Can you learn Japanese by playing video games? – Games with Hiragana and Games with Kanji –

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I’ve been making translation (from Japanese to English) Let’s Play videos.

I started it because I wanted to improve my English. I thought it would be a good training for me. But after I uploaded several videos, I received few comments from people who are learning Japanese and they told me that my videos were helpful for their study. If that’s true, it’s really awesome.

I believe playing video games are effective way to improve your language skill. I myself learned a lot by playing English video games. The best thing about it is you can learn as having fun. You don’t get tired as you study by reading text book so you can immerse yourself in the language for longer hours (especially if you like video games). I think this is a huge advantage.

That said if your language skill is still low, I guess some games are too difficult to understand and maybe playing it makes you feel tired. So I think there are proper steps to avoid this.

Especially for playing Japanese games, the biggest obstacle would be Kanji (漢字). I was asked by several foreigners friends to teach Japanese before. And most of them could learn Hiragana (ひらがな) and Katakana (カタカナ) but most of them gave up when they started learning Kanji. I can understand that. Learning Kanji is not easy. Even us Japanese, sometimes we don’t know how to read or write certain Kanjis because there are so many.

If you are still learning Hiragana and Katakana and don’t know much Kanji, playing games without Kanji would probably be a good start. For example, most of the NES games don’t use Kanji. The texts for NES games are written by only Hiranaga and Katakana due to the data memory limitations at the time.

Here’s the game screen from the very first Fire Emblem (NES):

<Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light (NES)>

As you can see all the texts are written in Hiragana and Katakana.

And this is the Fire Emblem on SNES (the same character stats):

Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem
Although some texts such as ちから (strength) or わざ (skill) are still written in Hiragana, a lot of Kanjis  are also used. So the Japanese on SNES are a bit advanced in a way.

Another comparison between the NES version and the SNE version (the same dialogue sequence):

If you feel the Japanese on the SNES version look a bit difficult, trying some NES games would be a good idea. And like this Fire Emblem, some NES games are remade on later generation consoles. So you can try NES (with only Hiragana & Katakana) version first, then try another version (with Kanji).  Since you already understand the story, it makes it easier to understand even if the text contains Kanjis.


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