People often assume that to study a language, you need to be working with a tutor, sitting in a classroom, or locked away in your room.
And while there are lots of good online Japanese courses, podcasts can serve a vital role in your studies. They can be an extremely effective way to improve your listening comprehension, along with other aspects of the language.
Better yet, they’re often more fun, free (or cheap), and more convenient than a lot of other resources. Though you may want to look for some more structure elsewhere.
This list will highlight some of the best podcasts for learning Japanese whether you’re at a beginner, intermediate, or advanced level.
Everyone has to start somewhere. These podcasts aimed at beginner students can be a great place to get more comfortable with spoken Japanese.
JapanesePod101 has been around for a long time and because of this, there are thousands of lessons to choose from. The majority of the content is suitable to either beginner or intermediate level students, but there are also advanced lessons.
Anyone looking to improve their listening comprehension, along with grammar, vocabulary, and more ought to consider a subscription. It’s fairly cheap, starting at only $8 per month for their basic plan. Besides audio lessons, you can also access transcripts, lesson notes, and a whole lot more.
The lessons don’t necessarily follow a clear path, so it’d be better as a supplement to a good textbook, like Genki, instead of as a standalone course. You can get a free 7-day trial or read our review for more info.
This is a great podcast for introductory lessons. Each episode contains a conversation in Japanese on a topic of interest to language-learners, such as how to book a table at a restaurant or how to speak in the Osaka dialect. The hosts also discuss the conversation in English, giving you some context into the phrases used in the dialogue.
One of the hosts, Asuka, is a native speaker, and the other, Alex, is from England, so you won’t have to try and keep up with a dialogue between two native speakers. You’ll get a good overview of what phrases are most important for newcomers to learn, especially if you plan to be traveling or studying in Japan.
You can find most of the audio content for free on the website or your favorite podcast app, but you’ll have to sign up to get transcripts and bonus materials.
This podcast is great for people who want small, bite-sized audio lessons on a variety of introductory subjects. These episodes mostly focus on grammar and vocabulary, but you can also sign up for free email lessons that introduce you to the written language, such as the Kanji-a-day email course.
The hosts Clay and Yumi also create an e-zine called Makoto! intended for beginner and intermediate students. Each month’s edition includes a short story in Japanese and an MP3 of the story read aloud at both slow and normal speed.
The website is a little difficult to navigate, but the content is comprehensive, especially if you want multimedia content to go along with your audio lessons. You can support the team on their Patreon page to get access to the e-zine and other bonus material.
NHK is Japan’s public broadcasting station. They offer free audio lessons for students of Japanese. There are 48 “Easy Japanese” lessons and PDF transcripts on the site which you can listen to online or download to listen to on your favorite podcast app.
What makes this resource especially great is that it comes in 17 languages, so you don’t have to be an English speaker to benefit from these lessons. The main character featured in these lessons is Anna, a student visiting Japan from Thailand, giving you a story to follow along with as you progress through the material.
As you get more comfortable with Japanese, you can try some of NHK’s other podcasts as well. The NHK Radio Podcast offers global news in Japanese as well as in 17 other languages. Listen to it once in your native language and once in Japanese to see how well you can understand it.
Although it hasn’t been updated in a while, the Survival Phrases playlist on Player.fm contains just over a dozen episodes with simple phrases useful for travelers. If you don’t plan to study Japanese long-term, and simply want to be able to understand a bit of the language while visiting the country, this short podcast series is a good place to start!
The Fun Japanese Listening podcast hosted by Asuka is a good introduction for new language learners. Asuka speaks slowly so that less experienced listeners can follow along, and repeats the phrases more than once so you can pick them up and practice aloud. Check out the 20 episodes available on Apple podcasts.
Once you’ve practiced the basics and understand a fair amount of vocabulary, you’re ready to move on to intermediate podcast lessons. These are more in-depth than the beginner lessons, but they’re still suitable for those learning Japanese. Fortunately, many of them have transcripts for you to follow along with.
Although this isn’t exactly a podcast, it very much suits what those looking for a good intermediate level podcast would want.
Conversations was created by Olly Richards of the popular blog I Will Teach You a Language. What makes this unique is that it was created specifically for intermediate level learners. It revolves around dialogues in Japanese which, over 20 chapters, comes together to tell a story.
All the lessons are downloadable and come with transcripts in both English and Japanese. Unfortunately, not everyone will be willing to pay the $97 price tag.
LingQ is a platform that makes learning to read Japanese easier. With their app, or online, you can find interesting content for various difficulty levels, while making use of their connected dictionaries. I’ve written a full review of it here.
They’ve also created a podcast for learning Japanese with over 50 episodes available for free on ListenNotes.com.
Although it hasn’t been updated in many years, the episodes cover a range of interesting topics, including cultural differences between Japan and the U.S. and a visit to Hawaii. Since there are several different hosts who appear on different episodes, you’ll get to hear a variety of voices and accents. Most episodes are 10-15 minutes long.
News in Slow Japanese is a great option for intermediate learners. Although you have to sign up to get access to all of the content, many of the episodes are available for free on the website or iTunes. They typically explore a news item related to Japanese culture, including episodes on sleep cafes, hot springs, ramen restaurants, and more.
Each episode also includes transcripts of the dialogue. They recommend “shadowing,” or speaking the transcript along with the presenter, in order to improve your pronunciation. You can choose to listen to a fast or slow recording of the episode.
The only downside to this podcast is that there’s only one host, so you won’t be exposed to new accents or dialects throughout the series.
Tofugu is a long-running podcast. The hosts take a silly and conversational approach to Japanese but deal with practical lessons, such as learning how to use counting words for objects and living things.
Episodes run for around an hour and the hosts often go off on tangents, giving you a feel for Japanese conversation and banter. This podcast is perfect for millennials, and the website has useful material for travelers, such as reviews of coworking spaces and “nomad cafes,” as well as interviews and a YouTube channel.
Her Confidence Her Way could be described as a feminist-oriented podcast aimed at working women in Japan. The host, Emiko Rasmussen, is bilingual, and includes both English and Japanese on her podcast, making it suitable for intermediate listeners.
Topics include differences in communication between the two languages, as well as career advice and self-empowerment for women. If you’re looking to move beyond language lessons and listen to a podcast about real-world experiences, then Emi’s podcast may be a good choice. It will be especially relevant for women interested in living or working in Japan.
These advanced podcasts are suitable for students who want to be fully immersed in the Japanese language. Some of them are intended for native speakers, while others build on the lessons you’ve learned before. The more time you spend listening to the language spoken aloud, the better you’ll be able to comprehend it.
Bilingual News is one of the best podcasts for people looking to improve their listening comprehension. You’ll hear casual conversation about the latest news in both English and Japanese, and you can follow along with the transcripts that are available on the downloadable smartphone app.
With over 350 episodes that are typically between 1 and 2 hours each, you’ll have days worth of material to listen to. Unlike News in Slow Japanese, the series is unscripted, with each host talking about the subject in their own native language.
This popular podcast wrapped up in 2018, but there are 280 episodes in the archive on iTunes. Hosts Daichi and Haruka talk about everything from virtual reality to movies to marriage in a casual and conversational way. Since both hosts are native speakers, this podcast will help bring your comprehension skills to a more advanced level.
Junk is one of the top podcasts in Japan, and many listeners find the hosts entertaining and hilarious. How much you’ll be able to follow depends on your comprehension skills. The hosts use a lot of slang and talk a lot more quickly than on other podcasts, since it’s produced by radio station TBS and intended for native speakers.
But if you really want to get an ear for how people talk in Japan, listening to a show like this can teach you a lot. If you can get comfortable with this program, you’ll be prepared you to be able to follow along with any news media or radio program you encounter in Japanese.
Gasnuke Radio is a wide-ranging podcast aimed at middle-aged listeners and hosted by several men in their forties. They talk about current affairs and generational changes going on in Japan, including TV shows and political issues. With nearly 500 episodes available on iTunes, there’s a lot here to keep you busy. If you’re a middle-aged student of Japanese and are tired of podcasts aimed at millennials, this one may be for you.
Rebuild is a great native-language podcast for people interested in technology and software development. Hosted by Tatsuhiko Miyagawa, there are nearly 250 episodes available to listen to directly on the site or on iTunes. Although it may be too advanced for intermediate listeners, there is a range of guests who appear on the show, so you can search for ones who speak with a pace and dialect you can follow. This is the perfect podcast for picking up tech terminology in Japanese.
Learning Japanese takes a lot of time, but you don’t have to set aside formal study time each day. Listening to podcasts during your commute or lunch break can help reinforce your written lessons. Even if you can’t understand every word you hear, you’ll get used to the flow and rhythm of the language and feel more confident speaking it!
If you’re looking for more resources for studying Japanese, check out our huge list here.
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