JLPT: Practise reading and listening!

Only two weeks left before the JLPT of December! It might be too late to digest tons of vocabulary and grammar, but it is not too late to practise listening and reading.

Practise to improve your concentration

Contrary to the “language knowledge” section, there is something you need in order to beat the reading and listening section: the capacity to stay concentrated in Japanese during more than one hour for each section.

Strangely enough, this is something that is often overlooked during the preparation for the JLPT. We tend to focus on being able to understand written or spoken Japanese, but what is also difficult is to understand Japanese for one hour long.

I have taken enough real tests and practice tests to know that my concentration will not stay on top during the whole listening and reading section. When I  reach half of each of these sections, I begin to feel tired and not only does my comprehension weaken, but I am also tempted to pick an answer randomly and be done with it.

Comprehension and concentration are two different things

I could spend the whole day reading detective novels in my mother tongue, but not in Japanese. I can read around 30 pages in a row, but then I start feeling tired. This has nothing to do with my capacity to understand Japanese because I can understand what I read without problems. But I feel exhausted. The story might be suspenseful, and yes I want to know what will happen next, but after 30 pages I disconnect, and I don’t want to read anymore.

This proves that the capacity to understand a text in a foreign language and the capacity to read in this language for long periods of time are two separate things. As a consequence, you need to work on both. Being able to understand what you read or hear does not guarantee that you will be able to do so for one hour. Reading in a foreign language or listening to something in a foreign language is exhausting. If you don’t work on your stamina, you will be so tired and fed up during the JLPT that everything will seem harder than it really is.

To sum up: 1) Keep learning new words and grammar points to be able to tackle difficult texts/audio. 2) Practise reading to improve your reading speed: if you read a lot, you will be able to read quicker and to make up for unknown words by guessing the meaning from the context. Practise listening to improve your capacity to recognise the words you learned and to be able to process information quicker. 3) Practise reading and listening for long periods of time to be able to go through the 12 texts (N1) and numerous audio of the JLPT. Concentration is a skill on its own, don’t neglect it!

How to practise?

To me, the best way to practise for the JLPT is to combine two different exercises:

  • Short but intense practice: study a short passage of a text or audio to improve your comprehension.
  • Train your concentration by reading or listening to Japanese for a fixed period of time.

The first exercise will improve your capacity to understand difficult texts or audio. Take any short text or audio and study it in depth. For example, you can:

  • Written text: read it several times and try to understand, look up unknown words and check difficult grammar patterns, translate the text in your mother tongue.
  • Audio: listen several times until you understand as much as you can without checking the script, then look up words with the script, listen again to the audio until you can identify every part of it. I would even go as far as to say: listen to it until you know it almost by heart.

If you don’t know where to find audio with scripts, I recommend checking the NHK Radio News website or podcasts. I am sure that a lot of Japanese learners know this podcast, but what you might not know is that journalists are often simply reading articles that you can find on NHK. They will sometimes omit a sentence or rephrase something, but most of what they say is the article unchanged (at least for the 7am broadcast, the only one I listen to). The easiest way to find matching articles is certainly to check the website in the morning. Listen to the first broadcast at 7am and check the website. You should find the articles read in the audio on the homepage or the section 新着ニュース一覧. If you check later in the day, the articles will be harder to find, and you will have to search for them using keywords.

To give you an example:

Another thing that you can do if you can afford it is to buy a book and its audiobook. You can find audiobooks on the website audiobook.jp. I recommend looking at non-fiction because it will be closer to what you will encounter during the JLPT. It might be expensive, but once you have the audio and the physical (or digital) versions of a book, you will be able to get a lot of practice out of it.

The second exercise that I mentioned above is here to train your stamina. The idea is to read or listen to Japanese for a fixed period of time. Start with a short period of time like 20 minutes and slowly increase the time you spend reading or listening. Aim at 1 hour.

You don’t need to study what you read or listen to, but you should definitely try to understand it. It is different from passive immersion. It will not do if you listen to Japanese for one hour while doing other tasks: what you want to train is your concentration, not your Japanese. Even if you are bored or want to stop before the time is out, force yourself to keep going until the end.

To sum up, make intense study sessions with short texts and audio to improve your reading and listening abilities in Japanese. The more you practise, the easier it will become to tackle difficult texts. At the same time, be sure that you can read or listen to Japanese for around one hour by training your concentration. The JLPT does not test you on your capacity to understand Japanese only, it also tests you on your ability to deal with Japanese material for a long time. Not only that, but you also have to answer questions and deal with time and stress during the test. All of this will be exhausting, so improve your concentration and focus before the test!

Practice with Korean mock tests (even if you don’t read Korean)

I live in Korea, which might be the best place in the world to buy JLPT textbooks!

This whole shelf is devoted to JLPT textbooks. Kyobo bookstore, Gangnam, Seoul.

The big majority of JLPT test takers are in Japan and China, but South Korea comes third, with 54,611 inscriptions and 41,972 actual test takers for the JLPT of December 2018. (source) As a result, publishers regularly come out with new textbooks.

You can use some of these Korean textbooks even if you don’t read Korean. Reading and listening textbooks especially are often collections of practice tests, so you can definitely use them without any knowledge of Korean.

I know that it is not easy to buy Korean books from other countries, but I found that some JLPT textbooks are available on the Google Play store as e-books.

I already mentioned them in a previous post, but I really think that these two textbooks are worth getting if you want to practice listening and reading with JLPT materials:

  • To practice listening: (4th EDITION) JLPT 콕콕 찍어주마 N1 청해
  • To practice reading: (4th EDITION) JLPT 콕콕 찍어주마 N1 독해

In the Google Play store, just copy-paste the title you are interested in (with the level you want). N4 and N5 are together in the same textbook. 청해 means “listening comprehension” and 독해 means “reading comprehension”. It is the only word that changes in the title of the textbook.

I have the physical copy of both for N1 and studied them entirely. These books are composed of practice tests only. They are very different from Japanese textbooks like Shin Kanzen or So-matome that have lessons and exercises.

This is the composition of each book:

Listening: (4th EDITION) JLPT 콕콕 찍어주마 N1 청해

  • Task-based comprehension = 9 tracks
  • Comprehension of key points = 9 tracks
  • Comprehension of general outline = 9 tracks
  • Quick response = 29 tracks
  • Integrated comprehension = 9 tracks
  • Final test = 3 tests

Reading: (4th EDITION) JLPT 콕콕 찍어주마 N1 독해

  • Comprehension (short passages) = 12 texts
  • Comprehension (mid-size passages) = 10 texts
  • Comprehension (long passages) = 7 texts
  • Integrated comprehension = 7 texts
  • Thematic comprehension (long passages) = 6 texts
  • Information retrieval = 7 texts
  • Final test = 2 tests

“Final test” is the reading or listening section as it would appear in the real test.

In the reading book, the text and the questions are translated in Korean. There is also Japanese-Korean vocabulary. In the listening one, you will find the script of the audio in Japanese with furigana, its translation in Korean and again, some vocabulary Japanese-Korean.

I recommend checking the free sample of the reading textbook as it gives you access to a generous portion of the book (you can actually practise the whole 12 texts of the “Comprehension (short passages)” section and the 5 first texts of the “Comprehension (mid-size passages)” section).

As for the listening books, you can download the audio for free on the website. The only issue is that you will have to create an account to be able to download or listen to the mp3 from your computer, and this can be a hassle if you don’t read Korean. However, the good news is that you can listen to the mp3 files on the website without login in if you access them via your phone (at least, this is how it works with me). Just copy-paste the title you want on the website http://www.darakwon.co.kr/ and look for the “mp3” button. You could also just listen to the audio to practice your listening skills with JLPT material, without answering the questions (if you don’t have the textbook).


While I find that the language knowledge section (vocabulary and grammar) is very straightforward (either you know the answer or you don’t), I think that a lot of factors can lower your score at the reading and listening sections: have you slept enough the previous night? are you tired? are you focusing too much on the clock? Even if your Japanese level is high enough to pass the test, you could lose precious points just because you cannot stay concentrated until the end… Practice is key!

Korean resources to learn Japanese: how to download audio files

A discussion I had recently in the comments of this blog made me think I should write more about the Korean publisher Darakwon.

Darakwon publishes a lot of textbooks to learn foreign languages (including Korean as a foreign language), and Japanese is, with English and Chinese, one of the main languages studied in Korea. I think that you can use some of these books if you are learning Japanese and don’t speak Korean.

Why use Korean resources?

Naturally, all these books are written in Korean. However, I think that you can still find some of them useful, even if you don’t read Korean. Not only are these resources of good quality, but it can also be interesting to look at learning materials in other languages. You might find that Korean ones have a different approach than English ones. I am far from being an expert in language learning textbooks, but I am sure that it is a good way to diversify the resources you normally use.

Particularly, I think of two kinds of textbooks that can be used, even if you don’t read Korean.

  • JLPT preparation books. Most Korean books are only a collection of questions. I have used several Korean textbooks to work for the JLPT myself, and they were all drills only. You can think of Korean books for the JLPT as a collection of tests. They are very different from the Japanese So-matome or the Shin Kanzen series that have real lessons. As a consequence, you can navigate the books even if you don’t read Korean and use the drills to add extra practice to your preparation. However, be aware that the explanations are likely to be only in Korean.
  • Conversation books. If your Japanese level has reached a point where you can work on your own to understand a sentence without translation, you could use the many conversation/dialogues books published by Darakwon. You won’t be able to use the translation in Korean, but all you will need to do is to look up words by yourself. I think that these conversation books can be very useful because they come with an audio that you can use to study in different ways (listen to it on the go, make a listen and repeat exercise, etc.)

Apparently, you can buy some of them in the Google Play store as an e-book (searching for “darakwon” should be enough, or you can copy-paste the Korean title of a particular book). I couldn’t find the equivalent on the iBooks store, but I hope it will come in the future.

This being said, even if you don’t buy the e-book, you can listen to the audio tracks of all their textbooks for free directly on their website. This can give you an idea whether or not the book will be useful for you or even provide an additional listening practice in itself. This is particularly true for the conversation books and the JLPT listening books. Personally, I have spent a lot of time just listening to JLPT listening tracks, without answering the questions, just to practice listening before the test.

How to access the audio files?

To access the files on their website, you need to log in if you are using a computer. Creating an account requires (at least now) a Korean phone number. Once logged in, you will have to download and install security programs on your computer, and the whole thing will be in Korean so it might be confusing.

However, if you access their website via your phone you have the possibility to listen to the tracks directly on the website or to download them via the “Darakwon” app. I know it sounds complicated, but I think it is worth it if you are looking for more listening practice for the JLPT, for example.

If you don’t read Korean, follow these steps!

Step 1: (optional) Install the Darakwon app. This will allow you to download all the tracks you want to listen to and stock them here. It will be much more convenient to listen to the audio on the app than on the website. (name of the app: Darakwon, or in Korean 다락원 스마트 러닝, available on Google Play and the App store)

Step 2: Head to http://www.darakwon.co.kr on your phone and look for materials to learn Japanese. Go to the menu and select Japanese:


You will then be able to select the type of books you want to look at. As I said previously, I think that the JLPT and conversation textbooks are the most useful. I will take the JLPT listening textbook for N5/N4 as an example:


Once you select the category JLPT, you get the list of textbooks:

  • 독해 : reading
  • 한자 : kanji
  • 어휘 : vocabulary
  • 문법 : grammar
  • 청해 : listening


Let’s take a look at the book for the listening section.


You can listen to the audio files online by selecting the purple button. For this particular book, you can also access the script and the answers (I don’t know if it covers all the files or just the final test).


Once you are here, you can either select “all tracks” or select a particular chapter of the book. In our case, the chapters correspond to the different types of questions that appear in the JLPT.

I recommend to use the app Darakwon and download the files via the app. Select “all tracks” if you want to download them all and click on the blue button. If the app is on your phone, it should open it directly.

If you don’t use the app, this is how the online player looks like:


Step 3: Use the app.

When you select the blue button, it should open the Darakwon app and the files will be ready for download:


To download all the files at the same time, select “edit” on the top right, “select all” and then “download”.


Your files will then be accessible via the second icon on the bottom:


You can now listen to the tracks via the application player which is neither excellent nor very bad.



That’s it! Sorry if it is a little confusing, I am not used to writing a “how to”! 😅

If you buy a Darakwon book on Google Play, they tell you to download the mp3 on their website, which can be daunting if you don’t read Korean. This is why I hope this was useful. I particularly think that the JLPT textbooks can provide you with a lot of practice material. If you are looking for new listening material, I also recommend that you take a look at the “conversation” books, I personally find several of them useful, especially the ones that use the same pattern in different contexts.

Korean publishers have a lot of great resources to learn Japanese, but I never really talked about them on my blog because I thought it would be difficult and pricey to order them outside Korea. However, now that I know that some of them are accessible as an e-book via mobile stores, I wonder if I cannot introduce some of them in the future!

Korean resources: monthly listening magazine for Japanese

I always have doubts when I present Korean resources to learn Japanese because I don’t know if they can be ordered overseas. I have no experience with it myself, but I think that buying Korean books is more complicated than buying Japanese books. But I hope that it will change someday and that it will become easier to receive books shipped from Korea.

Anyway, the magazine I want to talk about is NHK 일어. (pronounce: NHK ilo)

I can’t really make out much about the publisher http://www.sisafl.co.kr because their website does not seem to have been updated for a while. Anyway, they publish two monthly magazines, one to learn English and one to learn Japanese.

How the magazine is structured

The magazine has a glossy cover but the 100 pages inside are all in black and white. The only exception is the first two pages with the table of contents (you can see them on the Aladin page). If you just look at the printing quality and the interior design, the magazine does not seem very attractive but the quality of the contents and the CD made up for it.

This magazine is for advanced learners and contains topics related to social trends, politics, business or economy. There are 5 different topics, a drama extract, and a section “news highlight”. In the news highlight section, 8 topical issues of the past month are summarised on a page/double-page.

The magazine comes with a CD. The first topic is the only one to be “reading only” but all the other ones are on the CD. As the English subtitle of the magazine suggests, it is “a monthly listening magazine”.

A glimpse into the contents

I got the April issue and to give an idea of the contents, this is what I found in this month’s magazine:

The first trendy topic (without CD) is about the labour reform (12 pages). Then, there is an article about job searching (8 pages) and another one on the Tokyo Olympics mascots (9 pages). Then comes the drama (13 pages). As far as I can tell, it is always the same one: レガルハイ, Legal High. Then we go on with two “special reports”. The first one is about how you can use your phone to pay, receive e-receipt, do e-commerce and so on (12 pages). The second one is about the price augmentation and the increasing difficulty to move house (9 pages). The “news highlight” section covers a variety of subjects, with  Japan politics, Trump and North Korea as recurrent topics.

I am under the impression that the magazine tends to go for economic and business articles over politics and socials.

Each article comes with an introduction written in Korean. The whole article is also entirely translated in Korean. However, there is no vocabulary or grammar explanation.

Why I like it

First, I like the choice of topics. They are trendy subjects, but even if I read the news regularly in Japanese, there are numerous topics that I never heard of before. I guess that this is the difference between a topical issue (that you know by reading the news) and social or economic trends that you know by living in the country. I would not read this magazine if it were the same contents as an online news portal.

I also like very much the form of the articles. They are very different from news articles that you can read online. Apart from the first one, which is a reading exercise, all the others are more focused on the listening aspect. They take the form of a reportage, with a journalist interviewing people. It looks like something you could watch on TV or listen to on the radio. On the CD you can hear different people speaking, some are in the street with background noise, some do not articulate very well… Contrary to a studio recording, the audio records things that people said on the spot. It is a very efficient listening exercise.

I think that the CD more or less justifies the price (15,000 won or around 11 euros) and, in any case, the value of the magazine lies in the audio. You can feel that the audio reportage came first and that the magazine is just a transcript of what was said. To someone like me who need to work on listening comprehension, this format is much better than the other way around: a text written first and read by a professional narrator in a studio.

I don’t use the Korean translation, because I would understand it even less than the Japanese! I first listen to the audio several times and try to understand as much as I can. Then I work my way through the transcript with my dictionary, a marker and a pen, and then, listen to the audio once again. The paper quality is good enough and markers don’t bleed through.


As I wrote above, this magazine is more a collection of audio reports than a magazine in itself. I don’t think that it is particularly popular in Korea because I never saw it piled up on the “study Japanese” corner, but spotted it by chance, tucked away in the linguistic magazines’ shelf.

I have an interest in language learning resources and I am always curious to know what kind of textbooks or other material exist in different countries. Do you use materials to learn Japanese that are not in English? Don’t hesitate to let me know!