Japanese Vocabulary

By ken cannon - 6:21 PM

This is Ken Cannon and I want to address the second main reason learning Japanese the conventional way proves to be quite difficult, the relevancy of the vocabulary. The hours and hours you spend learning the hundreds of words most programs include in their curriculum, often end up completely useless. I recently completed an analysis of the popular textbook “Genki” (the textbook used in about 60% Japanese classrooms nowadays). And out of the 1189 words taught throughout their 2 volumes, only about 637 words were found to be used in everyday casual conversation. And a mere 291 words I discovered were used in popular anime shows.
So a little over half of the words you learn become completely useless. That’s an entire 2 years in a high school, or a year in a college course down the drain.
And if you’re the average anime watcher like most of my expected readers probably are, only 1/4 of all the words you learn actually become useful.
I’ve done similar analyses on “Rosetta Stone” “Pimsleur’s” and “Lets Learn “Japanese” and they rank about the same, with “Lets Learn Japanese” fairing bit better than the other two.
Now I don’t mean to say that these programs are themselves useless. Personally I bought and benefited from all 4 of them. And if you plan to use these programs to actually move to Japan or to do business there, my analyses don’t hold as much water.
However, for the average anime/Jdrama viewer or just somebody who plans to communicate with close friends, these findings are quiet de-motivating. And you’ll soon feel it as you begin to learn the language, if you haven’t already.
In fact I think that’s another reason why people often say learning Japanese is hard, or becomes boring. The material taught isn’t really relevant.
But it doesn’t have to be that way! There is a better way and I’m going to share that with you guys in the next post, see you then!

Ken Cannon

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  1. Hi,

    Would you be please make a list of these words?

    "637 words were found to be used in everyday casual conversation. And a mere 291 words I discovered were used in popular anime shows."

    Thank you for your videos I hope their will be more.


  2. I have to disagree with you here. I mean, you can't really base on how popular certain words are and then learning only those. The broader your vocab, the more you can talk about (know about). And anime words (especially those fantasy/science fiction-ish ones) are in their own specific niche. Do you really need to learn words like 'fire-breathing mountain dragon' or 'eternal life potion'? If it was to specifically watch those kind of anime, yes. As opposed to learning Japanese in general (but then again, your blog is aimed at anime Japanese). The other day I had to learn words like 気管支 (bronchial tube) and 元年 (first year of a specific reign), I'm like, when will I ever use those words. But then again, you know them in English too. Unless you only want to use the most popular words, you would limit yourself quite a bit. Your thoughts?

    1. Both of you have valid points. But a two year old doesn't have a big vocabulary and usually only knows very common words but can still express them selfs well enough. When learning a new language you are like a child starting from scratch (or close to it). So I think that it makes sense to start with simple and common words and very basic grammer and then organically grow your understanding over time.

  3. Got your point! That is true, a lot (more and more) are learning it because of anime. Admittedly, it used to be one of the reasons (or at least trigger) for me to start learning Japanese.

    Anyways, I really like your site and the vids are awesome! Really dig the approach! Will add it to my links!


  4. Heheh, and thanks so much man! Really appreciate it, you have been linked as well.

    (aww man, somehow my earlier post got deleted)

  5. Nice Naruto picture!!! Lol i watched all the 220 episodes of Naruto And i watched all 201 episodes of Naruto Shippuden (and every new episode comes out i watch it!)

  6. That is a very correct statement. I have seen 1 Korean and 1 Chinese state the same thing. If learning the most 100 popular words you can understand over half the conversations.

    I do agree, you should have a list of the most popular words or better yet an MP3 talking them as in your videos.

    I do love the site as well. You make it fun to learn Japanese. You should make a course if only the most popular words. I would be the first to buy...

  7. Personally I think it's a bad idea to learn Japanese from anime. It's fine to supplement your learning with it, but the core learning should come from some quality textbook or classroom environment. Doing it through anime is a bit like running before you can walk. Of course some people can do it, but it will create problems if you don't know the basic grammatic rules etc first.

    As a reference point for learning Japanese, I would suggest trying to describe every thing big or small that you do or might do in your daily routine. That includes washing the car, going the shops, talking to your friends (including the topics you talk about with them) and so on.
    If you stick with that, you'll at least cover the useful stuff before you get onto any obscure vocabulary.

    If you can talk about it in English, don't you want to talk about it in Japanese?

  8. can u post the list of words u have

  9. hey if u dont mind could u please email me all of the words that u said u found on the word frequency charts my email is lubu0447@yahoo.com. in all honesty i feel exactly like you. well about learning japanese. through watching the dramas and anime i have become more and more attatched to japan and wanting to learn their language so if u could please email me all of those words i would appreciate it more than great i cant explain in words how much i would appreciate it and i keep watchin your vids over and over to remember the lessons you taught.

  10. @Anonymous, just answered your question on a different post :)

  11. I thought I heard you mentioning the 3000 most common words used daily, but I couldn't find that particular video again!! Can I know which book are you talking about?