Japan has always been at the forefront of innovation in the video game industry. In fact, it was Japan who pioneered the field since the end of the ’70s, with game companies like Nintendo and Sega taking the lead. From Super Mario and Final Fantasy to The Legend of Zelda and Resident Evil, representing some of the best Japanese video games, Japan comprises a very important part of the gaming industry.
Japanese video games are like bedtime stories for your grown-up self, where instead of sleeping you play video games all night and rightfully call it studying.
Video games are the perfect tool for taking your knowledge of Japanese to the next level. Nowadays, more and more video games, fantasy or arcade, offers you the opportunity to change the language settings to be in Japanese. Japanese video games are not region locked nor do they require you to buy Japanese consoles. From Super Mario to Final Fantasy, simply choose a game, and check those tips for learning Japanese by playing!
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Learning Japanese Using Video Games
Choose a Fun Game
Video games offer a platform for having fun. There is no reason why you should not have a good time while learning. Take your time and go easy so that you don’t get bored quickly or get too overwhelmed due to too much learning. Remember, you don’t need to stop and look up for every single word or kanji you don’t know. A video game platform offers you enough context to understand the meaning of a sentence. Use that wisely; otherwise you will get bored really quickly.
Start with a Familiar Game
Japanese video game companies have been able to taste success because they are able to tell a relatable story through a video game platform. Thus, use the framework of the story and understand the context. Word of advice: avoid horror games as they may lead to the assimilation of negative emotions from the game instead of helping you learn anything remotely related to Japan! After all, how much do we learn if learning is associated with the sensation of fear?
Take Notes While Playing
When you encounter unknown expressions in a game, just pause the game, and write the expressions or words down in your notebook. Once you are done playing, use a dictionary and look up each of the words. Learn those new words and enrich your Japanese vocabulary. As the same vocabulary words are often used over and over again, your list might get shorter and shorter.
Write down the words or grammar patterns you don't know or understand as they come up. Once you're done playing, look up their meaning and add them to your Anki deck or study notes. That way, you can have fun going through the game without constant pauses. Moreover, you'll still learn and remember the things you need to work on.
Enable Japanese Subtitles
As already mentioned, while using the video game platform, will help you to identify unknown words and kanji. A dictionary is really handy, while you play. In case English subtitles are your preference, ensure that you are not only focused on subtitles but also on the Japanese voices. If you realize you are only focused on reading English, better switch everything to Japanese or the exercise would be futile.
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Make Real-world Friends
A lot of video games offer users the opportunity to connect with people across the world while playing online. Some video games have a “learn or die” feature, which mean that you won’t be able to go further if you are not able to communicate with other players.
You will meet people sharing the same interest. It might be rewarding to converse with native speakers, which will improve your speaking and listening skills. While playing online and through forums and the gaming community, you can get the benefit of immersion into the Japanese culture.
Practice Speaking the Words
Once you've picked up new words from playing video games, use them in your conversations. Try building sentences with what you learned. You could practice speaking them out loud with a language partner. Some students also try to find a language exchange partner who has a shared passion for video games and enjoys talking about them. For those facing challenges while using the new vocabulary in their natural speech, they can practice describing the game and how they learned it, in Japanese!
Practice Kanji for Reading
Many video game platforms offer 3 options: Japanese audio, text in kana, or kanji without furigana (the kana reading written in small characters next to the kanji). If you aren't focused on reading and writing right now, then focus on games with audio-only. For reading practice, you must know some kanji or be ready to pick apart kana sentences.
Kanji can be a challenge. One may not know enough kanji to read everything, but basic knowledge of kanji can give learners the gist even if they can't pronounce it. This is because kanji translates as a word, not a sound, so you know the word and get the idea.
However, if without sufficient knowledge of kanji, games only in kanji without furigana will be a huge challenge to read through. It is recommended that you practice kanji to prepare. Anki has excellent Japanese kanji decks to help you learn fast.
On the other hand, there is another challenge if the game has a kana-only option. Using kanji helps break up words and particles in a sentence when reading. So unless you know a lot of vocabulary, it can be difficult to tell where a word begins and ends. However, considering this is how Japanese children first learn to read, there is no reason why a non-native Japanese speaker can't do it.
Use Your Learning When You’re Not Playing
Make full use of your learning while playing a video game by practicing outside the game. Video games can only be a supplementary learning tool, but won't teach you everything. You can only make optimum use of video games as a Japanese learning tool if you use that learning to communicate with others.
Shadowing is a technique to learn how to speak and sound like a native. All you do is follow along with the speaker and copy what they say, either at the same time or right after. It helps you catch each word and remember it. It also helps you pick up the rhythm of the language if you have trouble sounding like a native. For games with a Japanese audio feature, turn this on while playing. Then, listen to the dialogue and shadow it.
Different companies use different sets of words and expressions in video games, depending on the genre of the game itself. Here is a list of some of the most frequently used ones to get you started with learning Japanese with video games.
Before the Start
- Menu メニュー menyu
- Settings 設定 settei
- Select 選択 sentaku
- Music 音楽 ongaku
- Level レベル reberu
- Easy 簡単 kantan
- Difficult 難しい muzukashii
During the Game
- Start 開始 kaishi
- Fight 戦う tatakau
- Attack 攻撃 kougeki
- Save セーブ sebu
- Quit 終了 shuuryou
- Continue 続きtsuzuki
Characters and Locations
- Character 人物 jinbutsu
- Soldier 兵士 heishi
- Warrior 武士 bushi
- Traveler 旅人 tabibito
- Pirate 海賊 kaizoku
- Enemy 敵 teki
- Ally 味方 mikata
- Monster 魔物 mamono or 化け物 bakemono
- Fairy 妖精 yousei
- Dragon 龍 ryuu
- Spirit 精霊 seirei
- Soul 魂 tamashi
- Castle 城 shiro
- City 町 machi
- Shop 店 mise
- Island 島 shima
- Temple 寺院 jiin
- Kingdom 王国 oukoku
- World 世界 sekai
Plot and Items
- Story 物語 monogatari
- Legend 伝説 densetsu
- Adventure 冒険 bouken
- Danger 危険 kiken
- Strength 力 chikara
- Health 体力 tairyoku
- Magic 魔法 mahou
- Item アイテム aitemu or 道具 dougu
- Chest 宝箱 takarabako
- War 戦争 sensou
- Weapon 武器 buki
- Sword 剣 ken
- Bow 弓 yumi
- Armor 鎧 yoroi
Video Games for Learning Japanese
Some video game companies specifically design the gaming platform and consoles to teach you Japanese. Most of those games only offer the basics of grammar and vocabulary and supplement the studying of Japanese. Some of your favorite video games on Playstation may become your best teaching tool and a fun way to learn. Here are our top 3 picks!
My Japanese Coach
For those in possession of a Nintendo DS, install My Japanese Coach to learn Japanese with a cool game. While a Nintendo DS may seem like old technology, it’s just as useful as a smartphone today. Each new play brings with it new words that users are encouraged to memorize (the correct stroke order of both hiragana and katakana). There are mixed reviews on the utility of the app, with some users complaining that the explanations within the game are too confusing for beginners. However, others have found it to be incredibly fun and educational.
Katakana War is a fun game that can teach learners of Japanese a bit of survival Japanese. Featuring a bunch of anime characters that embark on an adventure to learn new words, the game teaches you katakana (one of the 3 writing systems of Japanese) through various levels of learning.
This is a great way to begin learning Japanese while having a great time.
The game features illustrated manga chapters, in addition to flashcards that allow users to study both hiragana and katakana. What makes this a great app for beginners is that no previous knowledge of Japanese is required. Beginners will be able to navigate the game just fine and learn Japanese along the way. Discover new katakana characters with each new game, and find some friends and encounter some dangerous enemies along the way.
Inarguably, one of the most famous Japanese video games of all time, it is fairly possible that most Japanese enthusiasts know this one well. A light-hearted catch-em-all RPG, Pokémon is one of the easiest Japanese video games to learn from. Choose your language at the start of a new game, following which users are given two settings for reading: kana only, or kanji (without furigana).
The game includes a lot of English loanwords. Learn onomatopoeia and memorize words that repeat often enough. Also, it is fairly easy to pick up word meanings from context. Moreover, Pokémon Go is available for play in Japanese. This makes the game an on-the-go studying tool. Switch your phone's language to Japanese. Once you do that, your apps – including Pokémon Go – will switch to Japanese.