JLPT BC 47 | Learning Japanese with Video Games

civilization 5 JapaneseI started a new reading book for the N2 (and the N1) called 試験に出る読解 (reading comprehension that is on the test). It is definitely an amazing book, but not for the faint of heart. The book is entirely in Japanese, including the advice and explanations of the key points, which is a great challenge in my opinion.

The book is basically broken out into 40 days of activities. The first 10 days of the book focuses on some fundamental training, and then the remaining 30 days contains reading exercises of different types. Take note though that the last 30 days are split pretty much 50/50 N1/N2. So, about 15 of the days are for only N2 and the other 15 days are for only N1.

This makes the book a great buy because you have your reading comprehension book for both N1 and N2. However, It doesn’t have all that many exercises to practice with. I recommend doing this book after you do the So-matome Reading Comprehension Book for N2 because the So-matome book is easier than this one, but 試験に出る is a lot closer to the real level of the test.

The book also contains two 模擬試験 or mock tests, one for N1, and one for N2. They contain a complete set of questions like what you would see on the reading comprehension section of the actual exam.

Anyway, if you are having trouble with the reading comprehension section of the N2 or N1 exams it might be worth picking up. I’m getting my money’s worth at least.

Learning Japanese from Video Games

I’m always on a constant quest to increase my exposure to Japanese. I find the more exposure you have with the language the more comfortable you become and more things seem to just come naturally to you.

Exposure doesn’t exactly increase your vocabulary or make you speak better, but it does help reinforce and strengthen what you already know. It’s helped clarify a lot of different meanings of words and grammar when I see it in several different contexts.

One easy way to increase the amount of Japanese exposure you are getting is to replace all the things you normally consume in your life with Japanese versions. So, if you watch a lot of TV shows in English, just swap them out for TV shows in Japanese. If you listen to a lot of music, start listening to Japanese music and so forth.

I happen to like to play video games from time to time. One game that I’ve grown up with my whole life is Civilization, now in its 5th incarnation, Civilization 5. So, I figured I’d try to play my favorite game in my favorite language to learn and see what happened.

Just to give you a brief description of what the heck Civilization 5 is, it’s a civilization building strategy game. In the game, you must build cities, research new technologies, and build armies. You can eventually win the game by dominating the other nations, doing a lot of research, or having a great culture. It’s a bit of a cerebral game to say the least, with a lot of reading to do, which I figured would make it a great candidate for learning Japanese.

Motivation to Learn Baked Right In

Another reason why I thought video games would be an excellent way to practice Japanese is that motivation to do well is baked right into the game. In order to play the game properly, you have to understand what your advisers and heads of nations are telling you in the game.

At certain times you have to negotiate carefully with other leaders or risk going to war. So, it’s important to figure out what the heck they are saying otherwise you will meander carelessly through the game and that isn’t all that fun.

On top of that, you need advise from your advisers as to what to do with your nation. This, too, is written in all Japanese.

That’s all Good but, …

The game uses a lot of obscure kanji, especially for a lot of the different kinds of military units. I’ve spent a lot of time looking these characters up stroke by stroke, which can be a real drag, as it slows down game play.

Also, you might have already guessed this but, it’s not exactly packed with JLPT type material. Although there is a lot of good vocabulary practice, I had a hard time finding anything that would be valuable for the test.

The voices in the game are still in English, which tends to be a common trait in most Japanese video games. I guess they don’t want to pay for an extra set of voice actors.

Anyway, overall I found it was a good way to blow a few hours a week with some exposure to the language here and there. As long as you aren’t incredibly busy and don’t care that you aren’t doing ‘maximum’ efficiency studying, it can be a good relaxer that increases your exposure.

Make a Statement

Have you played any import games or Japanese games? Are they any good ones out there that have a good amount of reading to them? Let me know in the comments below.

P.S. Do you like to play video games all day? Awesome! You should join my newsletter!

P.S.S. Did you become a gaming addict? Then, you should leave me a comment on iTunes and leave me a review.  If you have comments or suggestions for the podcast, by all means let me know in the comments below or contact me and let me know what I can do to improve the show.  Thanks!

Music by Kevin MacLeod

{ 12 comments… add one }
  • Alex September 28, 2011, 11:07 pm

    Hi Mac, I agree that video games can be very useful when trying to get more exposure to Japanese language. I have recently been playing the Japanese version of Bleach: Soul Ignition, as I am also a huge fan of the anime. As you say, there is a difference between real life situations in gaming and the typical RPG that’s packed with spells and potions etc. however, I have found this game to be very useful in getting exposure to more informal Japanese that doesn’t come up in text books. Although there are many arguments against getting into “bad habits” with informal Japanese, I find then when speaking with friends who are native Japanese speakers, my conversation flows much better as a result of having been exposed to this style of speaking. The game also features a huge amount of kanji, and the more I play, the more I can recognise at a glance, rather than darting for my laptop!

    This game is available on the PS3 and I picked it up for around 4000 JPY at a Book-Off store in Akihabara. The PS3 is a really handy console as it’s region-free, so there was no need for me to shell out loads of cash for a Japanese console. It’s not exactly challenging in terms of the limits of my Japanese proficiency, and there may be little or no relevance to the JLPT. However, for someone who spends a lot of spare time playing video games, I find this a simple, fun and effective way of boosting my exposure to Japanese language.

    • Mac September 30, 2011, 3:26 pm

      I think both forms of the language are ultimately necessary (formal and informal). You do have to remember that there is a formal version of the language though. I’ve gotten so used to speaking in informal Japanese that when it came time to speak in formal Japanese (for example when I first met my in-laws, yikes!) I was at a bit of loss for words.

      To make matters worse, I work in Kansai, have friends that are born and raised in Kansai and who fluently speak Kansai-ben. Is that going to be on the test? Definitely not! But, it does help build up your comfort level and well enjoy the culture. So it is what you make of it. I just know some people are in a race to finish the tests, so if you are this might not be a pit stop you want to take. Otherwise, let the games begin!

      Thanks for the comment Alex!

  • Stephen September 30, 2011, 1:33 pm

    Hi Mac. I think that games are a entertaining add-on way to learn Japanese. I was in Japan when the PS1 came out and got into quite a few games and it did get me quite motivated. I probably picked up quite a few kanji and it was also good to have dialogue practice with the role playing format games. The only downside if you could call it that, is that the vocab is sometimes limited to gaming relavance and won’t really come in handy in many other contexts. However, it won’t do any harm! I thought that manga was one of the biggest helps for me to pick up kanji and vocab, especially when the manga story was set in more or less contemporary Japan with realstic interchanges.

    • Mac September 30, 2011, 3:30 pm

      I’ve always heard about ‘realistic’ manga is a great way to pick up the language. I haven’t braved it yet, simply because I don’t know where to start, but maybe the next time I’m in Book Off I’ll give the manga section a once over and see what I can find.

      I did play RPGs in Japanese before. I got halfway through Kingdom of Hearts 2 before just giving it up due to lack of time. I think I might try to find an engaging RPG or two for the iPhone.

      Thanks for contributing, and reminding me how useful RPGs are.

  • Kat October 3, 2011, 5:02 am

    I picked up Persona 3 for the PSP last time I was in Japan and it has been surprisingly helpful kanji/vocabwise. The game, which is a cross between a dating sim and a classic-style RPG, is super kanji heavy, but also saturated with a lot of everyday kanji connected to the dating sim. When I came back to Japan to teach I found that almost all of the vocab I knew about my school was stuff I’d learned from the game.

    It also has the handy feature of a super high-quality dub which makes the kanji so much easier. When the sentence looks like a big jumble of kanji the dub can be the difference between running away screaming in horror and realizing that you do know all of those words, you just didn’t realize they had kanji equivalents.

    It’s definitely not for beginners, or the faint of heart, but Persona 3 for the PSP is a great way to reinforce kanji you know and maybe learn some new ones. Especially if you’re planning on being involved in the Japanese education system anytime soon.

    • Mac October 3, 2011, 5:30 am

      Wow, Persona 3 sounds pretty cool. I wonder if they have an iPhone version? 🙂

      I’ve heard of Persona a lot, but never really realized it was a dating sim. I always thought dating sims would be an excellent way to practice Japanese. I might have to check it out sometime.

      When you say high-quality dub, do you mean like a voice-over? That would be really awesome. I think in one of the Zelda games for DS they have a function where you can highlight a kanji and it will give you the kana.

      Oh, is the PSP region free?

  • Barbara October 6, 2011, 8:18 pm

    I always love the idea of playing games in Japanese. I watch a great deal of JDrama and listen to music but would love to extend this to games. However, whilst I have Zelda and Dragon Quest my N5/N4 skills are not really enough. I wonder if I should treat my game play differently and use a dictionary as I go but I sometimes find this kills the enjoyment of the whole thing 🙁

    • Mac October 10, 2011, 3:17 am

      Yeah, if you get into gaming too early, you start to put off learning anything. Instead you just learn where certain buttons are and fumble around until you get it right. At least that’s how it works for me.

      I’ve been using Windows in OS and it can be a little frustrating sometimes when all you want to do is change a setting to get something to work, but instead you’ve got to look up a whole bunch of different kanji just to understand what to click on. I end up just guessing until I get it right, which doesn’t usually involve a lot of learning.

  • Tashhhhh October 25, 2011, 8:39 am

    Kills the enjoyment? Well for me 80% of the “enjoyment” is the extreme nerdy excitement caused by comprehension of Final Fantasy V in Japanese. I can understand most of it without a dictionary, but I am obsessive and must look up anything that I don’t know, even if I only forgot the pronouciation of a kanji, or the exact usage of a word (vs the general meaning). I make sure to pause battle screens (emulator) to look up attack names, and also to go back to villages for new dialogues after key events.
    Sometimes my brother will often watch over my shoulder and put me on the spot by asking me to translate stuff!

    • Mac October 26, 2011, 1:13 pm

      That’s completely awesome! I think it’s great to have something that motivates you to study Japanese. I don’t quite go that far but sometimes when I’m playing civilization 5 I do find myself looking up every single word no matter how academic or even if I’m pretty sure of the meaning. Whatever motivates you really.

  • Justin November 23, 2011, 12:06 pm

    The game that really helped me with my Japanese since high school was a Dreamcast game called Shenmue (the English version sucked). The game takes place in Yokosuka in the 1980s and Japan itself is accurately simulated in an environmental sense. The game uses a lot of basic Japanese such as “daredare wo mimashita ka” or “daredare wa doko ni ikimashita ka?” Plus, the game makes you feel like you’re really in Japan. I first picked up this game when I was 15 and my high school had a Japanese course. It reinforced me what I did learn, and it gave me opportunities to react to situations in which I had choices and I could ask for directions, etc.

    • Mac November 23, 2011, 3:18 pm

      I’ll have to keep an eye out for it at the recycle shop. Looks like a pretty interesting game. I guess I’ve never played any dreamcast games before, but the vintage game scene is pretty big here (as you may know). They have plenty of Dreamcasts and old dreamcast games in the second hand stores.

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