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Three rules for improving listening

  Tags: Listening
 Language Learning Forum : Learning Techniques, Methods & Strategies Post Reply
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shk00design
Triglot
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Canada
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Speaks: Cantonese*, English, Mandarin
Studies: French

 
 Message 49 of 105
06 December 2013 at 10:59pm | IP Logged 
In the beginning if you have videos where you can get subtitles / captions in the target language it would be very
helpful. If you can find videos on DVDs or online you can go over a few times the first time you can rely on
subtitles because your listening skills is not very high. You can come back the next day and go over the same
video without reading subtitles.

It takes time to get the correct sounds of words & phrases in your head instead of thinking about them in English
or in your native language. Personally I've made the decision to listen to news reports, watching TV programs in
both Chinese & English throughout the day to increase my exposure in Chinese. Going to class would only give
you about 2h a day. The past month I've watched 3 movies in Chinese but only 1 in English.

In any given day you need to increase your exposure in the language to the point it becomes natural for you to
think in that language. Watching TV shows you can absorb many words & phrases like a sponge without being
bored. I watched half-dozen episodes of 中国达人, the Chinese equivalent of "America's Got Talent" & "Britain's Got
Talent". I'd probably quite the first week attending a class and repeating words & phrases out of a book.
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BobbyE
Diglot
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 Message 50 of 105
07 December 2013 at 9:10am | IP Logged 
Serpent wrote:
I'm more inclined to agree with language.com/forum/forum_posts.asp?TID=26634">leosmith on this. The main reason
for the disparity between one's level of reading and listening is that a good
coursebook CAN teach you to understand newspapers and easy novels, but a coursebook
with audio is not enough for the same level of listening.

Formal materials focus on the intensive activities too much, which can be okay with
reading but are definitely not enough for listening. If you learn to read slowly, you
can then learn to read faster. If you listen to short segments and with a lot of
pausing, proper native materials require a much longer leap.

If you put off native audio until you can understand "enough", it will never happen.
And if you don't listen to natural speech, you'll have a crappy pronunciation.


I don't know much about coursework, because I only use native material nowadays. I
think it's crucial to go to native stuff asap.

Understanding speech consists of: 1) hearing the sound of the words, 2) hearing the
meaning of those words. For me, the goal of listening is to connect the two: sound and
meaning. I want to train immediate comprehension of speech.

If I listen to content and I don't have any way to know what the meaning of those
sounds are, then I am not training myself to connect sound and meaning, instead I am
only training myself to hear the sounds better (which is not a bad thing). The reason
I think listening to comprehensible material* is better for me, is because both skills
are being worked on instead of just the one.

I've tried listening to random things I haven't read beforehand, I feel like I never
got a lot out of it. I think, for me, it functions more a like a test than a learning
strategy. Movies are similar, I catch things but the amount of learning that I can get
from movies doesn't compare with what I get from reading/listening.

*When I say comprehensible material, I mean challenging native material that I couldn't
comprehend before using it, but then learned the words and can now comprehend. For
example, I will read a chapter of a novel with maybe 80 new words in it, I will learn
the new words as I read (thanks to annotation), and then for a day or two I will listen
to the audio of that chapter until my comprehension of it has gone up to the point that
I don't think I can gain anymore from it. Then I move onto to listening to something
else challenging which I've recently read. It's a reinforcing cycle of learning new
words by eye, then learning those words by ear.

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Iversen
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 Message 51 of 105
07 December 2013 at 9:03pm | IP Logged 
I'm with schoenewaelder and Ari on the question of learning words from written sources rather than spoken sources. If I lived abroad in a country where I heard a foreign language all day long and never opened a book, then I might have to learn to learn words from things I heard, but as long as I study at home with access to both kinds of sources I definitely find it easier to learn the words from written sources, where I can be certain of their spelling so that I can look them up and get precise definitions and include them into my wordlists. A spoken word is away and gone before I have as much as thought about how to spell it, and then I forget it. If it returns again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again so forth then I may eventually remember it, and maybe I can even guess how it is spelled so that I can look it up, but I could have arrived at that point already at the beginning of the sequence if I had seen the same word in a text.

However I do need to know how to hear the words in my mind while reading long before I can read native speak, so listening to the sheer sound of the language is necessary from the beginning, but preferably of short passages where I also know what the speakers actually try to say - and without a teacher that is best done by having a written version (with a translation) plus some audio. You could characterize this as LR (listening-reading) at the micro level, and it would probably be beneficial to continue with longer sequences, but it's not easy to find suitable materials.

After that there is a long period where I learn to read and acquire a sizeable vocabulary from written sources plus some silent thinking and THEN I'm ready to start listen for the meaning without subtitles, not before. Everything I might understand earlier would have to be extremely simple, and extremely simple stuff tend to be boring and irrelevant.

In this moment I'm listening to a TV-program in Dutch and English about Temple Grandin, who have evolved into a very eloquent woman in spite of being autistic (but as she says: "if you cured mild autism you'd get rid of all people that could fix your computer"). Dutch is not exactly my best foreign language, but I can read it fluently and have a reasonable vocabulary, and every time I listen to spoken Dutch I get better at using the things I already know from my studies of written Dutch. But after several hours of listening to Dutch today I can't point to one single word I have picked up from those hours of listening.

Edited by Iversen on 07 December 2013 at 11:46pm

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Serpent
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 Message 52 of 105
07 December 2013 at 11:04pm | IP Logged 
I tend to think of letting your listening lag behind your reading as of a carelessness similar to the "fossilized" pronunciation errors. Sure, it's possible to catch up, just like it's possible to fix your errors (and if you don't understand a word that you know in writing, you probably pronounce it incorrectly/unnaturally in your head while reading)... but it's much easier to learn it correctly from the beginning. To pronounce things correctly and to understand orally the words you know in writing.

In my experience, if you do BOTH reading and listening, this also helps activate your passive skills. Many people recommend listening for activating, but this assumes that you've been reading a lot and your listening lags behind (which, I insist, is not an inevitable problem). But really, the synergetic effect from being able to listen as early as you start reading - the synergetic effect is incredible. Before you try, don't tell me it's impossible and that activation is a must.

Of course it depends on your priorities. But learning to speak is so much easier when you are already good at listening.

Edited by Serpent on 07 December 2013 at 11:07pm

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emk
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 Message 53 of 105
07 December 2013 at 11:22pm | IP Logged 
Iversen wrote:
But after several hours of listening to Dutch today I can't point to one single word I have picked up from those hours of listening.

I've found that one of the weird things about "extensive" listening (and reading) is that I learn a large amount of vocabulary without realizing I'm learning it. When I actually learn vocabulary deliberately, I almost always use Anki, and I have something like 2,000 Anki cards in my French deck. This would be just enough to struggle along in day-to-day life. But I can often read adult books with better than 99.5% comprehension (less than 1 unrecognizable word per 200, sometimes as low as 1 per ~750), and when I looked at a sample French C1 exam, I knew every single word in the reading test. So clearly the vast majority of my vocabulary was learned incidentally along the way, and only perhaps 20% was learned deliberately.

And two years ago, back when I was around A2, I spent several years listening to my wife speak French to our children, and I somehow managed to learn almost every single word she used with the kids without every seeing any of them in written form.

But if I need to learn words by listening, my order of preference would be (1) listening to adults interact with children, (2) interacting with adults myself, (3) watching TV series, and finally (4) radio, podcasts, etc. Basically, interaction and visual feedback make spoken language far more comprehensible than some radio announcer rattling on at high speed.

So while agree that it's great to train listening comprehension by working with materials that I could read with no problem, I don't think it's essential if there's another way to infer meanings of words from context.

Edited by emk on 07 December 2013 at 11:23pm

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Iversen
Super Polyglot
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Denmark
berejst.dk
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Studies: Afrikaans, Greek, Norwegian, Russian, Serbian, Icelandic, Latin, Irish, Lowland Scots, Indonesian, Polish, Croatian
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 Message 54 of 105
08 December 2013 at 12:44am | IP Logged 
Emk's anki cards doesn't contain all his French vocabulary, and my wordlists don't do that either. But I do most of my intensive vocabulary learning before I reach a level where I can read or listen comfortably - or in other words: before the written or the spoken language becomes comprehensible to me. And without the basis I get from my initial intensive studies they would never become comprehensible.   

For me the normal order is that I learn to read long before I learn to understand new languages, but in fact I learnt to understand spoken Norwegian, Swedish and Low German by watching TV rather than reading - and yet all my comprehension skills didn't teach me to speak them. And one thing more: these were languages which were so close to Danish and German so that they almost were comprehensible from the beginning, otherwise I couldn't have learnt to understand them just from watching TV.

If I had family members who constantly said simple things to me in another language, or I lived in a country where I needed to have simple conversations on a daily basis I might learn to pick up languages from their spoken versions only. But for me sitting in my comfy chair here in Denmark there is nothing that pushes me to have dicussions in Greek or Portuguese, and my travels last days, not months on end. And I don't have TV in those languages or the majority of the other languages I try to learn.

On the other hand I have a cornucopia of written materials, and as a special bonus these sources also give me the advantage of being stable enough for intensive study (including dictionary lookups, use of wordlists and grammar books). And the succeding head start of written comprehension is exacerbated once I have learnt enough to read for pleasure without having heard nearly enough to understand the spoken language. From that point my reading skill soars, while my listening skill may be somewhat more limited.

Of course I could have searched frantically for Youtube videos or radiostations or Skype partners, but for me it has been quite natural to let the written sources drive the process ahead and let the spoken sources follow along. And this will of course also mean that I can't have simple conversations as early as those who learn from social situations, but once I do start speaking I also have the lexical apparatus to tackle topics like history and science which interest me - and not just my name and provenience. PS: I almost wrote "the weather" here, but then I remembered that the hardest part of Colloquial Dutch without doubt was the weather report on page 199.

I'm not panically scared of fossilized errors. Systematic pronunciation errors are actually easier to correct than thousands upon thousands of isolated inaccuracies, for instance in the stress of Russian or Greek words or weird pronunciations in English. Whether you actually get rid of them is in my opinion mostly a question of attitude, precise information and feedback. Alas, it is difficult to get those things without consulting a qualified teacher (unless you are a born parrot), and I don't claim to have a perfect pronunciation in any of my languages. It is however worth noticing that this also is true for those languages I originally learnt by listening to TV programs.

Edited by Iversen on 08 December 2013 at 1:09am

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montmorency
Diglot
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United Kingdom
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 Message 55 of 105
08 December 2013 at 2:09am | IP Logged 
I think the Original Poster (Ari) was somewhat hampered by the limitations of the forum software, namely the limit on number of characters in the subject title, by calling it "Three rules for improving listening", when, as his early paragraphs make clear, what he was originally talking about was "listening comprehension", and they weren't
"rules" as such, but "principles".

(I think I would have preferred "guidelines", since even "principles" might sound a little prescriptive).

But if we take the 2nd part of the subject title more literally, namely "improving listening", then no one much has really addressed this, although I think Iversen came
closest, here, and also elsewhere, where
he has suggested to beginners listening to native audio material to learn to listen out
for the beginnings and endings of words, and other specific listening advice.

Because there is a difference I think, between improving your listening comprehension
and learning how to listen well.

Improving your listening comprehension may indeed include things like using written material to expand your vocabulary before you start listening, but that in itself will
not necessarily make you a better listener. That takes time and practice, and I'm not
sure there are really any rules for this, but it isn't necessarily easy, or necessarily
"just happens".

There is a bit of a bias (IMHO) on HTLAL towards the written word, and perhaps that is not so surprising, but nevertheless, concentrating on the written word will not
necessarily make one a better listener.


Watching films and TV is often encouraged here, and while it may well have many
benefits, I'm not sure it's actually all
that conducive to good listening.

First of all, if there are subtitles, whether native or target language, time spent reading those means you aren't paying as much attention to the sound as you might be.
(And in the worst case, may not even be listening properly at all).

Secondly, although films and TV watching are often promoted because you are given visual clues to the meaning of the words, and if what you are watching is not dubbed,
you can also get clues as to pronunciation by lip-reading the actors, all this visual
stimulus is potentially distracting you from active listening.

I find that if I really really want to listen and hear everything (when it comes to
recorded material), the best way to do
this is to close my eyes and concentrate on the sound alone. If it's a film or TV then
I miss the visual clues, yes, but I also miss the visual distractions. If it's an
audiobook, radio broadcast, or podcast, then there is no visual information to miss. Of
course one can't always be in a position to shut one's eyes, but when one is,
then, at least for me, that's when I listen best.


Something else that hasn't been talked about in this thread as much as it might have
been is listening to other people speaking in person. One of the dangers of
conversation (Even in one's own native language) is that instead of listening to the
other person, we are mentally preparing what to say when it's our own turn to speak.
The danger of this is even more acute when we are having to worry about less familiar
structures, vocabulary and grammatical niceties like gender, number and case.

Rules? I don't know, but I think the thing to keep in mind, if you want to improve your
listening skills is a simple statement of the obvious: remember to actually
listen.

Edited by montmorency on 08 December 2013 at 2:14am

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Serpent
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 Message 56 of 105
08 December 2013 at 2:30am | IP Logged 
Iversen wrote:
For me the normal order is that I learn to read long before I learn to understand new languages, but in fact I learnt to understand spoken Norwegian, Swedish and Low German by watching TV rather than reading - and yet all my comprehension skills didn't teach me to speak them.
As I said, you need both. On its own, a lot of listening is only slightly better than a lot of reading for helping one to learn to speak. But do both and you'll be surprised.

My trips also last for days, and I've seen maybe 5% of what you've seen. That's exactly why I don't want to spend a lot of time working on my "active skills". Instead I read, listen and interact with natives on twitter, writing as much or little as I can. It was very different prior to LR and football, though...


Monty, great post! I also find that accelerated audio is great for improving your listening *skills* rather than comprehension level.

Edited by Serpent on 08 December 2013 at 2:34am



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