Epiphanies, epiphanies…did I even have any epiphanies when I was watching Doraemon? This thought bugged me for a good few hours before I realised that I did in fact have an epiphany. No, I didn’t uncover the meaning of life or develop a cure for cancer. Instead, I came to the realisation that my choice to watch a children’s television program to improve my second language fluency was significant in itself. I chose to watch a Japanese children’s program instead of an anime series aimed at adults due to my assumption that it would be easier for me to follow the storyline and understand new vocabulary, as these elements would be simplified for the program’s juvenile audience to promote comprehension. Heitmiller (2015) explains that because children are still in the process of mastering their own native language, using children’s television to improve second language fluency is effective because it encourages viewers to ‘think’ in the foreign language by “listening and forming connections using a visual platform.” I found Heitmiller’s explanation of ‘thinking’ in the language you are learning to be particularly interesting and beneficial. I realised that when I was not relying on subtitles to understand the content of the program, I actually didn’t translate the Japanese to English in my head. Rather, I completely bypassed this cognitive process and thought and (mostly) understood, in Japanese alone.
分かる – I understand (2017)
My surprise that the structure and content of Doraemon was very similar to other children’s television programs I had watched as a child was also significant. After researching children’s television as a genre, I discovered that most children’s television programs incorporate three key educative elements to aide children’s socialisation and development. These include:
- Problem solving (eg. cause-and-effect and critical thinking)
- General foundational concepts (eg. colours, numbers, shapes and time)
- World knowledge (eg. cultural traditions, weather and history)
(Cahill & Bigheart 2016)
I like to think that by now, I have a pretty good understanding of these concepts after years of religiously viewing Sesame Street, Play School and Arthur. All of these components were apparent in Doraemon, however the one that caught my attention the most was the ‘cultural tradition’ of mothers performing a tea ceremony at home in traditional Japanese dress.
Screencap from Doraemon (DoraNobi Eng subtitles 1979)
This particular element stood out to me because up until this point, Doraemon was, in the words of Iwabuchi (2002, p. 94) “culturally odourless,” meaning that the content did not appear to be ‘distinctly Japanese.’ When I reflect on how I understand the phrase ‘distinctly Japanese’ I immediately picture kimono, sumo, calligraphy and sushi. I find this interesting because even though I know Japan and ‘Japaneseness’ is comprised of so much more than just these cultural artefacts, my socialisation in a Western country has led me to immediately conjure these iconic ‘Japanese’ images when I think about Japan. In saying this, Doraemon has since been localised for foreign audiences as its appearance, storyline and morals are universal enough for children from almost any culture to enjoy and understand.
Doraemon Season 2 aired on Disney XD in 2015 (Green 2015)
The main function of children’s television that interested me particularly was the potential for vocabulary development through viewing. Admittedly, I only remember one word from Doraemon, which is slang for ‘to grin’ (niyaniya – ニヤニヤ), however it is important to note that my viewing habits are different to that of young children. Firstly, accessing Doraemon is slightly difficult as I had to search for the episode for quite a while on YouTube before I found it. Unlike a child, my parents do not choose the shows I watch, and I am also not terribly keen on watching the same episode of a show over and over again. Despite my reservations about repeat viewing, Skouteris and Kelly (2006) emphasise the importance of repeat viewing in a child’s vocabulary development, stating that the higher the number of repeat viewings, the more a child understands the content of the video. My adult ‘intelligence’ has actually failed me in this respect, as I find it difficult to focus on a video that I have watched multiple times as the story becomes predictable and uninteresting. I’ve found that keeping a diary of new vocabulary and grammar structures whilst watching Doraemon has helped to keep me engaged, but I am going to have to seek out some more episodes to keep myself motivated.
(Doraemon rainbow 2015)
Another important element of viewing children’s television I did not initially think of is the process of co-viewing. When young children watch television, they are often accompanied by an adult who actively mediate the child’s viewing (Dorr, Kovaric & Doubleday 1989). This mediation can take the form of asking the child questions about the show, singing along to songs and choosing what the child watches and when (ibid). Moeller (1996) explains that co-viewing can actually facilitate comprehension of plot and the acquisition new vocabulary, so as a person who loves nothing more than a good family viewing session of Game of Thrones, I decided that next time when I watch Doraemon, I’ll watch it with my boyfriend, James. Like myself, James is currently trying to improve his Japanese, and I figure if I can watch Doraemon with someone who has similar viewing and learning objectives, I may actually retain more Japanese if I can discuss what I have learnt with another person.
I’ll keep everybody posted about my viewing session and am determined to nail down some new vocabulary and grammar structures.
Until next time, じゃね！
Cahill, M & Bigheart, J 2016, ‘What can librarians learn from Elmo, Sid and Dora? Applying the principles of educational television to storytime’, Knowledge Quest, vol. 44, no. 3, pp. 49-57.
Doraemon rainbow 2015, image, Kai-You Pop Portal Culture Media, viewed 14 September 2017, <http://kai-you.net/article/12154>
DoraNobi Eng subtitles 1979, Doraemon Screencap, image, viewed 8 September 2017, < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UoDf0XP8VE4>
Dorr, A, Kovaric, P & Doubleday, C 1989, ‘Parent-child co-viewing of television’, Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, vol. 33, no. 1, pp. 35-51.
Green, S 2015, Doraemon on Disney XD, image, Crunchroll, viewed 14 September 2017, <http://www.crunchyroll.com/anime-news/2015/06/03-1/doraemon-season-2-starting-on-disney-xd>
Heitmiller, A 2015, ‘Watching children’s TV is a language learning tool’, Liden & Denz Intercultural Institute of Languages, 20 January, viewed 6 September 2017, <http://lidenz.ru/watching-childrens-tv-language-learning-tool/>
Iwabuchi, K 2002, Recentering Globalization: Popular Culture and Japanese Transnationalism, Duke University Press, United States, p. 94.
Moeller, B 1996, ‘Learning from television: a research review’, Centre for Children and Technology, no. 11, pp. 1-37.
Skouteris, H & Kelly, L 2006, ‘Repeated viewing and co-viewing of an animated video: an examination of factors that impact on young children’s comprehension of video content’, Australian Jounral of Early Childhood, vol. 31 no. 3, pp. 22-30.
分かる – I understand 2017, image, Material.Miyazaki, viewed 8 September 2017, <http://material.miyazaki-c.ed.jp/ipa/kihongoi_sinboru/communication_onnanoko/rikai/IPA-ccc760.htm>