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Native like Listening Comprehension?

  Tags: Listening
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drp9341
Pentaglot
Senior Member
United States
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Speaks: Italian, English*, Spanish, Portuguese, French
Studies: Japanese

 
 Message 1 of 13
09 February 2016 at 7:01am | IP Logged 
My biggest challenge in any foreign language is undoubtedly listening comprehension.

A few years back I spent two months in Peru, I was immersed in Spanish 24/7 for the entire time, with the
exception of one weekend where I spoke mostly English. My level of Spanish as the time was very good, (it's
since gotten a bit worse due to lack of maintenance.) As far as command of the language was concerned, I
could think about, debate on, read and write about advanced subjects and complicated things with little
preference for English.

Despite this, when listening to natives converse amongst themselves, I couldn't pick up everything that was
said in the conversation. I would miss things even if I knew immediately knew exactly what the utterance
meant when they repeated it, or if it was to be written out.

I felt the issue was more that my brain couldn't process the input fast enough, and had more to do with
cognitive limitations than with my lack of knowledge/command of the language.



Can you ever achieve native like listening comprehension? I can understand drunk northern Irishmen with a
little bit of effort, but if someone ever spoke to me in a dialect of Spanish that divergent from the standard I'm
used too, I would be completely unable to converse.


SO...
Is achieving native-like listening comprehension is possible?
If it is possible, can it be done without years of immersion?
And if it can be done without years of immersion, whats the best way to go about doing it?


More than any other skill, I would love to be able to have native like listening skills. Knowing what's being said
around you in social situations makes everything so much easier.!
1 person has voted this message useful



Speakeasy
Senior Member
Canada
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Studies: German

 
 Message 2 of 13
09 February 2016 at 2:48pm | IP Logged 
My impression is that acquiring “native-like spoken language comprehension ability” is achievable even by people who learn a second language somewhat later in life; however, doing so would require “intensive and extensive” exposure to the language over a period of several years. I have not read any studies on the matter, but I do have a personal experience that I will share…

Although I spoke no French at the time, when I was in my early forties, I moved to the hinterland of Québec, a region were virtually no one spoke English. I did not have the opportunity to take any French classes before moving, I had no access to language materials other than a bilingual dictionary, no one in my entourage could explain to me how the language worked and, owing to the historic linguistic tensions, no one was particularly inclined to do so. Nonetheless, armed with a positive attitude, I persevered in this full-immersion environment. After about six months, I could participate in work-related discussions involving two or three people who kindly allowed me the time to absorb what they had said, formulate a response, and then add my own comments. In larger discussion groups, particularly in those involving young professionals who were competing for the attention of the person who could affect their careers, you can imagine the level of cooperation that I received! As I continued to progress in the language, I became increasingly fluent in work-related and social situations. My “language partners” ranged from university graduates to barely-literate production workers and I began to feel quite comfortable in their midst. And yet, there seemed to be one particular situation where I had difficulty following the conversation … the coffee breaks.

It took me some time to realize that the people with whom I worked and socialized had all grown up together in a small town. As they had shared experiences, they had developed what-I-discerned-as a “linguistic code” for referencing events that were outside of my own experiences.   With just a few words, they would send the others into peals of laughter and spark every manner of emotional reaction. It dawned on me that it was not the “words” that I was missing, but the “context” in which my co-workers had acquired their meaning. As an example, when I was a small child at school in the 1950’s, whenever a pupil requested permission to go to the bathroom, the teacher would inquire “are you one-ing it or two-ing it?” I recall that, in the 1980’s, the well-known comedic actor, Bill Cosby, had a short sketch on this socio-linguistic question. As the audience had the “shared experience” of being asked this question, they all understood the references and they appreciated his sense of humour. Now, imagine yourself moving to America and having to learn the language. One day, whilst at work, you stand up and excuse yourself to go to the bathroom.   One of your colleagues, wishing to lighten the conversation, asks you the question “are you one-ing it or two-ing it?” which absolutely stymies you. Let us assume that your ability to digest the words poses no problem whatsoever. These are common words.   Is your lack of “native-like spoken language comprehension ability” a matter of pure vocabulary? Well, no.

In my own case, it took me about five years to achieve “native-like spoken language comprehension ability” at work and in most social situations. As I ended up marrying a local girl, through her family and friends, my contact with the colloquialisms and “code” deepened and, eventually, my English and French became truly equivalent. There is absolutely nothing that I hear in French that I do not immediately understand. I am as unaware of the thought processes as I would be in English. So, from my personal experience, “yes” acquiring “native-like spoken language comprehension ability” is achievable, but it takes “intensive and extensive” exposure!


Edited by Speakeasy on 09 February 2016 at 4:10pm

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Serpent
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Russian Federation
serpent-849.livejour
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 Message 3 of 13
09 February 2016 at 3:34pm | IP Logged 
Great post. (omg did the teacher ask privately? or did the whole class know whether you needed to do #1 or #2???)

Also, if a native listens to a conversation among people they don't know, they may well understand the words but not the meaning (or sometimes not even the words, if it's in some professional context you're not familiar with).

Let me just add that it's nothing to be intimidated by. Processing does improve over time, and if you really need to have this impressive level described by Speakeasy, you'll get there eventually. Most learners simply don't have the need.

See the thread about deliberately suboptimal audio, as well as this wikia article.
6 persons have voted this message useful



Speakeasy
Senior Member
Canada
Joined 2222 days ago

456 posts - 1067 votes 
Studies: German

 
 Message 4 of 13
09 February 2016 at 4:08pm | IP Logged 
Serpent wrote:
...omg did the teacher ask privately? or did the whole class know whether you needed to do #1 or #2???


The question was always addressed publicly and, since everyone requesting permission to go the bathroom was submitted to the same interrogation, we simply accepted the situation and felt no shame. It seems to me that teachers continued to pose the question during the first half of the third grade (average age of the pupils would have been 8 to 9 years) but that my the second half of the year, they ceased asking us.

Nonetheless, I clearly recall sharing with my classmates my sense of wonder at such a question ... to what possible use could the teacher have been putting the assembled information? At the time, corporal punishment for misbehaviour on school property, or even within sight of school property, was applied swiftly and rigorously. As a consequence, we dared not ask the teacher "why" they would ask such a question as doing so could have been construed as challenging her authority. At home, our parents assumed that, if were sufficiently autonomous to go to the bathroom by ourselves, then how we passed our time in the bathroom was a matter of no concern to them.

What surprised the most about Bill Cosby's sketch was that I had assumed that this practice was unique to my own childhood. For him to be able to generate immediate laughter at a shared experience from a large and diversified American audience must mean that the practice was prevalent throughout the American Public School System as well. For all I know, the practice continues to this day!
   


Edited by Speakeasy on 09 February 2016 at 4:21pm

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luke
Diglot
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United States
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Studies: Esperanto, French

 
 Message 5 of 13
10 February 2016 at 11:17am | IP Logged 
Serpent wrote:
Also, if a native listens to a conversation among people they don't know, they may well understand the words but not the meaning (or sometimes not even the words, if it's in some professional context you're not familiar with).


Even in a personal context with one's intimates, there is plenty of room for misunderstanding.

There are infinite examples. Here is one.

Chore: For a person who has familial roots in agriculture, even if at a distance of a generation or two, may simply imply daily work necessary to keep things going. E.G., milk the cows. To another, a "chore" could imply a difficult task, whether the difficulty is psychological, physical, or mental. E.G. write a book report.

If these two people hear or use the word "chore", they aren't necessarily implying the same thing.

Summary: The connotation of words is quite vast.

Upside: Language learners at least have some practical insight into this fact.

Edited by luke on 10 February 2016 at 11:19am

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dampingwire
Bilingual Triglot
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United Kingdom
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Speaks: English*, Italian*, French
Studies: Japanese

 
 Message 6 of 13
13 February 2016 at 6:22pm | IP Logged 
drp9341 wrote:
My biggest challenge in any foreign language is undoubtedly listening comprehension.


I find listening comprehension to be harder than reading but I think actual (spoken) output is even harder!

drp9341 wrote:
SO...
Is achieving native-like listening comprehension is possible?
If it is possible, can it be done without years of immersion?
And if it can be done without years of immersion, whats the best way to go about doing it?



If "native-like listening comprehension" means you can watch native media (TV) or listen to native speech around you
and understand it at normal native speed, then yes, I think that's perfectly possible. I don't think it takes years
of immersion, although it may take several years of listening to native media for an hour or two each day. Of course,
you need to have some way to make that media understandable along the way, otherwise your study will probably be very
inefficient.

1 person has voted this message useful



phonology
Groupie
Peru
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Speaks: Spanish*

 
 Message 7 of 13
16 February 2016 at 3:24am | IP Logged 
if the speed of the native can go very fast in my case English, it is a matter of
listening to accustom the ear several times. :)
1 person has voted this message useful





Iversen
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 Message 8 of 13
16 February 2016 at 9:27pm | IP Logged 
Part of the question is to decide where the limit between language and other kinds of knowledge goes. Do you blame your level in a target language for things you don't even know in your own one?

I was once asked whether I saw myself as having reached a native level in English, and the answer was no. I may know some things which very few Britons have heard about, and I am fairly sure that I understand Middle English better that than the average Anglophone - but I lack some elements from the everyday vocabulary, like some of the trade names in the shops, local birds, names of presumably famous people and the last new slang expressions. You might then reformulate the goal for a learner of English as understanding for instance British or Australian or American English as well as the native speakers of each of these understand each of the other variants, but I am not really able to judge my own level as mesured by this criterion. I just know that I can understand almost everything I hear, and the words I miss are typically technical terms, names of institutions or local fauna or flora which most native speakers also would miss - especially if they live on another continent..

Right now I listen to French TV (a program about the notion of intelligence) and I would claim that I have understood everything they have said so far. And why: because I know something about the subject in general, and I know enough of the technical vocabulary in French for this specific subject. But if they suddenly mix a lot of names of French institutions into their speech or make references to local VIPs or French TV programs which I haven't watched, then I will run into comprehension problems. And those things are hard to pick up you don't live in a culture where you constantly are bombarded with those kinds of informations.



Edited by Iversen on 16 February 2016 at 9:48pm



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