Tips for listening fatigue

Recently, I’ve spent quite a bit of time working on my listening. However, I’ve been finding it pretty difficult to do in chunks any larger than 10-15 minutes at a time. Trying to pick out words and phrases while parsing phonemes that I’m still not totally used to makes for an odd kind of mental fatigue.

It seems very similar to trying to speak to someone over the phone who has bad reception.

I’m interested in the content I’m listening to, and I actually get annoyed when I can’t listen anymore because I want to finish the video or stream that I’m watching.

Does anyone have tips for increasing capacity and/or reducing fatigue when listening? If it’s simply a matter of grinding through it, I can accept that too, but I wanted to hear from people who have gotten over this particular hump how it went.

Thanks in advance for any input!

(for context, I passed N5 last year and I’m taking the N4 in December)


For me it was grinding it. The amount of time it takes for me to get tired has steadily been growing since I’ve moved here. It’s just time and practice.

For me, listening at the N5 and N4 level was also really troublesome when I began. It was hard to “hook into” and stay connected to the flow of whatever I was listening to. I’m not sure if this makes sense, but starting out I was searching for pieces I could understand and now, at my level, I’m searching for gaps I can’t understand. At N4 and N5 you’re basically restarting learning a language which your brain likely hasn’t done in a VERY long time; when you get up to a higher level (listening and filling in blanks) that’s basically what you likely do with your native language NOW so it’s not as stressful.

I’ll also say that doing listening for the JLPT also tires me out more than actual conversations simply because when I’m talking to my friends or coworkers I don’t have to be laser-focused like I would if I were taking a test. The JLPT listening section also has a lot of back-and-forth tricks which, in my opinion, are just exhausting in general.


Thanks for the reply!

And yes, that makes sense. I’m experiencing exactly what you’re saying, where I get only pieces I can understand.

When you were starting out, did you find that after reading a transcript, you actually knew more of the words in the sentence than your ears picked out? Did you find it better for learning to watch/listen in Japanese with or without Japanese captions?

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Listening and speaking in another language is tiring.

I think of it like exercise. You can’t just go out and run for 30 minutes straight after sitting on the couch for two years. You have to start off by running for a couple minutes, then walking, then running. You have to build up that stamina.

In short, the more you listen, the longer you’ll be able to listen. I would recommend being consistent (listening every day for 5 minutes) rather than trying to listen for 30 minutes straight once every few days. Also, go back after a couple days to re-listen to things again. It’ll be less tiring to concentrate, and you might understand more than you did the first time.

Over time, your stamine will definitely increase.

Good luck!


When it comes to JLPT practice, if I get an answer wrong I try to avoid reading the transcript for as long as possible until I figure out why the right answer is the right answer. I’ll listen to the question a lot and try to find what words/phrases are giving me the most trouble. I honestly don’t use the transcripts a lot unless there’s something I’m really struggling with.

As far as subtitles go I still use subtitles for practically everything (both Japanese AND English content) because sometimes I simply can’t understand wtf people are saying. I use Japanese subtitles for Japanese and English subtitles for English. I just like subtitles!

Method I used for listening early on in my studies

You’ll see in the picture below that this was V3 lol. I had tried a lot of methods up to that point to keep myself engaged while listening. I wrote notes while going through different methods, and these were my exact words:

First time trying this (6 minutes straight) - I’ve never been more focused on what I was listening to when I first tried this. So many words I knew popped out at me. Did I understand sentences any better? Most of the time no, but I overall understood a little bit better at what was going on because I was hearing way more words, and I understood a sentence I know for sure I wouldn’t have heard in the first place if I wasn’t doing this.


Obviously, I can’t guarantee that this will work for you, but I can say that it helped me a ton, and I used to really struggle with paying attention while watching (zoning out in the first 2 minutes).

This is very common. I’d like to say that reading (with accompanying audio) is much easier than purely listening, but I don’t know that for sure since I don’t have any studies to back that up. However, I can say that even in English, a lot of my friends watch native English content with subtitles because they find it a lot easier to pick up what’s going on (even though they’re all native English speakers). I’ll also notice myself always drifting to subtitles if they’re there.

Transitioning to your original question, when I first started Japanese I spent a lot of time listening. If I’m being honest, most of that time wasn’t even spent listening, it was spent zoning out. But over time I finally found a method that worked for me, and that’s making it a game. Every time I would hear a familiar word I’d tally somewhere, or do something that would physically engage me in what I was watching to keep me focused. Having done this, I noticed I would zone out way less, and I’d also notice way more words as a result. I feel like this method is a really good way to stay engaged in what you’re watching when you’re having a hard time hearing much. If you start getting to a higher level I think this method starts to fail because for me I ended up tallying too much and so its effect wore off, but at that point, I didn’t really need it anymore.

Also, if you can, I recommend mixing in some time watching with Japanese subtitles as well. Doing this has helped accelerate learning new words that I have in Anki that I otherwise would have never heard while just purely listening (at least not right away).

If you’re curious, I’ve made a switch in my immersion to mainly listening with subtitles. It’s much more engaging for me and I recognize almost every word that I have ‘learning/just learned’ in Anki (which wouldn’t be the case if I was just listening). I figure that once I’m understanding say 95% of everything I watch in a certain genre with Japanese subtitles, I’m then ready to work on my listening in that area because I know that almost every word being said is something I should know.


I find repetition helps a lot. If you’re listening to a dialogue or anime episode without going back, your brain is constantly tackling new material without rest. Try taking a 2-5 minute clip and reviewing it a couple times: 1) once without any subtitles, 2) once with subtitles, English and Japanese if needed, to understand what’s going on, and 3) once again without subtitles. I find my brain can then pick up new stuff better after having “practice” with repetition. (You also get a sense of accomplishment from understanding that 3rd time!)


To add to the suggestion on repeating audio to avoid fatiguing yourself - if the audio you’re listening to provides you with some way to slow it down - do that! I listen to Pocoyo in Japanese for listening practice (since the language is simple, there are lots of breaks between phrases, episodes are only 7 minutes long, and there are a ton of them available for free on YouTube), and YT provides the option to slow videos down freely. The first time I listen to something, I like to put it at 0.75x speed (mostly since 0.50x just sounds real bad), listen through, and sometimes use the arrow keys to back up 5 seconds and repeat phrases when I detect that I could understand them with a second attempt. After that, I can scale up the difficulty by turning up the speed, without introducing new material that I’d have to pick apart all over again.

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Also just to add when it comes to stuff I watched I tried to choose television shows over anime because the conversations, for the most part, were more “everyday” conversations without a lot of funny accents of vocabulary. Wakako zake, for example, is just a woman going out to restaurants and eating food while talking about her problems at work.

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Suggestions in this thread are all generally good advice: Keep at it, keep consistent, but don’t burn yourself up in any one session.

If you’re listening to material where you have the option to ‘bail out’ and turn on subs and go into pure relax/enjoy mode, do that as soon as you start getting tired, and reward yourself.

That said…

I’m (apparently) a rare case of someone who initially started picking up the language phonetically first. Before I even knew what kana were, or what set of phonemes were valid in the language, I was picking up single words at a time and other tiny scraps of the language that just snowballed over (very) long periods of time in the background, while I watched/listened to material.

For this reason, I think the most helpful advice is that, when you’re approaching this as a discrete activity and testing yourself to listen only, START SMALL! Listen to little snippets of material, repeat as much as you need, laser-focus on bits you don’t know, give yourself time to really let them soak in, and then work upwards when you start feeling like the material you’re going over is too easy.

There’s a podcast-type thing called Nihongo Con Teppei that someone in another thread linked many moons ago (can’t remember any more details than that), but I’ve sampled some of the stuff and I’ll vouch that it’s a good starting point, and there’s TONS of material so you won’t run out any time soon, even if you do one a day. They’re short, and he talks somewhat slowly and repeats himself a lot, but there’s definitely a natural cadence to the way he has an almost ‘skipping gait’ over his syllables, which will help break you in to more natural flows of speech if you can get used to it and decipher what he’s saying.

Here’s the front page, with the latest-- and most difficult-- material.
But you probably want the ‘last’ page, which has the first lessons. At least, it’s the current last page; these are still being posted so page 32 may not be the furthest-back page in the future.

That said, he (deliberately) does not post transcripts himself, so you’re kinda left hanging there, but according to hearsay, he says that’s part of the point. Take it how you will, I guess.

I can also vouch for Nihongo Con Teppei podcast. It’s 3-4 minutes average and I’ve run 4-5 times now through all 600+ episodes. The first 1-2 times listening to it it can be overwhelming still but just sticking to 2-3 episodes per day puts it into managable chunks. Eventually you’ll run through the first episodes again and are amazed how slowly he is actually speaking compared to his faster episodes.