Do you have any advice on how to master recognizing kanji compounds when listening to real Japanese?

To give you an example, when I was listening to Japanese news I came across
the compound 9車種. It would have been very easy to understand if I had being reading, but when I hear something like ”きゅうしゃしゅ” to me it seems impossible to understand by ear. I mean, I can hear the sounds themselves but they just don't evoke any meaningful picture in my head. In other words, when I am listening to Japanese, among words and phrases I know I just hear a jumble of compounds I sadly can't recognise on the spot.

I passed N1 last year (which actually makes me feel worse about my problem) and got almost a perfect score from the reading comprehension but listening is very frustrating for me.

I have even studied in Japan for one year, and I was able to understand what people were saying to me or around me. However, I definitely have problems with, for example, news, podcasts on social problems or very informal language.

I would finally want to start understanding the real thing.

2 Answers 2


It sounds like there may be an imbalance in the various skills which contribute to your proficiency. Unfortunately, the JLPT is not a good indicator of actual language proficiency because it does not (explicitly) test speaking or writing. Therefore it encourages a learning imbalance which heavily favors reading. While it does test listening, I have always felt that the test presents unnatural situations which are designed to trip you up rather than actually test whether you can follow the flow of what is being said. So that is one possible explanation of what is happening when you are not recognizing certain words. If you feel this might be the case, you should increase your exposure to native speaker targeted materials like news programs, movies, podcasts, etc. Make a note of each time you fail to recognize a word that you had learned. Perhaps a pattern will emerge.

On the other hand, perhaps it is simply that you don't know the words you are hearing. As you mentioned, if you were reading the word you probably could have understood it. You are implying that that 9車種 was not a word you had learned - in other words you are inferring the meaning of a new word based on your knowledge of its component kanji. That is very different to already knowing the word or having deliberately learned it. If you had learned it some time previous, it is possible you would have recognized it in speech. Of course, it is much more difficult to infer meaning from unknown words in speech compared to writing, precisely because the obvious semantic cues contained in kanji are missing in speech. So if it is a word you hadn't learned before, don't be too hard on yourself for not recognizing it. Sometimes it's just not possible to correctly infer the meaning of new words in speech.


I also passed N1 and still found myself having listening problems. Unfortunately, I think the answer is experience.

Words like 9車種, while not technically difficult, are not extremely common, so I think it's reasonable that it would not click in your head immediately, unless you work with cars a lot.

Advice #1

Find a language exchange group that physically meets at least once a week and just talk. There is usually lots of small talk, which is probably the next best thing to professional experience (or lots of experience).

Advice #2

Expect that it will take as long to get used to hearing as it did for reading. Phonetically, Japanese is completely different from English, and native speakers speak at a slightly different frequency than you are probably used to hearing. I can't give you an amount of time to expect, as it completely depends on how often you put yourself in unfamiliar situations, but I can say that, if you are in Japan and actively studying, it will go much quicker.

Advice #3

Listen to the news, slightly esoteric podcasts, or any other audio-inclusive medium where you can find things you don't hear about often. Don't force yourself to be interested in something, but the key is repetition. For example: I used to watch the Zip news program everyday when I started learning. Of course, I had almost no clue what was happening at first, but as I studied, talked, and listened more, everything started to come together. Just be patient with yourself and you will do the same.

  • I agree with Advice #2 and #3, but I'm not sure a language group will help with this specific problem. As you noted, it is usually the more uncommonly heard words that create this listening difficulty. You are unlikely to encounter these types of phrases in a typical language exchange group setting. These groups are more helpful for developing communication skills. By all means join a language exchange group, but whether it will impact on this specific issue is dubious, in my opinion.
    – kandyman
    Nov 1, 2018 at 12:16

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