This blog post was brought to you by the generosity of AJATT's patrons!

If you would like to support the continuing production of AJATT content, please consider making a monthly donation through Patreon.

Right there ↑ . Go on. Click on it. Patrons get goodies like early access to content (days, weeks, months and even YEARS before everyone else), mutlimedia stuff and other goodies!

Understanding The News: James’ Success Story

A while back, I wrote an article on how to teach yourself to understand Japanese (TV) news to basically 100% comprehension. Essentially a “how I did it and how you can, too”. A young, virile, extremely good-looking man named James followed that advice. This is his story, in his own words, with some extra formatting/editing added by yours truly:

Understanding the News

This article is about how I learnt to understand the news.

I started by listening to the Yomiuri News Podcast and the Nihon Keizai Shinbun Podcast when ever I had a moment’s spare time. At first I understood close to nothing, maybe the odd word or two. However, the more I listened, the more I understood. As a result, I now have the confidence that I will understand it all first time.

What was particularly helpful was the reading TBS or Fuji News Network articles in the morning and then listening to news podcasts later in the day. Generally, they all report the same news so having that initial knowledge about a story helped astronomically in boosting my understanding.

What I also did was read articles/editorials/anything news-related and if there was a word/phrase I didn’t understand I would simply copy and paste into Mnemosyne/Surusu. This, to me, is the definition of sentence mining: harvesting any sentence that you would like to be able to say or want to understand.

This is really a simple process, but one that is essential to get the large amount of names of people/places/crimes/boats/buildings/etc. into your SRS and thus into your brain. I didn’t actually read many ‘newspapers’ as such — but I did read editorials and articles from online sources (much easier for SRS entry) and since these are practically the same as newspaper articles you will be able to understand real newspapers.

My typical day in the ‘news’ phase would be:

  • Get up read listen to news online whilst having breakfast.
  • Walk to uni whilst listening to news podcasts.
  • If the lecture was boring, I would listen to news podcasts and try to write out what was said (or the headline) on the notes in front of me.
  • Any free time during my day where I was alone, I read news articles online or listened to news podcasts.
  • A lot of the time I would just walk around listening to news on my iPod and mimicking (albeit very quietly) the news reader.
  • I tended to mix my focus on news with other Japanese studies such as books, magazines, Youtube videos — pretty much anything that was in Japanese.
    • The best thing about this was following a news story for weeks and seeing how it developed over time.

One thing I struggled with was understanding the headlines of news articles. Often they rely on Japanese people’s knowledge of kanji to decipher the meaning or simply are just words with no particles in between them.

As you learn more and more Japanese you will understand the incredible flexibility of Chinese characters and hence will become able to, as the Japanese do, to grasp the meaning simply from seeing the characters in the headline. To this end, knowledge of ALL 2000 odd characters is essential as they ALL appear in news no matter what internet forums/idiots may say about the lesser-used ones.

As Khatzumoto has recommended previously, using the FNN Video News would be a good place to start as the videos’ text is in the corresponding article on the main page. If you loop the video the same news articles repeat — thus giving you reinforcement of the content. I combined this with podcast listening.

In my opinion, the most important thing for the learner of Japanese is knowing all the general-use kanji. Everything stems from this. I can concretely say that if I had not done Heisig, I would have quit Japanese years ago. Anyone who has done the Heisig method will tell you it works perfectly and it is 100% worth doing.

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of knowing ALL the kanji in general use; they are the foundation of Japanese and will provide a helicopter to the top of the mountain that is Japanese whilst everyone else falls by the wayside.

He’s right about the kanji, you know…

  36 comments for “Understanding The News: James’ Success Story

  1. March 30, 2008 at 16:00

    Congrats, James! I myself am not quite at the news-comprehension level yet, but thanks for the motivation!

  2. March 30, 2008 at 16:30

    He’s right about the need to learn all the kanji, although I’d go so far as to say there are dozens of kanji outside the “general use” list you need to know. That list is just an educational guide, really.

  3. Christina
    March 31, 2008 at 05:08

    Congratulations, James!

    Now for a question, at what level did you two start the whole news thing? Is this something you want to take on as a beginner, or at a more intermediate level? I know for some things: the sooner the better, but how soon would be too soon for that project? Thanks for any input!

  4. Phil
    March 31, 2008 at 05:48

    Impressive !
    Another question: how long did it take (roughly) ? I mean, between the moment when you had almost no clue, and the moment where you found you could understand everyday news normally ?

  5. nacest
    March 31, 2008 at 06:50

    My turn, my turn!
    Question: were you already in a situation in which you needed to understand Japanese news (or could gain something from it)? Or was it just for pure fun?

    In any case, very good (and motivational) job!

  6. Tony
    March 31, 2008 at 11:00

    My question is more about the kanji part rather than the news. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Daily I go to kanji.koohii and do my review, but I also “forget” about 20 a day. Do you ever stop reviewing the general use kanji? I mean is there a time where you go, ok even though I’m forgetting these kanji, it’s taking up too much of my time that I could be using for actually reading or listening in Japanese?

  7. March 31, 2008 at 16:24


    If you keep forgetting some difficult kanji, then I’d suggest a combination of the mnemonics method and rote repetition. Whilst Heisig doesn’t quite advocate repetition, finding it wasteful in terms of energy and time, in my humble opinion, the rote method can be useful for the few kanji that continuously elude your grasp. (The rote method helps with motor memory, which is very effective, just… way more time-consuming.)

    Alternatively, this is what worked for me:

    1. Make mnemonics for some 10 or 20 random kanji. Include kanji which you know and don’t (and those which you’ve found difficult to remember).

    2. Take a 5 minute breather.

    3. Make a list of the keywords, and only the keywords, on a separate sheet of paper.

    4. Get an empty sheet of paper. Use the list you’ve made as a guide to reproduce the kanji forms, in the same order as the keywords themselves.

    5. If you make a mistake, or you can’t recall a kanji, stop. Try a different mnemonic aid for the difficult kanji. (Use the usual techniques: make it bombastic, use weird items, or weird actions. My personal test of how ‘effective’ a mnemonic is, would be if it makes me (silently) grin, snicker, or, better still, cringe.)

    6. Reproduce the entire list several times. (That’s why having only 10-20 kanji should be enough.)

    By the 4th or 5th time, you should be able to reproduce any sort of kanji, by sort of ‘knowing’/’remembering’ what comes previously or after it. This is helped by the ‘flowing’ visual imagery provided by the mnemonics. Then randomize the list you’ve made, and see how far you’ve progressed.

    As Khatzumoto himself mentions, the SRS method only helps once you’ve ‘remembered’ an item, at least superficially. Otherwise, it won’t be of much help. (The item will become a time/energy-consuming ‘leech’.)

    I hope I’ve helped.

  8. captal
    March 31, 2008 at 20:00

    Good post Wan, thanks!

    First post for me! I’ve been trying to learn Japanese for nearly a year, but I’ve been a bit of a 三日坊主. My comprehension has been terrible, which isn’t surprising seeing that I’ve spent the majority of my time reviewing in silence- learning words/kanji/etc. I didn’t do much listening or speaking to people (though I could say a lot more than I could understand).

    I found this site a couple weeks ago and it was a bit of a revelation and inspiration. Of course I don’t understand Japanese yet… I haven’t really been trying- 3-5 hours/ week isn’t going to cut the mustard. So I started Heisig about a week and a half ago and I’ve hit the 500 kanji mark, but I often find that I also have problems remembering kanji just by the keyword- if I have the story I can usually remember, though sometimes I screw up positioning. It seems bad that I’m relying so heavily on the stories… especially if I want to get to the point where I can see a kanji and know what it is instantly, but I guess that just takes loads of practice. Wan provided some interesting idea I’ll give a whirl once I get through Heisig.

    To improve my comprehension, I’ve been doing a lot of listening- japanese music, podcasts and Tiger & Dragon- but I’m not seeing much impact yet… hopefully it’s just that it’s only been two weeks, and not that I’m retarded. Khatz- your site has been such a motivation- I used to make all the excuses- “I’m not Japanese,” or “I’m too old to learn a language (26 fyi).” Forget that- I can be fluent- and I can see it, and I know I can achieve it… it’s just going to take a long time. Longer than two weeks apparently 😀

    So thanks for the motivation Khatz (and others), because this is where I come when I start to slack. Though I’m motivated to get through the remaining 1500 kanji just so I can actually get to sentences! Over spring break, instead of going out and partying in one of the best party places in Australia (Byron Bay)- I was memorizing kanji like a mad-man! I did sneak off to the beach a few times though 😉


  9. Nuke-Marine
    March 31, 2008 at 21:41


    No I don’t think you should stop reviewing the general use kanji. What should happen is that over time that 20 or so a day you “forget” will begin dwindling to 15, 10, or even 5 and less a day. The reason is that your cards you keep getting right get spaced further and further apart leaving only the ones you’re getting wrong. If you’re like me, you will spend 250 hours (over 5 months for me) actually learning the general use. Spending an additional 250 hours (over say 18 months) after that to retain them is a pretty good follow up investment.

    Put it this way: Japanese spend 9 to 12 years learning Kanji and still end up forgetting the lesser used ones since they don’t pop up frequently enough in daily life to etch it into long term. You on the other hand have a device (SRS) that’ll give you that frequency. Trust in the SRS.

    PS: I’m assuming you’re just getting a 20 card forget rate, not that you’re missing the same 20 kanji every day. Even now, I’m at an 80 to 90% success rate. Yep, missing cards I haven’t seen in 4 months (but getting most correct). It will happen, so don’t let it get you down, look at as the SRS doing its job.

  10. Jason Reaves
    March 31, 2008 at 21:53

    >> if I have the story I can usually remember, though sometimes I screw up positioning. It seems bad that I’m relying so heavily on the stories

    This is all completely normal. In fact you SHOULD rely on the story at first. Don’t worry. Soon, you won’t need it anymore. You will reach a point where the keyword flashes through your mind and the next thing you know, your hand has correctly written the kanji and you hardly know how it happened. As for positioning, I sometimes organize the story in a way that suggests the correct positioning. In other cases, I am able to infer the positioning because certain primitives just “like” to be in certain positions. For the rest, I rely on repetition/rote memorization and trust that my SRS will make sure I learn it eventually.

    I would suggest printing out paper with squares (about 200 per sheet) and actually writing the kanji. You don’t have to write them numerous times with each rep. I usually write them 1-3 times. You can download a stroke order font ( and select it in your web browser or Anki. This font has saved me countless hours looking up stroke orders, and it seems to be a pretty good model for handwriting (unlike most fonts).

  11. Tony
    April 1, 2008 at 11:15

    Hey guys, thanks for the advice. Wan, the exercise looks great! I’m going to give it a try with an addition. I’m going to try and track which ones are showing up in the missed column over a period of weeks because I’m not actually sure how many of them are the same, since when I see the kanji I recognize it again. I was down to about 10-15 for a day which I was really excited about. Then something happened and it went back to around 15-20, rather going closer to 25. I’m also back to where the cards that were at one month intervals or whatever the last box on kanji.koohii is are showing up and being made into two months. It’s been about 8 months or so since I started the Heisig method with kanji.koohii. I started in late July early August of last year. I’m really appreciate of the fact that Nuke-Marine gave a number on how long it’ll take (18 months) for the investment of knowing the kanji. Even when I think that’s a year and a half away, it at least makes me know that I haven’t begun to start!

  12. Chiro-kun
    April 1, 2008 at 14:16

    おめでとうジェームスさん!これから私も頑張ります! :D

    @Wan, Nukemarine, Tony –
    Personally, I find mnemonics to be much more effective with words (pronunciation and not writing). For kanji, I simply imagine the components moving around/doing something bizarre which helps in better retention (visual memory as opposed to imaginative memory).

    For instance, when I see 転, this is what goes on inside my head:

  13. James
    April 1, 2008 at 22:04

    Christina – I was around intermediate level. Trying to understand the news at beginner level would be a good way to get better quickly.

    Phil – Around 5/6 months. I can’t say exactly though, it was more a process of ‘this is getting easier and easier’. That goes for all elements of language though.

    Nacest – I needed to understand Japanese news because I wanted to be good at Japanese. That was pretty much the only reason. I don’t live in Japan if that’s what you’re asking.

    Tony – I finished heisig about 2 years ago. I still review around 10 characters a day or so in kanji koohii.

  14. captal
    April 2, 2008 at 00:02

    >>Tony – I finished heisig about 2 years ago. I still review around 10 characters a day or so in kanji koohii.

    Wow! That’s dedication- doing your reviews everyday! I guess after a while it would become like brushing your teeth 😀

    I guess I still don’t understand how trying to understand the news at a beginner level is going to help you. Yes it’s helpful to hear intonation and cadence, etc. But when I listen to dramas/anime/etc – the words I understand are the words I’ve learned already. I’ll learn a new word and then hear it more often, but I don’t all of the sudden go, “ah! that word must be X.” How will listening to the news each day make you better?

    Inspiring story, nonetheless. When I’m fluent, I hope I have cool stories to tell (back when I did Heisig…)

  15. nacest
    April 2, 2008 at 02:15

    >>I needed to understand Japanese news because I wanted to be good at Japanese. That was pretty much the only reason. I don’t live in Japan if that’s what you’re asking.

    That’s very cool! And a perfectly good reason, too. Of course you must have had some interest in news and society if you did that.
    In my case, at the moment I have other things that I find more interesting and fun than news broadcasts (unfortunately?). Sooner or later, however, I will have (want) to walk that path too.

  16. bubble
    April 4, 2008 at 03:03

    Okay, so I’m not listening to news much in Japanese, and my limited experience indicates that at my current level I wouldn’t understand much (at first anyway). But with my experience with dorama and anime, and my experience with the news in French, I will try to answer your question, captal.

    First Japanese. I started watching shows in Japanese without subtitles after one quarter of Japanese class, definitely very much the beginner. You’re right, at first all I caught were single words and the occasional, very simple, sentence. Gradually my skills at distinguishing words from one another increased, resulting in catching more words. Eventually my comprehension increased (beyond the level explicable by just my class) without me feeling like I was consciously learning that many words, though occasionally (once or twice per half-hour episode) I would look something up.

    Grammar structures we covered in class started to seem very logical, because I had essentially already learned them. Recently, after about 3 1/2 months, a very cool phenomenon occurred. I had been trying, without that much success, to think in Japanese. There was one word I wanted, but didn’t know – “important”. I didn’t look it up, but kept thinking about it for a couple of days, until one day, when I was doing something else entirely, my brain went “だいせつ”. “だいせつ?” I said to myself. I looked it up, no dice, tried たいせつ, and came up with the following:
    大切 [たいせつ] (adj-na,n) important, valuable, worthy of care

    About an hour later, I was listening to music, and heard the following:
    And thought, “だいじ? Doesn’t that mean important too?”
    Sure enough:
    大事 [だいじ] (adj-na,n) important, valuable, serious matter.

    So yeah, it works. I have other examples, but this is the most dramatic.
    (definitions are from EDICT)

    As for French, I started listening to news at an intermediate level, and after about 3-4 months of news 1-3 hours per day, plus the weekly journal en français facile, plus French in Action, plus (for the first month) a regular, university-level course, plus initially 1-4 wikipedia articles and later 1-4 news articles in French per day, I could understand the news, both spoken and written, fluently. Note of course that with French an English speaker has a bit of an advantage – many cognates and similar grammar structures.

  17. captal
    April 7, 2008 at 12:26

    Thanks for posting your experience bubble. Over the past few weeks I’ve been watching/listening to a Japanese Drama- Tiger & Dragon – over and over without subs and I don’t feel like I’m making a lot of progress… I’ll keep at it though. Do you have any advice for other shows to watch?

    Should I be listening to other things in Japanese besides music and Tiger & Dragon- I really want to improve my understanding more than anything, because that is my biggest weakness right now. Listening to Japanese music over and over doesn’t seem to be helping much either- I get the tune stuck in my head but I usually can’t remember the words unless I’ve spent time translating them from kanji to hiragana.

  18. quendidil
    April 8, 2008 at 01:20

    I’ve recently started written correspondence with some Japanese friends, my main errors are mostly using 「である」 for 「です」 and sometimes writing stuff like 「知ってるんですか」 instead of 「知ってますか」. AFAIK, they are perfectly grammatical correct, but according to my friends they are not interchangeable and sound strange? It’s written (typed to be exact) anyway, so i figure 「である」 should be alright?

  19. AndamanIslander
    April 9, 2008 at 19:03

    Hey so, would you post the URLs for your favorite news podcasts?


  20. bubble
    April 10, 2008 at 16:21

    Personally, I feel like I make the most progress when I watch a show I either have never or have not recently seen, as long as it interests me (I can’t be sure though). A fictional show, that is, because those tend to have more visual context and I find them more enjoyable than most other types of show, especially when I can’t completely understand. I basically watch whatever I can find that interests me, often covering subtitles or finding Chinese subtitles, because I can’t read them, not even sound them out the way I could any latin-alphabet subs, so I don’t have to cover them.
    As for specific shows, I watched/am watching:
    有閑倶楽部(ゆうかんクラブ)- one of the ones I watched with Chinese subs, easy to find because the title is the same except the second character is simplified. Amusing but shallow show about way-too-rich high school students.
    ガリレオ About a police detective and a physics professor (“henjin Galileo”) who investigate supposedly supernatural crimes.
    モップガール (Mop Girl) about a young woman, rather clumsy, who goes back to the day of a death to prevent it
    女系家族(にょけいかぞく)An intense drama, full of infighting, backstabbing, intrigue, about an inheritance. Everyone in this show has issues. The speech is rather hard and formal – I didn’t understand much.
    ホタルノヒカリ Cute romantic comedy with characters I can actually root for. I find the speech comparatively easy to understand. Look for it on Chinese sites under the name 螢之光 (the first character will be simplified, but it comes up ok).
    エンジン (Engine) – Kinda cute show about a professional racecar driver who goes back to live with his dad (who runs a foster home) after his team fires him for fighting with the other driver.

    I also watch anime and tokusatsu, but if I watch them too much I start to use annoying interjections and get all high-pitched (I’m female, but there’s a limit). Sometimes I watch commercials, music videos, or interviews with musicians or actors I like, and if I’m not watching something I usually have on music.

  21. quendidil
    April 14, 2008 at 00:19

    Feynman’s lectures in Japanese are BLOODY overpriced. Around 3450円 for EACH lecture.

  22. Forrest
    April 14, 2008 at 01:07

    wheee I learned a word without trying! だいとうりょう = 大統領 = President

    from where else? the news. I gave in and got the TV Japan channel… ($25/month ouch!)

  23. khatzumoto
    April 14, 2008 at 14:10

    >Feynman’s lectures in Japanese
    They have those? Where did you find them?

  24. khatzumoto
    April 16, 2008 at 10:47

    >so i figure 「である」 should be alright?
    なんか、”Seriously, though, dawg, it is the uncategorical conclusion of this research that this course of action…”って感じ。


  25. quendidil
    April 20, 2008 at 01:31

    ( 笑)

    As for Chinese, we can blame the Republicans and the Communists for most of the destruction of the remnants of 敬語 left in the language. でござるけれど、結局多分慈禧太后の所為じゃろう、中国の現代化を反対したりしたからね。


  26. khatzumoto
    April 20, 2008 at 01:41


  27. quendidil
    April 20, 2008 at 22:52

    Ah, my formality levels really suck!
    After writing “感謝しておる”, I was told
    This is really perplexing?! Isn’t おる the 謙譲語 of いる?

  28. khatzumoto
    April 20, 2008 at 23:33

    >Isn’t おる the 謙譲語 of いる?
    It is.

    >This is really perplexing?!



  29. quendidil
    April 21, 2008 at 00:16



  30. khatzumoto
    April 21, 2008 at 00:33



    京 = 京都の事?


  31. Lauren
    November 10, 2008 at 05:42

    what do you think about listening to music/news at same time for the listening aspect.

    so the volume would be 50/50 or 70/20 towrads the news, etc.

    i think it makes it less boring. anyone know any news podcast where htey talk really fast or something in a less boring way, well it is news but i don’t konw.

  32. RJ
    May 22, 2009 at 13:31

    Hey Khaz, when you said when you listened to the news and didn’t understand a word, or even a phrase, that you “looked it up”. What do you use? I don’t think a monolingual dictionary would help me understand a word, since I know no Kanji…bilingual ok? You say that they havea negative impact though, so I don’t want to look at direct translations, but how am I supposed to know?

  33. イギリス人
    December 23, 2009 at 02:27

    Yo khatz, basically i’ve started to watch news broadcasts on Fuji News Network and copying each sentence into the SRS (Anki), I look up each word of the sentence on Denshi Jisho and write the English sentence for the answer on the SRS, and then write out the kanji’s so I have the perfect stroke order and once in the SRS, I listen to the broadcast many times over. Is this the 正しい way to do it ?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *