Starting to watch Japanese video without English subs

I’ve watched quite a bit of Japanese TV and movies with English subtitles. But I haven’t made the jump yet to watching with Japanese subtitles or with no subtitles.

If I’m practising my listening it’s generally been with audio content aimed at learners.

Does anyone want to share how they made the move to watching Japanese video without your native language subtitles? It seems a bigger jump than starting to read in Japanese.

Looking forward to hearing your experiences!


When I was starting out I tried a ton of different things, but two things I did I think really helped me. I used Subs2SRS with shows I knew to practice listening in short snippets, and I listened to audiobooks.

Specifically with audiobooks I would do something like:

  1. Listen to a chapter with no text
  2. Read + Listen to the same chapter, look up any words if needed
  3. Listen again, no text

Sometimes variations on that, maybe skipping 1 or skipping 3. The main thing was it allowed me to hook into my stronger reading skills to grow my listening skills. I feel like a lot of the times I ‘see’ the words in my mind when listening, and when a word is unknown it’s like my brain is flipping through kanji trying to find a match :joy:

The only other real advice I have is to be mindful of what genres you’re watching. Whatever is enjoyable is best of course, but a medical drama is going to be much harder if you don’t already know medical terms for example.

As a slightly more concrete example, I consider 桜の塔 S1 | L35 and シャイロックの子供たち S1 | L35 to be about the same level insofar as technical jargon, speed of speech, grammatical complexity, etc. However, I personally have a much easier time with 桜の塔 because legal/criminal terminology is something I’m quite comfortable with but finance words may well be gibberish to me.


For me, it was when I came to Japan and the DVD I rented had the choice between no subs or Japanese subs (for hearing impaired).
Subs was better than nothing and, in fact, I noticed I could manage with it (I was about N3 at the time) so I just never looked back.

I know that kids these days do not really rent DVDs anymore (or even have a DVD player :joy:).


I can watch very brief snippets of JPN television (specifically variety shows, which are often quite formulaic, even when they’re conversational) without subs, but for anything with a plot or story the thing I find helps the most is to know the story or subject beforehand - whether that be ‘watching a news report on soccer and having studied soccer-related terminology’ or ‘watching an episode of an anime where you’ve already read the manga’.

That said it’s not really something I focus on very much.


Since Japanese subs are harder to come by, what I did in the beginning before dropping them, is watch it without subs, then watch the same episode with them on, and see how much I missed.


I’ve found Netflix really useful for watching more films and TV without english subtitles. My listening level is really poor so I need JP subtitles to follow most dialogue, but they aren’t always the easiest to find. Netlfix though has a decent range of japanese content that come with both eng and jp subtitles, so when I first started out I would try to follow with jp subs and then switch over to eng if I got really stuck.

It’s also easy to use a VPN to hop over to the .jp version of the site which gives you an even greater range of things to watch.

The only problem I have now is that I’m never really sure if my listening level is actually improving or if I’m just getting better at reading fast…


Do you mean English or Japanese subs here?

The second viewing I did it with English subs in the beginning.

JP Subs are hard to come by as they are usually something that it’s only done aimed for the impaired.

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I started because I wanted to watch something that didn’t have any subs available. Though, I don’t remember what that was. It’s been a while.
Nowadays, I struggle if the subs and the spoken words don’t match, so unless the subs are for the hearing impaired (which are really rare outside of JP), I am better off not having any.
I will, however, sometimes go back and re-watch a scene with subs if I feel I didn’t quite understand what was going on. :thinking:
I cannot watch with Eng subs and listen to the spoken JP. My brain just reads the English barely noticing the spoken words.


Here’s something I started trying out this week with watching Netflix videos…

  1. Watch with Jsubs
    – Try to catch the gist of the story
    – Download the Jsubs (transcript) using Subadub (works in Firefox too)
  2. Read the transcript like a book
    – Make a vocab list
    – (I made an excel macro to strip the extra lines and timestamps)
  3. Watch with Jsubs again

Btw, I also tried finding a way to do this with Disney+ shows, because I think they do a good job of localizing the dialogue in Japanese. Unfortunately, the Japanese subtitles are just direct translations of the spoken English and mostly don’t match the spoken Japanese. :slightly_frowning_face:


Neat program; thanks for the link! Any particular shows you’ve been enjoying?

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I started with shows that I already knew really well, and had watched w/ Eng subs. In my case SAO & Fate/Stay Night. The main advantage of this is that even when you can’t understand what’s being said, you know what’s going on. Also I’d already absorbed the audio a few times prior, so it was easier for my brain to connect that to the subs. At various points used either subs2srs or (which has per-episode decks, if you support on Patreon). But sometimes I just dove into the eps, b/c I get really bored w/ SRS. Prior to that, I’d done some watching w/ Eng & JP subs together on Animelon

When I first started, it was an exercise to even read the subs while the text was still on the screen (sometimes that’s still the case, but only if it’s fast & lots of kanji or strange vocab). In some ways it can be easier than just raw reading though, b/c you don’t have to figure out the readings of the kanji, and you get a lot of extra context from the visual and audio, which helps with comprehension. Otoh, it all happens in real-time, so in that sense, it’s harder.

I’d suggest going in with the mentality of doing it as an exercise, just to see what/how much you can get. Don’t expect to understand or follow everything. If you can follow like 40-60% of the episode that’s a decent start. Also, don’t get caught up on very domain-specific vocab (unless you really want to). Focus on the stuff that’s more common.

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I’ve been trying out this transcript-reading method with 逃げるは恥だが役に立つ S1 | L30 . It’s a funny show! :blush: It definitely falls in the category of, I understand the gist of what’s going on, and I understand most of the jokes, but the vocab is heavy (lots of technical or workplace-specific words). There’s several words that I’m debating whether or not to actually include in my SRS rotation.
Oh, also, I’m watching several parts at 0.75x speed, just so that my brain can keep up with what’s going on. :slight_smile:


Thanks for all the replies. I picked up on two main approaches. 1 - just watch and pick up what you can while accepting there’s lots you won’t follow (perhaps rewatching with English subs afterwards), 2 - use it as a language learning exercise and break each episode down trying to understand as much as possible (perhaps using some of the tools people have shared here).

Picking content you are already familiar with can be helpful especially with approach 1.

I decided to try watching ふらいんぐうぃっち S1 | L20 - partly because I’ve previously read it in Japanese so familiar with the plot and some of the language; and partly as it’s ranked as one of the easier series to watch on Natively. I’ve borrowed @Megumin’s approach and am watching with no subs then watching again with English subs to see what I missed. I’ve also had the manga open on the second watch, as I don’t have Japanese subs for it but the dialogue very closely matches the manga!


It’s on Animelon with JP subs, fwiw. You can have them + Eng on simultaneously, if you want.

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Jumping in a bit late to this thread - but I use Language Reactor to have both Japanese and English subs, with the english blurred so I can’t default to reading it instead of trying to understand.

I try to understand by listening, and when I don’t understand I try to read the Japanese Subs (I usually need to pause to do this because I’m a slow reader :grin:).
If I’m still not sure what it says I mouse over the english to unblur it so that I don’t end up completely confused and frustrated.