Why is the audio so fast?
Listening to unnaturally slow audio reduces listening comprehension.
By studying natural audio from the beginning, we'll get used to how Japanese actually sounds.
Examples of natural speed
In the very first lesson a NativShark student ever sees, we have this example sentence:
You'll notice that the female audio is a bit easier to pick up than the male audio. Both of them are quite natural, though.
Sometimes you'll meet people who clearly enunciate each kana of each word, like our female speaker does above.
But not everyone does this. For many native Japanese speakers, the natural pace at which they speak involves flying through certain kana, while clearly articulating others.
We should be able to hear and understand both.
Knowing a word isn't very useful if you can't actually catch when people are saying it out in the wild.
In this above sentence, you may find that the み mi in the male recording is particular hard to catch. If you listen very carefully, however, you'll find that he is in fact saying み.
It's OK if you still can't catch it at this point^^
Specifically, the male recording in the above sentence may to you still sound indistinguishable from the string of kana being said in the male recording for this sentence:
You will naturally get better at picking up subtle differences in audio like this as you get more exposure to Japanese.
But only if you start getting exposure to Japanese spoken at natural speed from the start.
Our process for recording native audio:
First, we make sure that the native speakers who write our example sentences provide notes for voice actors regarding the context, type of speech that should be used, etc.
Second, we have a native speaker hire multiple voice actors of multiple genders. Usually we get 3-4 recordings per gender/actor per sentence.
Third, at least two of our in-house native speakers review all of these recordings and select the ones which they feel are best for a particular sentence. When possible, we try to include a variety of natural-sounding, natural-speed audio.
Making our speech more natural
Next time you're reviewing a Japanese learning material, pay close attention to the way the audio sounds. Then compare it to the way native speakers sound when they talk to each other*.
*Be wary of staged audio. For example, if it was recorded for an anime, then it is staged.
The voice artist will almost certainly speak more clearly than if they were just chatting with friends and family. Look instead for examples of Japanese celebrities talking to each other while on TV, YouTubers chatting among themselves, and so on.
Most importantly, don't mistake the speed at which people speak to you for being natural. In the vast majority of cases, it's not.
Even if you're listening to some audio samples that are "JLPT N1" level, you'll find that the pronunciation is extremely clear, and they will probably put unnaturally long pauses after particles, periods, and commas.
In contrast, consider how the male recording sounds for this sentence, which is also from a Phase One lesson:
It may sound to you like the male speaker is not saying the particle は wa at all. But I can assure you that he is.
(Note は is pronounced like わ wa when it is used as a particle.)
When a word that starts with an あ a sound, like 雨 (rain), comes after a particle ending with an -a sound, like は wa or が ga, the a- and -a sounds merge together.
Accordingly, unless you're listening very closely, it can sound like one of the two kana is not being said. That's why it may be difficult to catch the は wa in the male recording of this sentence:
We can make our own speech sound more like that of a native speaker if we merge sounds in a similar manner.
At the end of the day, the question of why we use natural-speed audio at NativShark is that we don't believe in dumbing down content to the point that it is unnatural.
I personally (Niko here) wasted so much time listening to slowed-down speech, reading sentences without kanji in them, and missing idioms, abbreviations, slang, and so on.
This is because the first several years of my exposure to Japanese was through learning resources. I didn't have access to Japanese friends and family, and I didn't live in Japan.
When I finally did have access to those things, I found myself asking:
“Why didn't they just teach me the way the language is actually used?!"
The go-to excuse would be that I, as a beginner, was "not ready" for that highly natural Japanese. But I really wish someone would have just said, "This is the way the language is actually spoken, written, etc. It might still be too difficult for you, but that's OK."
If I'd had that, I wouldn't have had to spend all those years catching up, figuring out how people actually say and write things, how fast they do or do not say a certain string of words in a phrase.
My learning would have been more efficient. And that's what we want for NativShark students.