Today I'm pleased to introduce a guest blogger Alex Elkholy who has wrote today's article, you can find more of his great articles at


In my time learning Japanese, there has been one big hurdle that nobody seems to know how to effectively overcome. Because of this, there has been quite a bit of controversy to the proposed solutions. What I refer to is learning to listen to Japanese.

This is so hard to get good at because it takes lot of skill. Not only do you have to know the vocabulary, you have to know to listen for them. Often times strings of words will turn into a giant blur. While I'm still not past this stage, I'm getting slightly better and better. Today I finally realized my way to progress and getting better, and this experience is what I'm going to share. Not a bulletproof method, not a guarantee, but just my observations.

I believe there are three factors for successful learning to listen to Japanese. These are: interest, comfort/convenience, and familiarity. All are necessary to level the playing field, otherwise you will be fighting an uphill battle.

The first factor is interest. All things flow from this. If you are watching or listening to something just because it's in Japanese, and it's not something that would otherwise catch your interest, then you have a little bit of a problem. I've said it a million times, and I'll say it a million times more, you have to have interest in what you're doing. In my case, I've become obsessed with DragonBall. I found the entire Japanese DragonBall and have it ready to play at a moment's notice. I will put off other things to watch another episode, because I'm engrossed in this stupid kid's show.

The second factor is comfort/convenience. You must be comfortable when you watch, and it must be really convenient to turn it on. It doesn't help if you get headaches from leaning into your computer screen watching in the dark, or if you have to go through and setup everything just to begin watching. These both used to be big problems for me. I finally solved it by setting up a second monitor a few feet away from my working area to where I could just look up or lean back to start watching. It made a big difference. Also, if you have to tab between what you're watching and your dictionary, then consider something external so you don't have to interrupt the video.

The third factor is familiarity. It is tremendously helpful if you have some sort of familiarity with the content before hand. I used to watch DragonBall/Z all the time as a kid, so I know the story decently. Not enough to have the dialog memorized, but to know that there are seven Dragon Balls that can only be used once a year... Anyway, make sure if you're a beginner to use something you're familiar with. This makes a huge difference.

Now that we're all setup, another question is whether or not to lookup words. Some tell us to lookup everything, or we'll be wasting time. Others tell us to lookup absolutely nothing. I personally fall into the middle. I don't force myself to lookup everything, but I'll still look up words.

It's all about balance. If you decide to lookup absolutely nothing, you're probably going to end up with nothing to show for your time (unless you're able to invest 24/7 for a couple years straight of ONLY watching television in the target language). However, if you force yourself to lookup EVERY single word, you're going to end up totally ignoring the reason to watch something in the first place: entertainment. I have a specific anime series I really like, it's only 24 episodes long, but a year after I started watching it I still haven't completed it. Why? Because I felt like I needed to lookup every word in every sentence to get through a single episode. This has led to me putting it off. Don't fall into this trap.

My solution is a simple one: Listen as hard as you can and follow the story as best you can. When a word pops out at you, look it up. Don't make yourself decode every sentence for every word, only try to wait for words to come to you. In this way you'll still boost your listening skills considerably, but it won't become a chore to start.

This article wouldn't be complete without discussing passive listening. This concept was introduced to the community by Khatzumoto. The technique of passive listening is to have a 24 hour stream of Japanese to your ears. This has been met with controversy by those who don't particularly like to work to hard. However, those who praise and use the technique often find it as a testament to their resolve to master the language.

The controversy is often because we do not know if it gives us any benefit or not. The very definition of "passive" indicates that you will not be focusing or thinking about what you're hearing at all. In my opinion, passive listening can be very helpful as long as you approach it the correct way. Throughout the day, we have many unused moments, time in which we are not using our minds for anything useful. Passive listening can take those moments and force you to think about Japanese.

As I pause to reflect on what I write in this article, my mind wonders to the Japanese I have playing in the background, even if only for micro moments. Indeed, how can this technique be anything but helpful? Be warned, you must be selective in what you choose to passively listen to. Even more so than how you would be in choosing something to actively listen to.

I believe that I have covered everything important that pertains to listening to Japanese in this article. We went over successful conditions in which to begin listening, how to use the dictionary effectively while listening, and what role passive listening has in our learning. Go forth and listen happily.

This is a guest article from Alex Elkholy. You can find more of his writings on his new site. Alex Elkholy .com

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