It seems like lately every article on this site is about study hacks, reviews, or language-learning resources. So this time, instead of talking about learning Japanese, let’s learn some Japanese.
This article will break down how I learn grammar and improve my speaking skills from studying anime flashcards.
Studying Japanese From Anime Flashcards
In case you didn’t know, I have a super-detailed post about how to automatically generate Anki flashcards that pull Japanese subtitles from your favorite anime, TV shows, and YouTube videos.
That article is here: How To Actually Learn Japanese From Anime.
Assuming that you’ve read that (and maybe even made some rad flashcard decks), let’s walk through how I actually learn from these flashcards.
Studying Content That Is Actually Interesting
The huge bonus of anime flashcards is that we can study Japanese that we’re actually interested in. If it’s interesting, you’re less likely to hate Japanese when weird language stuff starts making your head hurt. Yay!
For this article, I’m going to be using one of my favorite movies of all time: 『雲の向こう、約束の場所』(kumo no mukou, yakusoku no basho). English title: The Place Promised In Our Early Days.
Here’s the Wikipedia article.
Here’s the Japanese Wikipedia article.
You can also watch this movie on the Japanese version of Hulu.
Or sometimes it pops up on Youtube.
Breaking Down Japanese Grammar With Anime Flashcards
Okay, so let’s look at some Japanese!
Rather than pretend that there is any real structure to this post, I’ll just take some random flashcards, then show you:
- How to break down the meaning of cards.
- Picking up on gender, formality, and contextual uses of Japanese.
- How to single out repeatable grammar patterns.
- Looking up similar uses of Japanese online.
Sound complicated? Well, that’s life, dude.
I’ll try to keep this to minimum-boring…
Anime Flashcard Breakdown
Here’s a flashcard for us to break down:
kuwashiku wa isou-saki no byouin ni kiite itadakemasu ka
If you want to know more, please ask at the hospital she was transferred to.
I could probably talk about this single Japanese phase for like 100 pages, but instead, I’ll just point out some things that I would take note of when looking at a card like this.
Here’s a quick (and very basic) vocab breakdown:
- 詳しく is くわしく is kuwashiku is “detailed”… in adverb form? I’ll explain later
- は is a topic marker… usually
- 移送 is いそう is isou is “transfer.”
- ～先 is ～さき is –saki is “the place something goes to”
- の is no is a possession particle (is that actually what this is called?). Anyways, it’s helping to form a noun phrase here.
- 病院 is びょういん is byouin is “hospital.”
- に is ni is “to”
- 聞いて is きいて is kiite is “to ask” in the te-form.
- ～ていただけますか is ~te itadakemasu ka is a polite request dealski that means something like “could I possibly get you to [te-form verb].”
Yikes. I’ll try to make that make sense. So much sense that you can make sentences just as jouzu.
First, do I understand this card?
The main purpose of all of your flashcards, as I explain at length in the Hacking Japanese Supercourse, is to increase your comprehension of the Japanese language.
In other words, you want to understand this card. If you understand it, then it gets a pass.
But sometimes, particularly if you’re feeling extra engaged or have some extra time to study, you can also ask yourself…
Second, can I make sentences like this?
When I say “Can I make sentences like this?” I’m actually asking myself a whole bunch of questions.
For this example, I’m asking myself:
Can I make sentences that start with 詳しくは ?
Do I know how to attach ～先 to nouns?
Do I know how to form polite requests using ～ていただけますか ?
That’s a lot of Japanese to learn, so maybe I won’t try to pick it all up on one go (assuming I don’t know any of it). Maybe I’ll just shoot for one of those.
Usually the dialogue in my head goes like this…
I’ve heard the phrase 詳しくは (kuwashiku wa) about 8,000 times, and I understand what it means. But I’ve never said that before. Is it because I’m unable to say it? Why am I unable to say it? I should learn to say it!
So let’s break up this sentence.
詳しくは / kuwashiku what?!
You could probably spend 3 or 4 years in a mediocre Japanese class without ever being told how in the world an adverb like 詳しく (kuwashiku) could possibly go connecting itself to the particle は (wa).
So let’s go bust out some dictionaries and see what we find…
Jisho.org (the wonderful, classic version) comes up blank:
But Weblio does me a solid and actually gives me an entry!
Yeah, saying “for details” sounds kind of stiff and dictionary-ish, but knowing it shows up in a dictionary is a start, because that means that these two items in particular are attached on a regular basis.
For example, I can’t just go attaching any i-adjective like おいしい (in its adverbial -ku form) to は:
So now I go looking for lots of phrases that have 詳しくは in it.
First, let’s stick with Weblio. I go to their example sentence search page, then put “詳しくは” in quotation marks, which comes up with 1,241 example sentences! Wow:
So, how is this phrase interacting with the rest of the sentence?
In the main example, 詳しくは is attaching to an entirely independent phrase:
Looking at Weblio, I can see quite a few other examples where 詳しくは is attaching to entirely self-sufficient, standalone Japanese phrases:
So I can just attach it to full sentences, a lot like a prepositional phrase (like “in detail”) in English.
Speaking of using this Japanese, when is it appropriate?
In the anime example, the two speaking are not friends. It’s a hospital employee talking to a visitor, which I’m guessing is pretty formal no matter what part of the world you’re in.
The example from Tanaka Corpus seems less formal, but Tanaka Corpus isn’t always reliable as a dictionary (something I’ll write about in another article sometime).
Also, looking at the other example in Weblio, a bunch of them are just weird excerpts from Wikipedia:
There’s a lot of nasty kanji there, but you might notice that there aren’t any verbs in these examples. That’s because of an abbreviated form of writing Japanese. The type you see in footnotes and official documents.
So yeah, seems like this is a pretty formal phrase.
Maybe I should avoid using “詳しくは + [full sentence]” in less formal situations until I get a better grip on this phrase.
If I want to get really fancy, I can also reference this phrase in articles online. I can start by looking it up on Google(.jp) News:
Scary Japanese articles everywhere.
Still, let’s be brave and click on one.
Then I do a search by typing “CTRL + F” and typing 詳しくは, which produces only one result:
Taking a closer look, I realize that 詳しくは is just showing up in parentheses, referencing another article:
So it’s kind of like in English, where I might say…
Learning Japanese from anime is possible, after all (for details, see this article).
Okay, so now what? I find myself thinking:
The more I know about this phrase, the less likely it seems that I’ll ever need to use it.
Still, I’ll log it for if I ever need to give a business presentation and say something like “For details, please see page 37:
kuwashiku wa 37 (san juu nana) peeji wo mite kudasai
I might say something like that some day, who knows.
More importantly, I am never going to forget this phrase, because I just spent like 10 minutes trying to figure out how to use it properly!
Let’s look at the next part of this anime flashcard that I understand, but almost certainly can’t use properly in spoken Japanese:
Attaching ～先（～さき） To Nouns
Have you ever looked up the word “go” in a dictionary? Or “get?” Or even a somewhat less versatile word like “business?”
These are such common words that dictionaries have like a million different entries for them.
And a “word” like ～先（さき / saki） is no different. The dictionary (Weblio, in this case) causes brain-melting information overload:
Jisho.org isn’t much help either:
But if you know how to manipulate these dictionaries, then it can be effective. You may notice that one of the uses of 先 listed in Jisho.org’s entry is “Noun suffix.” In other words, attaching to the end of nouns!
That’s exactly what’s happening in our example. It’s attaching to the end of a noun, 移送（いそう / isou / “transfer”）:
This is Good News Bears, because we can use dictionaries to give us the goods.
First, I’m going to click on “Kanji details” for 先:
Doing so will take me to this page:
A Noun Suffix is something that comes at the end of a noun. In other words, I want words that “end in 先.” Well, there’s a link for that:
147 words. Oh snap!
Let’s look at “Common words only:”
Now I just look at words that are kind of similar to the usage I saw in the anime, where we had “transfer~先,” so I’ll see if I can find some other nouns that denote movement with ~先 attached to them. And I find some gems:
Did that actually teach me how to use this grammar formation?
I don’t know, dude. But it certainly gave me a better sense of how ～先 attaches to nouns sometimes.
Could I Get You To Please Te-Form?
Seeing how this article is already about 35 times longer than I expected, let’s move right to the last part of this sentence:
Could you please ask…?
Literally: “Could I get you to please ask…?”
Any time you see new Japanese coming after a verb, check the form of the verb before it.
I can’t stress that enough. It’s the easy way to “pick up” Japanese grammar. All you have to do is make a mental note: the verb before that word was in the te-form, or the masu-stem form, or the dictionary form. (Don’t fret if you don’t know these forms, because you’ll come across then in time, no matter what study resources you’re using).
Doing this often enough will help you to naturally get a sense for Japanese sentences.
If you want to get specific, then you can just look stuff up in the plethora of Japanese grammar resources out there.
For ～ていただけますか in particular, here are some options:
Let’s Not Forget The Lazy Option
I know what you’re thinking–Niko, you psycho-sadomasochist, this study method is a huge hassle.
Well, yeah, and I’m not saying that you should do this all the time. Just whenever your interest gets piqued by the language in one of your most-interesting flashcards.
Also, let’s all be thankful that it’s not as brain-melting as my super-effective listening comprehension hack method.
The easy method:
Just think–Hey, that grammar’s cool. I’m gonna try to use it in my next conversation.
Then go make a fool of yourself, maybe in an online lesson. (Speaking of which, here’s a ridiculously detailed review of Cafetalk.)
I do it all the time. Still. When you get laughed at (yeah, that happens sometimes), laugh with your friend or teacher, then be like, No, seriously. Teach me how to say that correctly or die.
It works, yo.
Good luck with your studies everyone,
p.s. Are you ダサい？ If not (of if you don’t know what that means), then you should probably sign up for this glorious Japanese PWN-age kit: