Have you found any strategies that help with anticipating Japanese structure while listening?

Obviously actively listening to a massive amount of comprehensible Japanese content is essential to developing listening fluency. And perhaps this raw osmosis is enough, if extremely laborious. I’m just trying to be as efficient as possible in my study.

My biggest issue always seems to be anticipating Japanese structure. I can hear the words. I can understand the grammar. But the word order, the emphasis of the sentence, and the structure bounce off me.

The most useful videos I have found on this subject are:

The tl;dr is (1) The core verb, adjective, or noun always comes at the end of the sentence; and (2) anything that modifies anything comes before that thing.

This sounds very useful and is very useful, but when I’m listening in real-time, I don’t know how to re-wire my brain to anticipate the structure. I comprehend English so quickly and automatically that I don’t know what it is that I’m anticipating while listening in English.

This is a typical scenario:

  1. I hear a long sentence.

modifier no modifier no modifier na subject ga modifier modifier modifier object wo verb.

  1. A typical human can only comfortably keep about 7 “things” in their short-term memory. So, I brain dump somewhere around the seventh word / particle.

  2. If I had some ability to anticipate the structure, however, then I could “package up” those seven words / particles into one or two “things” in my short-term memory in real-time (with enough practice) just like I do in English.

At the moment, however, I simply can’t comprehend sentences over a certain length when spoken in real-time. And I’m wondering if you have found any strategies that helped you with anticipating sentence structure (e.g. “When you hear structure X then structure Y or Z are most likely to follow.”) I’m currently at a lower intermediate level (just starting Tobira) with a few hundred hours of listening practice.


Try this app from Minna no Nihongo. Second book, so still up to N4 listening exercises. The conversations get gradually more complex. I wonder at which level it starts to become difficult?


Jumping on this just to follow, as it is also a problem for me :wink:


I don’t really know how I became able to do it, but when I think about the process, it’s not like I hold all the words in my memory at the same time, wait for the predicate at the end, and then process everything. It’s like I’m grouping words into concepts while hearing them. All Japanese sentences can be simplified into some patterns, like TopicはSubjectがObjectをPredicate (of course you can omit things that are obvious in the context, the only mandatory one is the predicate). No matter how complicated the sentence is, those are the basics. I think what I do is I process words in groups based on their role in the sentence and sort of compress them into one concept before moving on. Like if I hear the connecting particles, it makes it clear what the previous part before it does, and sort of compress it into one entity… or something… I guess…
But often I find that in casual speech most people keep things simple so I don’t find conversation difficult, but if I were to listen to an audiobook of, say, Murakami Haruki, the sentences might be too complex to process normally.


I think starting with reading more is a good idea to get used to the different word order. By reading, you don’t have to keep everything in your memory at once, but you can spend more time figuring stuff out, read at your comprehension speed and also reread parts.
With reading there is also a point where you don’t have to think about what modifies what or how the sentence started again; you just understand and „absorb“ the meaning without having to actively memorize every part of the sentence. I would especially focus on the modifiers as these are the thing that make sentences so long. If you can recognize what is a modifier while hearing/reading the sentence, you can basically ignore that part (what I mean is not literally ignoring but integrating it into the scene in your mind’s eye directly - if that makes sense) because it’s not part of the „core“ sentence structure. As you said, being able to package everything into a few main things immediately. You already know that modifiers come before the noun, but to actually apply that knowledge on the fly requires lots of practice, and I think reading over listening will strengthen that skill. (Might be biased because I simply like reading)

Of course you should start focusing listening before you reach that point in reading, but it might be a good stepping stone where you have more time to process and assimilate everything.


For anyone following this thread, I posted the same question on Reddit, and I found this comment to be very helpful: https://www.reddit.com/r/LearnJapanese/comments/f7kfqm/have_you_found_any_strategies_that_help_with/fid4d05/

(Unfortunately the rest of the comments were a mixed bag, and in typical /r/LearnJapanese fashion, there always seems to be that one “The way to get better at listening / reading / writing / speaking is to listen / read / write / speak more” guy, as if I never could have considered that.)


I am super interested to see what people say too!

Well it’s true though :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye: It’s mostly a subconscious effort and people underestimate the amount of input they have to get.

Of course you can lookup the occasional grammar, but most of it will come just from your brain figuring out those new patterns over time. It’s a long process.

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One thing I do quite a lot is watch subtitled shows in Japanese, but try to work out where the translation has strayed from the literal meaning as I listen. Even in long sentences, having the English text as a prompt helps me remember where or how certain words are used - I can look at one phrase in the subtitles and think “how does this differ from the original?” and normally get an answer, even when I struggle to parse the whole sentence at once.

That's not the issue. I know I need a lot of input. The issue is the knee-jerk, anti-intellectual "Do X more if you want to learn X" echo chamber. Most people don't think deeply; they repeat heuristics that sound correct before consciously considering a strategy. Plenty of things that CAN be learned sub-consciously can also be learned more efficiently be employing conscious strategies. And let's suppose they are correct, and there's zero conscious strategies that can be employed. Then they haven't contributed anything. I'm going to be putting in the thousands of hours anyway.
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