What is it with listening to Japanese speech?

I am studying for JLPT N4 after passing for N5 last year. My biggest struggle is the listening section. I am listening to really simple basic conversation and I still find it SO INCREDIBLY hard to follow a simple conversation?

It goes quite fast, I have been studying Japanese for years now but it always take a split second before I realize what people are saying and the the speech already has moved on. I also had this the time I was in Japan. As soon as I was asking ‘すみません、もう一度お願いします’ I already realized ‘oh that what he was saying’ and so on. So my perception and understanding is in slo-mo, but the speech is not.

Does anyone have any advice? I still have one month before the exam


The only advice I can give you is to listen to spoken japanese as much as possible. Don’t worry to much about understanding it all just listen to it. Also do mock tests and get used to the listening part of the jlpt and pay attenion to the tone of the voices it sometimes gives away the right answer.


For JLPT listening questions in particular I found it was important not to get hung up on a word I didn’t immediately understand – although I might remember it with a little thought, that would be the next 10-20 seconds of dialogue gone by while I wasn’t paying attention. It’s better to let the lost word go by and continue to focus on what’s being said right now.

Other than that I don’t have much advice except the obvious “listen more”.


I have the same problem. I’m listening to Youtube videos trying to get better. But I think it is going to take a while and a lot more listening.


Thanks for the advice. What YouTube channel you listen to?

When it comes to consumption, your motivation is much more important than anything else. So you should listen to stuff you would want to listen to.


I listen to pretty much any easy Japanese video. Go to Youtube.com and type in “Japanese listening”. There are tons of videos to use. You can pick whatever you think is on your level. They go from 10 minute lessons on family, objects, etc. to hour long videos on everyday life. Lots of choices!

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I’m still in the same boat you are, but my theory is (same as English) to get enough practice for the redundant and boilerplate parts to be so predictable you’re really only listening to the key words and differences from what you expected. You don’t hear every spoken syllable.

I don’t really know how to explain it, but somewhat of an example: all the N5 listening practice questions start out the same. Mondai [number]. Otoko no hito to onna no hito ga hanashite imasu. Which is a lie, some are different. All I’m really hearing though is OTOKO NO … ONNA NO… HANASHITE… (and then the next sentence predictably starts with a question word like DONO…)

When you can start “chunking” sentences into recognizable atomic phrases instead of syllables and words, that reduces the cognitive load quite a bit.

Also I think getting used to standard pitch accent helps a lot with this, but I know that’s a controversial subject. Like not to be [whatever]-ist, but Indian English is very different sounding from American English in pitch and rhythm. When I hear someone from India speaking English, it’s almost as hard for me as you’re describing even though I know every word.

All I know is if I had to hear every syllable to figure out words in English, and hear every word to understand the sentence, I’d be right where I am in Japanese now with listening. It’s surprising how little of the sentence you really need to hear clearly.


Supposedly Japanese is one of the world’s least information-dense languages, so they need to talk pretty fast in order to have the same conversation in the same amount of time. Or so I’ve heard. But yeah, I still struggle with listening. A lot.


My humble advice:
Try getting content where you can read and listen at the same time appropriate for your level or a bit higher.
Get through it with the speakers speed even if it seems too fast for you for the first reading. Then analyze the text for understanding what you didn’t get.
From there on read and listen again and again (and/or shadow it while listening). Put the audio on your phone and listen to it over and over when you have “dead time” commuting to work/school or something like that.
Like this you can “convert” intensive reading texts pretty fast into extensive reading texts. The catch is to get along the text fast, like in your mother language and not get discouraged by parts you don’t fully understand. It trains your brain to make a connection between sounds and text and trains fluency.

  • Definitely try to get listening practice, especially with the test format.
    It is fine to listen with reading as part of the practice, though it’s best to do some without too before the test.

  • In the test itself, especially since it’s only played once, you need to be able to focus your attention in the listening section. A lot of questions (at least through N3) are a similar format: often they are like "a man and a woman are talking; what will the woman do next?'.
    With that example, it’s worthwhile to note on the question sheet which person the question is about, so that you know whose plan you need to answer about, in the following dialogue. Practice can train focus and especially when you don’t know or miss a word or two, trained focus might at least help you narrow down the correct answer.

  • The listening section is challenging for most of us - it needs focus: try to get good sleep in the nights before the exam, and have some hydration and snacks before that test section.

  • Also try not to get flustered or switch off - listening is harder to recover than other sections, if you do: so if possible, keep a position attitude, don’t dwell on the previous tough question and realise others are finding it tough too.


When I do a listening comprehension task that involves multiple choice, I found out that closing my eyes really makes a difference. If I don’t close my eyes, I lose focus pretty fast looking at the writing instead of concentrating on the dialogue/narration.
Also, and this might sound really weird, try to do a listening practice test without fully understanding, just listen without translating in your head in the middle of the dialogue and choose the answers that your guts tell you is right and see your overall score.
If you want to do listening practice with text that you can refer to after the first couple of listen or while listening, and be able to change the speaking speed to slower or faster, Satori reader is a good choice. There are sections with plenty of short dialogues you might find it helpful.


Sorry, I’m still learning how to use these forums and replied to the wrong person. Hope this will let me post again.

I have these two Shadowing books (beginner to intermediate and intermediate to advanced) that I’ve been working though (again). They recommend 10 minutes a day. Just listening, reading, and mouthing the conversation. Then working up to saying along with the recording without reading.

At first I was like, “Wow, they’re going really fast for beginner speed.” But after a few weeks of doing it, it didn’t seem as fast anymore. This will not only increase your speaking speed, but really help with recognizing expressions.

Different things work for different people so find what works for you to build that listening comprehension.

Shadowing Let’s Speak Japanese シャドーイング日本語を話そう!

Good luck and hope you find some good advice!


I had the opposite Problem, I got full mark on the JLPT N2 listening part but 0 on the Kanji test.
What I can recommend, and I know easier said then done, is to try and use the language as much as possible.
Start of with shadowing exercises, listen to Japanese videos with subtitles (focus on the speech though) and lastly try to find someone you can talk Japanese with.
I heard there are language exchange groups were half the conversation is done in English and the other half in Japanese so booth can benefit from it.

Listening is all about getting used to it. If you need to buy some time during a conversation try some sounds to give you some time, mhh, えっと、なるほど、そっか、へー、are some examples that I hear frequently. You have to be a bit careful not every sound matches every situation.
今日何をしますか。 Here a なるほど would land you strange looks but えっと would be perfectly fine.

hope this helps a bit.


I mean the good news is the progress curve is exponential. For a long time I’d turn on the TV and it would all be gibberish. Then for a long time I’d turn on the TV and it would be gibberish, gibberish, gibberish, hey I know that word, gibberish…

But then the “I know that word” started coming more and more quickly and often and all of the sudden I was understanding the overall meaning if not the sentences and words, I can pick word boundaries out of the stream of syllables and the unknowns are fewer and easier to look up later… there’s just an explosion of progress at some point.

I think making yourself speak speeds that up a little bit. Something about your own mouth knowing how to do it engages the muscle memory even when you’re only listening.


maybe sigmoid, tapering off at some advanced level far above where I am

I had this problem when I was a beginner. It felt that there was a buffer period before my brain could understand what was being said.

Try and get away from JLPT listening practice for a bit. Those listening scripts are designed to trick you up and add an extra level of complexity. Just do general listening practice. Try to resist the urge to pause or rewind. Just focus on what you can understand and let the stuff you can’t fly by. This can pretty exhausting at first, so start with short bursts and work your way up. Eventually your brain will learn to process information faster and to listen for key words


That’s good advice I hadn’t thought of.
Maybe something more like this
If you understand this, you are JLPT N5 level! [Mochi real Japanese]

I do think you should do the JLPT-specific practice before the test to get used to the format, but you’re right, that’s needlessly demoralizing and more of a ‘test’ than a ‘help’

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Oh, nice series. And you were right about that “stealth progress” from “gibberish, gibberish, gibberish, gibberish” through “gibberish, gibberish, I know that!, gibberish, gibberish” to “waitwaitwait! I got it!” :slight_smile:

I checked out the N3 video, and understood all examples, which surprised me tbh :open_mouth: