Friday, September 21, 2012

The JLPT: Japanese radio as listening practice

For those of you who are aiming for the upper echelons of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT), serious listening practice is a must. And I am not talking about the "let's go to a bar and talk to the tipsy locals" sort of practice. Believe it it or not, one of your best weapons is the good old fashioned radio.

According to the JLPT website, the highest levels (N1 and N2) are designed to test your knowledge of people speaking at "natural speed" in a  "variety of situations." This includes academic settings and news reports. As a matter of fact, the JLPT people seem to love throwing in one to two news reports per listening test.

Japanese radio is a perfect fit for the JLPT for several reasons
  1. Audio only communication spoken at a natural pace. This forces you to draw heavily on your vocabulary knowledge without relying on gestures or subtitles. It also forces you to practice "speed listening" and reliance on contextual clues, two skills that are great for not only the JLPT but life in general. 
  2. New reports often include senmon yogo (専門用語), otherwise known as jargon. Reading a difficult word in the paper is one thing, but hearing it and discerning the meaning in context is a whole different ball game. The N1 authors love to throw some really difficult words (especially words that are rarely used in spoken Japanese) around just to keep you on your toes.
  3. There are lots of back and forth debates. The higher levels of the JLPT love to focus on conversations between two or more people. Morning and evening radio shows often have local and national celebrities, politicians, etc. on for interviews that provide a similar experience to the N1 and N2 listening sections.
  4. Infomercials. This may sound a bit silly but, for some reason the JLPT powers that be just love throwing in sales pitches and commercial bites in the listening section (probably to test out your fast talking honorific comprehension). Luckily, late and early afternoon radio stations often pad out non-drive time air time with corny commercials aimed at primarily at the elderly.
Where to Find Radio Feeds
If you happen to commute via car, then your greatest weapon is already imbedded in your dash board. But if you happen to be one of the many city slickers who use public transportion, fear not as there are other options.

The Japanese public broadcaster, Nippon Hoso Kyokai (NHK) offers its national radio station selection for free at their website. If you have a smart phone, there is an iPhone app and Android app (NHK ネットラジオ) avaliable for free. However, the application does an IP address check to make sure you are accessing the content from within Japan. Therefore, if you live over seas you need access to a proxy server to access this service. 

Other radio station such as Tokyo Broadcasting have apps that let you listen along with the current shows and some local and national radio stations offer streaming, although some might be restricted to residents of Japan.

Also, if you are in the Cult of Apple, you can check out a wide variety of news and talk show podcasts from the Japanese iTunes store. Here you can find everything from NHK to the latest pachinko tips. Podcasts generally aren't tied to a specific geographical location so its a good option for those studying outside of Japan. Since I am not an Android user, I cannot say if there are any similar services avaliable for the non-apple crowd.

Do you have any JLPT listening section study tips? Let us know in the comment section. Also, calling all Android users! Do you know any good non-iPhone listening apps? Feel free to share if you do.


  1. It is possible to download their mp3 podcasts from overseas without playing around with proxy
    --- Pole learning Japanese in Japan
    PS. Other than NHK, Nikkei is my favorite Japanese podcast provider.

  2. Thanks for the hint, Anon. I will make note of that. Do you know if the NHK podcast collection is kept relatively up to date? And are all shows offered?

  3. My Listening is really sucks...

    But my grammar and others are quite good. Taking N1 now, I only got one third of the listening question!

  4. I agree. When I first took the 1-kyuu, the listening section was tougher than I'd expected, and being nervous really threw my concentration during the second half (the unassisted, memo-taking passages). The next year, I made a point of listening to difficult conversations--stuff on the radio or TV just a little beyond my comfort zone--every day. Practicing like that really pays off.

  5. In my opinion, the listening for old JLPT was much more difficult compared to JLPT n-whatever. But then again, everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. I would take listening over mid-length reading any day of the week!