What are native materials?

What’s a native material?


Native materials are any piece of media desgined for a native speaker of the language. They include TV shows, anime, movies, books, manga, games, podcasts, streams, and much much more.

They are invaluable for studying Japanese, as they allow you to see the language in context. This is incredibly helpful especially since Japanese is a highly contextual language.

How do they help me?

Studying with native materials while going through a wholistic core resource is one of the most efficient ways to become functional in Japanese.

Your core resource allows you to get a solid functional foundation, which lets you to go out and experience real Japanese and how it’s actually used with native materials to solidfy your knowledge.

*Idealistically, your core resource should be designed to break down the walls between your studies and how Japanese is actually used by real people, and not textbooks. More on that here.

Study material vs native materials

A native material is something designed for a native speaker of the language, but a study material is something designed for a learner.

Study materials can seem like a really great way to get a foothold, and sometimes they are, but it’s good to avoid confusing these with native mateirals.

While both have their place, study materials more often than not run the risk of giving you unnatural textbook Japanese that you won’t see much outside of the classroom environment.

In other words, study materials might not prepare you to easily experience Japanese outside of their specific style, usually because they don’t even bother telling you they’re teaching you textbook Japanese.

Study materials, interestingly, also love not writing things in kanji.

This is another not-so-great representation of Japanese because you won’t see it written the same way in the vast majority of Japanese you see as well.

On top of that, once you get comfortable with kanji, it actually makes it harder to read rather than easier. Not having kanji also acts as a wall to prevent you from getting comfortable as well.

*It is for the above reason that we generally don’t recommend using children’s books to start with, as they are written in all hiragana and katakana. This slows down your kanji progress, and makes sentences harder to understand because you don’t have any hints on what word of the ~20 you found in the dictionary they’re trying to use in the sentence you looked up.

This is why we generally recommend just using a core resource (e.g. your main study resource, such as NativShark) and then going through whatever native materials that catch your interest as you continue to progress in your language journey.

How do I use them?

There are countless ways to successfully use a native material.

First, let’s talk about the two mental approaches we can take when studying with them:


Actively studying with native materials means you’re looking up unknown words, confusing grammar, and possibly even making flashcards from those sentences as well.

This is a great way to do native materials and results in a lot of learning.

Personally, (Ty here!) I did a lot of active studying with video games when I had extra time in my day, and it was very helpful, not to mention fun because I was doing two things I loved: studying Japanese and playing video games.

One of the drawbacks of doing this, especially in the early stages of learning Japanese, is that it takes a lot of mental energy to try to understand everything, and your progress through the native materials can really slow down.


The other way you can study with native materials is passively. This is when you aren’t really looking up unknown words, grammar, etc. and are just trying to enjoy the native material while still getting some exposure to Japanese.

This is valuable because your brain starts developing the skill to context out unknown words before you look them up. And you get comfortable with trying to understand the jist instead of needing to spend a ton of extra time trying to figure everything out.

And that’s besides another big bonus of passively studying: review.

You can a lot of exposure to words you already know, just in new contexts. This is very helpful to help you increase how well you know the vocab you have under your belt, and perhaps even discover new meanings and ways to use what you already know.

One drawback of this method is that (especially for video games, and TV shows) you might stop paying attention to the language entirely and just focus on the gameplay or whatever subtitles in your native language you might have running.

Best of both worlds

It’s extremely helpful to do a bit of both whenever you’re studying with a native material.

If you’re curious about this one sentence you came accross and it seems important, then look it up. If it’s something that doesn’t seem that important, maybe let it slide and only try to understand the jist. You’ll see it again in the future anyway, and maybe then you’ll just understand it without needing to look it up.

*It’s important to remember that it’s okay to not understand things, no matter where you are in your studies. There will always be new things to learn, so knowing how to context things out or understand the jist of something is an important skill to develop.

Looking up words every now and then means:

  • It’s less mental effort
  • You review words, kanji, and grammar points you’re familiar with, solidifying your knowledge
  • You still learn a few new words every study session
  • You practice getting comfortable with unknown things and being okay with understanding the jist
  • You practice the skill of contexting things out
  • It helps prevent zoning out and not paying any attention to the language
  • You get through content faster and it feels more rewarding
  • You don’t get yourself stuck in the feeling that if you’re not making flashcards and being completely dilligent every time you see something new, you’re failing at learning Japanese, which is completely not true

And much more^^

Sounds great - where do I start?

This definitely depends on where you are in your study journey, and what your language goals are.

The difficulty of native materials can vary widely depending on the topics, the audience it’s aiming for, and even the medium it’s in as well.

So how do you know what’s right for you? Well…

The NativShark native material list

The NativShark team and community have come together to make a list of native materials and generally where should be a comfortable spot for you to begin using them based on where you are in the NativShark system.

You can find that list here.

There’s many ways you can study with native materials which vary based on the material, but here’s some general tips first:

  • When you run into kanji you don’t know, it can be helpful to use the google translate camera to capture it and then copy it to bring it to your preferred dictionary. Google translation is generally unreliable when translating so it’s best to not bother reading what translation it gives you as it’s often misleading.
  • Remember to use both active and passive study methods for the best results.
  • Don’t worry about understanding every tiny bit of something. You’re succeeding even if you’re only reviewing and solidifying your current knowledge.
  • It’s generally best to do native materials after you’ve already done your core studies for the day. If you’re using NativShark, then go through your Study Now button then hop in whenever you want to continue studying.

Video games

When I started studying, I really wanted to play Nintendo games that have never been released in English before.

So the majority of my native materials was video games to help with that. I was playing video games in Japanese to help me get better at my goal, one of which was playing video games in Japanese.

It’s definitely helpful to have the Google translate camera on standby to help you with quickly looking things up, and if what you’re playing has a screenshot button, definitely utilizie it during cutscenes and such.

Anime, TV shows, movies

If you like watching anime or TV shows, you should start with anime or TV shows. Maybe start with your native language subtitles on, then rewatch the episode without them or with Japanese subtitles.

Or vice versa if you want to give yourself a challenge and check for comprehension. It’s a big difficult jump doing it that way though so don’t beat yourself up if it’s tough! Just keep in mind there’s no wrong order to do that in, and you should do what works for you.

Books, manga, novels

If you like books, maybe start with manga and then work your way up to light novels and novels from there.

Even reading a single sentence a day at the start is plenty, because they can get pretty dense language-wise.

Once you’re comfortable with that pace, work your way up to two sentences, a paragraph, two paragraphs, a page, 2 pages, etc.

Podcasts, audio books, long-form Youtube content

If you like listening or just want to improve your listening comprehension, podcasts, audio books, and long-form Youtube content such as video game streams etc. can be great as well.

Just picking up words you already know used in new contexts is great, and you’ll be laying foundation to more quickly understand new words when you learn them because your brain has been hearing them for a while if you do this often.

*When listening to podcasts, it’s helpful to keep in mind the difference of study material and native material. A slowed-down podcast aimed at learners that you can understand 95% might not be as helpful in the long-run as a more difficult, naturally spoken podcast that you understand at 50%. This is thanks to how things can be pronounced completely differently when being slowed down for learners, which doesn’t help us when it’s time to listen to normal Japanese.