Bad Listening Strategy?

I’d just like to check I’m not making a mistake in how I go about improving my listening comprehension.

I spend 50% of my time listening to stuff that’s at my level, often things I’ve listened to before several times, like 10 minute podcasts, or YouTube videos.

The rest of the time I try to listen to stuff that is slightly beyond my current level. However, if I were to listen to the higher level stuff right through without stopping, I probably wouldn’t understand much of it. What I do is rewind several times, often every sentence, but it could be every second or third sentence (depending on if I understood or not). I can be there for a few minutes rewinding and repeating the same sentence, or cluster of sentences trying to understand it.

I find that eventually I can usually understand 90% + (so long as it wasn’t too far from my level), then I can pretty comfortably listen to the whole thing again without much of a problem. The thing is, I’m not understanding things in real time, and it’s not the words or grammar so much, but rather the speed and my ability to decipher it under pressure, in what would be a natural situation i.e a real conversation, or listening to live radio say, where you only get one shot.

One problem seems to be zoning out as soon as I don’t understand something, like I’m suddenly lost with it. It doesn’t really matter that there’s new sentences coming my way that I could understand, I can’t seem to get past the previous part I couldn’t understand, and it puts me off.

I believe what I’m doing is intensive listening, vs extensive listening. Don’t get me wrong, I can listen through something without needing to catch every single word, but if I’m below something like 75% comprehension (upon first listen), I seem to have problems with all of it and have to go back to my aforementioned method of rewind and repeat.

Just wondered if anyone thinks this could be detrimental? I have found in the past that I’m struggling to catch questions a teacher has asked me that are actually quite basic and should’ve been easy to understand. This has caused them to speak really slowly, using more basic constructions. I’m left wondering what the problem is, because I can understand quite complex things in comparison when I get more than one shot at it. What’s going on here?

Hi Hellion,

First of all, I recommend that you spend more time listening to things at your level. Maybe roughly 80% of your time. Listening to things above your level is beneficial as it allows you to assess your progress, and challenge yourself (challenge usually leads to growth), but should not compete with listening to things at your current level. In other words, listening to above-level material should be done only every-so-often (maybe a few times each week in sessions of 5-10 minutes). It is also important to know what qualifies as being “at your level.” Some people like to be able to understand an audio in its entirety to be able to say that it is at their level, others only need to understand maybe 70% of an audio. It’s up to you.

That method of rewinding every sentence sounds to me as though it may do more harm than good, because you could easily become bored or tired after a relatively short piece of audio. I imagine an audio of 5 minutes may take you an hour or more to get through if you are rewinding every sentence several times until you understand completely.

In regards to your “zoning out” problem, that is pretty normal. I, too, often times find myself zoning out while listening. It is natural and normal, and not something to be too concerned with as long as you don’t spend all your listening time zoned out. Mr. Steve Kaufmann has talked about this as well, often mentioning that other thoughts pop up in his brain while listening in a foreign language.

Having said all that, you shouldn’t worry too much about not being able to catch certain basic phrases; that, too, is totally normal. Comprehension will come with time. I know my lingq Spanish word count is quite low (I’ve only been using lingq for Spanish a couple weeks now), but I speak very good Spanish and would put my estimated current word count at perhaps 25,000, more or less. Even I sometimes still fail to understand basic things when people say them to me. I find that this is often caused by people talking very fast, having an accent I’m not used to, background noise, or other stuff like that.

At the end of the day, language learning is about enjoyment. So if you enjoy listening to hard material and rewinding every sentence, that’s fine, do it. Just do what you find that you enjoy.

Good luck

EDIT: re-reading my post, I realized i forgot to mention the importance of interesting content. It can be hard to find interesting content at a beginner level, but it is still important to note that it will be overall much easier to listen to content that interests you than content that you find boring. Try to start listening to interesting content as soon as possible!

Questions were one of the last things I could understand in my target language. Whole paragraphs of text - fine. A question of four words - completely lost. I think both of your strategies are fine, intensive and extensive reading. Remember that intensive reading is like weight training; it’s better to do it for 3 minutes. Nothing good comes from the 60th minute of an audiobook you don’t understand, except restful sleep ;-). Find out what works for you, but dipping into interesting, challenging content is fun (especially for dish-washing, commute, don’t shoot for 100%, just progress: 30% whoo!) And then for most of your learning, pick something in a comfortable range so that you can pursue it for hours, and get excited that once in a while when you need to stop and write down a new vocab word. It should be almost like living daily life, just a bit harder.

I just wanted to say that this was a very well thought out comment and post. I assumed that I was not an abnormal character to having trouble focusing all the time, and wasn’t mega concerned. I tend to still pay attention and I am positive it will change. With that being said, I was still planning on leaving a comment as a sense of encouragement that he/she is not alone. After reading your comment though, I can see the amount of time you put into answering the original poster’s question, and I must say that was very nice of you. Just in case nobody tells you thank you, I figured it is in order that I say it. Thank you for the time you put into your comment and it was very insightful as well as encouraging. Best of luck.

-Cody C.

Thank you for the reply. I do mix things up between easier and harder stuff, maybe I’m too stubborn to admit that some things might be too hard. That said, I rarely find that I can’t understand it after a while, or after reading it, so I’m not sure it’s totally out of my range of understanding, maybe more that I have trouble with the speed. I find myself fixating on what’s just been send and subsequently missing the next part. I do that even for sentences I understood well, it’s like I linger on it (I guess thinking about the structure used) maybe trying to absorb it, but of course there’s no time for that in real time conversations, or live radio, or whatever. That doesn’t explain why I miss basic sentences though, but it was nice to hear that even someone at a high level like yourself still has that problem from time to time, that’s reassured me somewhat.

FWIW, I do enjoy working on harder stuff. I don’t think I spend an hour on 5 minutes of audio though, so I guess I didn’t mean that I replay every sentence, but I don’t let it flow for sure. I probably spent just over an hour listening to 25 minutes of audio last night, Had I just let it run, I would’ve got enough to keep up with the plot, but it’s really frustrating skipping over stuff I didn’t get, and the concentration lapses would’ve meant I’d have missed other more comprehensible stuff too. Each time I read the text I’m pretty comfortable with it, then listening is pretty easy, save a few unknown words, but even then I lose concentration far too often for my liking, and probably more often than what would be thought of as normal.

Thanks again, your experiences have alleviated a few of the anxieties I’m having.

Thanks, I’ve found it difficult to find stuff of that “comfortable” level that’s also compelling. There’s only so much of the more basic/slowed down material one can listen to until it becomes boring. At least at my weak intermediate level. I’m not actually getting that tired with a more intensive approach, I think I would if it was something that didn’t interest me though. BTW, I envy you for being able to follow along when doing other tasks like cleaning etc. I’m not sure how anyone does that, I struggle to keep my concentration listening to my native language when I’m doing other tasks lol. I need to set time aside and sit down to listen, unless it’s something really automatic like driving a car on a familiar route, in which case there’s not much of a problem.

Steve doesn’t think much of them, but have you tried parallel texts for keeping your attention and aiding you in an interesting story. The idea is to go through the story on Lingq, then listen to the audio while looking at the parallel text in real time without pausing too much. If the story/novel is interesting, you can go for a long time like this - pick up on new words- and then easily find your way back into the flow of the story. Long novels work best. It is easy for me to find content since I use the Bible, but if you are not religious it can be hard to find compelling content with exact parallel text. Many on this site seem to be fond of the Harry Potter stories. you can also arrange parallel texts of Tolkiens “Hobbit” story for free since the spanish text and audio are out there on the internet, just an idea for keeping the flow of the audio comprehensible to you.
One other idea, have you gone through all the spanish mini stories? If not, then listen to one, and then DO NOT look at the text while it asks the questions, see if you can answer them. It makes an otherwise rather boring story a little fun.

At your current number of known words I would advise just listening to the beginner material on repeat.

Personally, I had fantastic success at really getting my hearing tuned in (and also improving my language skills in general), using a reasonably simple audio book that was available in translation. I was at maybe the end of the A2 level in German when a friend gave me a copy of the Tintenherz/Tintenblut/Tintentod series by Cornelia Funke, a German children’s author. These books are probably at about the same level as the Harry Potter books. I listened to the first little bit of the first book…and of course barely managed to pick out a word or two. It was no fun at all. I then checked out if these books were available in English translation and found out that they were. So I went out to my local used bookstore and got myself a copy.

Starting with the first book of the series, I read a couple of paragraphs and then listened again to the audio, stopping after each sentence. Now, knowing what the meaning was, I found that my ability to hear the words and understand the audio had skyrocketed. Still, I’d generally listen to sentences multiple times, sometimes repeating bits out loud for additional practice. Then, once I’d gotten through the first short chapter that way, I went back and listened to the whole chapter without stopping, and this time really able to hear the words, understand the sentences and follow the story. I’d listen to parts of the text that I’d already gone through sentence by sentence, while I was walking around and doing other things, like walking home from work or walking the dog.

The German courses I’d been taking at the Goethe Institute were at a bad time for me, so this was my main German-learning activity over a time frame of several months… yet I found that when I went back to taking another course maybe a half year later, that my abilities had sharply improved and from being one of the weaker students (since I started as a beginner in A2), I was now ahead of the others in my class!

It’s even better if you’re also using Lingq with other texts at the same time to enhance your skills with written input!

It’s low because I have a strict criteria when moving words to known, and because I don’t use Lingq as much as I perhaps should. I’ve been learning for a few years now, my word count would probably be around 20k or so (not sure) if I used this site as is recommended.

Great! This sounds exactly like what I’ve been doing. Good to hear that it’s worked for you. I’m still a bit confused as to why I can’t hear and understand quicker, as unlike the stage you were at, I can actually follow the plot pretty well, I’m not picking out single words or anything like that, it’s just I feel like I should be able to comfortably understand more than I do. I’m not sure why I need to repeat bits so often when it’s usually not something complicated, I don’t really pause to look up words, I know 90% + of the words and the grammar isn’t really much of a problem, but for some reason I don’t seem to be able to process what’s being said at times, especially on first listen. I’m starting to think it might be a concentration issue. I like the story, so I’m not sure what’s causing it. Maybe I feel like I should understand it like I understand English, and maybe my desire to hear every single word and attempt to kind of absorb it in real time is getting in my way, I don’t know. Thanks for the reply.

So why not use the site for how it is recommended?

Quite honestly, try not to focus on every word. It is better to get the general concept. When listening than understanding every word. It is tempting for me as well to try to make sure I know every word, but even in my native language I dont hear every word in most conversations.

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By ‘recommended’ I meant how others seem to use it and record their progress. I use it to listen and read, increasing my statistics about “known” words doesn’t worry me. I was simply explaining why my word count wasn’t higher. I realise that can affect the kind of advice I’m given. I forgot to mention what level I’m at currently.

Yeah, I think that might be part of the problem, or maybe even THE problem tbh. I find it difficult to believe that we can learn without understanding each word, which is probably wrong of me. For the most part I’m getting the general idea, following the plot OK, until I hit something I didn’t understand, then it seems to bother me and distracts me from the following passages. I guess I just need to let go a bit more and trust it’ll get better without stressing over it. Thanks.

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you probably can read a lot more than I can then

Best of luck either way. I hope you are able to let go a little bit to listen and enjoy. Please keep us all updated how you feel after a couple of months. :smiley: