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5 Great Ways to Increase Your Japanese Vocabulary

As I wrote in my earlier post, I became fluent in Japanese without actually studying much. I just fell in love with Japanese and automatically started indulging myself in the language without even thinking that I’m studying. Based on my own experience, I can say with 100% confidence that it’s possible to learn Japanese without even realizing you’re studying. While doing something fun in Japanese, your vocabulary will grow before you even notice.

Daruma dolls in Asakusa


Note: Even though I’m writing about Japanese, I’m sure that most of these will come handy in learning pretty much any language so you should read on even if you weren’t interested in learning Japanese!

1. Watching TV drama series

I find watching drama series better than watching movies as dramas often (though not always) contain more talking and lines than movies that often have long moments with no talking. There are exceptions of course but I personally have learned a lot more from dramas than movies. Dramas are also nice since one episode only lasts around 30~45 minutes so it’s easier to find time for watching them. I would also argue that live action dramas are often better than animated series as the characters in anime often speak more unrealistically, often using speech styles one wouldn’t really use in real life. There are many anime series with very realistic speech as well (as well as dramas with unrealistic ones) but overall, I would recommend dramas over anime.

2. Reading books, magazines or comics

Books, magazines and comics will all teach you different kinds of vocabulary. Books will teach you pretty much anything, from conversational words to very abstract words you will never, ever need to use or will never hear anywhere else. Depending on your needs, you could spend hours looking up all the words you don’t know or just try to understand the most important points – and probably gaining nice amount of vocabulary anyway. Many people say that manga isn’t useful in studying but I have found them very useful. I aren’t even that fond of reading manga – I’d rather read magazines or books – but I’m trying to read it from time to time since the amount of onomatopoeia you can learn from comics is amazing.

Depending on your Japanese level, reading might be very fun and feel like you’re not even studying or alternatively you might get frustrated and lose your motivation. If you feel like reading is still impossible for you, I would either recommend to:

1) Give up reading for now. It’s not worth it if it makes you lose your motivation and enthusiasm for Japanese. That is, in case you have those to begin with.

2) Forget the books and read some children’s manga with furigana (readings written above the kanji characters).

3) Choose something you are really, really interested in. I tried to read magazines in Japanese when I could only read hiragana and katakana and I had to look up every single kanji in the articles before I understood what I was reading. And I still couldn’t understand all of it. However, as the articles I read were about my favorite music group, I really had the motivation to go through all it. I didn’t even think about it as studying! If you really are interested in what you’re reading, you might want to take up the challenge of reading even if you could barely read.

3. Listening to Japanese music

I have been listening to Japanese music since I was a child and I have noticed that it has not only increased my vocabulary but also taught me a lot about pronunciation and intonation. It will also raise your listening comprehension skills!

In case you wish to focus on increasing your vocabulary, I would recommend choosing music of various genres and adding the lyrics to your music player as well. I always add lyrics to all songs I put on my iPod and because of that, I can learn new vocabulary pretty much anywhere, while listening to music. I would recommend this method for studying kanji as well as you can hear the pronunciation while listening.

4. Watching Japanese TV programs other than drama

There are countless of interesting tv programs in Japan other than drama series. Even though I have studied Japanese for years and can speak pretty fluently, I always learn new words when I watch Japanese news or variety programs. I have found quiz programs especially fun as you not only get to know new Japanese words but you will also get nice trivial knowledge that not even most Japanese know (or more exactly: didn’t know before that program was broadcasted).

5. Following Japanese social media accounts

I have found following social media accounts a very easy and light way to increase my Japanese vocabulary. You can follow anything: Instagram, Twitter, Facebook feeds… Tweets are short which makes them easy to read even if your Japanese level wasn’t that high yet. Also, at Instagram pictures will help you understand. As for Facebook, if you have no Japanese people in your friend list, you can always follow some official accounts such as accounts sharing news or recipes. You could also start by following KettiNotes’ Facebook – the author of KettiNotes Jr. is a Japanese native and he’s a lot more active than me there so you can be sure you will get accurate Japanese to your feed.

Extremely beautiful sakura (cherry blossoms) in Tokyo, Japan
Instagram can be surprisingly effective in increasing your vocabulary. You will just look at the beautiful pictures and before you notice, your Japanese will have improved significantly!

By the way, in case you have been wondering why I’m no longer updating daily or even once in a few days, a new University term just started here in Japan and because of that I have been awfully busy. I have lectures from morning to night and on top of that, a lot of nomikais (飲み会, Japanese name for drinking parties) so it has been rather difficult to find time for blogging. As you might know, drinking parties really are a must-go here – you can’t just reject those extremely unwanted offers to those super nice restaurants serving amazingly delicious food just because you have better things to do. However, as I have adopted the Japanese lifestyle of being able to go on without sleeping much and just working like crazy everyday, fear not, KettiNotes will still be updated every week!

Jokes aside, just check back here at least once a week and there will be a new post for you to read. (: Or just subscribe to KettiNotes and you will automatically get all the new posts to your email!


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