Out of the four skills of learning (listening, speaking, reading, and writing), I feel like the areas that I am particularly lacking in, and thus want to improve right now, are listening and speaking skills.
If anyone has recommendations for improving said skills, I am all ears.
Listening will depend a lot on what you enjoy doing. If you like watching anime, movies, dramas, whatever, then listening to that, and even maybe saving the audio and listening to it while doing other things should help.
If you enjoy listening to podcasts, there are plenty of Japanese podcasts you could try out.
There’s also the option of audiobooks. Japanese audiobooks are often what you would consider a radio drama, fully voice acted with soundeffects and all. Audible has a 2 month free trial, and in Japan it’s a 聞き放題 pretty much for 1500 yen a month.
For talking, if it’s in your budget, a teacher can definitely go a long way, since they are ready to correct your speaking.
Personally, I found it helpful to watch Japanese YouTube videos for topics I was familiar with in English. My favorites are tech repair, makeup tutorials, 3D/art tutorials because there are enough loanwords that it wasn’t confusing starting watching them and a lot of the verbs repeat (compared to a topic like cooking in Japanese, which has many techniques and ingredients I never heard of in my life).
I also like to write down what I’m hearing while watching anime on a Word Doc. Pause after every sentence or two. Write words you aren’t sure about in jisho.org (ex: can’t tell if it’s an “oo” or “ou”).
If I have a drama CD or visual novel, I put the audio on my mp3 and repeat after the characters while they speak (shadowing). The more times you listen to it, the more words you will catch. You can also put audio for YouTube videos or anime or whatever on your mp3 and pretend it’s a radio drama without visuals.
Whatever you do, don’t just passively have the audio playing in the background because it’ll go in one ear and out the other. Be sure to interact with it!
In order to practice speaking, you either need a buddy or you need to be talking to yourself. I would hire an italki tutor since it’s cheaper than a teacher and the structure is less rigid.
Talk to yourself in Japanese when you can (either out loud or in your head), make an effort to gradually replace your go-to English phrases with Japanese. Start small with interjections and add on to that.
While walking my dog, I talk to him in Japanese about my day. It really helped pairing this with italki lessons, I would practice the topic I wanted to talk to my tutor about ahead of time with my dog. Then when I got to the italki lesson, I wasn’t nervous about what I would say.
You could try recording yourself speaking (EX: a weekly audio journal) but it takes a bit extra effort and is kind of disappointing hearing how you sound stumbling around in Japanese.
I think listening has already been more or less covered. In short, in my opinion, the steps are
Pick something you like to listen to (among other things, songs are good, if you ask me, because you’ll be quite happy to repeat them)
Listen and try to understand as much as possible
Check the transcription (if you have one) and look up stuff you don’t know/didn’t get
Repeat steps 2 and 3 until you’re satisfied with your listening session
You can even spread this out over time by watching a series or listening to an audio file over and over. You’ll definitely see improvement, particularly if you’re studying other stuff as well.
As for speaking… find a teacher or conversation partner if possible. Ideally, you should look for someone who’s willing to correct you and isn’t simply content to work out what you meant to say. However, if you’re like me (i.e. don’t have a lot of time for accommodating other people; can write relatively fluidly, but with occasional hesitation; tend to study on a budget, so you only buy one-time payment long-term investments like books), then I’d also suggest
Shadowing (i.e. listening to a recording, then repeating after it with a slight delay while imitating intonation and pronunciation) audio snippets
Practising speaking on your own (just try explaining a topic aloud or talking to yourself)
I think speaking tends to be a lot more nerve-wracking than writing for a lot of us, and we question ourselves a lot more as we do it, but I really think this is the only way to gain confidence.
That aside, I guess listening to people talk about something you’d like to talk about yourself is also a good idea, because that teaches you how to express yourself in such a situation. Also helps fill up any holes in your vocabulary.
My own experience is that listening practice is much more effective for me if there is something that forces it to be active listening … and this usually goes hand-in-hand with speaking.
When I try to practice listening with podcasts and TV shows my mind will often wander or I’ll just breeze by the stuff I don’t understand.
On the other hand, in conversation you’re forced to make sure you understand what you hear in order to continue the conversation. Alternatively, shadowing exercises force you to make sure you are hearing all of the sounds. I find exercises like these more effective for improving listening and - as a bonus - also improve speaking.
I saw in your comment history that you have the Genki textbooks.
When I worked through Genki, I initially neglected the audio parts a bit. Now I’m trying to go through all the audio recordings again (in particular, the dialogues, the reading practices and the listening exercises from the workbook) and to ideally understand everything without looking at the text. This may take multiple listens, and especially for the reading sections there are some unfamiliar words that I have to look up, but I feel that this is improving my listening skills.
Podcasts for beginners are also a good idea (I listen to Japanese with Shun).
One thing I’m still trying to improve upon is to not get hung up when I don’t understand something. You don’t have much time to pause when listening, so if you miss a nuance or can’t identify the construction properly but still get the gist, it’s probably best to focus on the rest of the conversation instead of dwelling on what you didn’t understand. I like to listen to recordings once without pauses to get the general idea and then I can listen to it again to try to catch parts that I missed at first. Finally, I’ll try to listen to the recording and shadow it (at least once).
The simple answer: Do more!
The hard answer: Do more!
The toughest part is finding content that matches your level. You are level 39 on WK, so I am sure you have a lot of words in your passive memory, but getting it to active memory is hard. For speaking and listening, I would suggest some iTalki lessons, and getting feedback, while forcing yourself to speak.
Listening may be started by textbook exercises, then, just like and just as hard as reading, find a material that you like and is suitable for your comprehension level. There may also be different purposes, so different listening materials to comprehend different kinds of gist.
Cracking some confidence in speaking may take some energy, but that’s just the beginning. After that would probably be learning to be both a good listener and a good speaker. It still remains possible to be a bad listener in any language, and that might not be a good idea learning-wise. I believe speaking eventually needs a partner to exchange words equally.
Listening more deeply, or shadowing, might be a good idea; but eventually there are depth and breadth to everything.