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One great trick for learning vocabulary

Learning vocabulary in a second language is by far the most time-consuming part. In my case I have been learning Japanese for more than 17 years and every day I come across a new vocabulary, or one that I failed to learn properly. Even once you’ve mastered the pronunciation (which should be the first thing you do), and have a hold on the main grammar points, chances are you have barely touched the surface of vocabulary because there are simply too many words out there.

Thankfully only a small amount of words can give you a great command of the language, something like 1,200 in English to be able to hold a daily conversation, but as you become more and more proficient, new words to learn appear with less frequency, so you have to be consuming at quite a high rate to keep up your vocabulary learning. By that stage though your second language should be a part of your daily life whether at work or at home, so you will be using the language to learn it, the best way to do so.

Which leads me to the point of this post. Those who have tried watching something in the target language, with or without subtitles in that language, know the struggle at following along. Native-speaker TV shows and movies move at a very fast pace and require quite good recall of target vocabulary.

My trick is to watch something in your native language with the subtitles in your target language. You understand 100% of the story, meaning you won’t be fatigued trying to keep up, and the language in the subtitles is generally shortened into bite-size pieces. My Netflix is basically on Japanese subtitles the whole time, so if there’s something that I’m unsure how to say in Japanese, it’s a short rewind and I have what I need.

The problem with this, though, is that you need a good enough command of the target language, and a good reading speed in the first place, which does take a bit of practice. Doing this though, I have learned quite a lot of useful vocabulary as it is in context and immediate, so I can put it to use straight away.

So, there you have it. Subtitles of your target language when you’re watching something in your native language. Give it a try.

Tim Bunting Kiwi Yamabushi


Hi, I’m Tim Bunting AKA the Kiwi Yamabushi, a New Zealander who became a Yamabushi Ascetic in the Dewa Sanzan mountains of north Japan. I’m part of the Yamabushido team, and we host life-altering Yamabushi training on the Dewa Sanzan (website link). People come to us for the ultimate mindfulness experience, to reach the next level, or simply connect with nature and themselves.

I’m on a mission to summit all 100 Famous Mountains of Yamagata Prefecture to spread the splendour of this fabulous location, and in dedication to all those who lost their lives out in nature, including my father.

On my daily blog I post thoughts of a practicing Yamabushi that I hope people can use to better themselves and live as fulfilling a life as possible.

Sign up to the weekly Mountains of Wisdom newsletter, follow me on social (Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, TikTok, Clubhouse, all @kiwiyamabushi), or send me an email via the link below to stay in touch.



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