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Extra Credit Japan #1: Karaoke for Japanese Study?

(Note: this article was originally written and posted to the "Learn Japanese Pod" forum: Greetings everyone, this is the first of what will hopefully be an ongoing mini-series of posts regarding some extra things that you can do to 1) live more comfortably in Japan, and/or 2) learn a little bit more Japanese faster. My hope with this post series is that I can add one little helpful activity on a regular basis. Of course, these little bits of advice originate from my own experiences in this country, which next month will reach 9 years in this mysterious, confounding, and yet awesome country. So essentially, they are not irrefutable answers to anything in particular, just observations that I hope will be helpful to all those concerned. So, without further ado: Today's tip is regarding Karaoke. For those who aren't mortified by the act of singing, Karaoke can potentially be a very helpful activity for your language learning. Here's why. Singing a Japanese song essentially means learning that song to a sufficiently-performable degree. So, in learning a Japanese song, you are killing several non-literal birds with one stone: 1) You're getting your hands in the linguistic dirt and messing about with the target language, which is always good. The more exposure you get with Japanese, the better. 2) There's Kanji in there! But don't worry, when the Karaoke subtitles scroll by, these kanji are usually accompanied by their hiragana counterparts hovering reassuringly above said Kanji. 3) Singing a karaoke song means keeping up with the pace of the song/subtitles. This equates to reading practice. Increase your reading speed and vocal prowess at the same time. 4) Singing also means that you will have to actually pronounce the lyrics of the song (as with all Karaoke, whatever your notions of "actual singing" are irrelevant), so singing at Karaoke inherently means lots and lots of pronunciation practice. 5) Learning how to sing Japanese songs will also mean having lots of contact with useful phrases, all of which will help you understand more of the language, and many of which (but not all) can even be used in daily conversation. Again, I must reiterate that this will depend very heavily on the subject matter of the song you are singing/learning. For example, when I first started Karaoke-ing in deadly earnest, I learned lots of Moriyama Naotaro (森山直太朗) because he sings slowly and clearly (easier to keep up and actually hear) and because his songs are usually about nostalgia, seasons, love, and other normal life things. So, a lot of those phrases naturally just made their way into my daily vernacular without me even noticing, and in general, it helped out loads. Conversely though, my friend was learning lots of Visual Kei band songs and the phrases he would often dig out for use in conversation were suddenly and awkwardly dark, melancholic, and filled with poetic malice. But, if that's your thing, sure, why not? 6) Sometimes a super bonus of learning to sing in Japanese is also that it is a fantastic way to meet and spend time with Japanese friends. It's a generally good thing, and I think that I could elaborate on that, but more than that, I urge you to find out for yourself just how uber-helpful this can be. See how many simultaneous benefits there are to spending a little time getting a Japanese Karaoke list together and trying that out? Lots of birds with a single stone. Look at all them dead birds, man. Best of luck in this strange and wondrous land, and see you next week. Mayhaps in Karaoke.

About the Author

PhD Candidate in Japan, researching Narrative in Games. Responds favorably to Thrash Metal, Karaoke, and Dungeons & Dragons.

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