a single exposure is never enough.

It takes a lot of passes, a lot of “hits” (a lot of “cache misses”, in computer memory terms) until your organic memory system goes: “oh, snap, this thing keeps coming up, let’s remember it”. It is this property of memory that the SRS recognizes and efficiently exploits, in order to aid (produce?) long-term retention. Of course there are other factors, like the emotional content of the memory, but even then, repetition is key to retention.

This “leaky bucket” property of organic memory ends up working in our favor, because it means that, assuming you acquire words in context (rather than from some context-free “vocabulary list”), by the time you know a word well enough to use it correctly, you’ll have been exposed to (heard/read) it so many times in context that you pretty much won’t be able to use it wrong.

And that is why you never went around using the word “tuffet” randomly, because you only ever heard it in the context of Miss Muffett, so you unconsciously knew — learned — that it was a Muffet-specific thing. But no one ever had to take you aside and sternly warn you that: “hey, kid, watch out for them nursery rhymes; that ain’t real English!”, did they? No, they didn’t. So why are you taking life advice from pompous, obnoxious forum trolls with no friends? 4 Why do you let them make you cower in fear?

In short, you’re not effing stupid, so stop assuming that you are and stop assuming that other people are and stop letting other people tell you you are. You’re ignorant; you’re noobish; you’re ugly…but you are not stupid.

You’re a duck. Don’t let trolls tell you how to fly or swim.

Turn the anime back on.

Series Navigation<< Why You Should Keep Listening Even If You Don’t UnderstandNo Humans Necessary: Why You Don’t Need People to Learn a Language >>


  1. It feels like it should have two “t”‘s on the end, but, apparently, one it is…
  2. This was.
  3. Exploring How We Learn with Monisha Pasupathi – Learning Revolution
  4. Don’t worry, I can say things like that because it takes one to know one.

  21 comments for “If Anime Is Bad For Your Japanese, Then Nursery Rhymes Are Bad For Your English

  1. kai
    August 16, 2013 at 14:59

    Yeah, there’s a nonsense surrounding “anime Japanese”. I once read someone compare the Japanese found in anime to “ebonics”. At first I kind of believed that, but now (after my Japanese has improved) I don’t have a clue of what these people are talking about. It seems to be normal Japanese to me. As you get better you start to notice more things, like how the characters revert to polite Japanese when talking to their superiors, for example.

    Contrary to popular beliefs, I’m not going to go around using “貴様” as a standard word for you, or say “おい、おめえ駅どこ”when asking a Japanese person for directions.

    It’s funny that when I tune into a Japanese podcast, or open up a Japanese web page, the same words and phrases that I learn from anime appear.

    These same people then recommend that you study exclusively from textbooks and classrooms.

    Anything that gets the language in you is good for you (by natives for natives).

  2. Pingfa
    August 17, 2013 at 15:58

    Besides, regardless of wether it’s ‘correct’ Japanese or not, it is extremely relevant. Any massively popular anime will be talked about and quoted a lot. One could say one shouldn’t play World of Warcraft because of all the genre-specific terms, but I have come across a ridiculous amount of Chinese words whose origin can be traced to WoW. Words like PK are used all the time in China.

    Saying you shouldn’t learn from anime because it isn’t ‘real’ Japanese is like saying you shouldn’t learn Andy Lau’s Chinese name because, like, who’s called that?

    • Tyson
      August 22, 2013 at 17:55

      My office colleagues use PK all the time actually when discussing seriously big business plans. The amount of leakage of Internet and gaming language into everyday life in china is quite amazing. It’s actually well worthwhile learning Internet memes as they come up about as frequently as classical culture references.

  3. Kiddo
    August 18, 2013 at 09:34

    Yes. I am learning japanese with animes. Here is a good site with jap subtitles of various japanese animations:

    Enjoy, people!

    • Mariah
      August 20, 2013 at 09:42

      Thank you, thank you, thank you. I lost track of how much time I spent looking for Japanese subs. Thank you so much!!

    • Livonor
      August 24, 2013 at 12:17

      anyone knows other site other than this one? there’s a lot of animes who I watched but couldn’t find their subs, it’s strange since they are published by the same group (zero-raws) who made or synchronized most of the subs on kitsunekko

      • August 28, 2013 at 17:47

        Yes, I do. But I have not tried yet. This:

        If you don’t find the subs you are looking for, try searching in Chinese websites. Why? Because I had found the source of the most kitsunekko subs. But I can’t translate properly chinese to really find the subs I’m looking for. By now, these two options are the best I had found. Since this topic is about anime, I am reluctant to also recommend this website for Japanese Drama subs… anyway:

        Enjoy, people!

  4. Livonor
    August 24, 2013 at 12:12

    I’ve been using nothing but anime and never had any problem with that, for god’s sack who the hell go there calling people てめええ? the emotional felling of those words is so obvious, turns out that anime make a HUGE difference in my speaking, since most of animes have characters who go to the most 謙譲語ish I-am-a-loser-who-lives-to-serve-others japanese, to the most yakuza/rough style, you receive a fantastic contrast about differents levels of politeness and how/where use them

  5. Shirobon
    August 24, 2013 at 14:30

    Lol this doesn’t have much to do with Anime, but I’ve gotten sooooo used to saying 俺 and I barely talk with ですます, when I went to Japan for a 10 day trip a month ago, we got on a bus and an immigration lady got on asking for identification of everybody. My dad was holding my passport but I decided to sit far away. So the lady comes to me and the next thing I know, I’m literally saying 「い、今お父さんが持ってるんッスよ、俺のパスポートを。ほら、其処に座ってる」

    She was like 「分かりました」 and right after I wanted to crawl in a hole and never come out because I realized how impolite I sounded to this pretty lady.

    • Livonor
      August 25, 2013 at 08:49

      LOLz, I still didn’t went to japan but I wouldn’t be surprise if I end up doing the same, 敬語 is useful as hell since I won’t know nobody, that’s why I put myself in several imaginary situations while speaking alone 「おいー あんた、早くしろぜ」to「えーと、ちょっと早くしてくれませんか?」 I’m watching サーバンドxサービス right now I and feel my 敬語 got way better

    • Saan
      August 25, 2013 at 13:42

      ホントに? 丁寧語を練習すれば…

      • Shirobon
        August 25, 2013 at 14:42


  6. Anshul
    June 20, 2017 at 13:59

    Hey..why all the hate for Inuyasha..I have read and watched both the manga and anime and liked both..Even watched all 4 movies and thought they were quite good

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