This is a tip for intermediate students.

The students we have in mind are those of you who have practiced listening a lot to such clear English as you can find in English textbooks and have learned to recognize most of the uniquely English sounds.

I think that you are sometimes shocked to hear so-called “real” English, not textbook English, but English spoken by native speakers right in front of you, news English targeting native speakers, not English learners, and English in TV shows. You might start to think, “Oh, I can’t understand as much as I expected.”

You may find it disappointing, but that’s only natural and can’t be helped.

So let’s cope with it positively.

First, before blaming it all on your English comprehension, let’s see if there are other possible causes.

I think that some of you have come to feel disappointed, out of too much aspiration to become able to comprehend English by listening, whenever you fail to listen to and understand English.
(Actually I had the same experience for some time.)

For example, in my case, I often can’t understand the lines while watching a Japanese movie.

Also, I really often fail to understand the lyrics when listening to Japanese songs.

Besides, on subway trains or in izakayas, it is not rare to miss what other people say, even if they speak normally and clearly.

I once even wondered whether there was something wrong with my ears. (But I have never had abnormal results in hearing tests. My hearing is normal!”

Then, why do I sometimes fail to listen to and understand Japanese? As my hearing is normal, the possible reasons are that the other person is not speaking loud enough, that the environment is noisy, or that they don’t pronounce things properly or clearly.

And it’s not only me. Every day everyone inevitably gets into situations where they fail to listen to and understand some Japanese.

In those situations, naturally you could never be successful in English either and this is not an excuse.

So, when you think “I can’t understand English!”, you should first ask yourself “If it were in Japanese, would I be able to understand?”, before deciding “My English is still so poor”.

If it’s a situation where listening comprehension is a hard task to do even in Japanese, there’s no way you could do it in English.

In such situations, it’s not because your English is not good enough that you can’t understand English.

Well then, what if you think “This is not a situation where I wouldn’t be able to understand even if it were in Japanese. I can’t understand simply because my abilities for listening comprehension are not good enough!”?

In that case, you should take some time to concentrate only on listening, repeating the process of recognizing English as a cluster of sounds, not as a language.

意味を同時に理解しようとせず、また、カタカナに音を置き換えてしまうこともなく、ただ音を聞いて、たまに「今の『あ』っぽい音は cup の u で使われているタイプの『あ』だな、今のはエルじゃなくてアールだな」とか、自分が苦手とする音に関して、明確に聞き分けることを狙っていきます。
You should just concentrate on sounds and sometimes try to clearly distinguish the sounds you are not familiar with, without trying to understand their meaning or equating them with similar katakana sounds, avoiding situations such as: “Oh, this ‘a’-ish sound is the same type of ‘a’ as ‘u’ in ‘cup’, and this is ‘r’, not ‘l’”

Then, generally speaking, the poorer your listening comprehension is, the better it is to use easier materials than the level of words you are now studying.

So choose those materials whose words you already know.

For example, if you choose one of NHK’s “Kiso Eigo” radio English programs, it is more adjustable because they come in different levels. Also, most of, if not all, the words that appear in the textbooks should be familiar to you.

中2か中3くらいの学校の教科書を買ってきてしまうのも手だと思います(文部省検定教科書はどの書店でも扱っているという品ではありませんので、地域ごとにある教科書を扱う特殊な書店を探しておく必要はあります。)CD も合わせて販売されている場合がほとんどですしね。
It’s also a good idea to get textbooks for the second or third year of junior high school. They usually come with CDs too. (The textbooks authorized by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology are not sold everywhere. You will need to find special bookstores that handle those textbooks in your local area.)

The ideal state you want to achieve is that, by choosing to listen to materials using easy words and concentrating only on the sounds, the sounds are caught and the meanings are naturally and automatically understood by your brain, as if through infiltration. (The meanings are “automatically understood” by your brain. You don’t try to “actively understand the meanings”.)

For now, stop all your efforts to understand the meanings or guess where the story is going.

The moment you hear sounds, you automatically get what they mean! This is how native speakers feel.

Let’s have a simulated experience of this.

特にエルとアールの違い、s(または z)の音と th の音の違い、b と v の違い、h と f の違い、そして、カタカナにすると「ア」になってしまう cup の「ア」と tap の「ア」の違いに習熟し、慣れ親しんでおくと相当楽になることでしょう。
It will be much to your benefit if you become familiar with the differences between such sounds as l and r, s (or z) and th, b and v, h and f, and “a” in cup and “a” in tap, which are both “a” in katakana.

But listening to low-level words might have an adverse effect of directing your attention more towards grasping their meanings, because those words are so easy.

もしそう感じる人は、意味がとりにくい、むずかしめのもの、例えば BBC とか CNN とかの、ニュースまたはトーク番組を試してみるといいでしょう。
If that’s the case with you, you could try something more difficult to understand, for example, news programs or talk shows on BBC or CNN.

It will be a lot easier to concentrate on the sounds than on the meanings.

But this also has its disadvantage. It may be more difficult to feel that, as soon as you hear the sounds, their meanings flow into your head as if they infiltrated it. So check several websites and find those which put just the right amount of stress on your brain.