How to become a better Japanese listener today

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Perhaps one of the most important aspects of learning Japanese is your ability to hold a conversation. It’s like a test of fluency of sorts that you can fluently understand and respond in Japanese, certainly no easy task. And besides speaking, the other key ability in holding a conversation is listening. This is not just listening but also your ability to quickly comprehend what you just heard in your head. While it may sound easy to some, it quickly becomes difficult when you have to go through that entire process in a matter of seconds. And since Japanese is such a hard language for English speakers to understand, your brain will have to be working overtime in order to keep up a conversation. But how do we make this easier on ourselves? Well, the simple solution is practice, and lots of it. The more we hear Japanese conversation the more familiar our brain becomes with its rules and inflections, making it easier to process on the fly. But what can be hard for a lot of people is finding good listening resources to listen to, so let’s investigate the best options if you’re interested in learning some good listening resources.

Anime (fast & not natural)

Now, I just want to clear the air about a subject – while anime can be a good recourse to listening to Japanese, it’s not the best resource for learning how Japanese is practically used. It’s a resource many people learning Japanese turn to due to its wide-spread popularity, but it’s fairly far off how Japanese people actually speak. The conclusion to draw about anime is that talking about giant mech suits battling aliens is nothing like talking in a normal Japanese workplace. You’ll find, like cartoons or even movies made in the West, that a lot of the speech is overdramatized to make the medium more captivating for the audience. So while you can certainly use anime it’s better to find mediums with more realistic dialogue to help you learn Japanese. A good alternative to anime is watching live-action Japanese TV shows like Alice in Borderland, but you will still encounter a couple of similar problems when watching fictional TV, that being that a lot of the situations characters find themselves in are unrealistic and don’t have much practical use out in Japan. But there are positives to listening to anime, namely getting used to tone and speed. It’s helpful to break into listening to Japanese since it’s an easy medium to access and can help you get a grasp of how quickly Japanese can be spoken and the general tone used when speaking the language!

News shows (not natural but very clear)

The next best option is definitely Japanese news broadcasts. You can find short little news articles and news videos online, which nowadays mostly gives you a good knowledge of Coronavirus vocabulary. All of these segments are all very concise and have all their context provided and given to the audience with lots of text accompanying it, allowing very easy understanding while also grasping a wide range of topics. However, in terms of helping you learn how Japanese is spoken there are definitely better options. The first problem is that no one in real life talks like a news anchor; they typically don’t use much slang or colloquialism, and usually speak a lot clearer and concise, and we all know Japanese is not always so concise and easy to understand. But it is definitely an easy to understand and concisely worded medium to draw from, so another easy place to start!

Reality TV (very natural, but difficult due to multiple speakers)

So what’s the best option for Japanese TV? The answer is Japanese reality shows. Shows like Terrace House or Midnight Diner are terrific resources for listening due to them depicting situations you would be likely to find out there in Japan. Situations like friends talking about their plans tomorrow or a group of people ordering food from a restaurant are all real situations you will experience in Japan, and so you can easily learn from these shows. And due to it being reality TV the talking in these shows is a lot more natural and can teach you how Japanese people genuinely speak. However, it can be a little tricky simply because of how many speakers there can be! A conversation between three, five, or even ten people can be really tricky to keep up with. It is definitely useful, but just be ready to pause it constantly to catch what everyone is saying! 

Japanese Youtubers/Vloggers (very natural, and only one speaker)

Your best option, because it provides ONE single speaker & extremely natural speaking with colloquial language and slang included. This is your best chance to get genuine Japanese listening in with people using it out and about in real life situations. There’s no unrealistic situations, there’s typically a single person to listen to, a lot of slang and colloquialisms is used, and the tone is impeccable as well. If you want to learn how Japanese is spoken in its most natural form this is your best bet. Simply find a topic you’re interested in and there should be a Japanese vlogger or youtuber who caters to that, which also makes listening very enjoyable. If you want the most natural experience of spoken Japanese that’s also easy to listen to and understand, this is a terrific place to get practice!

While there’s plenty of options when listening to Japanese it can be difficult to determine which one is the best to listen to. But always remember, if you want to know how a language is genuinely spoken then find the most genuine and down-to-earth medium, and in this case it is definitely YouTube channels or vlogs made by Japanese people for Japanese people. 

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