How To Learn Japanese With Ghibli Studios [3+ Best Films]

So, you want to learn the Japanese language. The good news is that with a little help from anime, learning Japanese can be a lot of fun!

But hey... simply watching these mind-blowingly awesome movies won't magically make you fluent. To truly learn Japanese through anime, you'll need to have a solid strategy in place.  That's why in this post, we'll explain how to learn Japanese through movies and focus on the most loved Ghibli movies, Spirited Away, Kiki's Delivery Service, and My Neighbor Totoro.

So grab some Japanese snacks, get cozy, and get ready to unlock an incredible new skill through the incredible artistry of Ghibli!

What Makes Japanese Difficult To Learn?

Japanese is spoken natively by around 128 million people, mostly in Japan. Japan is the only country in which Japanese is a national language. However, Japanese pop cultures, such as anime and manga, have spread across the globe. And perhaps, this is also the reason why the language continues to thrive.

Now if you're serious about leveling up your Japanese language journey, it's important that you take note of the most challenging roadblock there is: The scripts!

As well as learning how to speak Japanese, you will also need to learn the three scripts: kanji, hiragana, and katakana. Kanji are the Chinese characters used in Japanese to express whole words or concepts.

Meanwhile, hiragana and katakana are individual letters that makeup words. The latter two scripts were created to allow Japanese people to express ideas more clearly, as kanji was a borrowed script from the Chinese language and could not express everything in Japanese.

How To Learn Japanese Using Ghibli Films

Step 1: Choose Your Entry Point

Think back to the first Ghibli film that sparked your love for these imaginative worlds. That's the perfect place to restart your journey, but this time through a linguistic lens. The familiarity with the story and vibrant visuals provides a refreshing context to support full Japanese immersion.

For beginners, my top picks are the dialogue-light yet deeply resonant classics like My Neighbor Totoro or Kiki's Delivery Service. As you progress, level up to more complex but still accessible titles like Howl's Moving Castle or Princess Mononoke.

Step 2: Customize Your Viewer Experience

To transform passive watching into an interactive learning experience, you'll want to enable Japanese audio and subtitle options from the get-go. Better yet, use a language learning platform like Lingopie that integrates powerful study tools directly into your viewing:

  • Click on subtitled words/phrases to reveal definitions, pronunciation guides, and more
  • Adjust playback controls to loop and reinforce key dialogues
  • Slow down or isolate audio for specific characters to hone listening comprehension

Step 3: Activate Your Observation Skills

Now it's time to engage! Don't just let those rich Japanese conversations wash over you. During those impactful dialogue sequences, hit pause and repeat the lines out loud to lock in proper pronunciation. Maintain a trusty vocabulary notebook to jot down new grammar patterns, expressions, colloquialisms, and anything else that catches your ear.

Pay extra attention to the finer linguistic details Studio Ghibli is renowned for preserving - idiomatic cultural references, honorific usage, and those subtle nuances that breathe life into the language. Let these immersive worlds provide a naturalistic window into how Japanese actually sounds.

Step 4: Incorporate Active Recall

To solidify everything you've picked up, make your learning stick through active recall exercises:

  • Immediately after each viewing session, summarize the plot points or recap memorable scenes entirely in Japanese
  • Create vocabulary flashcards or quizzes for words, phrases, and patterns you struggled with, reviewing them regularly
  • Level up by filming yourself reenacting captivating dialogues from memory - an amazing way to hone speech cadence and intonation

The Most Loved Ghibli Movies

Studio Ghibli anime films are particularly popular, due to their gorgeous animation, fascinating characters, and utterly weird and wonderful plots.

In fact, there is actually a Ghibli dictionary that lists words roughly in their order of appearance in the movies. This is a great way to learn the meaning of Japanese vocabulary with context.

Let's have a look at some of these fantasy anime films and explore why they are so impactful.

Spirited Away

Considered by some as the best anime movie, Spirited Away is a classic from 2001. This is the story of Chihiro Ogino, a young girl who accidentally enters the spirit world while moving neighborhood.

Chihiro encounters many weird and wonderful characters and challenges throughout this anime. For example, Chihiro's parents are turned into pigs by a witch who runs a bathhouse.

This witch traps people in the spirit world by taking their names. If Chihiro forgets her real name, she will have to remain in the spirit world forever.

While she tries to free her parents and return to real life, Chihiro meets a masked spirit called No-Face who is so hungry he begins to eat bathhouse workers. Many more surreal things happen before Chihiro is eventually able to return with her parents to the world of living.

You can learn a lot of valuable Japanese vocabulary from this anime, despite the fantasy elements. There are many animal names, foods, and general questions and phrases that will inform your vocabulary and speaking skills.

The spirit world in Spirited Away is Kami, from the Japanese Shinto folklore. So, this anime is educational on a cultural level, as well as a great language tool.

Kiki's Delivery Service

Another highly popular Ghibli anime is Kiki's Delivery Service. Watch this gorgeous anime to learn more about Japanese culture and adolescents' place in society.

In this story, Kiki is a young witch who uses her ability to fly as a means to earn money. She begins a baked goods delivery service, helped by her talking black cat Jiji.

The girl and her cat deliver items by broomstick and enjoy success for a time. When Kiki becomes depressed, she loses her ability to understand Jiji and can no longer fly.

Ursula, a young artist, decides that Kiki has a form of artist's block and needs to find a purpose in life. When she has to save her friend from an aviation accident, Kiki regains her flying powers and her confidence.

By the end of the story, Kiki and Jiji are happy and living well. This anime is a coming-of-age story about the trials and tribulations of being a teenager. You should watch this famous anime for an insight into Japanese cuisine.

The food animated in studio Ghibli films is famous around the world for how tasty it looks. In fact, there are countless online articles, social media posts, and cooking instruction videos dedicated to the food in these anime films.

My Neighbor Totoro

In 1950s post-war Japan, a university professor called Tatsuo Kusakabe and his young daughters Satsuki and Mei move into an old house near a hospital. The girl's mother is in the hospital recovering from a serious illness.

In the new house, the girls discover small dust-like spirits called susuwatari. Two spirits lead Mei, the younger child, into the hollow of a tree, where she meets a fluffy creature that she calls "Totoro". Totoro takes the girls for a ride on a magical flying top, and on a bus-shaped cat.

Mei is known for mispronouncing words that Japanese learners might also struggle with. For instance, Totoro (トトロ) is her way of pronouncing "troll". However, it should be tororu (トロル).

Watching anime like My Neighbor Totoro provides valuable practice in listening and comprehending Japanese words and phrases. Because most of the speaking is between two children, the vocabulary is relatively simple.

The characters in this anime speak like real-life children and do not use a lot of complex words. Despite Mei pronouncing the word "troll" wrong, the anime will help you practice Japanese speaking skills, as most of the characters act and talk like real people with real-life concerns.

Learn Japanese With These Ghibli Films

So, can you learn Japanese just by watching these awesome anime films? Yes and no!

Of course, just watching anime will still expose you to the language and help you practice listening. You can get used to the sound of the language and learn more about Japanese folklore, culture, and norms.

But, if you are truly interested in mastering the language, it is a great idea to make your learning with anime more active.

You could watch with friends and test one another on vocabulary. Or, write your own explanation of the plot of your favorite anime - in Japanese, of course!

Get creative and try using the language as well as listening to it. Every time you come across a new word or phrase that you find interesting, write it down and say it aloud. Sound out the word and copy the pronunciation in the anime.

Remember, to learn Japanese, you need to hone all four language skills: listening, reading, writing, and speaking.

FAQs: Learning from Japanese Anime

Is it possible to learn Japanese by watching Japanese anime?

Yes, it is possible to learn Japanese by watching Japanese anime. The best anime for beginners learning Japanese are detective dramas and high school shows, as they will have a relatively normal everyday vocabulary. Then, when you advance a little more, you can move on to the likes of Dragon Ball Z and Fullmetal Alchemist, for example.

Is Studio Ghibli good for learning Japanese?

Yes, studio Ghibli anime films are great for Japanese learners. Although the stories have fantasy elements, the characters still talk like real people and use a lot of relevant vocabulary for everyday life. Moreover, these films are great for the cultural exploration of Japanese food, customs, mythologies, and mannerisms.

How long does it really take to learn Japanese?

The length of time it takes you to learn Japanese will depend on your approach. The more language resources you use, the better. Watch anime, study Japanese grammar and kanji with language apps, and read manga. Whenever possible, try to talk with Japanese people.

Generally, using these approaches, it will be six months to a year before you are having conversations in Japanese.

is watching anime the fastest way to learn Japanese?

Whilst watching anime is not the fastest way to learn the Japanese language, Japanese learners should use a range of approaches in their learning journey. This includes watching anime. By incorporating Japanese anime into your daily life you will certainly speed up the learning process. The most important thing is to practice every day.

Summing Up: How to Learn Japanese with Studio Ghibli

Hopefully, this quick guide to learning Japanese with anime has inspired you to head over to Lingopie and start watching awesome Japanese films and TV shows.

The great thing about Japanese animation films is that they give you a great insight into life and mythologies in Japan. Watch with subtitles if you need help with the meaning of words and phrases.

As well as watching Japanese anime, you can supplement your learning with Japanese manga and music. Make vocabulary flashcards of useful words you come across and enjoy a super fun learning journey!

Learn Japanese with anime and prepare to sound like a native in no time.

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