Why is it that we were given two wonderful ears, but only one mouth? Is is because we are supposed to listen twice as much as we speak? Is it twice as hard to keep our mouths shut and instead hear what other people have to say?
I’m not sure what the right answer is, but if it’s hard to listen to others in your native tongue, then it’s probably even harder to listen to them in a language that you’re learning. Unless of course, you have some strategies that you can use to help out. So with that being said, let’s learn how to listen to Japanese!
Don’t Just Listen With Your Ears
There’s a saying that “most people aren’t listening, they’re just waiting to talk.” I think that is probably correct for a lot of people these days. But of course I know that it’s not true for anyone reading this blog right now 🙂
So the first way to improve your listening skills is: don’t just listen with your ears. Listen with your eyes. Listen with your mind. Listen with your body.
When your focus and attention are divided between listening and something else, then your ability to listen will suffer. You won’t be able to hear everything at 100%. That’s because most communication is actually non-verbal.
The majority of communication is done through body language and tonality. The words people use is only a small part of the message that they want to convey to you. If you’re not paying attention and listening to someone at 100%, then you might hear the words and miss the message.
So be an active listener. Give the other person your full attention and pause before replying so that you can really consider what they’ve said.
What’s the Context?
You don’t have to know thousands of words in order to hear and understand what Japanese people say. Conversations are heavily influenced by the context they take place in.
For example, when you meet different people for the first time, you will probably use the same words with almost all of them. Things like “nice to meet you. Where are you from? Do you have kids?”
So by focusing on learning groups of words that are context specific, you can become excellent at listening and speaking when you are in those same situations. Here are a few contexts you might want to focus on:
- Meeting people for the first time
- At restaurants ordering food and drink
- Asking where things are and understanding directions
- Things people will probably ask you, like where you’re from and what you like to do
The 5th Declaration
As we continue with each of the declarations, we come to #5: WHAT I HEAR, I REPEAT OUT LOUD.
One of the fastest ways to improve your listening skills, your ability to recognize and understand different words, is to repeat them out loud to yourself exactly the way you heard them.
When you listen, information only comes in. But when you speak, information goes out AND comes in. You hear the things you say and then your mind compares how it sounded when you said it, versus what it sounded like when an other person said it.
If you’re talking to a live person, then you probably won’t want to repeat everything that they say to you, but if you’re watching Japanese TV, or listening to Japanese radio, then try to repeat what they say as close to their pronunciation as you can.
The Shadowing Technique
This brings us to the Shadowing technique. This is an advanced language learning technique that will boost your learning when it comes to the correct pronunciation of words.
It is not meant to help you with understanding what is being said, but rather it is focused on building up your ability to correctly hear a word and then reproduce it and sound just like a native.
To sum up the Shadowing technique, it’s simply “repeating what you hear native speakers say as soon as you hear them say it.” Here’s how to do it:
- Listen to Japanese people speak through mediums such as podcasts, radio, TV, audio books, etc.
- Listen and then repeat what you hear out loud, exactly how you hear it
- Don’t focus on comprehension, just focus on the articulation and pronunciation
- Repeat as soon as you hear a word, don’t wait for them to finish the sentence
- If you fall behind a little, just skip ahead to what they are saying now
Like I said, Shadowing will not help you to learn new words, but it will help you to lock in the correct pronunciation and it will greatly help you to improve your listening skills.
If you have the option to change the speed (like on podcasts) then try doing that. If you’re new to it, then slowing it down will help a lot. And if you’re pretty good at it, speeding it up will be a nice challenge for you.
You’ve also got the option of using this book (and CD) on Japanese shadowing that I think is really good.
As a final word on listening to Japanese, remember to always stay positive. You might not understand every word you hear, but if you know what the context is and some of the words they said, then you can probably figure out the meaning that they are trying to convey.
What about you? What are some of the things that you do to improve your listening skills when it comes to Japanese?
Let me know down below!