Japanese immersion: listening to the film Only Yesterday on iBooks

I am very happy this week because I have listened to a lot of Japanese thanks to the film Only Yesterday directed by Isao TAKAHATA. I am a fan of Ghibli films and I have several of them on DVD. The problem is that I don’t always want to sit on the sofa for two hours and just watch a film I already know very well. I thought that it would be cool to have only the audio on my phone and be able to listen to it as if it were an audiobook. This is what I have done this week, and it worked like magic. First, I listened to it a lot, and secondly, I felt improvement!

My favourite Ghibli films to learn Japanese

From my experience and point of view, the film Whisper of the Heart directed by Yoshifumi KONDO is perfect to study Japanese through films, even for beginners. It is generally easy to understand what the characters say, they talk about daily life, school, books… personally, this film encouraged me a lot when I just started Japanese and was able to catch things I had just learned in the film.

I also like From up on Poppy Hill by Goro MIYAZAKI. I find that films dealing with daily life and not containing much action scenes are easier to understand. It will certainly be the next film I will convert into mp3.

I chose Only Yesterday because it is one of my favourite films and I find that the characters talk a lot. As I wanted to extract the audio from the film and only listen to it, it would not have made sense if too many scenes were only based on the action without dialogues. Only Yesterday also has a beautiful music with several folk songs from Eastern Europe that I like very much, so the scenes were nothing happens in terms of dialogue are pleasant to listen to.

How to extract audio from a DVD?

You can extract the audio from a DVD for free by using the VLC player. I just followed the steps I found on this site. It took me several attempts to extract the audio, but I have read somewhere else that this method did not always work. It worked eventually and I found myself with an mp3 of the film.

I followed my own instructions from some months ago to transfer this mp3 to my iBooks app (on iPhone) so that I can listen to it as if it were an audiobook. This allows me to easily jump in the audio (if I want to re-listen to something I did not understand), and the app remembers where I stopped the last time I listened to the file so that I can start from where I left.

I plan to repeat the same steps for the other Ghibli films I have (I don’t have any DVD in Japanese other than my Ghibli collection.)

My understanding improved!

By listening only to the audio, without watching the film, I was able to understand a lot more than I could before. I didn’t have to make special efforts or listen several times to the same passage. By just letting the audio run while doing other things, I realised that I understood things I never did before.

I guess that, since I don’t have to focus on what I see on the screen, all my attention is directed to what I hear. And of course, the more I listen to it, the more I understand. Dialogues which seemed out of reach before are now making more and more sense, to the point where I can almost repeat them or at least, identify the words used.

I wish I could also extract the Japanese subtitles from the DVD (it might be possible but I’m afraid it will need a little more work than just running VLC)… On the other hand, not having the subtitles script forces me to focus on listening and not jump to the script as soon as I cannot make out what is said. I think that I can reach a good understanding of all the dialogues by listening to them again and again. I want to see how much I can understand with this method before looking at the subtitles.


I am more than happy to have found something I like and don’t mind listening to several times. My problem with improving my listening is that, though I have tried a lot of things to listen to and found a lot I enjoyed, none of them would be so appealing to me that I would want to listen to it over and over again or come back to it as soon as I have time.

I plan to convert the other DVDs I have and make myself a collection of Ghibli to go on my phone.

This week’s Japanese immersion is a success! 😃