Immersion clearly is the most effective and the most fun method to learn Japanese. One particularly useful tool is Netflix. Not only does it have a catalogue of thousands of Japanese movies, dramas and anime shows, you can also watch movies wherever you are – and that at a low price. I myself learn Japanese with Netflix and have made enormous progress in my listening and speaking skills. Netflix even helped me pass the JLPT N2 one year after I had started learning Japanese. So, in this post, I will give you 11 tips on how to effectively learn Japanese with Netflix.
1. Switch Your Netflix Language to Japanese
First up, you should switch your Netflix language to Japanese. Not only will your interface be all in Japanese, which means more immersion, no, it Japanese audio will be the default and you won’t have to manually switch to Japanese every time.
2. Choose Interesting Japanese Netflix Shows
Next, you should look for some Japanese shows that you find interesting. I often find myself watching some random Japanese show that I don’t even find interesting just for the sake of immersion. But that’s exactly what you shouldn’t do.
When I watch something I find really interesting I pick up way more words while also having fun.
Luckily, Netflix’ Algorithm is getting better and better at recommending stuff that you’ll find interesting. So, it shouldn’t be that hard to find interesting shows.
I’m planning on writing a post where I show you my list of the best Netflix shows to learn Japanese with. But for now, I recommend you watch the show “Terrace House”. It can be enjoyed by beginners, intermediate and even advanced learners as it includes everything from everyday conversations to more analytical talk.
Main takeaway: Watching interesting shows leads to more progress.
3. Don't Watch Dubbed Netflix Shows
This is a bit of a divisive topic. Is it okay to watch an American movie but with Japanese instead of English audio?
I think it isn’t. The reason is that, while you are watching something in Japanese, it won’t be ‘real’ Japanese, as many of my Japanese friends have told me. As a matter of fact, many expressions that we use in English, don’t exist in Japanese and vice versa. This means that many sentences you hear in a dubbed movie aren’t actually phrases that a native speaker would use in everyday conversations.
Therefore, I recommend you only watch original Japanese shows. Besides being exposed to actual Japanese this has the benefit that you’ll also learn something about Japanese culture and also that you see how Japanese people behave and act in certain situations.
Main takeaway: Watching original Japanese shows exposes you to real Japanese and also shows you how Japanese people act / behave in certain situations.
4. Choose Difficult But Not Too Difficult Shows
If you want to pick up new Japanese words while watching a show on Netflix, it must include words that you don’t know yet. But at the same time, it shouldn’t be so difficult that you don’t understand anything.
Finding the right balance can be difficult. But I find that when I can follow the plot without having to look up a word every other ten seconds, then I don’t get stressed and pick up more new words.
As I’ll discuss later, most unknown words should be inside a sentence where you already know all other words. This is then called an “i+1”-sentence and will become important later.
Also, if you’re just starting with learning Japanese, watching Japanese shows on Netflix might not be the best option for you. You’re probably better off learning some basic grammar and vocabulary first. But try it out for yourself. When I started I didn’t understand anything as they were talking way too fast for me.
But as I watched more and more hours of Japanese Netflix shows, I started to notice some improvement. And after a few months, I could watch a whole movie in Japanese and understand most of it.
Main takeaway: Watch shows where you understand most but not all of what is being said.
5. Use a VPN
The amount of Japanese shows on American Netflix is limited. And even if you find some, chances are that they do include Japanese audio but not Japanese subtitles. Which will become important later on.
That’s why I use a VPN with which I can access Japanese Netflix with all those Japanese shows I want to watch. By using a VPN you get access to more original Japanese shows which then also makes it easier to find something you find interesting.
I recommend NordVPN (no affiliate) but there are probably many other VPN-services out there you could use.
Main takeaway: A VPN gives you access to more original Japanese movies and dramas.
6. Watch Enough Japanese Netflix Shows
If you really want to learn Japanese from watching Netflix, you must watch a lot of stuff. That’s because when you only watch let’s say one episode of Terrace House each day, you’ll never be exposed to enough new words to actually make any progress.
Also, I find that when you watch more, you will meet words, you have previously met somewhere else, again much faster. This is a bit hard to explain. But when you meet a new word and you understand it inside a context, you have to be exposed to it again before you forget it again. If you only watch one hour of Japanese shows per day the chance that you meet that word again in the right time interval is way smaller than when you watch maybe five hours of Netflix per day.
Main takeaway: More immersion means you learn more Japanese.
7. Turn on Audio Description
I’m already pretty good at Japanese. (Sorry for the flex haha) But honestly, for me, watching movies in Japanese can sometimes feel like a waste of time. That’s because many scenes are just filled with silence.
This means that in a more difficult one-hour long movie I encounter maybe 10 new words. But had spent the same time on reading a book in Japanese I could have probably met close to 100 new words.
Therefore, movies can be quite inefficient for more advanced learners.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could increase the amount of spoken time and thus also the number of new words in a movie?
Well, that’s pretty easy.
Simply turn on audio description.
Audio description is basically a voice-over where someone describes everything visible on the screen. It’s mainly there for the visually impaired. But it’s also a great tool for language learners like you and me.
Turning on audio description has three main benefits:
- Silent scenes in movies are filled with spoken Japanese.
- You encounter a whole different type of words.
- Those words are more easily acquired thanks to visual context.
The first point should be pretty clear. With the second one, I mean that you’ll hear many words describing facial expressions, movements, feelings, words used to describe surroundings and much more. And then what I also noticed, was that I almost naturally understand those words thanks to the visual context. Like, if you have someone looking in depressed and you hear 「浮かない顔のユマ」you can tie that expression to what you see on the screen.
To find Netflix shows with audio description either search for “audio description” / “副音声” (ふくおんせい) or scroll down and click the link saying the same thing.
Once you’re watching a show that supports audio description simply hover over the speech bubble and choose audio description / 副音声.
Main takeaway: Audio description exposes you to new and more words. Which means you learn more Japanese in the same period of time.
8. Pay Attention
I often find myself watching some Japanese TV show but not actually picking up any new words from it. “Why?” you might ask. Well, if you do already have some basic competence in Japanese you’ll be able to follow the plot of a film without understanding every single word.
But those words that you do not understand yet are those that you want and must acquire. So, don’t just sit there ignoring all those potential new vocabulary items.
Pay attention! Look out for new words!
If you encounter an unknown word, check if it’s inside an “i+1”-sentence. This means, check whether you know all other words except that one unknown word.
Main takeaway: If you don’t pay attention you’ll miss many potentially acquirable words.
9. Use A Japanese Dictionary
If you pay attention while you’re watching a Japanese drama, you’ll come across plenty of new words. In some cases, you might even understand them right on the spot as it is often the case when you watch a show with audio description. But in most cases, you don’t understand the meaning immediately.
Therefore, you should use a dictionary. I recommend using a monolingual dictionary (this means a dictionary explaining the word in Japanese) as early as possible. Because a French teacher of mine used to say: “German isn’t French. You cannot translate 1:1”
And this holds true for Japanese. Japanese isn’t English. Therefore Japanese words are best explained in Japanese. At first, you’ll find it pretty difficult to understand a Japanese definition. But with time this will get better. And you’ll find that the Japanese definitions contain way more information than an English translation.
Using a monolingual dictionary has another benefit too: You learn how to describe words in Japanese.
And this is pretty useful. You probably know that moment when you’re looking for a word, but you just cannot remember which one it was. Well, then you have to explain it using other words. I find that since I started using a Japanese dictionary, I’ve become way better at describing specific words without translating them.
Here are some recommended Japanese dictionaries:
Main takeaway: Looking up words, helps you understand them. Using a Japanese dictionary is even better as it gives a more detailed definition.
10. Study New Japanese Words With Anki
One of the biggest problems I faced while learning Japanese by watching hours of Netflix was that the words I looked up just wouldn’t stay inside my head. Maybe a minute after I looked up a word I’d have forgotten it already.
Luckily, this problem can be solved easily. Simply create an Anki-flashcards of the whole sentence you encountered an unknown word in.
Here’s a little tutorial:
If you encounter a new word in an “i+1”-sentence, capture the scene with a program like OBS. This will give you an mp4 file which you can put onto your flashcard.
Next, type the “i+1”-sentence into the field on the front.
And lastly, copy a dictionary definition of the unknown words into the field on the back.
I won’t go into any more detail here. But here’s a post where I explained how I create sentence cards with Anki in more detail.
Main takeaway: Anki helps you memorise new words.
11. Have Fun Learning Japanese With Netflix
What I found to be most important when immersing myself in Japanese was that I need to have fun while doing it. There’s no point in forcing yourself to watch another episode because you won’t enjoy it. And if you don’t enjoy learning Japanese you won’t make any progress. You might even stop and all your effort was for nothing.
So, most importantly, have fun while you learn Japanese with Netflix!
Take brakes, watch non-Japanese shows from time to time, don’t study your Anki Flashcards for maybe a week. Avoid getting a burn-out. It might look like your holding yourself back in the short-term. But in the long-term, this leads to steady and sustainable growth in your Japanese abilities.
Main takeaway: See your Japanese studies as a long-term project. Prioritise longevity over short-term “profit”.
If you’re unsure whether you should learn Japanese or not, I recommend my article: “Is learning Japanese worth it?“
TL;DR How to Learn Japanese With Netflix
- Watch interesting shows
- Only watch original Japanese shows
- Choose movies / dramas where you understand most but not all of what is being said
- Use a VPN
- Watch enough
- Turn on audio description
- Pay attention to new words
- Look up new words in a monolingual dictionary
- study new words with Anki
- Don’t get burnt out
Thanks for Reading
I hope this post was useful and you now know how to learn Japanese with Netflix.
If you want an extra tool that will make studying Japanese with Netflix a lot easier subscribe to my Newsletter below. I will then send you an email with the recommended tool.