Learning Japanese through Manga

The American intellectual and TV personality Clifton Fadiman once said “When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.” Though this quote can be interpreted from different angles, I found that it spoke most to me about learning to adapt to the environment around you. The majority of SP2 students at Waseda’s School of International Liberal Studies (SILS) are foreign students living in Japan for the first time, and many find that lifestyle adjustments are a tricky obstacle to overcome. I was lucky enough in the sense that I figured out how to do things pretty quickly, but the language barrier (cue the sighs) was something I am still struggling with today. 

No matter how language-savvy you may think you are, the level gap between a simple answering-textbook-questions routine done in the classroom vs. real-life conversations with a native speaker will probably always be a huge shock for those experiencing it for the first time. I was laughably confident when I moved to Tokyo last year, thinking that my few months of intensive Japanese tutoring was enough for me to get by. While I was not wrong -- I mean, I knew how to ask for directions when I was lost -- I soon came to realize that I only knew textbook Japanese. I sounded like a Person A; someone whose conversational skills were limited to “My name is Christie. I am Korean. I am a university student.” Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that, but I wanted to learn how to speak fluidly and really make the most of my four years in Japan.

One of the ways I practiced my Japanese was through anime and manga. I’ve always enjoyed both since elementary school, but living in Japan helped me notice how it could also act as an educational tool. Since English is my first language, I usually end up reading manga chapters after they’ve been translated. To practice my Japanese, I read the translations first and used the basic summary I had in my head to help me navigate through the original Japanese. A lot of series aimed at a younger audience have furigana (hiragana readings for kanji characters), so using that was very helpful when it came to memorizing basic kanji. It’s worth mentioning that I mostly read adventure-based manga, so finding words that are usable in everyday situations is a bit difficult (after all, 海賊王 isn’t exactly something you can talk about during lunch!) but the fact is, I’m learning through something I genuinely enjoy. Naturally, the experience won’t be as fun if you’re not interested in this kind of thing, but dramas and reality programs are another excellent way to pick up practical Japanese.

Learning Japanese can be a challenge, but finding mediums that can spice up your study routine will definitely help you remember words and grammatical structures faster than any textbook can!