As mentioned recently, I am heading to Japan with the family for a few weeks in the summer. This has inspired me to take up efforts to improve my Japanese again, particularly my listening comprehension. I have gotten comfortable enough with reading Japanese that I read books and newspapers sometimes, but my communication is still pretty rough around the edges. Listening is the hardest part because there’s really nothing to study for. You just have to gradually tune your ear for it.
Khatzumoto from AJATT wrote a really brilliant post about how (and why) you need to develop your listening comprehension in Japanese, or any language. I particularly like this part:
Remember that silence thing? Silence has left the building. Every moment of your life needs to be soaked in the sweet water of Japanese listening. I had Japanese playing even when I went out into the mountains behind Momoko’s house to watch the sunset. And in the toilet (pants down, headphones on, bombs away…No? TMI?). And in the shower. And in bed. This is serious business, dude — I am not messing around and neither should you. We’re talking about learning a language here, not cleaning the sock lint from between your toes. So be prepared to show the heck up, day in, night in, day out.
So, I’ve been adopting this approach for the last couple of weeks. In a related article, Khatzumoto makes the point that the key is to be as prolific as possible. You may not get it right most of the time, but if you’re prolific long enough, you’ll just naturally make progress. So, when I am on the bus or at work, I am not necessarily paying attention to the Japanese podcasts playing on my headphones, but the sheer amount of exposure helps.
I don’t have enough Japanese-language copies of my favorites movies1 at home, and it is difficult to purchase them outside of Japan even through online resources, so until I get to Japan, I am relying mostly on podcasts. Fortunately, podcast apps have come a long way since I last used them. Here’s my humble iPhone’s podcast app. I know that ニッポン放送 (Nippon Hōsō) is still around, and in my opinion that’s still one of the best podcast channels in Japanese because of the quality of programming and volume of episodes.
Using the regular podcast app that comes with my iPhone1 I searched for ニッポン放送:
I subscribe to this podcast channel, and have downloaded weeks worth of episodes, which I try to listen to throughout the day unless I am with the family or talking to someone at work of course.
On the other hand, what if I am interested in a specific topic? You can search for that too in Japanese. For me, I like learning about Korea and Korean Language in Japanese so I searched for 韓国 (kankoku):
You can subscribe to one of these channels as well and mix your podcast list from ニッポン放送 with podcasts from these channels. Or maybe Buddhism (仏教)?
Not surprisingly Buddhism has fewer options. Religion isn’t the most popular topic on the Intertubes. However I do like the podcast 仏教で人生はもっと面白い!? so far. It’s a good quality Buddhist podcast with up to date content. Under “Podcasts” above it is the third from the left.
It’s ok to try different podcasts and discard ones you don’t like. The focus is on being prolofic. Also as Khatzumoto explains, dont worry if the podcast doesnt always use everyday Japanese because a fluent speaker will have a much broader vocabulary and familiarity than what is used daily. Again, it’s just important to tune one’s ear and there are no shortcuts.
Anyhow, as alluded to in the title, this is not my first time building listening comprehension, but I didnt stay consistent long enough and I havent doing much in the last few years. But with the trip to Japan approaching, I hope to really make progress amidst work and family life.
P.S. I hope to post an episode on Korean podcasts as well for Korean-language students.
1 Lately, I’ve been enjoying the Marvel Comic Universe (MCU) movies quite a bit, particularly Guardians of the Galaxy and the Avengers series. Ironically, the first time I saw the 2012 Avengers movie was on a flight from Japan in Japanese. I only understood a bit of the movie but I really liked the post-credit clip and became a fan.
2 If you don’t have an iPhone, you can use iTunes instead on your computer. There is a podcast feature there, which works exactly the same.