How Not to Learn Japanese


How Not to Learn Japanese

We’ve all run into them on local websites, message boards, and anime mailing lists (wow, how long ago was this?!). You know what I’m talking about: those “Nihongo experts” who think they’re hot shit because they’ve watched a couple of fansubbed anime eps, changed their last names to their favorite anime character’s surname, and claim that they are 1/4th of 1/8th of 1/16th Japanese.

What these poor saps don’t know is that the phrases they are spouting out are pretty much nonsense, and that they are the farthest thing you can get from real Japanese that normal people use in everyday conversation. Yeah, sure — it may sound cute in anime, but nobody actually goes around ending their sentences in “-dattebayo”, “-desuwa” or “-desudesudesudesudesudesu”.

If you are serious about learning the language and not just trying to impress your clueless weaboo pals, here are five ways not to go about it:

Memorizing a phrase book.

A phrase book is something you pick up to learn basic sentences that may help with a short-term trip to a foreign country — these trips usually do not go beyond a single week. Although it is a good way to pick up polite phrases like “Please.”, “Thank you.”, and “Excuse me.”, it is not extensive enough to cover even the basics of a language as complicated as Japanese.

Instead, use a basic learners book since the text will help you build up your vocabulary bit by bit, as opposed to spouting off set words with very little explanation like in a phrase book.

Subscribing to “Learn Japanese Online” programs.

A large part if learning Japanese is to hear it being pronounced correctly by a native. There are a lot of subtleties that will be difficult to convey with mere text, the way these programs are usually conducted. One of the key examples illustrating this difficulty is the difference of the “n” and “nn” sound in Nihongo — to Filipino ears they are one and the same, but to the Japanese they are two distinct sounds.

Online Japanese programs are great for building up reading vocabulary and getting used to the Japanese kana system, just don’t expect it to take the place of a real teacher who will be able to illustrate the subtleties of pronunciation.

Watching anime.

Hooboy, here we go. If you guys take away one thing out of this post, I hope it is this: anime is not a Nihongo teacher. The kind of Japanese you hear from most shows are liberally sprinkled with mannerisms and personal inflections and other random bullshit that make it “sound more interesting” rather than “sound more correct” — hence, completely useless in daily life.

So unless you are a blonde, orange-bedecked teenage ninja hiding up in the branches of trees (how orange blends in with green, I will never know), you will never actually say to your department colleagues in the middle of a business lunch on a company trip to Tokyo, “Would you like more wine, dattebayo?”.

Getting lessons from self-styled “sensei” on the internet.

Find me twenty “Nihongo sensei” on local message boards, fansites, or even on Youtube, and I will tell you that only one or two of them is an actual sensei. All the other yahoos are self-styled Japanese experts who think they are qualified to teach other people Nihongo just because they finished the first module of Minna no Nihongo — which is like saying they don’t know anything beyond “Good morning.”, “Good evening.”, and “Good night.”.

Also steer clear of people who claim to be 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, or even 1/16th Japanese — they know as much Japanese as a bushman in the Kalahari. Blood is not an indicator of language skills — otherwise, none of us would’ve been able to understand the tiniest bit of English, since we are mostly Malay and not Caucasian.

Looking for a Japanese GF/BF to be your tutor.

Some weaboos are actually crass enough to try to score a Japanese boy or girlfriend for the purpose of improving their language skills. This is s double-edged sword they are playing with, because even if they do find someone who is willing to teach them the language on top of being their significant other, the kind of Japanese you will learn will be completely inappropriate.

Can you imagine a big, burly basketball player kinda guy talking like a teenage Japanese gyaru from the deepest underbelly of Shibuya, because he picked up the mannerisms and language quirks of his girlfriend? Yikes! Stick with a real teacher — preferably someone of your own gender, so that you can learn the subtleties of male and female Japanese. That way you don’t embarrass yourself ordering a beer at your favorite izakaya going, “Beer ippon kudasai ne *kira kira eyes* <3<3<3”.

This post was inspired by Tofugu’s Top 10 Reasons a Japanese Girlfriend Won’t Help Your Japanese. Thanks to Khursten of Otaku Champloo for the link!

12 Comments Add yours

  1. theBlocker says:

    I think you should also add “Learning through GOOGLE TRANSLATE” and I believe most people do that.


  2. Cla says:

    This post made me remember Magibon! Haha. I forgot where I read it, but apparently, some blog claimed that she only pretended to know Japanese (not that she spoke extensively on her videos, lol) by memorizing some phrases. So when she got invited to Japan, she couldn’t really speak it well! I’m still trying to look for that entry but the one on Encyclopedia Dramatic about her is gone! Boo!


  3. I think you should also add “Learning through GOOGLE TRANSLATE” and I believe most people do that.


    This post made me remember Magibon!… So when she got invited to Japan, she couldn’t really speak it well!

    … so maybe that’s why weaboos are speaking it in such a horrid fashion? they want to be the next magibon and invited to stay in japan and spread her herpes? :/


  4. Cla says:

    I hope not :-O I do see why some MIGHT want to follow her lead. She practically does nothing in her videos and see where it still got her! (Infamy nga lang more than fame, haha)


  5. Yan-san says:

    Nice article lol.

    In fact, a weeaboo who claims to have mastered Nihongo via anime (or any of those which are stated above) is kind of an insult for a person like me who is currently exerting efforts in studying JLPT N1-level Nihongo. -_-

    (Yep, I passed last year’s JLPT N2 and will take this year’s JLPT N1. It’s a good thing that JLPT N1 review classes are scheduled to be opened on the second week of July at a Japanese language institute near FEU Manila. XD )


  6. Sese says:

    Phrase books for me are only handy when you’re a tourist and needed to learn or speak very basic words to survive or talk to the locals who could not speak fluent English.



  7. Zane says:

    Even if a non-native were to teach Nihongo, he/she would have a hard time illustrating the sounds you mentioned… It’s so damn hard! Hindi ka pa pwede magpahiya ng students who don’t get the difference between o/u.

    Sorry, rant over. Dattebayo. XDDDD


    1. Hindi ka pa pwede magpahiya ng students who don’t get the difference between o/u.

      LMAO sorry but i subscribe to the school of humiliation — pag napahiya yan di na uulit >:D tignan mo sa forums~

      Sorry, rant over. Dattebayo. XDDDD

      oh god. desudesudesudesudesudesu. >.>


  8. MarkPoa says:

    You know what could be worse than getting lessons from self-styled sensei on the Internet? Believing that Youtube Japanese spoof videos are real. >:D


  9. あいうえお says:

    ajatt or Anyone?


  10. nagi says:

    I know this is a late response (my apologies, I just knew about the existence of this awesome site today ^^;)

    I think the article forgot to point out that politeness has a major key in Nihonggo. And it’s not just as easy as our language that we can just add “po” and “opo” to sound polite. I think most who knows the language will agree that “anime japanese” uses “rude” language (and usually from the mainstream anime ones) so most likely you would be labeled “rude” when heard by a native if just “learned Nihonggo” from watching anime. That’s so embarrassing too!


    1. no worries — thanks for stopping by 🙂 as for “learning japanese via anime”, that is precisely you cannot use anime as a substitute for a good nihongo teacher: the kind of japanese you will end up learning is hardly used in polite society :/


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