This years round of Japanese Language Proficiency Tests are over! Yaaaay! Well done to everyone who took them!
I hadn’t realized that taking the JLPT twice a year (in June AND December) was only done in a few countries. The US, I was saddened to find out, only holds the exam in December. Which at least means any US readers have a year to practice!
Out of all the resources I offer on here for beginner learners I found out that I’ve been lacking advice for passing the listening section of the exam. For many of the people taking the JLPT N5 and N4 this December the listening was a mystery and one of the hardest parts of the test.
So here’s some advice and resources for passing JLPT N5 N4 listening.
Get a Japanese Teacher, Practice Talking and Listening
I honestly think that the best way to practice your listening as a beginner is to get a Japanese teacher.
You can find local teachers to work with, or local classes. But if you have no teachers in your area and/or are low of funds then I suggest italki.
italki is a fantastic site where you can find language teachers and partners to connect to over skype. Teachers are better than individuals because they will focus solely on your learning.
Language partners will want you to talk to them in English and sometimes it’s hard to find a balance between speaking Japanese and English. Often one will take over the other. But if you like working with a language partner go for it!
italki is great because lessons are really reasonably priced (compared to irl lessons). You can take them any time you like and don’t have to leave the house! With italki you can pick the teacher you want, take a test lesson before committing, and request what you want to focus on i.e listening. I wrote a longer review of italki here.
Why Practice With a Teacher Right Away?
You’re a beginner, you don’t know much Japanese, you’ve never spoken it, it’s intimidating. That’s even more reason to start learning with a teacher.
A good teacher will speak your language and work with you to slowly expose you to speaking and listening. They have a lot of patience so don’t worry about making mistakes. You should make mistakes early on because you learn faster through mistakes.
If you want to get good at listening then you’ll need to get good at speaking too: A Simple Way to Start Speaking Japanese
Take it One Step Further and Study in Japan?
There are a lot of language schools which offer different programs, from 1 week to 3 months. (Or even some that offer 1-2 year intensive classes!) I suggest saving up time and money and going for at least 1 month. Stay with a host family if you want to focus on listening/speaking.
The exposure to daily lessons as well as natural, native Japanese, will boost your Japanese incredibly quickly.
Study Japanese in Japan has a lot more on picking a school best for you.
If you can’t afford the time/money to go to Japan but want to get good fast, I suggest having frequent (maybe daily) lessons with a teacher.
Study Japanese Grammar, Vocabulary and Listening Combined
Listening is all well and good but it doesn’t help if you don’t know what’s going on!
Studying vocabulary and grammar will equip you with the tools you need to understand what’s being said. Learn these at the same time you’re practicing your listening.
You might already have some resources you’re using for these but I also suggest:
- Nihongo Tango Speed Master Basic (covers 1800 vocab for N5 and N4)
- Memrise Flashcards (LOADS of free N5 and N4 vocab and grammar courses)
Practicing for the JLPT N5 & N4 Listening
This website it actually pretty good for all levels of the JLPT. There are a variety of practice questions for each section of the JLPT so you can get an idea of how the questions will be presented in the test. Which is fantastic if you’ve never taken a JLPT before!
I suggest trying out some of the questions even if you’re not confident. Go through all the listening questions and make notes of your results (don’t cheat by clicking until you get the result). Once you’ve gone through them all, go through them again. You should see your listening improve the more you do this.
As I said, combining listening with your studying will improve your listening comprehension as you get used to hearing the words and grammar you’re learning.
YouTube – Simply searching for N5 and N4 listening practice comes up with a lot of results. These may overlap with JapaneseTest4You though and don’t give you an immediate correct/wrong answer.
Tanki Master – Tanki Master is a series of books with practice questions for all levels of the JLPT. Including Tanki Master N5 and Tanki Master N4. They have practice questions for the vocabulary, kanji, grammar, reading, and of course listening.
You can get them on amazon.co.jp or Kinokuniya. If you just copy and paste the book title or ISBN you can probably find a site that will ship them to you.
短期マスタ－日本語能力試験ドリルＮ５ (ISBN-13: 978-4893587619)
短期マスター 日本語能力試験ドリル N4 (ISBN-13: 978-4893587602)
General Listening Practice
NHK Easy Japanese – These are beginners Japanese lessons put out for free by NHK. Lessons come with audio files of basic conversations. They also come with the scripts in romaji AND kana, and their English meaning. Each lesson also explains basic grammar in the listening, as well as random Japanese language facts! There are also vocabulary quizzes which test your hearing. As well as LOADS of other beginner resources.
I think this is a great free resource for beginners!
Real World Japanese – A podcast with some great lessons on Japanese listening and speaking used in the real world. It has a variety of difficulty levels for the same topics and had lessons on generally living in Japan, working in Japan and having kids in Japan.
My Kikitori – This is a great website for very beginner, beginners. Especially if you’re using the Genki textbooks. It’s additional listening material for Genki book 1, but it’s great for beginners even if you’re not using Genki.
There are listening exercises that consist of very short conversations followed by questions. Such as “Are you a teacher?” “No, I’m a student.” followed by “What ____ a teacher?” with the option to answer yes or no. It’s very simple, but a great start for beginners to get used to conversational Japanese and questions about those conversations.
You might get a little lost if you’re not using Genki, or have not studied the grammar or vocabulary used in each lesson. The website doesn’t give you additional material to study, just listening practice. Which I think is great for JLPT N5 listening practice.
FluentU – I haven’t used this website, but do know a Japanese Talk Online user who is using it to boost their listening. They said it’s great to have lots of videos in one place organized by categories. You can turn captions on/off to boost which helps a lot. Videos come with quizzes BUT you have to pay the full subscription ($30 a month instead of $15 for basic) to get access to all the quizzes.
A lot of people suggest a Japanese Pod because they see it everywhere. But I personally hate that website. I wrote a full review of their terrible money grabbing scam here: JapanesePod101 Review
Additional Listening Practice – FOR FUN!
Just studying constantly is no fun. It’s important to keep it interesting for you. Some ways you can practice listening for fun:
- Find a YouTube channel in Japanese you enjoy watching.
- Watch slice-of-life anime.
- Listen to Japanese audiobooks (you will have to hunt these down but this is a good place to start)
The JLPT is another year away for most people. I suggest not focusing on JLPT specific questions right now and focus on boosting vocabulary, grammar, listening and speaking. Do this through online resources and a Japanese teacher.
I really suggest listening to things you’re interested in too! Even if the Japanese is too fast, or you don’t understand all the vocabulary. The more you listen the more you’ll pick up and the better you’ll get!
Then when as the JLPT approaches begin listening practice questions with online resources and/or the books I suggested. These will get you used to the types of questions. And help you pick up on any vocabulary/grammar you need to practice more!
Let me know on the Japanese Talk Online facebook page if you have any questions or you own suggestions for improving listening.