Should you listen to a language at a slow speed or normal speed?


I like to listen to Olly Richards’ “I Will Teach You a Language” podcast, and I happened to listen to Episode 232 called “Why you shouldn’t listen to slow audio”. He argued that the content that you listen to is more important than whether it is being spoken at normal speed or not.

Having given it some thought, I agree with him in that when people struggle with listening skills, it is usually down to the content being too difficult rather than the speed at which it is spoken at. This does pose a frustrating problem for us language learners: we struggle to listen to our target language, which is in part because we haven’t been exposed to the language enough.

Despite this, I think it is important to persevere with listening to something in your target language, even when you do not understand anything at all. This is why it is so important to find something in your target language that you enjoy, whether it be an interview with your favourite music artist, a TV show or anime.


Finding something you love to listen to is the best way to stay motivated


Looking back, it is having this motivation to watch or listen to something at native speed that eventually improved my own listening comprehension skills. When I was studying for a Japanese exam (GCSE Japanese, which is probably closest to JLPT N5) I went from struggling with the exams to finding them fairly straightforward within a few months.

Looking back, the only thing that changed within those few months was that I began to watch a lot of Japanese TV/ drama (sometimes with English subtitles, sometimes without). Being a beginner in Japanese, it was extremely difficult to pick out what was being said apart from a few words here and there. However, the most important thing that happened as a result of doing this was that I got used to Japanese spoken at a native speed rather than at a slower speed. Combined with revising the vocabulary covered in my test, this made tackling the listening section much easier.

Similarly, I found that just spending more time listening to Japanese as it is naturally spoken helped with the listening section of the JLPT test (I have some last minute tips on how to tackle the listening section here).

Eventually, you want to get to the point where you understand your target language at a native speed, so it is important to start working towards this as early as possible. Therefore, as a language learner, maintaining a balance between material you listen to as immersion and material you use to study is key, as I wrote about in my post on podcasts.

So, the next time you are testing out your Japanese listening skills, try listening at regular speed before slowing things down. By listening to the material more than once, you might find that you are able to understand more than you initially thought!

I’m interested to know if you agree with Olly and I or not and why – let me know your thoughts in the comments!

0 thoughts on “Should you listen to a language at a slow speed or normal speed?”

  1. I also think that one should listen to the normal speed instead of a reduced speed. The way I see it, there is only an initial benefit if you listen to a video in which everything is expressed slowly. You feel good about it. But once you watch something at a normal speed, the hammer of “gosh I don’t understand anything, my studies are useless, why am I doing this” – strikes again. I think it depends on the person and how exposed they are to the language (through dramas, movies, music, anime etc.) but one should try to find something that is slightly above one’s level. Or for complete beginners, it’s good to watch something which one has already watched in their own native language. For me, it always helped to watch something with which I was very familiar with. Ghibli movies were the go to movies. I watched them so often in my own native language, that I had no problem of understanding what’s going on without looking at the subtitles. It gives you the opportunity to immerse yourself more in the language and also figure out differences between subs and the actual spoken dialogue. At least that’s my take on it.

    1. Thank you so much for your comment! I agree with everything you’ve said – focusing on what you are already familiar with helps to make things easier to understand, whether at native speed or not. You’ve reminded me to rewatch my favourite Ghibli movies, which is always a plus 🙂

      1. Ah, thanks! It’s the same method with which I improved my English listening skills and therefore a proven method for me.
        I think I will also go on a binge watch of Ghibli movies 🙂 Which are your favorite ones?

  2. choronghi.WORDPRESS.COM

    Lol I have the opposite thought. If anything I listen to it at 1.5x so that 1x sounds slow. I did this with Spanish inadvertently since I was using an audiobook app and I had it set at 1.5 x for the English book because it was a fluff book

  3. choronghi.WORDPRESS.COM

    I think listening to it slow is a waste of time since no one talks like that. If the speed bothers you that much you should just listen to it at 15 second chunks and have it replay it automatically i.e. Via kmplayer using f5 to set point a and f6 to set point b and f8,to turn repeat AB ON AND OFF. I had to do this for french since I couldn’t hear it. I still do this for Spanish at times

  4. I prefer a combo of regular speed and slower speed. I listen to more regular speed and am exposed to regular speed Japanese daily. However, sometimes slower is better for me with more technical stuff. For example, if I’m speaking with a doctor, I need to ask them to speak slower. I’m getting better with the news, but sometimes I find myself listening to a slower, learner focused newscast on days when I’m tired. Also, I watch a lot of children’s TV. I find the children’s programing to use slower and clearer audio. For things like movies, I usually don’t have the option of subtitles (movie theater/TV) if it is in Japanese. This forces me to understand as much as possible in a short amount of time, but having an image playing on the screen helps immensely with that.

    1. Thanks for commenting 🙂 That’s a really good point about specialist vocabulary – sometimes it’s just a case of speed that prevents you from being able to understand it

      1. Ah, another thing is it depends on what part of the country the speaker you’re listening to is from. For example, I’m originally from northern NJ in the US and people always say I speak fast. But friends from places like California don’t get that comment. In Japan, people from Osaka usually speak faster than other parts of the country. If a movie or TV program is using Osaka as a setting, it can be very difficult to follow.

        1. That’s true – I spent most of my time in Japan in Hokkaido and struggled to understand Kansai dialect in general when I first went to Osaka, because it felt much faster than what I was used to!

  5. I think listening to both at the same time is useful. While you should absolutely listen to native-level speed, you should also be working toward understanding it. When you first learn a language, it’s hard to pick out the breaks between words, or the filler sounds. Listening to targeted, slower exercises can help you gain confidence in your vocabulary, grammar, and general understanding, so the next time you listen to native speed, you’re far more likely to be able to catch a word or two, or understand a question has been asked–things like that.

    My only caveat to this is, as you get more comfortable with listening, you should look for targeted listening exercises that are more difficult. This will also help you if you plan to take tests–the tests will check your comprehension on certain structures.

    1. Thanks for commenting! I agree with you – it’s all about striking the right balance between material that is at your language level and above it.

  6. I find it helpful to not only listen but also to speak quickly. Speaking quickly in my target language gets my mind used to processing the language quickly, which in turn helps my listening. In the case of Japanese, it was an old Audiolingual Method course by Eleanor Harz Jorden (with audio on cassettes) that helped me to get used to both speaking and listening to Japanese at native speed. Even though that method of teaching languages is old (1950’s-1960’s), they understood back then the value of getting used to native-speed speech even as a beginner.

    Now I’m doing something similar for Mandarin Chinese: After spending some time with Michel Thomas (which is slowly-spoken), I switched to Glossika in order to get used to speaking Chinese quickly. I’m confident that this will help my listening skills, and make it easier for native speakers to understand me as well. I’ve heard that if a foreigner speaks Chinese slowly, native speakers can’t understand them. Besides, the tones change when spoken quickly and actually mix with the sentence intonation, something which few beginner courses teach.

    I gave up on Assimil Korean because the audio was too slow. Instead, I’m using Sogang Korean textbooks because the dialogs are spoken quickly by interesting voice actors.

    1. Thanks for commenting! That’s an interesting parallel to speaking speed that I never considered before. I’ve always wanted to try something like Glossika, I will definitely check it out 🙂

  7. I totally agree that one should get used to listening to material at native speed as early as possible. Among all the languages I have learned or tried to learn, the only one that I understand well (being able to watch films without subtitles and feeling super confident when a native speaker open his/her mouth) is German. When I discovered German, I fell in love with it and started listening to material at native speed from day 1 of my study. Of course, I couldn’t understand what I was listening to, but to me, it was like music. Now that I think of it, I really listened to German as if I were listening to music, because I liked the sounds, not because I was interested in the contents. Maybe this is why I didn’t feel discouraged even if I couldn’t understand what was saying. Writing this reminds me that I should do the same for Japanese! 😊

    1. That is a really good point – the ability to just enjoy the sound of a language really helps to motivate you when you are just starting to learn a new language!

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