【For Foreigners Working in Japan】3 Ways to Improve Your Japanese Listening

If you are a foreigner working in Japan, you may often find it difficult to understand what your Japanese bosses or colleagues are saying. When you miss one phrase, you will lose the entire conversation that may cause you inconveniences at work. In addition, some jobs require phone calls in Japanese. In this case, even higher listening skills are required because you cannot see the other person’s face while talking on the phone. In this article, we will introduce three methods to improve your Japanese listening skills, so please take a look.

1. Dictation practice

This is a practice method in which you transcribe the Japanese you hear.

How to do dictation practice

  1. Listen to one sentence of an audio content, hit pause, write exactly what you hear on a paper, and continue to the following sentence.
  2. When you have finished with the last sentence, check the audio text and confirm the part you missed.
  3. Repeat the process.
  4. Once you are used to the steps 1-3 above, try practicing by writing a summary while listening to the whole sentences without pausing.

NHK news is recommended as a text for the dictation practice. Japanese used in NHK news is easy to understand and the pronunciation is clear. In addition, listening to the news will deepen your understanding to Japanese society.

There are two versions of NHK news; an easier version for foreigners and a  more difficult version for Japanese. You can start with the easier version and challenge the more difficult version when you get used to it. In addition to NHK, you can also search for “日本語 聞き取り”(Nihongo kikitori) on YouTube to find accounts that are uploading videos for practice.

2. Watch Japanese dramas and movies without subtitles

It is fun to learn Japanese by watching Japanese movies and dramas. However, in order to study effectively, it is important to watch them without subtitles in your native language. First, try watching them with Japanese subtitles. With Japanese subtitles, you can confirm how the sentence you hear is written while listening to them at the same time. Once you get used to the Japanese subtitles, try watching without them. In that case, it is important to take notes on any words you don’t understand.

There are many different kinds of movies and dramas, but we especially recommend the ones with Japanese business scenes. They not only show manners and speaking speed of the Japanese which are similar to those used in actual business scenes, but also provide you the knowledge as a working adult. On the other hand, animations are not recommended in this case because many of their phrases are not used in daily life so they may be not useful for learning business Japanese.

Movies and dramas we recommend

Dramas with daily life: Recommended for learners with general conversation level

『逃げるは恥だが役に立つ』(Nigeru ha haji daga yakuni tatsu): A drama where you can learn conversations about work and daily life

『やまとなでしこ』(Yamato nadeshiko): A Romantic drama about flight attendants

『花より男子』(Hana yori dango): A School drama with many part-time job scenes

Dramas with business scenes: Recommended for advanced learners

『リッチマン、プアウーマン』(Rich man, poor woman): :A romantic drama in a software venture company

『ハケンの品格』(Haken no hinkaku): A drama about a temporary worker

『下町ロケット』(Shitamachi rocket): A drama about a small to medium-sized company building a rocket

『半沢直樹』(Hanzawa Naoki): A drama that in which a banker reveals injustice

3. Listening to Japanese audio contents

This is a method where you simply listen to Japanese audio content. You can keep on listening even if you notice words that you don’t understand. Look up words you really need to know in order to understand the overall meaning of the audio contents. This method has the advantage that you can study anytime such as while you are on the train or doing house work, while there is a disadvantage that you need to listen to a large amount of data to make it effective. Specifically, you will begin to see the effects if you do this method about one hour a day.

Japanese radio programs and audio books are recommended as audio contents to listen to. It is important to choose the ones you are interested in, because the audio can become just an environmental sound without keeping your concentration. Find your favorite contents by using services such as radiko by which you can listen to radio programs via website, YouTube radio channels or Amazon Audiobooks where you can listen to audiobooks. It is especially recommended that you listen to audiobooks of novels that you have already read.

If you don’t understand most of the Japanese in the audio content, listening to it won’t be very useful for your learning. It will be most effective if you can understand about 60 to 80 % of the contents. If your Japanese level is not so high, try listening to a recording of the Japanese textbook you are currently studying, or some content for Japanese children.

<Extra topic> Listening comprehension workbook for exam preparation

If you are preparing for a Japanese language certification or a test, it is recommended that you study with exam preparation books specialized in listening comprehension. However, you need to remember that many of the Japanese phrases in those books are not used in daily life. Therefore, you should set the purpose of using the preparation books not to improve your listening skills but to get used to the exam questions. If you want to improve your listening skills, it is important to learn not only with the preparation books but also with the methods introduced in this article.


In this article, we introduced several methods to improve your Japanese listening skills. However, the most important method is dictation practice, and the other methods are just supplements to the dictation method. Even if you are working in Japan, there are cases where your chances of listening to Japanese is limited, so try to improve your listening skills by increasing the amount of Japanese you hear everyday, little by little.

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