Language, Music

How JPop Lyrics Can Improve your Japanese Reading

My Japanese language journey is irrevocably intertwined with Japanese pop music (colloquially referred to by those in the know as JPop). The main reason I wanted to learn Japanese in the first place, was so I could sing along to my favourite opening and closing themes from the animes I used to watch. Not only is (most) JPop just plain awesome, it also provides a way for you to study the language in a relaxed, informal setting.

Here are my top tips for improving your Japanese reading skills through JPop lyrics:

1. No Romaji


Romaji is a way of writing Japanese using romanized characters – the 26-letter alphabet that we are used to. My first tip for learning Japanese through JPop lyrics (or any other way), is to avoid romaji. As a beginner Japanese language learner, chances are you’re not that great at reading regular Japanese text with its mix of kanji, hiragana, and katakana, so this first tip might seem a little harsh. Reading the lyrics to your favourite JPop song entirely in Japanese characters probably sounds impossible and futile. Trust me, though, it makes all the difference in the world.

Here’s why: the human brain is attracted to that which it is used to. So as a non-Japanese speaker, when presented with regular Japanese text and romanized Japanese text, you’re bound to read the romanized version. That’s perfectly natural. The only way to train your brain to get used to Japanese text, is to eliminate the temptation to read the easier romanized words. Train yourself to get used to seeing Japanese text as the Japanese use it in real life. It’ll slowly become easier for you to read it.

Realistically, though, when presented with lyrics featuring 100 kanji that you’ve never learnt, it’s impractical to expect you to be able to read them and sing along. My method involves learning the song first, using romaji or (preferably) hiragana and katakana alone. Once you’ve got the words down, and the meanings too, then you can sing along using the original lyrics. I usually do this multiple times (which isn’t a problem if you really like the song!), and before long, I can recognise the kanji. 🙂

Remember: romaji is the enemy. (I’m not kidding.)

2. No Furigana


Furigana refers to the tiny hiragana that appears on top of kanji in some texts. It’s there to tell you how to pronounce the kanji.

My no-furigana rule is pretty much along the same lines as the no-romaji rule. Say you’re a little more advanced in your Japanese language journey, and you don’t use romaji anymore. Great! Congratulations! You’re a hiragana and katakana person now. Awesome. But still, your kanji level is a little low and there are lots of them that you just can’t read. It might be tempting to use furigana conversion software like this to make your lyrics a little easier to read.

Now I’m not entirely opposed to furigana per se. It has its uses, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with using it to better read your lyrics. At least not the first couple of times. Once you’re constantly using furigana for the same song over and over, then Houston, we’ve got a problem. The whole point of the singing-along-to-JPop exercise is to improve your Japanese reading skills. So at some point, preferably sooner rather than later, you’re going to have to take off the training wheels, and ride your big-girl (or -boy) bike.

3. Pick Songs You Really Like

cartoon-kids-musicI believe using JPop lyrics to learn Japanese is most effective when you repeat the song. Over and over. While reading the kanji. You’ll know you’ve done it enough when you hear the song in your head all the time, and see the (non-romanized, non-furigana-containing) lyrics floating around every time you close your eyes. So for your sanity, and that of everyone around you, try to pick songs you really like. Songs you just can’t get enough of. Songs you wouldn’t mind playing at your funeral. OK, maybe that was a bit extreme, but you get my point.

Hopefully with these three tips, you’ll be well on your way to Japanese-reading greatness! Don’t forget to comment below with any other tips or suggestions you may have!

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