Connecting what I hear to what I've read

I’ve been doing listening practice every day for several months now. I still have a long way to go, but I’ve gotten a lot better at picking out words and sounds and particle phrases (which is no mean feat, since I’m partially deaf!).

Now my biggest problem is that in almost every sentence, I hear words that I’ve heard but would have to look up. It doesn’t help that the language has such an enormous number of homophones. Basically, I hear the kana but not the kanji. And even though I know all four pitch accent patterns, I don’t have the practice or experience yet to use them to tell words apart.

How would you suggest that I go about building this missing connection? I was planning to make an English → Japanese Anki deck, but I think that would be inefficient for fixing this issue. Besides, producing Japanese is a much lower priority for me right now than recognizing it.

I just realized I could make an Anki deck where the prompt is the kana with a pitch accent diagram and the answer is the kanji. But that would be so time-consuming to create that I want to make sure that I haven’t thought of something better before I try it.

For active listening, I watch at least one episode of an untranslated TV show per day with undivided attention (then I read an English summary afterward, but that’s mostly to get closure). Would tweaking my active listening practice help? I’m open to ideas here. Thanks!

EDIT: If I do end up doing the pitch accent diagram → kanji deck, are there any sites that save Japanese pitch accent diagrams as images? I use OJAD and all the time, but PrintScreening and cropping hundreds of these myself just sounds like a huge pain.


I know exactly what you’re talking about, but I don’t know that there’s a particular solution other than to keep listening (and reading). I think the culprit is often kind of, mmm. Intellectually… knowing OF a word? Versus actually knowing a word.
If that makes sense.

Kanji can be kind of a cheat I think. Like sure, you can see 発掘 or something and remember, or I should say, piece back together from the component kanji, but do you actually know the word はっくつ? If you just read that, would you know it? Or if you heard it? For me the answer has often been, no.

I think this creates a gap in words that we know vs know. I’d call it a similar to but different gap from active to passive vocabulary. And I think a ton of listening is the best cure for that. Listening to audiobooks, I can’t tell you how many times a recurring vocabulary comes up and I’m not sure what they’re talking about about and then five paragraph later, when they’ve they’ve repeated it 10 times, I finally go “oh wait! I know what that is.”

Anyway to make life easier on yourself I’d recommend putting Japanese subtitles on during your more leisure watching. I’m not partially deaf, but I do have some kind of minor hearing trouble (I’m the kind of person who puts subtitles on in English, and turns voice volume to 100% and everything else to 70% in games), and it does help make connections even if it isn’t as effective (maybe)


If you do end up making a deck based on pitch accents, that would be soooooo cool.

Pitch accents for me are a virtually unexplored part of my learning. I’m not sure if my style will suit you, but I’ve been relying purely on context to recall vocab I’ve read. Mostly inspired by how words that have the same pitch accent (like “bridge” and “edge”) context is used by native Japanese speakers to understand one another.

Similar to what @QuackingShoe just said, after a little while of listening my brain can get it based on context clues and repetition… On a good day I can anticipate the kind of words I expect to hear based on the theme.

Another strategy to strengthen contextual thinking, I try to read books for 4th graders that have complex words but mostly written in hiragana! I’m reading “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe” right now, and it’s challenging, in a good way, because of how little kanji are included.

The last trick is one I learned from teaching English, is to read out loud. Especially since you have knowledge of pitch accents, I bet your reading aloud would be particularly effective in helping your ear and mind make those connections faster.

I’m excited to see what ends up working for you, and to hear what others are doing too! We got this!


I would second @QuackingShoe’s thoughts on this. If you are hearing the words well enough that you could look them up if you paused the audio input (which is a great feat, in and of itself, especially with so many similar sounds), then I would say you just need to practice:

  1. Doing more of just that:
  • Listen
  • Pause listening if you don’t understand
  • Look up words
  • Resume listening
  1. Building vocabulary separately from this (you may already be doing this with Wanikani and your other studies)

If you are having trouble catching the words, one thing that helps me is to try to consume content with a transcript or subtitle option that can be referenced or turned on an off.

For example, I would watch a show on Netflix with subtitles off, and if there is a part I don’t understand, I would pause and look up words. If nothing made sense, or I think I maybe heard it wrong, I would rewind, turn the subtitles back on, and then play until that part and confirm the word(s) I was hearing.

Some other resources that you could use a similar technique with would be listening to audio books and also buying a physical copy of the book and referencing it if needed, or a few podcasts (nihongoswitch and 4989americanlife, I know for sure) offer transcripts.


I just recently started learning Japanese so I don’t have any Japanese specific advice; but something which has been very helpful to me while learning English, and which I intend to do with Japanese when I’ve progressed far enough, is listening to audiobooks while reading the physical book. As Axazel pointed out, reading aloud to yourself is also helpful for strengthening the connection between pronunciation and meaning in your mind. If you have the time for it, listening to an audiobook while reading the physical book, then pausing the audio and reading the previous passage aloud while mimicking the narrator can be a good excercise.


Being able to recall vs produce.

I propose combining these two ideas a bit. It sounds like you know the words already, but your issue is telling them apart. I would honestly focus on your production ability, how well you can produce the word. In this case, I don’t mean actually saying the word aloud. Instead I mean thinking of the context or meaning of the word in order to think of the pronunciation.

Since you’re partial deaf, it’s probably something you already do. If you’re listening to someone say goodbye to their spouse, and hear them say a certain term of affection, you’re probably not going to think of deer, but instead “dear.” I recommend trying to build up the same skill with Japanese. If you already know what the topic being spoken is about, think of words that you’re likely to hear in the conversation. As you get more and more familiar with the structure of Japanese, it’ll get easier and also doing this kind of relational thinking should also make conversation easier in the future as well.

Additionally, pitch accents very by region anyway. They’re great to know and help you speak, but unless you plan on just staying in Tokyo, I think this method could be very helpful.


Read more

It's a matter of expanding your vocabulary. If you already can look up words by ear then ironically I'd say you should read more to see how words are used in different contexts.

You can try to read an original work (novel/manga) and then watch an anime adaptaion without subs. Since you read the original source you should be familiar with the vocab and may even remember specific dialogue lines.

Listen to more unscripted speech

For me it's been really helpful to watch YouTube videos on topics I care about. Vtubers are also fun to watch.

Since such videos are often not scripted (or very loosely scripted) the grammar and vocab tend to be simpler. And people often repeat the same idea in several ways, so it’s easier to understand.

Practice speaking

Talk to people in Japanese. When you get comfortable making your own conversation it should become much easier to follow others' conversations.

i’d add: use japanese subtitles

that way you get practice associating the sounds you hear with the words you’ve learned and can read ^^


Well, that is passive vs active vocabulary, which is why I said

I think it’s a separate gap born from being able to reconstruct a partially-remembered word’s meaning from seeing its kanji, versus actually remembering the word itself.


Thanks, everyone. I already regularly watch shows on Netflix with Japanese subtitles and elsewhere without any subtitles. It’s sounding like my best bet, then, is to stay that course.

I was hoping to put off making an English-to-Japanese deck, but it might be time. I don’t currently know any native speakers in person. But I think you’re right: it’s sounding like starting on the production side is the only way I can take off from here.

I should probably also start putting sentences on my Anki cards. I need to figure out the “right” way to go about that.

If I do, I’ll send you what I have! It sounds like you’d have input that I’d be happy to use!

I use YouTube’s Japanese trending page a lot. In fact, I discovered PuiPui Molcar months before it hit Netflix and I was begging my friends to watch it the day it did! I’ve been using it more for passive listening lately, but I’ll try to pivot back to active listening.

My main motivation with pitch accent is that in the past, native speakers haven’t understood a word I’ve said in Japanese. Or have complained that my Japanese voice is unpleasant somehow. So I’m trying to work that into my practice along with phonology (especially ん, which is deceptively slippery!). It’s still on the back burner, though. I write down the pitch accent on my Anki cards, but I’m waiting to watch more Dogen videos until I’ve knocked out some other goals.


Is that due to pitch accent alone though? Is it possible that you’re pronouncing some sounds wrong and that that’s throwing off natives too? (Obviously I’m not saying that is the case since I’ve never heard you speak. Just offering up a possibility.)

I’m not sure myself. I don’t currently regularly see any native speakers in person and I’m not really at a place where I feel like using italki will help my current goals. So it’s been difficult to measure my speaking progress. If I say simple sentences with set phrases, I seem to be more comprehensible. That’s why I’m trying to study both pitch accent and IPA. At this point, I’ll try anything! Maybe even italki!

1 Like

If you’re comfortable, you could always record yourself saying some set phrases and get feedback here on the forums.

1 Like

This topic was automatically closed 365 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.