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Easiest languages to listen to?

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26 messages over 4 pages: 1 2 3 4  Next >>
Tyrion101
Senior Member
United States
Joined 2081 days ago

153 posts - 174 votes 
Speaks: French

 
 Message 1 of 26
19 June 2015 at 9:52pm | IP Logged 
I've learned a good deal of French, and it's by far one of the hardest to get into the proper listening mindset. The easiest I've dabbled in, or studied, have been Italian, Mandarin, and Russian, those three just seem to be a matter of learning the proper words, and it is also easier to listen for new words, probably because there are no, or very few liaisons, or any other feature that might be difficult to hear words the first time around. Which ones are easiest to listen to for you personally, that you can get the most out of without very little effort?
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chaotic_thought
Diglot
Senior Member
United States
Joined 1710 days ago

129 posts - 274 votes 
Speaks: English*, German
Studies: Dutch, French

 
 Message 2 of 26
20 June 2015 at 1:21am | IP Logged 
I've noticed that as my language skill increases, the ability to listen also becomes naturally easier. For example, when I was first learning German, I could understand it only by exerting extreme concentration on whatever I was listening to, whether it be the television, radio, or a person. Now, if I hear something in German, even in the background, it just "comes in" as comprehensible sounds; I don't notice any special effort on my part. For this reason I find using my ability to listen as a good personal estimator of my proficiency.

But I don't see how a particular language like French could truly be "harder to listen to" than some another language with which you have equal proficiency. As for me, French is definitely "harder to listen to", but that's only because I need to practice more and because my French proficiency is too low. It doesn't mean French is inherently less "listenable" than other languages.

With French in particular it seems like some people complain about words being pronounced differently than they're spelled. Well, that should really be old hat for anyone who's learned English. We have tons of words like that and there's really no pattern for them. I remember reading textbooks back in school and I would just have to look up every new word in the dictionary if I wanted to know how it is actually pronounced. In other words, being a native speaker doesn't give you some magical way to pronounce new, unknown words. At least in French there seem to be some rules to follow to make a good attempt. The French even seem to apply these rules naturally, for example, to pronounce arbitrary foreign names "in a French way".

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tastyonions
Triglot
Senior Member
United States
goo.gl/UIdChYRegistered users can see my Skype Name
Joined 2833 days ago

1044 posts - 1823 votes 
Speaks: English*, French, Spanish
Studies: Italian

 
 Message 3 of 26
20 June 2015 at 1:28pm | IP Logged 
I find Spanish much harder listening than French, personally, despite the much simpler orthography of the former. Greater linguistic variation is part of it, as well as the strong tendency in Spanish almost everywhere for consonants to get slipperier and slipperier (looking at you, B and G and D and (sometimes) S) the more casually a person speaks.
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jeff_lindqvist
Diglot
Moderator
SwedenRegistered users can see my Skype Name
Joined 5077 days ago

4250 posts - 5710 votes 
Speaks: Swedish*, English
Studies: German, Spanish, Russian, Dutch, Mandarin, Esperanto, Irish, French
Personal Language Map

 
 Message 4 of 26
20 June 2015 at 2:39pm | IP Logged 
Languages which I can understand a great deal of (Norwegian/Danish/English/German) are also easy to listen to (no surprise), but there are also languages that are quite clearly spoken. Spanish is my strongest Romance language and based on that, I find Portuguese, Esperanto and even Italian (which I don't speak) "easy" to listen to. A clearly spoken language with a grammar similar to something you already know ought to give you good results in no-time, should you decide to study it.

I'm sure that speakers of Slavic languages find their neighbour languages easy to pick up. They sound like something they are used to hear.
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robarb
Nonaglot
Senior Member
United States
languagenpluson
Joined 3227 days ago

361 posts - 921 votes 
Speaks: Portuguese, English*, German, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Swedish, Esperanto, French
Studies: Mandarin, Danish, Russian, Norwegian, Cantonese, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Greek, Latin, Nepali, Modern Hebrew

 
 Message 5 of 26
21 June 2015 at 8:00am | IP Logged 
In my impression:

Clearly spoken "easy"
|
|
Polish
Italian
Japanese
Greek
Hebrew
Dutch
German
Russian
Korean
Swedish
Nepali
Cantonese
Mandarin
Norwegian
Portuguese
Spanish
Danish
French
|
|
Not clearly spoken "hard"
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geoffw
Triglot
Senior Member
United States
Joined 2856 days ago

1134 posts - 1865 votes 
Speaks: English*, German, Yiddish
Studies: Modern Hebrew, French, Dutch, Italian, Russian

 
 Message 6 of 26
21 June 2015 at 4:31pm | IP Logged 
chaotic_thought wrote:


But I don't see how a particular language like French could truly be "harder to listen to" than some another
language with which you have equal proficiency. As for me, French is definitely "harder to listen to", but that's only
because I need to practice more and because my French proficiency is too low. It doesn't mean French is inherently
less "listenable" than other languages.

With French in particular it seems like some people complain about words being pronounced differently than
they're spelled. Well, that should really be old hat for anyone who's learned English.


I think you are oversimplifying here. For one, my French is way, way better than my Italian, and yet I still think
spoken Italian is objectively easier to understand (i.e., map sounds I hear to actual language). The irregularity in
mapping from written to spoken forms is only part of the problem.

For one, French is notorious for having huge amounts of homophones. The amount of objective information
difference between certain sounds and words (check out refs. on information theory and the Shannon limit, if you
aren't familiar) is simply NOT the same as other languages. Adding a certain amount of radio static or background
noise has a greater effect on the ability to distinguish fine shades of vowels than to distinguish between more stark
differences (e.g., "le" vs. "la" is more likely to become indistinguishable in the presence of noise than "der" vs.
"das"). The liaison system also adds a level of complexity and unfamiliarity for an English speaker, because pairs of
words also create homophony that need context information to be deciphered. (I'm sorry that I'm not quickly
coming up with a good example, but I notice this all the time, where the sounds could be two completely unrelated
phrases, distinguishable only by context.)

Where I think people go wrong is when they exaggerate the difficulty. French is different, and may require more
practice to understand in spoken form for an English speaker, but it's by no means impossible to learn to
understand, and one needs to avoid using these differences as an excuse.

Edited by geoffw on 21 June 2015 at 4:33pm

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sillygoose1
Tetraglot
Senior Member
United States
Joined 2804 days ago

566 posts - 814 votes 
Speaks: English*, Italian, Spanish, French
Studies: German, Latin

 
 Message 7 of 26
21 June 2015 at 4:55pm | IP Logged 
For me, German and Italian have been the easiest so far. Spanish is a tricky one. In the beginning it can sound like a jumbled mess fired off at machine gun speed, but then as you keep on listening it starts to clear up more and more.

French is still the hardest for me. It was my first foreign language, I studied it the most, listened the most to it, and I still miss a decent amount of words in some videos. I can watch an episode of Aqui no hay quien viva and understand almost all of it, then watch an episode of its French remake, Faites comme chez vous, and miss more than a few words. It's part of the reason why I took a long hiatus from French and am thinking about eventually letting it go.
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solocricket
Tetraglot
Groupie
United StatesRegistered users can see my Skype Name
Joined 1844 days ago

68 posts - 106 votes 
Speaks: English*, French, Italian, Spanish
Studies: Dutch, Icelandic, Korean, Polish

 
 Message 8 of 26
23 June 2015 at 4:14pm | IP Logged 
Yeah, I kind of agree about French-- I only recently got to the point where I can overhear snippets of people's conversations and understand films (radio, cartoons, and news are waaaaay easier). Perhaps it was my practice with the Quebecois accent that got me to that point, it certainly made me better at picking out sounds :D Spanish is also hard to understand in TV and films, because no one ever seems to speak in a perfect, clear Mexican or standard Spanish accent.

Italian, on the other hand, I can understand after only a little study. I've also been dabbling in German, and I can understand much more than I expected.

Obviously languages differ in certain aspects from their written forms, but I think too much book study of French or Spanish especially (can't speak for too many other languages) can lead to a hefty adjustment period when someone starts listening to the language "live," mumbled and all.


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