People with Disparate Abilities (Reading/Writing/Speaking/Listening)

When studying Japanese it’s pretty common to be asked questions like “What JLPT level are you?” or “Approximately how many college semesters of Japanese do you know?” I totally get why people ask these questions. They’re great benchmarks, and make approximating someone’s language level a little easier than just sitting down and asking EXACTLY what they know. I use them to talk to people too.

However, these questions are very difficult for me to answer.

Naturally, everyone has different strengths and weaknesses when it comes to the four basic language skills (or five, if you break speaking down into presentational speaking and conversational speaking). People are unique and some people are better at things than others. It’s also affected by what type of study you’re consistently able to do. But I wanted to hear from people who are at very separate ability levels.

I’ve read offhand comments on the forums before about people better at some skills than others, so I wanted to start a thread to talk to some of the people in the same situation I was (and sort of still am)! What are your strengths, and why do you think they got that way? What are your weaknesses, and what are you doing to improve them? If you want to describe your different areas with different benchmarks you’re free to do so.

About Me

In Japanese, I am significantly better at speaking and listening than I am at reading and writing. I took the N3 exam in December and passed, but the only reason I took N3 is because my weakest point (kanji) was at an N3 level. The listening section was a SNOOZE. I got barely passing scores in the Language Knowledge sections (a little better at the Grammar/Reading than the Vocabulary), but a wicked high score in listening. My listening score carried me to passing. I’ve tried doing N2 level listening and those I can also consistently pass, though not with quite as high a score.

I majored in Japanese (3 years of study), but the kanji learning pace was so fast I was never actually able to learn them before we moved on to newer kanji, so I was basically only learning to take the test and then dumping the info out of my brain. Because kanji was my weak point, I started WaniKani when I came to Japan last year, and I’ve gotten so much better! I might need to start actively studying other areas again.

If I had to estimate right now [edited to split writing into two categories]:
Reading - N3/N2
Writing (Characters) - N4
Writing (Composition) - N3/2
Speaking - N2/N1(?)
Listening - N2/N1(?)

Also, I didn’t know if I should put this in the Japanese Language category or not, so let me know if I messed up!


Speaking is probably my weakest area, which I think is fairly common.

Writing is an interesting one to think about, because I think most people in general would think of writing to mean “composing sentences and essays” or something like that, but the fact that Japanese has so many characters to learn means that often we think of writing as just “putting marks on paper.”

I am pretty good at putting marks on paper (I have Kanken level 2), but I don’t do very much written composition. I would like to look into signing up for a test that features composition to give me more incentive to practice.


I can read and write Japanese decently enough, (probably around N3, learning N2 grammar now), but I can’t really speak it, unless I speak super slowly.
And funny that you can understand spoken Japanese so well, because I. Cannot!
I cannot understand spoken Japanese, essentially, at all. I can discern the words from each other without issue, and I can understand the pronunciation and all that, but it moves so quickly that I can’t understand what the sentences mean. I don’t think I can even do N5 listening tests… I’ve actually been struggling with this for so long that I’ve essentially given up, and I just rely on JP subtitles for everything. :frowning:
It’s very frustrating, because in a sense, it makes me feel like I’m metaphorically deaf; if there are no subtitles, I can’t understand it.


I would say speaking is my weakest. Then writing, listening, and reading.

While I live in Japan I don’t actually need Japanese to function day-to-day. I also don’t like talking to ppl in general, so I don’t do much speaking.

Writing would require me to know grammar rules better than I do, as well as recalling kanji or their sounds.

Listening is better because I can pick up keywords, get context from the situation and work with gestures.

Reading tends to be better as I can work through it at my own pace and work with the kanji and vocab I know to figure out at least a general meaning.


That’s a very good point! If we mean physically handwriting, my writing is like N4 (because of kanji). If I’m allowed to type an essay on a word processor, it’s probably between N3-N2 right now.


I’m the opposite. I’m the best at speaking/listening and weaker at reading/writing. That’s why I started doing WaniKani - can’t get better at reading unless I know more kanji. I live in Japan, so I get to work on the speaking/listening part every day. With technology I don’t have to do too much writing by hand - mostly just thank you notes and paperwork.


I used to have the same problem in reverse. I would have to ask people to read something aloud to me, but then once they’ve read it aloud I felt so stupid. Like, how can I not read something so easy?

WaniKani has helped with that, though. Thank you, Crabigator.


Grammar- Very weak.
Anything with numbers- Very weak.
Understanding music- Extra weak
Listening- weak
I should study these more but it is sooooo boring so I’m thinking I’ll just get better as I go.

Reading- eeeeeh so-so maybe at level
Reading is fun I’m just lazy

I like talking in Japanese

Kanji- My favourite
I even started Chinese because I loved it that much.


Listening is easily my weakest area. Spoken noises just refuse to turn into meaningful words in my brain.


I feel this! My reading ability was as low as it was not because of the grammar I knew, but kanji. I could read a sentence and know that I would know what it said if I could read the kanji.


Oof this is relatable. I wasn’t reading a lot before I moved to Japan, because reading a whole book just felt like so much work, and I felt like if it wasn’t a book it didn’t really “count” as reading. I like reading memos and handouts now because I can get through the whole thing without feeling so fatigued. It’s like I’m stamina training for when I finally decide to read a book.


My “problem” is that I have a husband who can read things for me, so I don’t have to read things. I can, and I usually at least make an attempt, but if it seems really important I usually get him to check for me.


That’s a very nice problem to have!

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I started reading a book thinking I could read one page everyday but I only end up reading 1 page a week. I do like it though.


You can always join the wonderful world of the WK book clubs!
Reading with others is a lot more motivational than reading alone, I find, and while the books we read might not be your favourites, the regular practice really helps your reading speed. To the extent that when I did N2 last year, after 2 years of reading with the WK bookaholics, I aced the reading section because I could scan it quickly enough and still pick out the relevant information. Prior to that Listening had been my strongest skill.


I can sympathize. I’m getting better at reading correct written kanji in context, but questions where they put like three very similar looking kanji together and ask me to pick the correct one, I’m at a loss. It’s like, they all look… relatively correct? But they also all look a little wrong?


I’ve definitely peeked at the book clubs before! Thanks for the recommendation; I might join the next one after I finish some other projects I’m working on :smiley:


Haha me too.
He helps me with all the important forms and paperwork.
One day I hope I can do it without him.


I’m a bit odd in that writing (characters) is by far easier for me than anything else. I did RTK before WK and can write the 2000+ kanji it teaches, as well as infer the meaning. According to my WK stats, I can only read around 700 kanji to date.

That makes reading native material next easiest for me. While I cannot read the readings of every kanji I come across, I can often figure out what’s going on if my grammar level is up to the task. I haven’t been following any particular grammar path beyond what Genki I and II teach, and prefer to look up grammar points as I encounter them. I have no idea what JLPT level I am.

Speaking and listening… Oy. Listening is probably next best for me, by which I mean to say I totally suck at it. I recently watched Poco’s Udon World (anime) and decided my listening level is “Poco”. I can understand a few words in a row at native speed. After that I’m totally lost.

Speaking (verbal) and writing (composition)… forget it. Anything beyond stuff like これはペンです and my ability to express myself vanishes.


Interesting! A lot of people seem to be divided by whether they’re better at the written or spoken word, but if I’m understanding correctly, you feel you’re better at the reception of language (reading/listening) than the production of language (writing compositions/speaking).