Complete understanding of the radio

One of my goals in learning Russian is to be able to turn on Russian radio and understand everything that is being said. By way of background, LingQ classifies me as ‘Advanced’, and the stage I have reached is such that I can listen to Эхо Москвы quite successfully if I have the transcript in front of me. I am also OK-ish without a transcript, sometimes (!), as long as I have heard the same programme a few times over. But what I want is to turn on ‘live’ radio and understand it straight away. I feel a long way from that. I would very much like to hear if any of you has a developed & recommended method for accelerating this process. Is it simply a mater of massive exposure over a prolonged period, or is there something more systematic that will help me? Many thanks all.

I can’t speak about Russian, but I do remember my experience with French and German: it took me a very long time to get to the point where I could understand Deutschlandfunk or France Culture. And by a very long time I mean multiple years of living in Germany and then in France.

However I didn’t have LingQ back when I was learning those two languages. My feeling is that LingQ is already the accelerator to getting to “real” radio, there’s no other way to get to native listening comprehension than listening and then listening some more. Having the transcript is a wonderful way to get from the beginner and intermediate stage to “native” listening, but after that, you’re on your own.

That said, I do think you’ll get a good deal of benefit when you’re at the advanced stages from just listening to the radio, even if you don’t think you’re understanding much. You have to teach yourself how to understand without understanding everything: picking up bits and pieces and letting your mind work in the background. It’s a skill like any other: keep practicing, relax, and you’ll get there.

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I’m at a low-ish level in Russian but I remember when I began trying to listen to French/English radio stations through short wave (no internet then, :slight_smile: ).
My own process was something like this:
a) Yes, you need exposure and get used to the fact that you’re not going to understand everything for some time. Focus on picking up sentences here and there. Over time those “moments of comprehension” will expand. Remember Steve’s advice about getting used to uncertainty, in this case in the form of half-understanding.
b) Some things easier to understand than others. That’s the way it is. Even in your mother tongue not everything’s as easy to understand. You have to accept that, either find something real but a bit easier or challenge yourself with more complicated material, accepting that your understanding won’t be perfect.
c) What helped me a lot was concentrating on material of which I had some previous knowledge. The main example is news. Read the daily news in English or, even better, listen to them on a radio station. Then listen in Russian, many of the headlines would be similar.

In general, the more similar to a face-to-face conversation with yourself, the easier the material. The more it sounds as if you are bystander eavesdropping other people’s exchanges, the more difficult it gets.
That’s why it’s easier to understand explanations, tutorials and similar presentations, they make an effort to be clear and to “include” you in it. Get tutorials about things you’re interested in and you’ll find them easier to understand. You can build up your comprehension from there.

Ah, I have been experimenting with something new of late: vlogs. I’ve managed to find a few “talking heads” videos on youtube where a person speaks into the camera for 10 to 15 minutes at a native speed. For example, I just listened to this video this morning:

Now, I didn’t understand very much, but I knew from the title what she was talking about, and there’s something about seeing the person’s body language and mouth movements that helps (or at least that’s what I tell myself). The following was a great video, because he listed the questions he was going to answer below the video, so I could follow along as he spoke.

You might try asking people here for recommendations for vlogs on youtube. Perhaps videos with lots of audio are a good stepping stone to “real radio”.

I’d love to find something like Steve’s videos in Greek, but for the moment I listen to people talking about job interviews and what they bought at their last shopping trip. :frowning: Surely you’ll be able to find more interesting content in Russian.

Very many thanks for giving such a thoughtful response.

Very many thanks indeed.


I wanted to reply with my opinion since we´ve got a similar amount of known words in Russian .

I have 30.000 words and Im in a point where i can have conversations with natives and undertsanding 90%. Usually the conversations go smooth. I also can watch tv series such as comedys melodramas, romantic ,etc and i undertsand always the main idea, (to be more specific, i guess around 80%) Is it the same to you? can you watch series and talk to natives without big problems?

But its truth, when i put the radio, specially echo moskvi, i also understand much less, around 50%! I think is because they use a lot of words about politics and specific termins which are not frecuent and i never encounter them on Lingq, i think is like another language. Russians told me that Russian is such a rich language that the difference between the way they speak on daily life and the way they speak on radio is even bigger than in other languages like Spanish or English.

If i dont remember bad, I´ve heard in some video that when Steve listens radio or watch political programs, he understands everything crystal clear like 98%. I guess he could tell you better, but look at the amount of words he has, over 80.000!

Also he listened a lot of echo mosvki, for me is not so interesting so i rarely do.

Every podkast in echo moskvi is very long around 30 minuts. So my question to you is: How many lessons of echomosvki did you lingq and listened completly many times? I think the more you do, the more you will understand this kind of programs.

So in conclusion. i wanted to tell you that i also dont understand when i try to listen the radio (only 50%) but i dont care because i understand almost everything in other kind of situations like real life conversations or serials which i like. If you want to understand radio, they are using more infrecuent words so i guess you should Lingq many lessons of echomoskvi and study this kind of words, maybe you need around 50.000 words. So you just have to keep pushing. I Am on the same boat right now, Im doing exactly the same. Again, this is only my opinion. Good luck!

PS: Here is a video i was watching yesterday, i understood 75% of it, i guess you will understand it too, but it also has English subtitles in case you need them. I found the second part of it it extremely interesting, Here is the link:

One of my first goals in the language is to be able to read the newspaper. At your level (30,000 words) you understand 50% of content on the radio but can you tell me how much of the newspaper is accessible to you?

Chat radio is the ultimate language learning resource, imo.

Here’s how I got comfortable listening to chat radio, in my target language.

  1. Searched for chat radio broadcasts and podcasts that I liked.

  2. Formed a group of like minded people to make up transcripts, for chat radio shows that we liked.

See here for how I put this together →

  1. Put together over 500 hours of interesting chat radio and podcasts with transcripts, and listened and read these at least 4 or 5 times each.

See here for a sample → Login - LingQ

  1. Continued learning the language more broadly.

Newspaper is better, depends the article from 70 to 90% is clear. Which im very happy with it :slight_smile: I understand 50% on radio because in the program echo moskvi content is very difficult, they use very technical words which are not related to latin.

Many thanks to all of you for taking the time and trouble to help me out. What I got from your contributions is that I am on a good track and I just need to relax, be patient, and keep going. Specific comments:

iaing, your method of studying podcasts with transcripts is the one I use but you have done 20 times as much as I have, so I will just keep going. I will be more systematic in my repetitions, and expand my new input. Your point on studying the language more broadly is also well-made, and I do have in place a programme with 5 or 6 main components plus some others, that I stick to daily as far as possible;

kimojima: you have accurately pinpointed all the things that I allow to divert me when I am listening without the transcript. Of course ultimately I should be able to do the dishes while listening to Russian radio the way I do with English radio, but at my stage I get the point about closing my eyes and listening;

ftornay: thank you. Very sensible and practical and all rings true;

Josu88: just keeping pushing is exactly right.

A couple of you asked me questions:

“At your level (30,000 words) you understand 50% of content on the radio but can you tell me how much of the newspaper is accessible to you?” The way LingQ counts Russian words is a whole other debate, but on these points (a) reading newspapers such as St Petersburg Metro, Meduza, Interesting Moscow, Surfingbird is not a big problem - I understand most and read quite quickly; (b) the number of unknown words (i.e. LingQs) that I note in any given transcript of a 50-minute 6200 word Echo Moscow podcast is about 5% (and note: I am ruthless in making LingQs. My standard in calling a word ‘known’, i.e. not making a LingQ, is, can I recall and use this word in my own speaking, NOT do I recognise this word now that I have just seen it in context. If I recognise a word and know its meaning but am not confident that I could wheel it out in my own speech, I make a LingQ). Unknown words are not the issue when I am listening to radio without transcript - it’s catching everything that’s being said and making sense of it in real time. This is where I really like the comments made by kimojima and ftornay.

On talking with natives: I skype someone nearly every day. My skype friends are kind to me, of course, and help me. I have also just spent a month in Russia transacting 99% of everything in Russian. Here the experience is more raw. It comes and goes. Sometimes I sit with friends for a whole evening with everyone chatting non-stop and I understand everything. Other times I fall on my face doing an easy thing like checking into a hotel or buying coffee. I think when you’re not fluent that’s inevitable. The hotel receptionist and the waiter are not trained teachers, they just come out with it as it is and will floor me from time to time with unknown words and turns of speech, unexpected questions, etc. But I can usually get them back to where understanding broke down and get through somehow. However, my own active vocab, being only a part of my total vocab, doesn’t always make for a sparkling contribution from me … again, inevitable when you’re not fluent.

“How many lessons of echomosvki did you LingQ and listened completely many times?” This is a good question and plays to iaing’s comment on listening to 500 hours 4 or 5 times over - so far I have LingQed about 25 50-minute programmes and heard some of them 3 or 4 times, some less often.