Whether you’re just starting out learning Japanese or you’ve mastered your kanji and verb conjugation, listening comprehension is something you might find yourself missing out on.
After all, it can be tough to learn from real-life interactions. If you ask someone for directions in Japanese, they’ll likely modify their language for maximum ease of understanding.
While that’s great in the short term—you’ll likely be able to find whatever it is you were looking for—it doesn’t really help you learn to comprehend authentic Japanese when you hear it.
So how do you get around this problem? Eavesdrop while your Japanese friend talks to his mum on the phone? How about something a little more…useful. And less nosey.
Consider using podcasts to get your daily (or weekly) dose of Japanese listening practice. In this post, I'll share 7 podcasts that will improve your Japanese listening skills, as well as your overall Japanese ability.
My top recommendation for improving your Japanese listening skills is Conversations. It's an exciting story based course that helps you understand real Japanese and transform your listening skills in 90 days or less.
Headphones, smartphone and podcast app of choice at the ready! Let's dive in…
Podcasts, or episodic series of audio or video files you can download and listen to, are great options for Japanese learning.
Because podcasts are typically native Japanese conversations, you’re getting immersion for maximum exposure.
No one is altering their speech to make it easier; you’re hearing real Japanese. And it’s going at a speed and cadence that you’d normally encounter out in the big wide world.
You’ll also find that podcasts provide easy practice, because they’re serialised. Tune in to each episode and you’ve got a constant stream of new things to listen to.
That’s a lot different than watching your favourite movie in Japanese over and over until you’ve become too familiar with it.
Plus, with podcasts, you can learn something about a topic while learning the language. It’s a two for one!
Maybe the hosts are talking about world news. Not only do you get some Japanese practice, but you also get an update on what’s happening around the globe.
Okay, so you’ve decided that podcasts are something you’d like to check out. How do you choose which podcast to listen to?
Well, the good news is that unlike with other types of learning where opinions may be divided on how to do something right or wrong (like stroke order in Japanese), podcasts are a safe space.
If you hear Japanese people talking to each other, you’re hearing authentic Japanese—that’s it! No need to worry if you’ve found a “real” Japanese podcast.
Consider topics you like. Maybe you’re big into politics and would feel right at home listening to a Japanese news podcast. Or you might enjoy listening to people telling stories.
There are tons of podcasts out there, and each offers unique genres of speech. So think about what you’d like to listen to before you choose a podcast.
Make sure that the podcast is at the right level for you. While that doesn’t mean finding an “easy” podcast just because you’re new to Japanese, it does mean that you should be aware of your own needs.
It does you no good to listen to a podcast about Sony executives discussing electronic components when you’re still learning to conjugate verbs. That’s going to be too far to jump when you’re just starting out.
The internet is full of podcasts in Japanese, but consider the following seven podcasts a solid jumping off point as you begin your search. These podcasts are fairly comprehensive and are a great place to begin.
Japanese Conversations is my story-based listening material designed for intermediate learners. While not a podcast per se, you’ll have full access to transcripts, which boosts your comprehension.
Ever found yourself listening to some Japanese, then you get stuck on a word or phrase and, in trying to figure out what it means, you’ve gone and fallen a whole minute behind the conversation?
With transcripts, you’ll be able to more easily recognise what you hear. Everything you need to bump up your Japanese listening skills is in Conversations.
Tofugu is one of the most famous Japanese resources out there. Originally a blog about Japanese culture and language, Tofugu has expanded over the years to place a greater focus on language education.
On Tofugu, you can find everything from basic Japanese conversations to stories about whiskey and clothing brands. This gives you a wide variety of topics to choose from based on both your interests and current Japanese abilities.
If you’re worried that even the most intro-level Japanese podcasts are too advanced, fear not! Japanesepod101 is one of the only podcast services that offers an “absolute beginner” level before the “beginner” tier, so anyone can get going with podcasts.
You can select a tier of difficulty, and you’ll gain access to weekly podcasts on a huge variety of topics, all with language education in mind.
Japanesepod101 contains authentic Japanese language that is meant to help you learn. So you’ll likely find it effective and worth your time.
If you want to substitute your daily newspaper reading with a healthy dose of Japanese, consider trying out NHK World. This news outlet offers world news in Japanese specifically for those learning the language.
You’ll find that NHK has a number of resources for those who don’t speak Japanese as a native language.
Don’t speak English as a native language either? Don’t worry! NHK offers these Japanese podcasts to speakers of
NHK World may be one of the most comprehensive Japanese podcast resources for non-native English speakers, but non-ESL learners will find it valuable too.
If casual language is more your thing, Bilingual News is a great place to start. After all, Japanese sounds much different when speaking with friends compared to in a business environment!
A partner app allows you to download the transcripts to any podcast produced by Bilingual News, and Michael and Mami (the podcasters) have been helping people learn Japanese through podcasts for years. At Bilingual News, you’re in good hands!
Sometimes, Japanese learners run into a problem where they understand the meaning of sentences just fine, but podcasts just move too fast. If that sounds like you, News in Slow Japanese is a great resource!
Each podcast is enunciated slowly. And thanks to the use of popup translations for both single words and whole phrases, you can follow along with ease and expand your understanding in an interactive format.
NiSJ is a varied podcast resource where you can find a myriad of topics ranging from world news to viral videos about dogs—and who doesn’t love that?
If you’re finding that many podcasts cater too strongly to those just starting out in Japanese, Hiiki Biiki might be a great choice for you.
The podcasts offered by Hiiki Biiki tend toward more complex subjects and language usage, making them great not only for advanced learners but those wanting to push themselves to master Japanese listening practice.
Even if you don’t consider yourself advanced, take a look at Hiiki Biiki and see where you stand. You might surprise yourself!
So there you have it—seven great podcasts to get you going on your quest to be a top-notch Japanese listening aficionado. Before I finish up, I've got 3 more tips to help you get the most from them.
But know when something isn’t working!
It’s great to challenge yourself and push your limits (that’s how we learn, after all!). But letting a half-hour podcast in advanced Japanese go in one ear and out the other does no one any good.
You’ll get there, and it’ll be faster than you might think. There’s no shame in starting out with an “absolute beginner” podcast.
It’s entirely possible to get burned out. So give yourself a break every now and then. One podcast a day is great, but even one podcast a week will produce significant results.
If you try to cram too much into your brain, it’ll have to choose what to get rid of. And it’ll probably opt for all the new stuff you’ve been putting in. Avoid this self-defeating cycle by working hard but also working smart.
As you listen, consider jotting down words you don’t know or phrases you’ve never heard used before. You don’t need to stop your podcast every time you run into a new turn of phrase; let context help you.
But later, after you’ve had a good listen, choose a few words or phrases you’d like to add to your own vocabulary.
Over time, you’ll build up more and more skills and expand your own dictionary so that whenever you hear a Japanese sentence, you’ll have no problem figuring out its meaning. Slow and steady wins the race, after all!
After years of learning languages, and 8 languages and counting, I've found there's no better way of learning than through immersion.
But you need to immerse yourself in your target language at the right level for you. And preferably with something you're motivated to listen to, like an unfolding story, the latest news updates, or a serialised podcast you don't want to miss.
With these 7 Japanese podcast suggestions, you'll find something to spark your interest. And that's at the right level for you to get all the benefits of “controlled immersion”, in other words, exposure to Japanese at your level.
Plus, you don't need to spend a fortune travelling to Japan. You can do it all from the comfort of your own home, with a pair of headphones! If that's not a reason to love these 7 podcast suggestions even more, then I don't know what is!
Over to you: do you listen to Japanese podcasts? Are any of your favourites on this list? Let me know in the comments below.