A bunch of listening questions

So, I have several questions related to listening. Listening is probably my worst skill, and I’m trying to practice it regularly to get better. I want to learn as effectively as possible, so I have some questions that will hopefully help me shape my listening practice:

  • When I’m listening, should I be looking up unknown words that I hear? Or should I just keep listening and ignore them?

  • If there’s a transcript available or subtitles (in Japanese), should I be reading them or ignoring them?

  • Does passive listening really work? I’ve seen conflicting reports, I know methods (like AJATT and MIA) highly recommend it, but I’ve seen other sources say it does little to nothing. I have no idea if it’s really useful.

  • Is it useful to listening to stuff way above your level, like podcasts aimed at native adults? Or should I be trying to listen to stuff that’s aimed at children or learners?

  • Are listening vocab decks useful, or not worth it?

My Current method

Currently, I mostly active listen to the Hikibiki podcast, which is aimed at adults and it’s very advanced for me, but it’s helped me get used to the sounds of the language. I occasionally listen to beginner-focused stuff like Nihongo con Teppei’s beginner podcast, or even Genki dialogues. I usually don’t look up unknown words, but I’m not sure if I should start doing that. I also noticed sometimes I’ll look up a word and realize I know it, but I didn’t recognize it by sound. To solve this, I’ve created a listening vocab deck in Anki, but I’m not sure if I should spend time on that or just focus on listening itself.

So yeah, listening is tough. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. :heart:


I think it comes down to what your goal is for any particular listening session.

Passive listening is basically for getting your ears and brain used to parsing the sounds of Japanese. When you are passively listening, you aren’t going to be caring much if you even understand the content really. The objective is just to be able to listen to the sounds of the language. Since it’s not critical to understand the content, all kinds of things and all levels of difficulty are probably fine.

If you are actively listening, I would probably recommend not looking at a transcript initially. Try to listen without it and see what you grasped. Active listening content should probably be closer to your actual level, and not too much more difficult, so native podcasts might be out of your range initially.

That’s how I think of it anyway.


I’m following MIA, having started around September and tried various forms of listening. Here are some of my thoughts

  • I have had better results with audio visual content than just audio(passive). As my vocabulary increased with time doing WK, more and more of the audio has become comprehensible and I am able to use the visual content to naturally figure out what I do not comprehend.

  • Mostly use native content but not complex stuff. Anime seems to be sweet spot for me at this point since it’s aimed at children. I’ve hit the point where most anime dialog is now at least 25-50% understandable to me, which is enough to comprehend the basic gist of the situation (alongside the visual cues). There are also small sections where the conversation is 100% comprehensible to me (these are few and far apart but it’s quite great that I’ve gotten to that point in just 3 months of immersion).

-I always do wanikani with audio on auto-play. So far only done anki sentences with audio (not purely audio but I’ve set it up so that when I hit ‘show answer’ it auto-plays the audio just like with WK). I wish WK had at least one voiced example sentence for each vocab word, that would have been ideal.

  • Although I did experiment with Japanese subs I do not currently use them since I think it’s better to focus totally on the audio at this point.

-I’ve focus very very little time on grammar (almost none really). I am attending a Japanese language school and working through Genki I but they go at a snails pace. I reckon they’ll take 1yr to go through Genki I.

-For the little passive listening I do I stick to podcasts with topics I am very familiar with.

Also note that the reason I broke with MIA’s recommendation of passive listening for absolute beginners is that as someone who has listened to Japanese with subs for over 15years (a fairly conservative estimate would put my listening time over the years at around 800hours) I feel that I have already reached the goal being able to break down individual words and sounds (which is what passive listening is supposed to do for the absolute beginner). So I thought it would be more efficient for me to give more time to WK, Anki and active immersion.


Yeah, I really agree with this. That’s what I’ve been doing with TV Japan. I listen to everything, but understand more when it is a children’s program. With the other programming, I listen for words I know and also grammar construction I know or am learning. The visuals do help, like a kid’s Reading book and pictures. I was so excited one night when I understood almost all of a program about earthquake safety by listening and looking at the visuals. I do sometimes look up a few words when I catch them easily. Just for fun, I sometimes try to read the subtitles, but seldom get through a whole sentence before the next subtitles show.


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