Any tips for develping low level listening comprehenion?

Specifically, for somebody who has tried like all hell to develop an ear for the language but over the course of studying it on and off for 13 years (seriously for maybe 3 of those years) simply can not understand spoken Japanese a large portion of the time. Sometimes even when I slow it down things sound slurred together. I even lived in Japan for over a year, and I barely picked up anything. I’d like to think I’m not beyond hope, but a lot of the listening resources I listened to just didn’t do it for me.

japanesepod101 was too rambly and had a weird focus on the stuff that was already super obvious while glossing over harder stuff. Still might give it another try if I can’t get think of something else though. I’m actually kinda making progress with grammar again finally, and I don’t want that to go to waste.


I’m in the same place.

I think that it depends exactly on the level that you are at, but I listen to the Slow Japanese podcast (Podcast Slow Japanese - Mochifika | Japanese with Akari, super basic, so slow I had to speed it up a little).

Also The Konnichiwa podcast ( alternates between English and Japanese, which means that you can regain your place if you get lost)

Hope these help.

— Dave


It maybe or may not help depending on your level, but something that I think helped me was to watch Japanese content with Japanese subtitles turned on. :+1:

Assuming the thing you are watching is not too difficult, connecting the text with what you heard can help a lot.


I think it highly depends on your level. Is the issue one of like 聞き取り (catching words/sounds) or is it the case that you perhaps wouldn’t understand the same Japanese fully even if it were written down? Normally it is a mix of both but it may be worth focusing on one or the other as to give yourself a sense of progress.

For general comprehension of Japanese, intensive reading is pretty much unrivaled. You can also watch subbed TV/YouTube/whatever. I personally think it helps a lot.

For 聞き取り, you can do transcription exercises or focused re-listening. It is incredibly dull but it does seemingly work.

Equally, there is the classic and annoyingly obvious advice to just “listen more” - I suspect you’ve already tried this one though 笑


If you have the money to spare, I would recommend finding a teacher for one-on-one conversations, online (e.g.on italki) or in person. They would be able to cater to your specific level, and would be able to slow down and explain things when necessary. Even if you feel like you’re not ready for conversation-level Japanese, finding a bilingual teacher who also speaks English/whichever language you are comfortable with would mean that you could start listening to actual spoken Japanese at your pace, with perhaps you answering in the other language to begin with to keep the conversation going. After all, I find that having an actual conversation is the best way to pick up all the nuances that are hard to learn from books or other written material.

I’ve done weekly conversation lessons for a few years now, and it’s done wonders for both my listening and speaking skills in Japanese.


I can’t recommend Glossika enough for listening/shadowing practice

Grinding vocab has helped me a lot with listening as well.

Without a large corpus of words to be able to make sense of the majority of the sentence and provide adequate context to the words I don’t know, I wouldn’t be able to understand anything I listened to.

1 Like

Try these!

I just watched large amounts of cooking videos with japanese subtitles on youtube. Helps too that a lot of the vocabulary is the same between different recipes.

1 Like

Nihongo con Teppei!

(Press “play” on the audio beneath #1, then try #2, etc.)

Don’t worry about understanding absolutely everything, but just keep going :slight_smile:
If you don’t like a particular one, no problem, just skip to the next one!


I, too, struggled mightily with this until I made the barrier ridiculously low. That’d be my main recommendation: find something so easy that you can understand it with all the aids at your disposal.

In my case, I was studying Tobira at that time, so I picked one sentence in the text, read it, understood it, then listened to audio for that one sentence. Many times. Spoke it out aloud. Many times. When I was comfortable with that first sentence, I moved to the next one. This was ridiculously slow, but immensely helpful!
Later, I did this one paragraph at the time. Later, I listened to Nigongo no Teppei and then I actually enjoyed picking out the things I could understand.


This might not be relevant advice, but for me personally I found that a lot of times I have to focus mentally on capturing the context of a conversation in Japanese. Sometimes I unintentionally fall into a trap that a lot of people do, which is trying to translate real time from Japanese into your native language. This is usually doomed for failure. When that happens I usually pause and reset my mental state. Sounds pretentious but it’s the best way I can put it.


I’ve been through this in several languages:

  • Watching things with subtitles is 100% beneficial. At first you only catch a word here and there, but as you keep going at it you get more and more out of it.

  • Improving your level of Japanese outside of listening comprehension, including reading a lot, will make it easier to understand spoken Japanese. A lot of our ability to understand the spoken language resides in being able to fill the blank and interpolate what’s being said. A native speaker will be able to understand the spoken language fairly effortlessly even if the audio quality is absolute trash (think about distorted and noisy radio communication for instance).

The more vocabulary you know, the more familiar you are with the grammar, the easier it becomes to understand the language even if you don’t manage to make out every single syllable of what’s being said.


I find it helpful to have auditive components to every learning activity I do, so even when studying grammar or kanji, I’d generally read out loud and try to use resources that provide native audio as a blueprint, so I listen and then speak just every bit of Japanese I come across. For example, I repeat all vocab readings on wanikani by saying it and I mimic all sentence recordings on bunpro while going through grammar reviews. Both listening and speaking give my brain more contact with the sound of the language and make it easier to pick out the nuances.

Another big thing in my journey was to realize, that I specifically need to learn some casual Japanese. I do so by bilingual manga, going through slice of life manga helps me get familiar with all the abbreviations of vocab and grammar that are naturally used in Japanese all the time. Again, I bring in auditive exposure by trying to speak all text bubbles (I have a text to speech engine to give me a rough blueprint, using xtranslate browser addon. Bilingual manga has OCR, so the text is markable as text).
I had enough contact with the language so that I can try to integrate more or less natural intonation for the dialogues. If that is out of reach, going through a slice of life anime with Japanese subtitles sentence by sentence would be a good alternative.

Otherwise, nihongo con teppei is helpful - in particular the dialogues with Noriko.

1 Like

I like the easy Nihongo con Teppei podcast, and I also recently learned about (we’re using the books in class, but I didn’t know about that site).
They have little videos where you can choose Japanese and/or English subtitles, and even turn off one speaker (for speaking practice). It’s N5 to N4 level, so super easy phrases/exchanges at the start and then later it’s basically a miniseries (we’re using the A2-2 book (Elementary 2) in class and the videos are kind of hilarious - at that stage they also have additional videos with interviews on the street and their non-Japanese reporter trying Japanese stuff)


This is a really important skill I think. When you’re just starting to listen you really have to put 100% of your energy into listening, or the words just become a blur.

@MiaB I would recommend listening to shows you already know the story of but in Japanese so that you can try to catch words that you anticipate are coming. Japanese Netflix has a ton of English dramas with Japanese dubbing. It’s a great confidence building tool because you’ll start to notice that you do actually know a lot of the words, you just can’t catch them when they’re in a brand new context.

@EbonyMidget Cooking youtube channels are great! Any recommendations? I really like the ones that explain everything they are doing.


I usually would just pick food that was guaranteed to have someone speaking japanese in the video, otherwise you get inundated with japanese subtitled videos of people speaking the language of the place the food comes from.

So for example I just searched “麻婆豆腐 作り方” and got this video

And the channel it comes from is full of other subtitled videos

1 Like

@MiaB just going to say, really feel your pain too. Let’s try our best!


@MiaB , 粗品ですが、どうぞ… One of the things I do is reading the news. I mean, NHK has a good page which shows news in a simplified language: NEWS WEB EASY.

For each article, there are several options, one of which is listening to it (ニュースを聞く button).

So what I do is read the whole article without furigana (漢字の読み方を消す button) until I understand the article in full (including the words explained, which are underlined). Then I press the listening button and go again through the article. Finally, you can watch the accompanying video, when available.

All in all, you learn Japanese (reading and listening, acquiring new vocabulary on the way) and about day-to-day Japan.

頑張っていてね! 諦めないでください!


Perhaps this will be the least helpful and most patronising answer out there, but it is the one that holds true to me:

Study vocabulary. Most of the time you cannot hear the word because you do not know the word or your are not familiar enough with the collocations. I still have issues with extremely deep voices or people with unique accents, but primarily listening was always gated by my lagging vocabularly relevant skills.