Listening is by far the most important skill for learning a language, after all languages were developed for spoken communication way before reading and writing became a thing. Without a lot of hours listening to a language, one cannot understand other speakers, nor can one know how to speak correctly. To become able to understand native speakers, you have to get a tonne of listening in. You can learn as much vocabulary and grammar as you want but it won’t train your ears to comprehend speech.
You need a lot of listening. For me it took around 10,000 hours which happens to coincide with Gladwell’s 10,000 hours rule as mentioned in his book Outliers: The Story of Success. However, that does not make me an “expert” at Japanese. I have merely trained my eyes and ears to understand it. Mastering Japanese is a venture that takes even more time and energy.
Today I hope to get you started learning Japanese with free audio from online sources. Don’t worry if you don’t even know how to say “hello” yet, just start listening today, don’t stop, and reap the benefits.
Free Audio Sources That are Great for Learning Japanese
Amazon’s Audible has loads of audiobooks. While the service isn’t normally free, they do give away a 1 month free trial which is definitely worth it in my opinion. To gain access to Japanese audiobooks, you will have to make a Japanese Amazon account and sign up for a free trial of the Japanese version of audible which you can find here: 無料体験を試そう – Audible (オーディブル) 会員登録. To get an amazon.jp account you will need a Japanese address which you can get for free at tenso.com. If you are worried about not knowing how to cancel the subscription after you sign up then don’t worry because they also have an English version of the Japanese site. Here’s how to translate the site to English if you need to:
If you just want free audio then you can make use of LingQ’s free trial to get a tonne of listening content. It’s meant to be a system for you to learn languages by having a transcript, the listening material and a bunch of dictionaries all in one place. However, I don’t really like the way it works and it feels too much like study for me when using it the way it’s meant to be used.
What I did was go on there, find a course and then downloaded the audio files for it. You can also “print” the text so that you can copy and paste it easier if you want to use it for your own flashcards. Unfortunately, you can’t easily copy and paste text due to the way the site works. Although the free version only allows you access to 3 courses at a time, to get more content all you have to do is delete a course and then you are able to add a new one. You don’t really need premium if all you want access to is the text and audio.
LibriVox is a website dedicated to storing a library of free public domain audiobooks. All books are read by volunteers from all around the globe in many different languages, including Japanese! 😀
To find the Japanese books all you have to do is click on the catalog and then languages. Scroll down until you reach Japanese, or you can click here. As of writing this post there are 126 books available for download. That’s a lot of free content.
I discussed using YouTube in a post ages ago and honestly believe it to be one of the greatest resources for learning a language, ever. If you are looking to watch something in particular, then there’s a good chance someone on YouTube has uploaded it. To get started with the Japanese side of YouTube you can check out the following blog posts:
Don’t forget to search for specific topics as well by using jisho.org to find out what your topic is in Japanese. You could try searching for anime and TV shows are there are often clips, or even entire episodes, on YouTube.
I also made a video recently on how to download thousands of hours worth of listening content from youtube in a very short space of time which should be helpful.
Netflix offer a free month trial which I’d say is definitely worth trying out. I actually pay for it monthly and use it as one of my main sources of input. I would say I definitely make the most out of it. It has a tonne of anime and there’s a lot of other Japanese shows too. You can also find a lot of movies and shows from the west, dubbed into Japanese and I’m pretty sure that all Netflix originals are also dubbed.
Filter Netflix by Language, Subtitles and Voice Audio
To find all shows that are in Japanese you will first need to change your display language to Japanese, which you can do under account information -> my profile -> language. You can then search for shows based on voice audio or subtitles in the language that your profile is set to. In Japanese “subtitle” is 字幕 (じまく) and “voice” is 音声 (おんせい). As our goal is to find listening content, we only want to look for shows with Japanese audio. To find them, scroll down to the bottom of the page and find the link that says: 言語別:字幕・音声. Here’s where you can find it:
Once you’ve clicked that link you will be taken to a new page as shown below. You are going to want to click on the drop down menu and make sure it is set to 音声 to find shows with Japanese audio. As far as I’m aware this should work in any country for any language.
Viki is a video streaming site run by Rakuten and has a wide range of Asian films and dramas. There isn’t much Japanese stuff at the time of writing this but it’s a good start if you are struggling to find live action content. It’s also not a dodgy streaming site either. It’s a legit, free site which you can pay premium for if you want to remove ads and get other benefits. Some videos on this site also come with Japanese subtitles so you can read along in Japanese as you listen to Japanese. Don’t rely on it too much though!
A few good shows that I would recommend are: 僕のいた時間, アオイホノオ and 無痛~診える眼~.
You can also find NHK news in podcast form too and it’s a great resource if you are interested in what’s going on in Japan and across the globe. If you have to get your daily news intake then this is a great free resource.
I wrote a post recently about this website which you can find here. It’s basically the closest thing to the Japanese equivalent of YouTube, although Japan use YouTube a lot too. It’s a pretty large video sharing and streaming site with a tonne of content. You can find out more about it and how to use it here: The Japanese YouTube Equivalent: ニコニコ動画
Twitch is a live streaming website specifically for gaming, that’s not to say that other content can be aired on there, but for the most part the platform’s audience are gamers. The site is massive and has thousands of streamers from all sorts of countries, speaking in a wide range of languages.
To find stuff in Japanese you will need to do the following:
- Make a free account and log in
- Change the language setting to Japanese (you have to do this to be able to find Japanese streams)
3. Once you have changed the settings to 日本語, look for the 人気のゲーム section to find the most popular games.
4. Once you’ve selected a game you should see a load of different streamers, with the streams in Japanese being at the top of the page under “日本語のチャンネル”
5. Then just click on a stream and you’re off!
You may have heard of 青空文庫 before. If not, it’s a website that has a bunch of Japanese books that are no longer copyrighted, meaning you can download them for free and use them as you see wish. This means that the content can be used in other ways by anyone without worrying about getting in trouble with copyright laws and thus 青空朗読 has been created. 朗読 means “reading out loud” so you can probably guess the purpose of this website. It is a project that is trying to take all the books in 青空文庫 and turn them into audio form. This is great for us as it means there is plenty of free audio books that you can use to drastically improve your Japanese, and it’s all free!
Hopefully this post has provided you with plenty of sources for getting free listening material 🙂
Thanks for reading!
マットBy Matthew Hawkins 2018/02/26 Follow me on Twitter
Software Engineer and Language Enthusiast.