Barely progressing with listening comprehension

Maybe this is typical?

I’ve read 1m words/year, from contemporary novels, not beginner stuff. I can read newspapers fairly easily, etc. Listening, I’ve put it around 30 mins/day for the last year, with many days over an hour, sometimes two.

And yet, even still, I “hear” all the words and identify most. But strung together, unless I’m really listening closely and translating, the meaning is zero. I would think I’d have at least some “passive” listening comprehension by now, but no.

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In order to listen better, there has to be more active listening hours. There hasn’t been enough listening hours to allow the brain to adapt. Also there is a dependency on context. One genre of content can transfer to other genres but not as much. There has to be more exposure to the content you want to listen to or expect to happen in the future. Just a personal opinion.


Try listening to content you CAN understand, even if it is beginner material. Then build up from there.

Also, have you read and listened at the same time? If you aren’t understanding what you hear, you need something to support your comprehension. The language that is acquired is the language that is comprehended.

And one more thing…Listening closely and translating is not “bad”. These are the steps we go through to reach our goals of understanding without translating, etc.


I would have thought a few hundred hours of listening would have resulted in more progress.

I’ve done some read-alongs, and don’t really like it. For probably half of the million+ words of novels, I’ve read them quietly out loud. That’s kind of the reverse of that, and I don’t know if it has helped with listening skills. But it has definitely helped with pronunciation.

Hi tparillo,

The question is: What “exactly” did you?

For example, what “doesn’t work”:
Reading novels without listening at all doesn’t improve your listening comprehension much (it only enriches your knowledge of syntax, implicit / latent grammar structures, discourse markers, vocabulary, and genre-specific content).

And even if you adopt a(n) (ultra-)reading while listening (RWL) approach, you’ll only get good at what you’ve trained for.

That is: You will still have difficulty understanding fast-paced podcasts, YT vids, or TV series with multiple native speakers if you only digest fantasy books à la Harry Potter, The Hobbit, etc. using an RWL approach, for example.

The same applies to the acquisition of other practical skills:

  • Calisthenics: If you only do pushups, you will still collapse in trying to do pullups.
  • Basketball: If you only do slow jogging, you will collapse during basketball games that involve a lot of shorts sprints - in a matter of minutes.
  • Computer science: If you only practice SQL, you will still be bad at object-oriented or functional programming.
    etc. pp.

In short:
The outcome is highly predictable - but “not typical” :slight_smile:


When you identify words - how long does it take? Do you understand most words instantly? Or are there many (even rather common) words where it takes a second or even multiple seconds? If the latter case happens frequently, I could imagine that the overall comprehension would suffer. Your brain might not be able to keep up with the pace of the story - wondering about the meaning of some words (from a few seconds ago) and thus not picking up things that otherwise could be understood.

In such a case going back to somewhat easier content might be helpful. I also wonder, whether the bar of a known word should be instant understanding (at least for rather high frequency words).


@tparillo maybe there is nothing wrong in what you are doing, just the expectations that you had in your head.
Maybe what you are doing is correct, you just need to keep doing it. Active reading+listening is the key, when you are ready, start the outputs writing and speaking. Everything is connected at a certain point. It all blends together in your brain.
Otherwise, others have already written to you a lot of suggestions to try.


I cannot easily see what language you are learning from the forums anymore, but a few hundred hours is simply not enough time to have high expectations for your listening comprehension. If we knew precisely what you had been doing or how you had been spending your time, we could provide more targeted feedback on your method.

To put it simply, you will get better at the things you practice. If you practice listening to podcasts – you’ll get better at listening to podcasts.


Wise and simple. :grin:


I’m afraid a few hundred hours is not enough. At least it has not been for me overall. OK, I should I say I can understand quite a bit after a few hundred hours, however a LOT goes by me very quickly…and native speed/speech is very difficult to keep up with, and simply most of the time I can’t follow along.

As others have said already, you simply need to listen a lot more. I think this is the hardest part about the language. If you listen to one sentence and stop the audio, do you get that one sentence? Are you finding that it’s just not easy to “keep up”? Your comprehension speed needs to improve, and that just takes time (a lot more reading and listening). Push yourself with R+L as Peter suggest. Also, a good point he made, and I’ve been focusing on myself is try to find real dialogues of people talking (i.e. not novels). Audiobooks, the speech is perfect…Dialogues you have a lot more “shortcuts”, missing syllables, swallowed letters, stuttering, repeating, etc. that can make things difficult to hear (or even reading dialogues is rather difficult to me).

If you also find translating in your head is slowing you down…try not to do so for everything…i.e. don’t get stuck. If you missed it, keep moving and try to get what’s going on in the current sentence. Let it flow over/by you.

Looking at your stats…16,000 words (not sure if this is accurate for you or not)…is actually pretty low…so you maybe aren’t understanding as much as you think? Or at the very least, at that level you probably haven’t encountered enough of the higher level words to be able to translate quick enough on the fly. You need more “reps”.


@ tparillo

I share your concern. I’m at 6 months/377K words read/11.7K known words. I study French 3-4 hours/day and spoken French without a transcript is still a blur.

About three months ago I had my first tutor appointment and discovered how poor I was at listening comprehension. Since then I’ve really been bearing down on listening (and pronunciation). I drill 5-12x on each sentence, including looking away from the screen while listening.

My listening comprehension has improved – I can discern some words – but it improves at a glacial pace. I assume that’s how it will be for me.

Perhaps the target language matters. I don’t recall this much difficulty with high school Spanish.

That’s my data point.


The next question is:

Well (Ultra-)R+L works.
But even better is:
Always increase the speed of audiobooks, lectures, podcasts, etc. (in the range of
1.5x - 2x).

After a few weeks .you’ll have the feeling that native speakers always
speak too slow :slight_smile:

I did that with English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese - it works.
Dutch and Japanese will be the next audio speed victims :slight_smile:


Thanks for all the replies. To be clear, target language is Italian. And I’m just about 3 years in.

Re: 16k known words. I don’t really update the Lingq status very well. Put it this way, a typical contemporary novel, loaded with colloquial language, is around 8-10% unknown words. And much of those are people’s names. And I “trash” all words that are Anglicisms (I think that’s the term), like “film”, etc. So my known, on an apples-to-apples basis with other users is probably much higher than the stats suggest.

Re: speed, I find that slowing down the speed at which I listen is worse. I do better at the speaker’s natural pace.

B. Oliver, re: comprehension speed, hmm, I’d say it depends. There are stretches where enough words are instant, so the whole sentence snaps into clarity. And then others where a seemingly easy word just…isn’t.

In real world conversations, I get stumped very easily. I think that is partly because my pronunciation is (according to native speakers) excellent, and that triggers a more rapid and/or complex level of speaking toward me. Then I’m toast. And then the speaker flips to English. :slight_smile:

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You need more practice basically. If you’re getting stumped in conversations, you need more conversations, that will help with the listening too. Maybe cut down on reading since your reading is much better and spend more time listening.

30 minutes a day isn’t really enough. Also assuming those 30 minutes are sat down focused on the content intently with concentration? Background listening (even when walking or cleaning) isn’t that effective in my experience unless you are good with a closely related language, or already listening well, it can help a little though so worth trying.

You need focused concentrated listening and more of it minimum hour a day. Try watching a show in the target language that you already have seen, so you’re not so worried about missing the plot, binge watch away. Can also try focusing on one type of content that helps.

At 3 years of good study you’ll get a break through soon. I got a break through about 3/4 years into my Spanish study, where I could understand a lot easier. Though i was listening 1-2 hours a day guaranteed, + background listening of and on all day, and speaking about 5 hours a week. I did stuff like binge watch 100s of episodes of telenovelas over a few months and things like that to boost my listening up.

Good luck you’ll get there soon! just listen more.


I have been struggling to attain functional listening comprehension in Chinese for a long time. It took about 2000 hours of ‘active’ listening and reading to get to a point where it’s not terrible anymore, i.e. I can understand familiar YouTube channels without subtitles.
Since I mainly struggled with colloquial speech, I focussed on podcasts and used machine learning software to generate transcripts for study. Fortunately, LingQ has been kind enough (after insistent nudging) to built the Whisper ASR system into their software, so I would imagine the process should be quite smooth by now.
When doing this, it is important to keep attention and interest, so take frequent breaks and switch if an episode gets too boring. Life is too short for dwelling on a sucky podcast in the name of ‘study’ imo.
I also like to ‘passively’ listen to those podcasts, but I’m given to understand that this approach is quite controversial around here, so feel free to ignore.
As for the process, I’d say staying with one podcasts for some time is sensible, that way you become familiar with the speakers and topics, but it is equally important to venture out and listen to as many different people and accents as possible to build a good overall ability.


TBH, that doesn’t make any sense.

It’s a better idea to choose the appropriate learning material
close to the skill you want to acquire (i.e.: if you want to get good at fast-paced
conversations, then that’s the material you should select) and
then increase the listening intensity (once you understand
the meaning of the dialogues) so that your brain gets used
to it.

It may take some weeks to adapt, but after that the
increased audio speed becomes your brain’s “new normal”.

In my experience, this approach works well for all kinds of L2s
(esp. Romance languages like Spanish, Portuguese, and French).
Italian is a Romance language - and there is nothing special about

It’s similar in sports:
You want to be able to do a lot of “sprints” in competitive sports?

Increase the intensity of your running sessions using realistic exercises

  • but don’t lower the intensity or just run more and more
    at the same regular pace…

" I’m just about 3 years in."
Well, you could have achieved an excellent listening comprehension of
fast-paced conversations much earlier using a “listening-/fluency-first”
strategy and the appropriate language material.

You didn’t.
And that’s why your difficulties are completely predictable.

All I can do is tell you my experience. I used News in Slow Italian for awhile. The intermediate was so slow, I had a hard time “getting” the sentences. Listening at the 1.5x pace helped. But it was still too slow, and I found myself kind of “yeah, yeah, yeah, speed it up.” I swapped over to faster speed podcasts and YT learning sites.

I’m glad my difficulties are predictable. I’ve been starting to think I’m somehow uniquely challenged.

Hm, what “exactly” did you do?

That is:

  • What was your exact study routine (reading while listening at a fast speed)?
  • Did you use LingQ for that?
  • How often did you re-listen to that stuff (after practicing reading while listening so
    that you understood the dialogues)?
  • For how long have you been following this study routine? (the number of hours)

“I’ve been starting to think I’m somehow uniquely challenged.”

Well, after teaching more than 10k hours, I’m pretty sure there is nothing
so unique that nobody has ever heard of it before. It may be, but that’s not
an assumption I’d start with :slight_smile:

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t challenges, for ex. for people with attention
deficit disorders, etc.

However, it usually boils down to the wrong selections (i.e., approaches, strategies, learning
material, expectations, etc.).


I don’t keep records of my routine. Over the 3 years, I’ve varied/evolved the routine over time. Clearly, I’ve had a heavier emphasis on reading, probably because I found it easier and therefore more rewarding.

I haven’t hardly used Lingq at all for listening. In the beginning yes. Since moving to podcasts and YT, no. To me, anything beyond the core reader function on Lingq is kind of a mess.

Therefore, I haven’t done much combined reading/listening. I didn’t like it when I did (I’d rather hear myself say the words as I read). And I don’t count reading subtitles when watching something as the combination. I feel like I do better by only glancing at the subs (assuming accurate subs), seeing what I didn’t get, and then backing up to hear it again without looking.

Re: re-listening, it varies. Sometimes 20x spread over days/week. And I’ll revisit something from weeks/months ago from time to time.

I just did a listening test of a very, very fast speaker. I varied the speed from .5 to 1.0, and found that at a lower speed, sure, I catch all the words individually better. However, I tend to lose the sentence meaning. At the higher speeds, I miss some connector words, etc., but understand the whole of the sentence better. --shrug-- Maybe it’s because I also am a fast speaker, and (in my native English), I tend to only half-listen and sort of “catch up” by the end of someone’s sentence, which clearly doesn’t work in Italian!


I’m a bit late to this party and have read through the other responses. A few thoughts based on my own experience…

I consumed YT videos in my target language as my primary medium of evening entertainment. That gave me much more than a half-hour or even a couple of hours of exposure each day. But since it was for entertainment, not for study, it was easy.

I did this before I could understand easily. I started mostly (not exclusively) with young people doing their stunts and challenges and various mischief because it was possible to more or less follow along even without full language comprehension. I.e., it was entertaining enough to remain interesting. And keeping interest is key, regardless of the type of content you enjoy.

I eventually branched out to more “mature” content and don’t watch much of that trivial stuff any more. While it was intially mentally stimulating just to be able to somewhat understand the language, the more I understood the more banal and uninteresting it became. :slight_smile: But by then I was able to branch out to more “mature” and “serious” material. (I think the kids have mostly moved on to TikTok or other platforms that I don’t use anyway.)

I still spend a lot of time in my target language on YT. As with the English channels I watch, I watch most of them at 1.25x or 1.5x speed, and some really slow speakers at 1.75x. I am not at all surprised by your observation that slowed-down speech is harder to understand. That is my own experience. [Edit: I dont’ speed videos up to boost comprehension, I do it so that I can watch more faster when I am able to do so and still understand.]

Some individuals are much more difficult to understand than others. Stick with the difficult ones. I now much more easily understand some of those I that I used to find more challenging. I’m not trying to give the impression that my listening comprehension is perfect – it is not. Some content remains particularly challenging, but the barriers slowly erode with continual exposure.

tl;dnr: Find things you can enjoy before you can understand them fully. Consume massively, stick with it, enjoy the journey, and good luck!