Learning Japanese with video games

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Japan has always been a major contributor in the video game industry. It pioneered the field since the end of the 70’s, with game companies like Nintendo and Sega, increasing its market share through the decades. From Super Mario and Final Fantasy to The Legend of Zelda and Resident Evil, Japanese video games represent a very important part of the gaming world.

The main purpose of a video game is of course entertainment, but often it can also have a propaedeutic value, being a great help for studying a language. Let’s go through some useful tips for learning Japanese with video games.

First steps

First, in order to make the most out of this medium, you should learn the basics of the language. Otherwise, you won’t be able to make any sense of what you read in-game. As you might know, the building blocks of the Japanese language and writing system are two syllabic alphabets, hiragana and katakana. To be able to study (and memorize) Japanese grammar and words, you will have to know these alphabets. For starters, you can play video games like My Japanese Coach or smartphone apps like Hiragana Quest (developed by Go! Go! Nihon): in doing so, you will get basic knowledge that will go a long way in helping you learn Japanese faster.

Suggested games

You can find video games for all levels and types, but if you are a beginner I suggest you to start with these titles:

  • Pokémon (Nintendo consoles)
  • The Legend of Zelda (Nintendo consoles)
  • Ni No Kuni (Playstation 3)
  • Animal Crossing: New Leaf (Nintendo 3DS)
  • Yōkai Watch (Nintendo 3DS)
  • Persona 5 (Playstation 4)

Even if you can’t get a Japanese copy of the game (or in case your console is region locked), all the aforementioned games allow you to set Japanese audio and subtitles, thus allowing you to improve your listening and comprehension skills.

Video games like The Legend of Zelda and Pokémon have interactive dialogues, where the player can choose when to go on with the conversation. This feature will allow you to read at your own pace, allowing you to look up new words in the dictionary, therefore learning new words and expressions.

Recurring words

Words and expressions used in video games vary considerably, depending on the genre of the game itself. We made a list of some of the most frequent ones, to help you start learning Japanese with video games.

Before the start

Menu メニュー menyu
Settings 設定 settei
Select 選択 sentaku
Music 音楽 ongaku
Level レベル reberu
Easy 簡単 kantan
Difficult 難しい muzukashii

During the game

Start 開始 kaishi
Fight 戦う tatakau
Attack 攻撃 kougeki
Save セーブ sebu
Quit 終了 shuuryou
Continue 続きtsuzuki

Characters and locations

Character 人物 jinbutsu
Soldier 兵士 heishi
Warrior 武士 bushi
Traveler 旅人 tabibito
Pirate 海賊 kaizoku
Enemy 敵 teki
Ally 味方 mikata
Monster 魔物 mamono or 化け物 bakemono
Fairy 妖精 yousei
Dragon 龍 ryuu
Spirit 精霊 seirei
Soul 魂 tamashi
Castle 城 shiro
City 町 machi
Shop 店 mise
Island 島 shima
Temple 寺院 jiin
Kingdom 王国 oukoku
World 世界 sekai

Plot and items

Story 物語 monogatari
Legend 伝説 densetsu
Adventure 冒険 bouken
Danger 危険 kiken
Strength 力 chikara
Health 体力 tairyoku
Magic 魔法 mahou
Item アイテム aitemu or 道具 dougu
Chest 宝箱 takarabako
War 戦争 sensou
Weapon 武器 buki
Sword 剣 ken
Bow 弓 yumi
Armor 鎧 yoroi

As you can see, learning Japanese with video games can be an alternative method to make studying more fun! In any case, I recommend you to complement this method with a good old textbook or language classes: in doing so, you will be able to improve your knowledge and learn faster!

If you’re a video game lover and you want to experience them for real in Japan, you have a unique opportunity to do so with our Otaku Japan course. The three-week course is run by Go! Go! Nihon and includes a visit to Tokyo Game Show, the Ghibli Museum and Akihabara – amazing opportunities to geek out with new Study Trip friends!

If you want to read other articles like this please let us know in the comments. If, on the other hand, you intend to enroll in a Japanese course in Japan, contact us for information on the schools, and the different courses offered.

For more useful tips about life in Japan keep following our Go! Go! Nihon blog.

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