Trouble connecting sounds to meanings

Hi all

I’ve been at this for about 8 month at this point, and I’m making some good progress. I still couldn’t hold a conversation to save my life, but I can understand some simple stuff. I’ve been using an N5 Anki deck to build my vocabulary alongside WK in preparation for the N5 in December.

One of the problems I’ve been running into a lot recently is that I can connect the english meaning of a japanese word to the kanji for that word, and I can connect the kanji of a word to the japanese pronunciation of that word, but I can’t connect the english meaning to the japanese sounds. Like, if i see 栄光 written like that, I can tell you it’s pronounced “えいこう” and means “glory”, but if I hear someone say "えいこう” or see it written in hiragana, I have no idea what it means.

Has anyone else had this problem? How did you get past it?

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Read more? Listen more? It will only come from practice.


I went through the same thing (and in some ways I still am) since I practised reading without listening for 6 months. If you just start to listen to spoken Japanese more the brain will work things out on it’s own. I listen everyday and have been for a few months and the progress is visible for sure. I used to struggle with people talking about the weather and now I can get through an episode of a show with 95% understanding (if I’m lucky). My reading is still far more advanced than my listening but just listen, listen, listen and things will happen. Sorry, that’s it.


In every language, not just Japanese, reading and listening are separate skills, and are measured differently. That’s essentially your difficulty, as connecting sounds to meanings is precisely what listening is. You won’t get better at listening through practicing reading, as stated above. But since you know both the sounds and the meanings, just doing the connection shouldn’t be too much harder.

Also, the self-study quizz extension is awesome because it includes sound to meaning exercises!


Yes, I’ve had this problem. In fact there are times when I hear words, namely one’s that sound other words I know and for the life of me I cannot remember/recognize the meaning of those words. Like the previous posters have mentioned or alluded to, this gets better with exposure to Japanese. The more you practice listening, you get better at listening; the more you practice reading, the better you get at reading. Once you get into the mode of working in Japanese and stop translating everything over, your brain won’t be so overwhelmed to understand what is going in.

Right now, you’re studying for the N5. There’s quite a lot ahead of you before things start becoming more automatic. Just keep studying, drilling, practicing, and using Japanese, then before you know it, things will start making sense when you listen and read.

What’s this quiz extension you mentioned?

I had forgotten to include the link. It’s edited now. There you can find the extension and the complete description. It’s definitely a good one.

In short, I would suggest listening more. Specifically, try going to a place like Youtube and watching Japanese media made for Japanese people with Japanese subtitles (close captioned text, not just English translations - both are helpful). A simple and bite-sized way to get into to doing something like this daily is to listen to Japanese songs. If the lyrics aren’t in a video, google them and read the kanji/kana (alternatively with English translation) as you hear the song.

Good luck!

ETA: Ideally, I think we shouldn’t be translating in our heads, but internalizing the meanings naturally so that we just understand because Japanese and English require different ways of thinking and don’t overlap well.

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This is the kind of thing I was looking for, specific ideas on how to get into listening practice. Thanks.

Maybe KaniWani also helps with this? It’s not exactly listening practice but it does make you look at words you lerned here in a different way

To add, I think it’s helpful if you enjoy the media you consume. It doesn’t need to be a painful thing. Watch while reading the translation/close caption, maybe repeat some parts, and then move on to something new. There’s no need to antagonize over unknown stuff or to even consult the dictionary unless you’re super curious. With songs, though, repetition is more helpful and less obnoxious - so maybe listen to the same song once to three times a day for at least week or so.

You are not alone. There is a huge gap between my reading skills and my listening skills. If you have Netflix or Prime there are lots of Japanese shows that have the option of English or Japanese subtitles. Suggest you find one you and see episode with English subtitles first then again with Japanese then again with Japanese but stopping to read the Japanese then again without subtitles. Really helps - although it is intensive and I haven’t done it anywhere near as much as I should. Often too tired after work and end up just watching with English subtitles.

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