Free listening materials are great, but knowing how to use them makes it really great

Tools for Listening Practice

Living and working in Japan will give you plenty of opportunities to hear natural Japanese spoken, but it’s always a good idea to do some focused study work to build this skill, just like with reading. The key word here is focus: simply hearing Japanese isn’t going to drive learning the way focused, intentional study can. The good news is, there are lots of tools and techniques you can use to help push your listening ability harder, better, and faster.

First Things First: Techniques

Before we get into specific tools to use, it’s a good thing to go over some fundamental techniques to bring to whatever method you choose. The key to effective listening practice is connecting the words you hear to words you know — building bridges. To do this, visualization and repetition are extremely useful. Try to make sure you have some visual key to help you understand the words you’re hearing, whether it’s video subtitles, a script, or pictures of what you’re hearing. This will double up your focus, and build those bridges between aural input and those vocabulary words you have in your brain.

Also, judicious use of repetition is deeply important. Cut your listening practice into chunks, and repeat intentionally. The first couple of run throughs, try the same style of listening using your visual cues to help build those bridges. On later run throughs, focus just on the listening and try to recall the words intentionally as you do it, this will reinforce your bridges.

For more active learners, dictation can also be a useful tool. It can be pretty intense, but with ongoing practice it can be a really great listening driver. Dictation is always best in short bursts, of course. For my own practice, I went in 30 second runs at first, then slowly moved up to minute-long chunks. Fit it to your own learning style, and it should really help.

Useful Tools

FluentU — App

This app is a general Japanese learning app, but it takes advantage of online videos with interactive transcripts for focused listening practice. This is the perfect way to build those bridges as mentioned above. The initial app is free, but the paid version has much higher functionality.


Yes, YouTube! There are all kinds of Japanese videos on there, and many of them have Japanese subtitles specifically for Japanese learners. Try searching for やさしいにほんご (“kind” or “easy” Japanese) or 簡単にほんご (Simple Japanese). This gives not only written visual cues, but video as well.

Spoon Radio — App

Spoon Radio as a Japanese-specific podcasting and streaming app. It has integrated social media features, something like Twitch, so that you can interact with the podcasters and streamers. The problem with this is that it lacks the subtitles/scripts of easier practice, so it’s really only for more advanced users.

NHK Radio News

This is a daily news program posted online by NHK. Like Spoon Radio, there is no script, but the great thing about this site is that it allows you to control the speed of playback. You can listen to it at normal speed (ふつう) or slow (ゆっくり) or fast (はやい). This is an excellent site for dictation, and because it’s news they will be using accurate grammar and vocabulary, without a lot of the weird hedging and altered grammar you’ll find on podcasts or streams.

Hukumusume Fairy Tale Collection

This site features simple animations accompanied by readings of children’s stories. In addition to Japanese folk tales, they also offer world folk tales, fairy tales, and things like Aesop’s fables so that many learners will already be familiar with the stories for easier comprehension. Clicking through to the links for individual stories also sometimes features the stories so you can read along. This is great not only for listening practice, but as a good way to get rooted in basic Japanese culture.

Aozora Bunko Reading

This site is probably more suited to advanced learners, since it’s all in Japanese anyway, but the content here can’t be beat. These are audiobooks of books off the Aozora Bunko, which is basically Japan’s version of Project Gutenberg. These are public domain ebooks, so they’re free, but at the same time that means they’re fairly old and the Japanese isn’t the kind you encounter every day. Still, these are great practice for advanced learners and offer a huge range of stories to match all interests.

In Conclusion

There are lots of resources out there, and with careful, intentional use of any of them is sure to bring your listening skills to the next level.

Jim Rion