Advice on listening comprehension

If you’re new (or old!) to practicing listening comprehension then I recommend learning pitch accent basics first.

I can feel your anger and smell your fear. Let me explain. or well, it’s hard to explain but here goes:

i went a long time without practicing pitch accent. during my first few years of learning japanese, i only practiced reading, writing, and listening comprehension. luckily i never practiced speaking, so i never developed any bad speaking habits.
i’ve been practicing pitch accent for at least 2 years and i wish i started earlier.

Why does knowing at least the basics of how pitch accent works help with listening comprehension?

ok, it’s hard to explain, but you know when you’re listening to a Japanese audio recording, and it’s just a bunch of gibberish, a bunch of noise. but you know your hiragana/katakana, so you pick out those phonemes. well, now it’s just an outburst/bombardment of phonemes. You try to listen for an arrangement of phonemes that matches words you know. you’re a beginner, so you don’t know a lot of words, and so even if you think you might recognize some clusters of phonemes that might match a word you know, maybe you’re not sure because you’re not sure where each word begins and ends in the sentence you’re hearing. and as for that remaining random alphabet soup that you definitely dont recognize, well, i mean can you even really expect yourself to hear words that you dont know? you DO expect yourself to, but you can’t hear them. it’s just bananagrams. it’s like reading japanese text with no kanji, no spaces, everything hiragana (or everything katakana). i.e., you’re not going to register a cluster of syllables as a word unless you already know that word and know it well.

ok, so you know how when you read japanese, kanji is actually pretty useful seeing where one word begins and ends? as long as you know the kanji in the text, reading japanese with kanji is actually easier than reading just plain old hiragana (you know, assuming there isn’t spaces between each hiaraga word, as there often is in beginner literature).
well, pitch accent is useful for listening comprehension in the same way that kanji is useful for reading. the pitch accent pattern helps your ears to distinguish each word. It gives some structure to the flow of gibberish. (edit: I wanna emphasize the word some, in that last sentence. This post is just advice, to help listening comprehension. I do not claim this is the key or something to unlocking listening comprehension abilities. If you’re struggling to ~hear~ Japanese, maybe take a break and try learning some pitch accent stuff first, is all i’m saying.).

pitch accent on the sentence level does tend to differ from the level of a single word, especially when speaking fast, but generally, and in long sentences sentences especially, you’re gonna hear enough pitch ups and downs to be useful.

Standard Japanese pitch accent is actually pretty straightforward, and there’s a lot of easily accessible, free resources online you can google pretty easily. just learn how 平板, 頭高, and 中高 work, and then you can start listening for them and begin benefiting from being able to hear them.

as a final note this post is not sponsored by dogen :woman_shrugging:. everything i used to learned about pitch accent was free.


I’ve never considered the effects of pitch accents on listening comprehension, but thinking about it, it makes sense.

Also adding to this, another important reason to be aware of pitch accents early is for speaking. Not in the sense of being able to perfectly pronounce every word because you’ve meticulously studied the pitch accents of every single vocab.

Rather, just being aware of them and listening out for them when you’re getting exposure early on can do so much for influencing your sub-concious idea for how a certain word should sound. Instead of actively trying to rework many bad habits later on when/if you get serious about good pronunciation, forming some basic good habits early can really help how you sound.

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This seems helpful, and the first portion describes exactly how I feel about listening right now…

Are there any specific resources you’d recommend?

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there was a youtube video i watched a year or so ago that explained it really well. it was like, very simple black and white graphics, with a woman’s voice and not-so-great audio quality, but i cant find it now TT
Searching youtube right now, i see there’s quite a few youtube videos on it nowadays. The “Is pitch accent worth it?” videos in my search results annoy me lol.
Dogen’s free videos on youtube with the short, quick pitch accent lessons are pretty good for getting your feet wet and not overwhelmed.
these look okay:

for looking up the pitch accent of a word:

OJAD - Online Japanese Accent Dictionary (doesn’t have everything, but has important stuff)
OJAD - 韻律読み上げチュータ スズキクン (Dogen has a free video that explains how to use this in detail)
Dashboard - Kanshudo (has much more but you’re limited to the amount of word look-ups you can do for free. i think it was like 30 per month).

i’d skim but not really peruse the wikipedia page on it. if i remember it’s a bit hard on the eyes.

i’d get familiar with the terms 平板型、頭高型、and 中高型(and 尾高型、which i consider a subcategory of 中高型). On the notes sections of each wanikani vocab word, i add a note marking it as either heiban, atamadaka, odaka, or, in the cast of 中高型 that isn’t 尾高, i put the number that marks where the mora will drop (that will make sense once you learn the basics.

i’d watch some videos and then this chart will make sense.


Makes sense, though I think you’ll pick up on these things through enough exposure. Keep on listening and you’ll simply end up knowing how words should be pronounced.

Then again, people can struggle with hearing melodic differences in general and in spoken language specifically. Then having this more structured approach should provide you with much needed guidance probably. :thinking:


I think picking up on Japanese pitch accent through exposure alone is considerably easier for people who already speak a pitch accent language like Norwegian and Swedish :upside_down_face: we’ve been trained since birth to pay attention to pitch accent anyway.


I don’t know anything about pitch accent, but I don’t have any trouble understanding when people talk. :thinking:

Guess I’m just built different. (In a bad way, I really can’t remember pitch accent at all, except from the most obvious examples)

I guess it’s also because Spanish doesn’t really have that? Unless you count acentos.


its like a master cheat code perhaps? :joy: I still think the opposite is true, learning monotonous languages like English, requires attention to the lacking melodic nuances, so to speak. Or your English will end up sounding a bit funny for sure. ^^’


Pitch accent sometimes removes ambiguity but you can probably tell what is meant from context 99.9…% of the time. In some Norwegian dialects the difference between saying you’re eating beans :beans: or eating farmers :woman_farmer: is made through pitch accent, but even if you mispronounced it people would assume you meant beans and (hopefully) be correct:p

I used to be super embarrassed when hearing singsongy Norwenglish spoken on tv but now I think it sounds kinda nice (same with swenglish) :blush:


To me, who knows English as a second language, the clip translates to me that the problem may exaggerate for English speakers, who might easily fail to recognize Heiban.

And a word struck me from the clip: indivisual.

My native language (Thai) doesn’t distinctly have stress, but has tones; I have less of Heiban problem. And people here have problems, even with the second language. (i.e. not good at learning languages in general) My language has stress too, but most natives might not aware or realize it.

For speaking, I can see that this easily matters. I’ve had embarrassment for speaking misunderstood English, too. I would worry more about misunderstanding, or slow to be understood; rather than quite a native accent (which probably need more than theories, anyway); as far priorities go.

For listening, I see that this is among many other topics to worry about. As for me, even now, I don’t cleanly distinguish ち, し, じ or す, ず. Even ふ or は can be a problem sometimes too. Another thing to worry would be, conjoining Kana, even with different vocabularies.

  • It may help that I don’t exactly look at romanization, but I don’t think that is enough.

For learning, I think vocabularies should be learned with pitch; and then learn to compound in sentences too. That is, eventually a sentence level pitch diagram.

  • Each vocab has to be considered separately. I think I saw a list somewhere.

Do you distinguish these sounds in English?

Like t-shirt teacher, joke yolk, sue zoo?

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I can (listened to Forvo clips just now), although sue vs zoo is largely due to training and phonetics awareness (and mouth/tongue training; and IPA or other dictionary conventions). There isn’t such distinction in my language, although I believe I can pronounce differently too.


Mexicans have trouble with all these sounds too, since we don’t have them or pronounce them correctly even in Spanish most of the time.

Even though the rest of the sounds are basically the same as ours.


I’ve never even considered that we also have pitch accented languages :flushed: Guess we’ve got a headstart there!


Thank youuuuu

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I’ve noticed that I’ve picked that up pretty well so far, and can usually predict how words will be said, but I’m not sure if the rules in sentence form. So this would be cool!

Same. I’ve made some conscious effort with it but still fail to even properly distinguish pitch accent accurately enough that I’ve just punted it off to the future as something I’ll maybe work on harder one day to polish things, because if I drive myself crazy with it right now I’m just gonna hate the language.

From that perspective I can at least say pitch accent is not a pre-requisite to understanding (to be clear, nor did the OP claim that), but as a consequence of that… maybe this is half coping with my bad brain, but it feels to me like pitch accent is a thing to learn if you want to learn pitch accent. Undeniably it’s a boon to your speaking accent, but if the goal is just listening comprehension, I would think the biggest bang for your buck is simply throwing more hours at listening, and one way or another, strengthening your mental connections to words “known.” Listening is ultimately a test of how well you can more or less instantly find meaning out of the words. Point being, there may be a cross-benefit in parsing words, but it’s hard to imagine the time spent on pitch beating out directing it towards simply practicing listening more and coming across words in more contexts. I feel like even when a sentence does use unknown words, if it’s at a pace I can keep up with at all, my general understanding of particles, verb endings, and sentence structures makes me able to parse things without regard for pitch (which I still score at random chance or worse on).

I could be wrong though; there’s very little objective evidence on this stuff. And clearly learning about pitch accent takes more time for me than your average person, heh. Sharing ideas is cool anyway, and I don’t mean to rain on it too much, OP – genuinely cool that you feel like it’s helped you.