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Hours of listening to fluency

  Tags: Fluency | Listening
 Language Learning Forum : General discussion Post Reply
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Senior Member
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 Message 1 of 37
07 July 2014 at 11:00am | IP Logged 
How many hours do you think of watching TV it would take to learn Spanish?

If you watched 300 hours of new TV episodes in 3 months, would you be able to understand everything?
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 Message 2 of 37
07 July 2014 at 11:09am | IP Logged 
If that was your only input, probably not.
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 Message 3 of 37
07 July 2014 at 12:03pm | IP Logged 
Whoa, there are so many unmentioned factors here! What level of Spanish are you starting
with? Do you have transcripts? Subtitles in L1 or L2? Is there more to this plan?

Either way, 300 hours of input is not as much as it sounds, and 3 months (regardless of
how many hours you do in that time) is not much time to assimilate/process/absorb the
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 Message 4 of 37
07 July 2014 at 1:07pm | IP Logged 
Learning by watching and reading serves a very specific purpose: It transforms things that are comprehensible with focused effort and lots of context (Krashen's "N+1" input) into things that are effortlessly and fluently comprehensible. TV will work wonders if and only if it provides you with lots of N+1 input, that is, if it provides you with lots of things you can understand if you pay close attention and use outside knowledge.

In the specific case of TV, it depends on a bunch of things:

1) Can you already follow, say, 40% of the dialog? If so, you have starting point, and enough context to learn more. If not, you may be watching for a very long time.

2) How's your reading? When TV works quickly, it does so in part because it's turning reading skills into listening skills. But if you can't really read, it's going to take a lot longer.

3) How much are you willing to cheat? Can you use transcripts to help figure things out? Re-watch episodes with and without L2 subtitles? Are you willing to read episode summaries online to help you follow the plot?

A personal roadmap

Personally, as for specific tactics:

- Below B1 I would personally find a fun film with accurate bilingual subtitles, and use subs2srs to generate Anki cards. Then I would try to delete at least 80% or 90% of the generated cards. This would allow me to work with material that was far above my natural level, and it would be a bit like making my own Assimil course and entering everything into Anki, except with far less work.

- At B1, I would try several different series until I found one which was (a) fun and (b) not too hard to follow. This generally means avoiding modern adult series (things like HBO series or Engrenages), and focusing on a dubbed US series or a native series with really clear dialog. I find that such series are much better than news or movies because you can get dozens of hours of content about the same subject, using the same vocabulary and voices.

- Once I found a good series, I would buy a DVD box set and watch at least 3 seasons. I'd probably put in lots of extra work early on with transcripts, rewatching and episode summaries, because that would give me an initial boost.

- Once I finished my first series, I'd repeat the process 3 to 5 times with other box sets, and continue to read a lot of books, too. Taken together, this would get me to the point where I could surf channels and understand most of what's on TV.

If you start this process around B1, 300 hours of well-chosen, more-or-less comprehensible TV can upgrade your listening skills dramatically in a Romance language, especially if you also keep reading. Even 150 hours would go a very long way.

What about speaking and writing?

For lots of people, passive skills like listening and reading do not automatically give you active skills like speaking and writing. I have a friend with near-native listening skills in a language (she's a heritage learner) who claims she can't put together a grammatical sentence. And there used to be a fair number of AJATT students with 80% listening comprehension who were frustrated by their inability to speak. Now, there are definitely cases of people who went straight from high-level listening skills to fluent speech, but it's not everyone. Many people will also need to practice speaking and writing.

What if you wanted to start from nothing?

Of course, if you want to learn "naturally," starting from almost nothing, you could get a job as an au pair taking care of small children and living with a host family. Children get very special spoken input: It's slow, it's clear, it's accompanied by lots of pantomime, and—as any parent could tell you—key instructions get repeated literally thousands of times. With this kind of input, you could probably start from almost nothing and still make progress. But unfortunately, TV won't provide you with this kind of input—shows for ultra-young children, such as Teletubbies, might be comprehensible just from context, but they have very little input per hour, and shows for three- and four-year-olds assume pretty advanced listening skills.

So this is why I think learning by listening is absolutely terrific at intermediate levels, but at beginner levels, I would personally focus a lot more on things like Assimil courses and intensive listening activities. Something needs to replace the specialized input that small children get naturally.

Edited by emk on 07 July 2014 at 1:45pm

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 Message 5 of 37
07 July 2014 at 1:31pm | IP Logged 
In addition to Jeffers' "whoas", it makes a difference as to what degree that listening is intensive. Would you be willing to take an episode of a telenovela and watch the same episode three or even four times during a week and write a review of it to talk about with a native speaker? Would you be willing to look up every unknown word you may come across for a month or so? Would you be willing to accept something less than total understanding for a long period of time while you're doing this? (Rhetorical questions)

What I'm saying is, it's one thing to listen passively and another to actively listen. There are so many little things that can make a huge difference to comprehension. Then, you get into the whole "boring" vs "fun" bit. My tolerance for things I'm not wildly ecstatic about is high because to me the end result is what matters most. Others, may be at the opposite end and may not be able to tolerate anything not of interest. For example, you may not like soap operas in English, but in Spanish they can be lavish productions that appeal to a wide audience. To reject them out of hand without trying one just because of a preconceived notion could be a tremendous lost opportunity for advancing language skills.

Jeffers talks about a transcript. This is huge. Sadly, this is hard to come by for native episodic television, translated American series being the exception with srt subtitle files being readily available. Though dubbed series may take some getting used to because of out of sync lip movements and the subsequent constraints imposed by translation. Telemundo, a US Spanish-language cable channel, offers its telenovelas (and Casso Cerrado) with accurate closed captioning live and on their website (but oddly, not when the series go to DVD).

Episodic series are more useful, and in my opinion, better than films and audio for training listening to normal speech. First, there are visual clues. When a character is shouting "¡suéltame! and you see someone has grabbed that person, you're probably going to figure out that "¡suéltame!" means "let me loose" or "let me go" because of the context. A series offers repetition of phrases and the opportunity to spend a lot of time getting used to the same actors voices and accents.

Now to answer your question. Merely passive listening for three months won't help much. Without knowing your level in Spanish, but assuming you are at least A2 or borderline B1 (your profile says you study French), I, personally, would start with the news with a transcript. There are two regular ones in Spanish that I know. Democracy Now is a daily (weekday) 15 minute broadcast translated from the English version with transcript (and the ability to consult the English stories as a check). NHK World Spanish News is a daily 15 minute (9 minutes on weekends) broadcast from Japan. The news is obviously from a Japanese perspective. It is probably the driest and most boring newscast out there, (I know, I listened to the one in Portuguese regularly when I was learning.) but it has an accurate transcript to use as a crutch and a check to train listening. Be warned though, these are at full throttle native speed and not course speed.

The news can be a straight up dry recitation of events or it can take a more conversational approach depending on the program. Stories tend to have a cycle, like the current Ukraine situation, so there is, ironically, a great deal of repetition. The language is more formal. There are much better newscasts in Spanish out there than the two I've mentioned, but they don't have transcripts.

Having a good base in Spanish as I have mentioned previously and listening actively and daily- with a transcript to start, for at least a half an hour a day for three months, would dramatically improve your listening. But I can't give you a specific number of hours as a an arrival point. You'll arrive when you arrive and that point is different for everyone and depends on a lot of highly individual factors.

There are various ways to use a transcript- read first, listen second. Listen, then read, then listen again. Listen and read at the same time, etc. Of course you can mix and match these at will until you find something that works for you.

After training listening to the news, I would move to a TV series. I would also be talking with native-speakers too. Talking with people, to me, is the ultimate goal. TV and audio can help to train your listening ability.

EDIT: Posted while emk was writing his excellent advice. Also, if you are a raw beginner, have a look at my post on the multi-track approach

Edited by iguanamon on 10 July 2014 at 2:59am

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 Message 6 of 37
07 July 2014 at 3:53pm | IP Logged 
glidefloss wrote:
How many hours do you think of watching TV it would take to learn Spanish?

If you watched 300 hours of new TV episodes in 3 months, would you be able to understand everything?

I was rather intrigued by the title of the thread its reference to attaining fluency, but I realized that fluency wasn't
the main topic. With all the excellent advice from emk and iguamon, I would only add some minor points.

1. There is no mention of reading, writing or speaking the language. It seems that the OP is only interested in
oral comprehension.

2. As has been pointed out, acquiring oral comprehension requires a fair amount of active work. Just watching
300 hours of TV is pretty useless.

3. Thought must be given to the kinds of tv shows you are watching. The morning talk shows contain lots of
banter and cultural contents that may be hard to follow. Documentaries are great for technical vocabulary and
formal language. Telenovelas and series have lots of dialogues that are relatively easy to follow, especially if
there are captions.

4. Where I may differ a bit from emk and iguamon is in the number of hours of material to study. I don't think
you need a large number of viewing hours to get a good basic grasp of a language. Let's say you were to record
12 hours of tv from 8 am to 8 pm of any Spanish station such as Telemundo or Univision, to name two American
channels. Those 12 hours would contain typical content for that day of the week and most likely for every day,
with some variation on the weekends.

If you had transcripts for those 12 hours and various learning materials such as dictionaries and language
methods, you could repeatedly watch excerpts until you feel that you understand everything. This is a major
undertaking, but the point here is that this 12-hour sample is enough to give you a wide enough view of the
vocabulary and the grammar of the spoken language. Then all the other hours of viewing become much more
comprehensible and enjoyable.

I'm not saying that this is the best way to go about learning Spanish. What I'm saying is that spoken language is
so repetitive that a small sample contains most of the language. For example, you don't have to watch 100 hours
of a telenovela to learn the Spanish used. Two or thee episodes probably contain all the essential Spanish that
you will hear in the entire series.

Edited by s_allard on 08 July 2014 at 5:18am

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 Message 7 of 37
07 July 2014 at 6:01pm | IP Logged 
Just taking the number of hours and not accounting for any other factors: 300 hours, while I wouldn't say is enough to understand "everything" or even really "almost everything," can be enough to get you to a very comprehensible point (assuming those 300 hours are spent actively focusing and listening, not just having it on in the background while you're doing other activities). There would still be limitations, such as the vocabulary used, or even something like switching from one show to a different one. However, that could get you to a good point even if you're starting from zero. Personally I wouldn't want to start from the very beginning with only watching television, but especially if a transcript is available, I won't say it's impossible.

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 Message 8 of 37
07 July 2014 at 7:07pm | IP Logged 
We rarely have complete information here to go on when offering advice. The OP doesn't list Spanish in his profile, but has posted about Spanish L/R in the past- along with French and Mandarin LR as well.

I've addressed the op's question as being about training listening, but after looking back at his previous posts, he seems to be more interested in learning the language through listening. In this case, my answer would be, no, 300 hours of listening without a foundation in the language, including grammar, would most likely not suffice to "learn" Spanish. Combine listening with study of the language through a course and a grammar would be more effective and efficient, in my opinion.

s_allard is right that one could learn most of the vocabulary needed from a very few episodes of a telenovela (if that study were done intensely and actively). Most people don't have the tolerance level to approach learning in that way. In addition, there's not enough opportunity for reinforcement, of being able to see and hear the repetition in new contexts, which watching many more hours of TV does.

I do find s_allard's idea of mastering a limited vocabulary in a language intriguing as a concept. Perhaps he could even make this an interesting and fun HTLAL challenge, someday. Of course, he would have to define the parameters.

Edit: just saw the previous post and I agree that it's possible, just not probable, in my opinion.

Edited by iguanamon on 07 July 2014 at 10:22pm

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