Time and time again I have heard from readers that watching Japanese TV shows is one of the best ways to hone your listening skills. As a matter of fact, a lot of people who have passed the higher levels of the test (N2, N1) have gotten a good amount of their listening skills from just watching TV shows.
Now don’t get me wrong. You still have to work on some of the basics. And drill books like the Kanzen Master series for N1, N2, N3 are invaluable for helping you to get used to how questions are asked on the test. It’s important to be able to take good fast notes for these higher levels.
However, it is daunting at first to jump in and start listening to native speaker speed conversations. And chances are pretty good that they’ll be speaking like what you heard in your textbook, but they will be shortening things, cutting sentences off, and generally communicating in a very unorganized way, which is how regular people talk.
I’ve been through this process a few times, trying really hard to get good at listening and getting used to native speakers this way. There have been several times that I’ve walked away either because I got too bored or I simply became unmotivated because I didn’t feel like I was making progress or I felt like it was taking up too much of my time.
About 3 months ago, I started watching morning TV with my wife. She loves a morning program called よーいどん, that is available here in the Kansai area. It is a very run of the mill TV show with standard sections that play out every day. There is a part where they visit some interesting person in the Kansai area, a part where they visit all the best of a certain kind of restaurant (like curry, or ramen) and so on, you get the idea.
At first I watched it begrudgingly, because my wife would usually sat me out of the way if I happened to block her view or ask her a question. But, slowly, gradually, I started to understand it more and more. And I started finding myself wanting to watch it more and more. Now, I can understand a great deal of the show.
It seems like, to me, that you go through 3 stages watching native TV shows – kind of understanding, filling the bathtub and understanding and enjoying it. If you stick with it to the end, you can really get a lot out of watching TV shows.
Stage 1 – Kind of Understand
If you are a upper intermediate level with Japanese, chances are you will understand a little bit of a native Japanese TV show. Not enough to truly enjoy it, but probably enough to get the general idea of what is going on. Plus, in general, you can also fill out some of the details with what the people are doing on TV.
You might think that if you can’t understand it all completely that it might be a waste of time. But, actually you are starting to get used to the rhythm of the conversation, the pacing of the words and how people respond to each other. You need to build up a foundation before you can go onto better things.
Another important thing to remember here is that the TV show does have to be entertaining. If it isn’t your kind of show, you are simply not going to make it to comprehension, nor are you going to want to. So do yourself a favor and make sure it’s enjoyable.
Stage 2 – Filling the Bathtub
After a good amount of consistent TV watching, your comprehension will start to creep up gradually. This can be the most aggravating part of starting this habit. You are putting in the effort, but aren’t seeing a huge benefit. You can’t count the words you know. And that can be a little rough.
It’s like when you take a bath and you are waiting for the tub to fill up. There is a lot of water flowing into the tub, but it is still slowly filling up. After awhile you start to get impatient because you’re tired and want to take a bath. You want to get your reward, but you still have to wait just a little while longer. After all, a bath doesn’t feel as good if the tub is only half full.
Stage 3 – Starting to Really Understand and Enjoy it
And if you do finally wait it out and put in the time, you can start enjoying the show. I have started to look forward to watching the morning shows these days. And I can understand a good part of them.
Now, is this the most efficient way to study Japanese? Probably not. Are they going to cover a ton of vocabulary and subjects that will come up on the test? They might. The point here is to get used to natural speakers doing natural things so that your mind can start to guess at meanings more naturally.
The more you do it, the more things will become automatic for you and won’t have to think about comprehending Japanese, you will just understand it. Things will be a lot more effortless.
What are you going to watch?
What kind of TV shows do you like to watch? Are there any TV shows you can recommend us? Let me know in the comments.