Learning Japanese via ‘manga’

by Minoru Matsutani

“Manga” comic books and “anime” films are building up interest around the world in learning Japanese.

But students of the language are having a tough time understanding the colloquial expressions that abound in manga and anime, for instance when a samurai character ends a sentence with “gozaru” or a man from Osaka says “desse,” because dictionaries and language textbooks say sentences end with the polite forms “desu” or “masu.”

The Japan Foundation, a public entity supervised by the Foreign Ministry, launched a Web site earlier this month to teach foreigners phrases spoken by typical anime and manga characters.

“We have asked foreigners learning Japanese why they are interested in Japanese. Many of them said pop culture is a motive, but they also said they do not learn much from anime and manga” and instead have to rely mainly on textbooks and dictionaries, said Tomoaki Yotsuya, an official at the Japanese Language Institute under the Japan Foundation.

“We launched the Web site because we want to link anime and manga popularity with learning the Japanese language.”

The Web site, anime-manga.jp, has English translations of dozens of typical phrases spoken by a boy, girl, samurai, old man, butler, lady, Osaka resident and an angry young man described as a “scrapper.” It also has audio so visitors can hear the correct pronunciations.

For example, the Web site has a phrase by a girl character, “Argh, that’s so annoying!” (“Mooo, mukatsukuuu”) and a samurai phrase meaning “You fool!” (“Kono tawake!”).

The Japanese Language Institute will promote the site by sending fliers to its overseas offices and taking other measures to lure Web surfers, Yotsuya said.

Anime and manga fans are mainly in East and Southeast Asia, North America and Europe, he said.