“So, are you fluent in Japanese yet?” A small part of myself withers and dies inside whenever I am asked that question. Yes, I have continuously studied Japanese for five years. Yes, I like to think that I am relatively good at the Japanese I know. However, we’re talking about a whole language here. Learning a language is an immense and ongoing pursuit. Sure, I can hold a good conversation in Japanese, I can even read and write hiragana, katakana and a couple of hundred kanji. But it pains me to admit that I am definitely not yet fluent.
This session, I’ve decided to get a bit creative with my Japanese language learning and ditch the textbooks (sorry Genki, you’ve been a great friend to me). I’m aiming to improve my fluency in Japanese through watching the Japanese children’s television program, Doraemon, without subtitles. Now yes, for those of us who love our subbed anime, watching an anime without subtitles is akin to going to a social gathering where you know nobody and attempting to join a conversation, occasionally making an effort to join in but feeling fundamentally lost and excluded. However, I’m on a mission to overcome the uncomfortable and ultimately not feel like a deer in the headlights when using complex Japanese.
To provide everyone with a bit of background, Doraemon is a classic Japanese television program aimed at young children. The plot revolves around Nobita, a young boy (who is actually a bit of a dweeb) and his relationship with Doraemon, a magical robotic cat who was sent to help him navigate the difficult territory of his childhood. I found it extremely difficult to locate the raw, unsubbed original Japanese episode of Doraemon, so I had to settle for an English subbed version I found on YouTube and tried to avoid reading the subtitles. This was actually a lot more difficult to do than I anticipated. As a person who consumes a lot of subbed anime, I am used to switching rapidly between the English translations and the visuals. It took a lot of self control not to sneak a peek at the subtitles when I was having difficulty understanding what the characters were saying.
I’d like to take this opportunity to personally call out my sneaky eyes that were trying to undermine my language learning for the entire episode. Training myself to focus entirely on the audio and visuals rather than the subtitles will be an ongoing task that will require discipline and practice.
I was also interested to discover that plot-wise, Doraemon is very similar to the TV shows I watched as a child, namely Sesame Street, or Clifford the Big Red Dog. Each episode is short and ends with a moral or message aimed to educate and socialise young children. Having never watch a television program aimed at young Japanese children before, I must say that I was surprised that the depiction of childhood in Doraemon was almost identical to that of the American children’s TV programs I grew up with. I was actually expecting Doraemon to feel a lot more Japanese than it actually did, however it was certainly interesting to see the universality of the notion of childhood.
I was relieved that I chose to study a children’s show rather than watch an anime aimed at adults as the characters’ simple lexicon and short episode length enabled me to keep up with the plot and not become overwhelmed and lost by the language.
There were instances when I was not 100% certain about what a character said, or I may have misheard or complete missed a word. However, I attempted to address this by isolating the phrase or vocabulary item that was troubling me, thinking about the context in which is was said and then making inferences about what possibly could have been said based on the accompanying visuals. Using this method, even if I didn’t understand everything, I was able to follow the plot of Doraemon without feeling like the awkward person at a party I mentioned before (it’s happened to me more times than I care to admit, okay?)
After the episode had finished, I watched it again with subtitles and was pleasantly surprised. Although there were some parts of the show I had completely misinterpreted, I was surprised at how much I was actually able to understand without relying on subtitles. Whilst there is definitely a large margin for improvement, I really enjoyed watching Doraemon and actually gained quite an interesting insight into the television programs Japanese people grew up with. I’m keen to keep watching Doraemon to continue improving my fluency, and I think keeping a journal of commonly used phrases and vocabulary items will help me do this.
Until next time DIGC330, じゃね！
Doraemon n.d., image, ProProfs Quizmaker, viewed 25 August 2017, < https://www.proprofs.com/quiz-school/story.php?title=doraemon-quiz_1>
Doraemon reading 2017, image, TV Asahi, viewed 25 August 2017, < http://www.tv-asahi.co.jp/doraemon/news/0223/>
Francisco, F 2013, Practice, practice, practice…, image, Tofugu, viewed 25 August 2017, <https://www.tofugu.com/japanese/pera-pera-japanese-fluency/>
Know Your Meme 2010, Derp, image, Know Your Meme, viewed 25 August 2017, < http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/derp>
Norris, A 2016, Conversation, image, Twitter, viewed 25 August 2017, <https://twitter.com/dorrismccomics/status/783995729358520320>