We have been conditioned by well-intentioned mothers to believe that television will “destroy our brains.” This might well be true if one spends their time watching “reality” TV shows that don’t actually reflect reality, the sensationalist 24-hour news cycle, and tasteless drivel that neither entertains nor educates. But if you watch television in Japanese, this otherwise time-wasting and brain-wasting activity can become a constructive form of language learning that even mommy should be able to get behind! Video is also one of the best ways to create a fun, effective, foreign language immersion environment no matter where in the world you happen to live. Here now are my top ten favorite tools for using online video to learn Japanese.
1) GoodDrama & AnimePlus
These sister sites offer Japanese language learners one of the easiest ways to view complete Japanese drama and anime series online completely free. Unlike most video sites, GoodDrama and AnimePlus does a fairly good job of organizing videos into seasons and sequential episodes, and includes useful metadata like show descriptions, user ratings, and cast listings so you can learn more about your favorite show’s actors.
Crunchyroll is the best “freemium” source for Japanese drama and anime series available today. In addition to an extremely wide range of sub-titled Japanese programs, they they take things to the next level by offering dedicated apps on all the major platforms (Apple TV, XBOX, PlayStation 3, iOS, Android, etc). I end up doing most of my Japanese study on the go, so this has proven to be a major benefit. While you can watch ad-supported shows in standard definition for free on the CrunchyRoll website, you will need to start a free 14-day, and later sign up for a monthly membership ($6.95 USD), if you wish to access CrunchyRoll’s premium features:
- Ad-free streaming
- HD1080P video
- Access on any of CrunchyRoll’s apps
After CrunchyRoll, Hulu is my favorite place to find high-quality, un-dubbed Japanese anime (most of the anime on Netflix is dubbed into English unfortunately). Like with CrunchyRoll, you can access some content for free on the Hulu website, but you will need to upgrade to a paid Hulu Plus account if you want access to full seasons of anime or the ability to watch programs via one of the myriad Hulu apps. A bit of useless trivia for you: the name “Hulu” is based on two Chinese words with the same basic pronunciation but different tones, húlú (葫蘆, “bottle gourd”) and hùlù (互錄, “interactive recording”).
4) Nico Nico Douga
“Niko Niko Douga” (ニコニコ動画) literally means “smile videos,” an apt name for this YouTube-esque video sharing site that is sure to put a grin on your face when you see the mountains of free content available. One of my favorite benefits is access to American movies dubbed into Japanese! I can’t stand Japanese movies dubbed into English (what’s the point!?), but going the other direction provides valuable listening input in within familiar, easy to understand contexts. One key differentiator of Niko Niko is the inclusion of user comment overlays on top of videos. You may find this annoying, but try to think of it as just another mode of useful Japanese input. Note that you will need to set up a free account before you can gain access to the site’s videos.
FluentU might not have many Japanese videos available as of writing (they started with Mandarin and Spanish are now expanding to other languages), but their beautiful design, slick interface, and general learning philosophy exactly match what I would include in a language product if I were to design one from scratch. Unlike most of the video sites and apps listed here, they include interactive bilingual subtitles (not just English), allowing you to quickly look up, save, and review any new words you encounter in a video. Best of all, they are hard at work on a kick-ass iPhone app that will allow you to take the unparalleled FluentU experience on the go.
Kumby is yet another place to stream anime online for free. The upside is that they list just about every anime series you could possible think of. The downside is that the site is riddled with pop-ups and it can be hard to know which buttons are real play buttons, and which are just click bait for pop-ups. Here’s the trick: The red play buttons are usually pop-up bate, while the green play buttons are the genuine article. Unfortunately, you sometimes have to click the red-colored play button first, close the 2 or 3 popups they throw at you, and then go back and click the now green-colored play button. It’s a pain, but hey, free anime dude!
8) Japan Foundation Lessons
The Japan Foundation offers a host of free skit-based videos for both beginning and more advanced learners. Each video includes a manga version of the skit’s plot and a useful study transcript that can be viewed in one of four different modes:
- Japanese with kanji.
- Japanese in all kana.
- Japanese in roumaji.
- Translations in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Simplified Chinese, or Korean.
9) NHK’s High School Courses
NHKs koukou kouza (高校講座・こうこうこうざ, lit. “high school courses”) has a seemingly endless supply of free, educational video content. Although the videos are intended for Japanese high school students, the content is actually quite useful for non-native adults as well, especially if you will be teaching English in a Japanese high school. Note that the site uses Windows Media Player, so Mac users will need to download Flip4Mac.
If you use wifi at coffee shops, airports, hotels, etc., I highly, HIGHLY recommend using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) for your computer, phone, etc. (it is far easier for people to spy and hack via unsecured internet traffic than you might think). But beyond just making your web traffic more secure, a VPN provides the added bonus of letting you change your IP address to another country, meaning you can access U.S. only services while abroad (e.g. Netflix) or access Japanese language content usually only available in Japan. I’ve tried quite a few VPNs in the past few years, and GoldenFrog is my favorite so far. I especially like their slick apps for Mac, Windows, iOS, and Android that let you quickly change your server location with just a few clicks/taps.
Want more recommended tools and resources for learning Japanese anywhere in the world? Want to spend your time actually learning Japanese instead of waisting precious time searching for materials? Check out my detailed language learning guide, Master Japanese: The Beginner's Step-by-Step Guide to Learning Nihongo the Fun Way. The guide tells you exactly what to use, how to use it, and why. In addition to the step-by-step guide (available in PDF, EPUB, and MOBI formats), you get 9 interviews with language experts, 10 worksheets and cheatsheets, and free lifetime updates.