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Three rules for improving listening

  Tags: Listening
 Language Learning Forum : Learning Techniques, Methods & Strategies Post Reply
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Ari
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 Message 1 of 105
23 March 2013 at 8:59pm | IP Logged 
Ari's Three Simple Rules for Improving your Listening Comprehension
Having spent some time learning languages, I've picked up a few things. I'd like to share three simple principles that I've found do wonders for your listening comprehension. They're not revolutionary or very original, but I think it's good to spell these things out, so here we go.

Rule 1: Listen to Material you'd Understand in Written Form
Don't waste your time listening to stuff that contains a bunch of words you don't know. Listening is crap for expanding your vocab. That's what reading is for, where you can go through the text slowly, look things up in a dictionary and memorize them. Listening should be about matching the sounds you hear to the words and structures you already know (at breakneck speed). This is the skill you should focus on, and trying to improve your vocab at the same time will drastically reduce your efficiency. Use the right tool for the right job. This doesn't mean you need to understand every single word and expression perfectly, but if it were a text, you would be able to read it and understand what it says, even if you'd have to read slowly.

Rule 2: Push the Envelope
Don't listen to easy things. This might seem to contradict the last rule, but that rule is about vocab and this is about speed and clarity. In the beginning, a sleepy newsreader played at half speed seems really fast and that's challenging, and that's good. But as your skill improves you need to progress to more difficult material. Resist the temptation of staying in your comfort zone and congratulate yourself because you understand perfectly this one speaker reading from a script in this one podcast. If it's easy, it's not gonna teach you much. If conversation is easy, start listening to podcasts. If the podcasts are easy, try TV shows, then debates, then cop shows full of slurry speech and curses, or a medieval show with archaic grammatical constructions, or something. And then, I dunno, these guys? Of course, don't take too long strides—listening to something you don't understand at all is as useless as listening to something you understand without effort. Keep it challenging. Dial it in so that you feel that if you just focus and really listen to every syllable, you can understand most of it, though your brain is stressed out trying to keep up with the flow. Which brings us to the third and final rule.

Rule three: Focus!
Our brains are great at distracting themselves. Meditators sometimes calls this the "monkey mind"; when you try to focus on one thing your mind will soon begin to wander and think about other things and you won't even notice it. This is why language learners can gain a lot from practicing meditation. But you don't need to meditate to work on your focus. When listening, really make an effort to listen to all that is said and take it in, and don't let your mind wander. When the brain has to listen to some semi-comprehensible syllables the temptation to wander is even greater. You're also likely to fall into the trap of getting caught on a certain word and trying to remember what it means and when you remember it, you've already missed 20 seconds of listening. Or you'll just start thinking of what to have for dinner tonight. As soon as you notice your mind wandering, gently bring it back to focus on what you're hearing again. As you keep practicing this, you'll get better and better at focusing your attention, which will help your listening immensly.

So there you go. Hope that's useful to somebody. Happy listening!

Edited by Ari on 23 March 2013 at 9:02pm

65 persons have voted this message useful



Марк
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 Message 2 of 105
23 March 2013 at 9:26pm | IP Logged 
I voted for this message and want to add that working on phonetics improve our listening
skills.
8 persons have voted this message useful



Serpent
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 Message 3 of 105
23 March 2013 at 10:18pm | IP Logged 
Ari wrote:
Rule 1: Listen to Material you'd Understand in Written Form
Don't waste your time listening to stuff that contains a bunch of words you don't know. Listening is crap for expanding your vocab. That's what reading is for, where you can go through the text slowly, look things up in a dictionary and memorize them. Listening should be about matching the sounds you hear to the words and structures you already know (at breakneck speed).
This implies being able to read better than you listen. There's no need for that, it's unnatural.
Extensive listening can be as good as extensive reading, especially if you're an aural learner.
I'd simply say "listen to i+1 material". many things can account for the +1, it's just important that they didn't all occur at the same time (unknown vocab, grammar, weird accent, mumbling, poor structure, fast pace).

This also depends on the language to some extent. As I've said many times, for me there are two categories of cognates - those I *could* understand and those I do understand. The first time I see or hear a cognate, I'll explicitly think of the related word/translate it in my head/even have to decipher it in some cases. Once I've come across the same cognate a few times, I understand it automatically. With related languages, there's a huge amount of words that you need to truly understand, and for that listening it's better because it doesn't let you stop.
12 persons have voted this message useful



Ari
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 Message 4 of 105
24 March 2013 at 7:18am | IP Logged 
Serpent wrote:
This implies being able to read better than you listen. There's no need for that, it's unnatural.

You say that like it's a bad thing. Taking a plane across the Atlantic is also unnatural, but it's a heck of a lot more effective than the natural alternative (swimming). Whether or not something is "natural" is hardly relevant.

Quote:
Extensive listening can be as good as extensive reading, especially if you're an aural learner.

Cainntear once wrote on these forums that "There's about as much evidence for learning styles as there is for the crucifixion of Jesus". Studies that do find evidence for them suffer from bad research methodology.

Quote:
I'd simply say "listen to i+1 material". many things can account for the +1, it's just important that they didn't all occur at the same time (unknown vocab, grammar, weird accent, mumbling, poor structure, fast pace).

Well, if you prefer it that way, by all means. I'm just sharing what has worked for me. But it seems logical to me that hearing a completely new word in the middle of a sentence and then continue listening is not a very efficient way to learn that word. Encountering it in a text means you can look it up and really take notice of it, which will imprint it better on your brain.

Quote:
This also depends on the language to some extent. As I've said many times, for me there are two categories of cognates - those I *could* understand and those I do understand. The first time I see or hear a cognate, I'll explicitly think of the related word/translate it in my head/even have to decipher it in some cases. Once I've come across the same cognate a few times, I understand it automatically.

Sure, but the same goes for reading, so that means that you'd be able to understand the material if it were written down as a text. Which means my rule says it's good material for listening. We don't disagree here.
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Cavesa
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 Message 5 of 105
24 March 2013 at 2:56pm | IP Logged 
I would add a fourth rule: Listen a lot! Really a lot!

For some people, relistening several time works. I need extensive listening, just as I
read extensively. But both have one thing in common: tons of time spent listening.
---
Well, hard to say something is unnatural. It varies. Yes, everyone learns to speak and
listen before reading in their native language. But for the foreign one, it is very
often the opposite, especially when it comes to people who read a lot even in their
native language. Where I find merit in the first advice is this: Many listening
comprehension troubles are just disguised vocab troubles. I found this very true not
only for myself.

The second one, don't listen to easy things is a good one but there is an upper limit,
I'd say. Some people just jump into too hard listening stuff (classical example is the
radio) and the only result after such an honest attempt is discouregement. But you are
more than correct that many people struggle with making the leap from their comfort
zone into something more challenging. I used to be one of them.

Rule three addition: Choose things you enjoy or are interested in. It will be much
easier to keep your focus.

6 persons have voted this message useful



Serpent
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 Message 6 of 105
24 March 2013 at 6:43pm | IP Logged 
Ari wrote:
Cainntear once wrote on these forums that "There's about as much evidence for learning styles as there is for the crucifixion of Jesus".
Or for his fluency in most of the languages he's learning.

I do believe in both of these things btw, both learning styles and Jesus. (no need to assume everyone is atheist here.) I agree that learning styles can be overrated and even if you're very visual, you still need a lot of listening to be able to actually speak and listen. But it can't be denied that people differ in their sensory perception, things like memory and imagination. The most extreme example is that a blind person would probably benefit much more from listening than from reading Braille.

Anyway, do you always look everything up? I specifically mentioned extensive reading. If your recording is clear enough there's no need for this to be different from this kind of reading. Not to mention that you can pause a recording to look up a word, or at least write it down for looking up later. You'll also hear the correct pronunciation and you may be more likely to repeat the word when you are confident you're saying it correctly.

Quote:
Quote:
Once I've come across the same cognate a few times, I understand it automatically.

Sure, but the same goes for reading, so that means that you'd be able to understand the material if it were written down as a text. Which means my rule says it's good material for listening. We don't disagree here.


But with reading you determine the pace. with listening, you can only choose a different recording and perhaps even edit it, but the time slot for every individual word is still small. It's possible to read a word 100 times (in context, of course) and still stop to think of it every time; it's very unlikely with listening.

@Cavesa, great post!!! and sure, for some people it's better to learn by reading. But in this thread Ari is generalizing just as much as LaughingChimp normally does. I just think that being able to read better than you listen should be considered a limit and not a goal. I'm sure most people agree that even if you love reading it's better not to neglect listening in the beginning.

Edited by Serpent on 24 March 2013 at 7:11pm

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luke
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 Message 7 of 105
24 March 2013 at 7:56pm | IP Logged 
Марк wrote:
I voted for this message and want to add that working on phonetics improve our listening skills.


Hmm, I wonder if the FSI French Phonology Course would be helpful for listening.    Has anyone tried it?

Edited by luke on 01 April 2013 at 8:04pm

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Ari
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 Message 8 of 105
24 March 2013 at 9:30pm | IP Logged 
Serpent wrote:
Or for his fluency in most of the languages he's learning.

I do believe in both of these things btw, both learning styles and Jesus. (no need to assume everyone is atheist here.)

Didn't mean to cause offense by bringing up Cainntear or Jesus. It was just a plithy quote. Sorry. The point is things like "aural learner" are thrown around sometimes as though they were real, established concepts, but it seems to me that they have fuzzy definitions and their scientific basis is tenuous at best.

Quote:
Anyway, do you always look everything up? I specifically mentioned extensive reading.

Extensive reading (by which I assume you mean reading without looking things up) is also crap for improving your vocabulary. It's great for improving reading speed, for solidifying your grasp of vocab you already know and for learning common ways of expressing things and so on, but while it may improve your vocabulary it's not a very efficient way of doing it. Again, right tool for the right job. So yes, if I want to improve my vocabulary, I'm going to look things up.

Quote:
Not to mention that you can pause a recording to look up a word, or at least write it down for looking up later.

It's hard to look up a word if you don't know how it's spelled. It's pretty easy to get the pronunciation from a dictionary (and lots of electronic dictionaries have recordings, too), but it's hard to get the spelling from a recording. Heck, if you use a tool like Readlang, translation is just a click away. I'm not saying it's impossible to learn any other way, I'm saying this way has in my experience been more effective than other ways I've tried.

Quote:
But with reading you determine the pace. with listening, you can only choose a different recording and perhaps even edit it, but the time slot for every individual word is still small. It's possible to read a word 100 times (in context, of course) and still stop to think of it every time; it's very unlikely with listening.

I still don't understand how you're disagreeing with me here. I'm saying listening to material where you don't know a lot of the words but you can figure them out because they're cognates is a great idea. Isn't that what you're saying, too?


2 persons have voted this message useful



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