Why is my listening so bad?!

I know there’s a thread from like 2016 on this but I’m making a new one lol.
I passed N4 last year-barely. My listening score was at exactly 50% (granted, there was some trouble with the audio equipment, but that aside). Presently, I’m in an N3 review class, and I smoke everyone else in the class on kanji (and by virtue of that, often vocab, thanks wanikani) and reading comprehension. However, I struggle to pick up anything during listening practice. Even if i shut my eyes and try to purge my mind of any thought that isn’t picking up what people are saying, it’s a struggle. Words and sounds blend together. Was that a past tense or the start of the next word? Crap. I totally missed that sentence. what?
In english, I’m very much a listen-and-write learner, so my auditory processing is very strong for my L1. that’s why I just don’t understand why my L2 listening is such a struggle? I’ve been watching midnight diner, terrace house, sailor moon, some youtube…even with Japanese subtitles, nothing seems to help. Has anyone else struggled with this? It gets so frustrating that I just tend to turn off whatever I’m watching after 10 minutes. I’ve been studying Japanese for almost 4 years now, and I still can’t listen to or follow a relatively basic conversation in Japanese, so it’s really killing my motivation. Why have I been studying so long if I still can’t communicate?..


Simply put, you haven’t listened enough :wink:.

You have to get over the frustration of not understanding everything. Listening comprehension will mostly happen subconsciously. If you still need to think about tenses and whatnot during listening, you just need to get more comfortable with the flow of speech. It’s almost like magic, slowly you’ll start understanding more and more, but you need to do it habitually and A LOT.

Podcasts are a great way to put on the background e.g. while walking. Don’t worry about catching everything and just let it flow. Doing this, listening section for N3 was a breeze, albeit that was over a year ago.


I’ve been (well, probably I am) in the exact same situation. I passed the N4 in December with a listening score around 50%; grammar, kanji and reading comprehension were a piece of cake in comparison. I would say that I have fairly improved during the year, the mistake I was definitly making was the following:

:arrow_forward: It gets so frustrating that I just tend to turn off whatever I’m watching after 10 minutes.

Even if you only manage to pick up a few words every now and then, just stick to it, it will (slowly) get better. Don’t give up and keep listening. Just to give you an example: I remember that in January/February the podcast Nihongo con Teppei (intermediate) was basically out of my league, but I kept listening (an re-listening) and now I’d say I understand most of it.


I don’t know why you’re so bad, but I can tell you why I’m so bad :stuck_out_tongue:

I don’t do enough of it. Listening or speaking in a conversation. However, I have started listening to a podcast for 10 minutes every morning while making my breakfast and I can honestly say it has made a big difference. I also find repeating what the person is saying in my head in Japanese, as they are saying it, really helps my comprehension for some reason. But I’m not sure if I’m explaining that well or if that would work for everybody.

If you’re interested the podcasts I find helpful (from most to least) are as follows:

  • Nihongo SWiTCH
  • Let’s learn Japanese from smalltalk

To reiterate what the others above me have said: practice, practice, practice more. For me personally, when I struggle with listening, it’s when my mind hyper-focuses on something I don’t understand. Therefore, I tend not to catch what comes immediately after that hangup. Consequently, I lose track of the flow of the conversation. I have to will myself past that hangup so as not to lose that flow. If you deal with something similar, try practicing that.


Don’t feel bad about listening to things “below” your current level. Even though your reading might be N3 level, I recommend listening to N5 or N4 material until that becomes too easy and you don’t feel like you are learning anything new anymore. Swallow your pride and tackle something more appropriate. Focus on comprehensible material for a little while.

If N5 and N4 listening kills your motivation. Find a youtuber who has videos with subtitles so you can actually find out what exactly it is that you’re failing to catch.


I second nihongo con teppei. I haven’t finished beginner series yet but i feel my listening improved alot


It really helps to be a weeb desu appreciate and watch a lot of anime :wink:

That’s probably the easiest way, in the sense that you’d be listening to ton of Japanese anyway. Just so that you understand the volume… I think I watched ~1000 hours of anime. My biggest weakness now is vocab. If I know the vocab I usually can understand what is being said.

I also think chatting to Japanese natives helps a lot. Try italki. You can get plenty of affordable casual conversation lessons.


This is very anecdotal but for me, I think a big part of my struggle was this feeling of anxiety or panic over not being able to understand everything. Sort of also this feeling of “oh this is a foreign language I have no idea what they’re saying”, which would cause my brain to give up on trying to understand it. It took me a long time and I got in hundreds of hours of listening with anime and games and youtube… but the time when I noticed a real improvement was when I finally got over that panicked feeling. I started being okay with not understanding everything, and viewing it as a sort of experience or challenge. I’d try to follow along and use visual clues from the video to fill in parts I wasn’t understanding.

Nowadays I no longer get that “oh this is a foreign language” feeling from Japanese, in fact it’s really funny when I go from watching something in Japanese to something else like say, German or Chinese and suddenly I get that feeling again and my brain tunes it out 'cause I can’t understand a word of it. And likewise, if I’m watching something international and they start speaking Japanese, I get that similar familiar feeling I get with English, that feeling that I can get some kind of information out of what I’m hearing, even if it’s not 100%.

TLDR; I guess just try and be okay with not understanding everything you’re hearing and just try to relax and pick out things you do understand.


I like to listen and read at the same time. Get a book as audiobook and as paper or e-book and read the book while listening. That helps me a lot with both reading and listening.


I haven’t taken the JLPT yet, but on practice tests I am doing okay in the N3 range. I do both casual listening and seriously active listening to practice. When I am listening casually, to a podcast or TV show or music, I try to catch what I can but don’t stress about what I don’t. When I do active listening, I’ll try to find a Youtube video or use an episode of JLPT Stories podcast (they are only about 2-3 minutes long so they are perfect for this) and transcribe everything I possibly can. I have to go over each sentence/word cluster several times and sometimes I slow down the speed when I just really can’t catch what is said. It took me a while to get over the fact that I don’t understand everything in casual listening but I can definitely see an improvement (albeit a small one. Progress is progress! :wink:).

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Yeah, probably a question of volume (as in quantity lol). You can also try to simply listen/watch the same episode multiple times. It takes the pressure off of needing to understand everything the first time round.
Try to hit at least an hour a day - podcasts are good in that you can usually combine it with other activities.

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I completely agree with everyone else about the need for more practice. It takes time: probably the only reason my listening started advancing rapidly is because I spent about 3-6 months watching this anime I loved at the time over and over, and I often fell asleep in the middle of an episode. End result: I was surprised to find that I had a relatively easy time tracking the syllables being pronounced in Tobira recordings even though I didn’t always understand them.

However, well, that’s not really what I came here to say. Perhaps you shouldn’t try to block everything out when you listen? Sure, you need to focus on the Japanese, but there’s nothing wrong with deciphering grammar at the same time or seeing kanji flashing in and out of your mental space. I do that all the time. You get faster bit by bit. I started to notice improvements when I found myself changing my interpretation of a verb thrice over the course of 1-2 seconds. It was 変わらせる or something like that: so
‘kawar-‘ – change
‘kawara’ – oh wait, we’re not done here
‘kawaraseru’ – oh, causative!
(I was watching an anime. The Rising of the Shield Hero, probably.)

Listening comprehension definitely becomes subconscious over time, but don’t be afraid to attempt to consciously process things. That won’t hurt your chances. Also, if you’re watching anime or dramas online, you might want to try picking passages that interest you and rewinding them a couple of times until you feel like you’re able to break the sentence down into words in real time. I do that quite often when I’ve got an anime I want to study.


Watch japanese shows on Netflix with english subtitles to increase your listening time. Terrace House for example or Midnight diner.

I think, like several posters here, that it’s just a matter of time and effort. Listening comprehension is a rather slow process and you just have to be patient about it. Find something you like listening to and stick to it!

You might get some inspiration in this thread as well! ^>^


because you haven’t done it enough.
i recommend repeating sentences that you don’t catch. language learning with netflix is awesome for this with its repeat keyboard shortcut, that will repeat the same line in an anime for you as many times as you press it.

also, knowing the words is important too. your actual vocabulary might also just be pretty small for what you’re trying to listen to. reading more will help too, with naturally and intuitively processing sentences rather than splitting them up into grammatical parts in your conscious mind (language acquisition - required for good listening - is mostly a subconscious process).

repeatedly watching things is fantastic for improving quite rapidly, as long as you really do like it. about how many times did you watch it? i’m curious lol

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Oh, I have no idea. I lost count. Five times at least? Certain episodes were more entertaining, so I probably watched them more.

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