Frustration in listening

I have spent proportionately way too much time reading and getting obsessive about increasing my known words counts over the last year, so I have moved on to listening a lot more and reading only very little. I´m experiencing certain frustrations.

  1. It is hard to track your progress or measure your success, compared to having something like the “known words” and “unknown words” / lingQs which I´ve gotten used to
  2. When I understand everything, or almost everything, I get annoyed that I´m perhaps wasting time listening to something that´s too easy and not learning enough
  3. When I understand little or where there are parts I just don´t get, I get frustrated in thinking my understanding should be better than it is

Obviously 2 and 3 are sort of contradictory, meaning I´m always somewhat frustrated or annoyed regardless of how much I understand. That may just be my weird state of mind or has anyone else had that same experience?


Listening time is not learning time. Reading time is learning time. Listening is just playing catch up with your reading skills. Listening to stuff you do not understand is going to be of very little use, because, unlike when reading, it is not obvious how to make incomprehensible input comprehensible. There is no point in frustrating yourself with incomprehensible material and no reason not to be happy when something is clearly comprehnsible and easy for you. My guess is, that as soon as you stop approaching listening as an activity to acquire new knowledge about the language and regard as merely as a means to convert your existing knowledge into a new skill, these frustrations will vanish.


“Listening to stuff you do not understand is going to be of very little use, because, unlike when reading, it is not obvious how to make incomprehensible input comprehensible.” - that is completely true for pure listening and true to a high degree for watching videos, but not completely, since videos do offer some context to the speech. One thing one can do is read and listen to the same material. You catch a lot more of the heard words if you read them before listening and you fill in a lot of the gaps if you read material after listening. The problem with that is how it can be a bit boring to go over the same material multiple times.

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Hi, rokkvi!

“That may just be my weird state of mind or has anyone else had that same experience?”
IMO, it boils down to two things:

  1. Your personal expectation management:
  • Maybe you want too much too fast?
  • Maybe you suffer from the “curse” of goal orientation? That is: You want to reach your goal XY as fast and as efficiently as possible, but you forget that the journey is the reward.? Often it’s better to set a goal and then forget about it in order to enjoy the ride.
  1. Your (exclusive?) focus on quantitative metrics (the number of known words, the number of LingQs, the number of minutes / hours you’ve listened to something in your L2, etc.):
    When it comes to listening quality, i.e. “active listening”, is probably more important than quantity
    So some of my qualitative criteria for progress would be:
  • How much do I understand from the native AV content without having read the respective text first?
  • How much do I understand of the native AV content after reading the respective text first?
  • How much do I understand depending on the medium (article, blog post, podcast, video, book, movie, TV series with lots of dialog, etc.)?
  • How much do I understand depending on the genre/topic?
  • How much do I understand when I increase / decrease the speed of the recording?

My two personal listening goals are:

  • Am I able to focus completely on meaning while forgetting that I’m learning the target language?
  • Am I able to keep up with the fast pace of native speakers?
    With this in mind, I never get bored listening because I’m constantly experimenting, i.e. I’m constantly varying the content, media, genres, topics, speed of recording, etc.



I do a lot of listening/watching, but I do it more for entertainment and for education (in the subject of the video, not the language it’s delivered in per se). So though I of course get frustrated when I don’t undestand enough, I do not fret about understanding “too much”. I spend my study time reading and, for German, listening on LingQ. I spend some of my “down time” reading Russian for pleasure on LingQ and watching or listening to Russian on YouTube, VK, or internet radio.

@Ramonek is correct that you do your learning on LingQ. I will learn a new word in reading, and – surprise, surprise – I will start to hear it in videos, etc. Occasionally I’ll hear a key new word spoken clearly enough that I’ll look it up, but that cannot compare to the volume of vocablary added by reading.

My challenge is that I can enjoy Russian content so easily now that I spend too much time with it and not enough time advancing my German. ¯_(ツ)_/¯


“Listening time is not learning time.”
Strange idea.
“Active” listening and (interacting with each other) is learning time, too!
That’s how almost “all” native speakers learn their L1s!
If native speakers first had to learn how to read before they can acquire their
L1s, human communication processes would collapse.
The same is true for L2 learners. That is: A reading-first approach isn’t a “must”
when learning a foreign language! See: How to acquire any language NOT learn it! - YouTube

“unlike when reading, it is not obvious how to make incomprehensible input comprehensible.”
Again: strange idea. You could talk to native speakers (if possible), you can use translations between languages, you can vary the speed of the recordings, etc.


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You are right Peter, listening can definitely mean learning and as you pointed out that´s how toddlers learn and that´s how languages originally came about, where written language obviously came after spoken language.

I think the claim was more intended to mean how this person views learning on LingQ. In that case it sort of makes sense, at least when you don´t have any video footage to go along with the listening.

“Maybe you suffer from the “curse” of goal orientation?” - I´d have to say yes to that. That should be obvious just by glancing over my profile knowing I´ve been here for just over a year.

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Yes, that’s true!
But I always tend to assume that language learning happens
outside of LingQ, too :slight_smile:

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I don’t have anything against ambition and goal orientation per se,
but there is wisdom in the saying “the journey is the reward”.
Running from goal to goal usually makes you unhappy (and empty).

Therefore: Don’t focus exclusively on the goal, focus more on the ride :slight_smile:


Yes that has somewhat been my feeling. I get obsessed with reaching a known words goal, work a lot to get it and then I´m like “So now what?” At this point I´m trying to find material which I find more entertaining. Some of the material I´ve been watching just hasn´t been enough of a “my cup of tea.”

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IMO you are too fixated in the idea that learning a language consists in memorizing new words. That is one of the side effects of letting oneself be caught in stats gaming.
The relationship between vocabulary building and language learning is an interesting one and, as for all interesting phenomena, it is complex and subtle.
If you browse the table of contents of a traditional textbook or a typical language learning app (say, Duolingo) you may get the impression that absorbing grammar is the main point of language learning because grammar topics are the way in which such learning aids are organized. May learner fall into that trap and end up thinking that they have to, say, master the present verb before the past and then conditional and so on and on and that’s hard but by the way you get to the more advanced grammar points you’ll be fluent.
We, Lingq users, know that that is false. Grammar is important but it is not the main thing. We all have gone through the experience of knowing a lot of grammar but not being able to understand a text or some audio. Ling reflects that: it’s not structured in terms of grammar lists. Instead everything orbits around stats. And those stats are at the end of the day numbers of words: words known, words lingqed, words read, … So, we end up equating word learning and language learning.
It seems to make sense. After all, we spend most of the learning time until “fluency” struggling with lack of vocabulary. And when we stop struggling so much, then we are fluent, right? We’ve finished learning, we’re allowed to move on to the next language. That’s how the game works, right?
Of course none of this is true. Language learning is more organic and hard to define than all of that. We know that at some level but it’s hard not to fall into the trap.
I would argue that in the beginning of our language learning language structure (grammar, if you will) is the most important part or what provides more bang for your buck. You can’t expect to acquire a very large vocabulary in that period of time but you can begin to understand how the language works. Not that you’ll master all grammar but if you know how it functions you can at least tackle content in the language, with the help of a dictionary, e.g. This is the reason why traditional material is organized in terms of grammar: it’s material for beginners.
Then, to get to an intermediate level. Vocabulary is in fact the most important part. This is where Lingq excels. There’s not a lot of help to get you through the terrible intermediate desert and Lingq is one of the best resources.
As you get to an intermediate-ish level, listening comprehension becomes the main skill. Steve has argued that it is, in fact, the most important skill overall and I tend to agree. Lingq stats don’t stress this, all they have is “time listening” which is not very exciting or precise. There’s no post trying to find the top ten users in that category. But that doesn’t mean it is important and yes, it is. It is both when you can understand every word and when you can just make some sense of a given content. Just as reading is important, whether you can understand a text easily or when you struggle to comprehend it.
Why is it important? Reading will provide you with lots and lots of words that you just “kind of” understand. That is, if you read them in the right context and you give them enough thought you can understand what they mean. If all you want is read that can be enough but don’t fool yourself: this is not language mastery, it is not “fluency” in any sense of the word. If you want to use the language in real settings you need much more.
Besides, you are going to forget a lot of the half-learned vocabulary you have, easily and surely. When you try to use it or even recognize it when conditions are not ideal, you’ll feel very very frustrated.
Listening to audio will etch those words and grammar structures and co-locations into your brain. You stand no chance to be “fluent” if you can’t understand the normal flow of conversation of native speakers. Even more, you need to kind of “predict” what’s going to be said and then check that prediction against what you hear later on, and so on.
Of course, as you learn to do that you also need to practice speaking, which adds a new layer of complexity (which is also way underrepresented in Lingq stats). However, you still need to understand the answerss which tend to be the bottleneck for conversation more often than not. Plus a good listening comprehension goes a long way in helping activate your passive knowledge.
When you understand everything, think “I’m reviewing my knowledge and applying it in real time. The more I do that the less I’ll forget and the more prepared I’ll be to both understand it in real situations and use it myself”
When you don’t understand everything, think “I’m applying what I know to fill in the gaps of the parts that I don’t understand. That’s a precious skill for real word fluency and I (occasionally) pick up new words and I’m breaching the gap between what I can understand and what I have to guess and I’m learning to handle uncertainty in my target language”.
In general, think of listening as training your “language” muscles. You really need the fitness that training provides.

The original post was not about conversing with native speakers or learning in a natural environment throughout your childhood years but how to choose audio material for your (presumably) autodidactic study time and how to use it for effective learning.

Yes you need to learn your first language through constant interactions with the speakers around you which takes many years. But going about it the same way when you are already literate seems to be an extraordinary amount of effort. Also completely unnesseary. Fact is that if you do not find a creative way to make the audio input comprehensible, all you are listening to is noise. There might be ways to make it comprehensible but what is the point when you can already read anyway? Yes, I could be glued to a recording, repeating it ad nauseam, changing the speed and try to guess unknown words. I also just could get the text.
Afterall native speakers too obtain a lions share of their language ability after and through the achievement of literacy.


Great conversation here! Thank you to all

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“how to choose audio material for your (presumably) autodidactic study time and how to use it for effective learning.”
Yes, you’re right. I only mentioned L1s because there’s more to the oral (and nonverbal) dimension(s) than meets the eye (see the post by @ftornay).

“when you are already literate seems to be an extraordinary amount of effort”
I’d say it depends on two main factors:

  1. The distance between your L1 / the L2s you’ve mastered and the target language (TL) you try to learn, esp. when the writing systems are completely different.
    The greater the distance between your L1 / L2s and your TL, the wiser it’s to postpone reading / writing and focus on developing oral skills first.
    See our recent discussion here:
    Seeking Advice From Someone/S Experienced In The Process ...

  2. Your learning level
    But even if the writing system isn’t completely different, “focusing on oral skills first” is still an effective and efficient strategy. That’s why methods like the “Thinking Method”, Jeff Brown’s approach and “Michel Thomas” work surprisingly well for (absolute) beginners!

Of course, I’m pro

  • intensive reading
  • extensive reading
  • AI translation tools like Deepl
  • flexible AudioReaders like LingQ and ReadLang.
  • bilingual texts
  • graded readers
  • text chats
    These are all great tools / methods, but depending on the language distance and
    the language level they may not always be the best (“first”) choice.

Regarding the “extraordinary” amount of effort.
I can tell you from my own 20-month experience in Japanese that learning to read and write Japanese fluently is an “extraordinary” effort. But, it’s muuuuccch easier to first develop your oral skills in Japanese by using one of the methods mentioned above.
And if you asked Benny Lewis (“Fluent in 3 months”) and his students, they’d agree, too :slight_smile:

“There might be ways to make it comprehensible but what is the point when you can already read anyway? Yes, I could be glued to a recording, repeating it ad nauseam, changing the speed and try to guess unknown words. I also just could get the text.”
Listening first and trying to guess words is almost always my preferred strategy when learning an L2 because that’s a valuable skill you also need in everyday conversations with native speakers of your TL.
As language learners, we need to constantly train our brains/minds to the fast pace of native speakers. If you don’t do that, you might get a very unpleasant surprise when interacting (orally) with native speakers of your TL!

Of course, if you watch comedy series (like “Aquí No Hay Quien Viva” in Spanish), you can read the transcripts beforehand. But, it’s still an oral challenge due to the fast pace, pronunciation and intonation patterns, different accents, irony, puns, etc.

“Afterall native speakers too obtain a lions share of their language ability after and through the achievement of literacy”.
Most minority languages spoken on planet Earth often have illiterate native speakers. In these cases, the oral and non-verbal dimensions reign supreme.
But, I agree, “literacy” can boost your language ability a lot. The more literate you are, the richer your vocabulary and the more complex your information processing becomes. In short: Good reading and writing skills are a must in modern society!

In sum:
When learning foreign languages, it’s often an excellent strategy to develop your oral skills . And depending on the language distance and level, developing oral skills should sometimes even be your first learning strategy. However, that doesn’t rule out literacy once and for all! It may just postpone it a little :slight_smile:



I used to have a similar problem, but I’ve found a routine that gives me some sense of accomplishment and is actually so pleasurable that I may like it more than reading at this point.
The way my thinking evolved is as follows:

  1. I have realized that being able to read native level material with the help of dictionary is not achievement I am ACTUALLY satisfied with. It seems like a big deal at first until you realize that you can do it on day one. After that you improve just speed and accuracy. Does it make a huge difference if you can read a certain book in a month or a week? Yes, if you need it for your work, studies, pleasure or whatever, but if it means that you have to study for six months to get from point A (book in a month) to point B (book in a week) just for the sake of it, then I find it hard to justify the amount of work.
  2. Being able to follow your chosen audio material is so much more difficult. I don’t mean understanding all the words, but rather the overall plot or argument. This is what I have in mind when I think of someone who “knows the language X”. You can’t listen on day one. You have to have some deliberate practice that goes beyond speed and accuracy. By learning to listen you gain a tangible skill.
  3. As such, listening obviously requires different training. I suspect that there must be some quantitative drop off points, like with reading. I think that the goal of 10-15 native level, full-size books is reasonable as far as reading is concerned and there should be corresponding number of hours of listening, but I haven’t yet found any convincing guidelines. I mean, there has to be a number of hours to go for. Conceptually, we can all agree that if you listen to 1 hour of target language, you’d be as good as a complete beginner, but if you listen to 5 years worth of target language material, you’d gain complete comprehension regardless of the way you learn.
  4. For my goals and purposes this kind of statement is meaningless. I don’t have the time to “just listen”. The way my days usually go I don’t have time to do what Steve does, which is listening passively while doing other stuff. I also don’t have time to listen to stuff I don’t understand.
  5. If I am to improve my listening I have to first prepare my materials the way I use dictionary when reading. I use all the crutches I can find. I use translation, written materials and I cut recordings into tiny fragments of 10-20 seconds. Personally I work with a program called WorkAudioBook which speeds up a whole process a lot, but you can as well use the sentence mode in LingQ, you can prepare your audio material in Audacity with keyboard shortcuts (as mentioned by someone else in this forum recently) or use any other program/app with decent AB-repeat functionality. (BTW I hate it that in LingQ you can loop only the whole recording and that there is no option to play audio in sentence mode continuously).
  6. One other thing I have realized is that listening complements reading perfectly. With reading you can get new words, with listening you can consolidate that knowledge. On repeated reading you tend to focus on the words you don’t know, and on repeated listening your brain filters out the unknown vocabulary, making you focus completely on the words you know and on how they connect together.

The routine I have kind of settled on recently looks like this:
I learn French from Guy de Maupassant stories using the recording you can find on LibriVox. I know that I run the danger of sounding like a 19th century peasant from Normandy, but that’s the risk I am willing to take for the sake of convenience. At least I have the audio and the texts (French and English) for free. And the stories are interesting.
I divide the material into 5-minute long fragments and split my practice into three days.
Day 1 is prep work. I listen to the recording while reading translation and then read the lesson in LingQ marking the words with appropriate colours.
Day 2 is the main session. I again listen to the recording while reading translation and then I listen to the recording for 10-20 seconds at a time, reading the French text on LingQ. I keep rewinding each tiny fragment as many times as I need to understand it completely and map all the words to the stuff I hear. WorkAudioBook helps a great deal, because it will by default repeat that 10 seconds until I press a button to move forward.
On day 7 or later, I bring up the same recording and listen to each 10-20 seconds, but this time I listen to each one exactly 4 times. That’s just an arbitrary number I found that works for me. I don’t expect to learn much by this point. This is just to help my memory and to give me a chance to celebrate my improvement:) Hey - motivation is important too!

The first two stages take me about half an hour to 40 minutes for a 5 minute recording, the last one is a bit quicker and less taxing. The way I set this up is I try do the three stages every single day with different recordings. So on Monday I might do the main work on a fragment I read the first time on Sunday and do the final repetition on a fragment I worked through on Monday the week before. I use a spreadsheet to keep track of the schedule.

It might look like this (let’s assume I have a number of stories that are 10 minutes long, divided into 5 minute long fragments):

story 7 0.00-05.00 (new material)
story 6 05.00-10.00 (1st repetition)
story 1 0.00-05.00 (2nd repetition)

story 7 05:00-10:00 (new material)
story 7 0.00-05.00 (1st repetition)
story 1 05.00-10.00 (2nd repetition)

The exact order of activities does not matter at all. Also, if I skip a day or a week, I just pick up where I left before. It’s not like Anki where you have to be very consistent or you’d get crushed by reviews. I don’t plan ahead the work in a calendar, but rather put all the fragments in one box (or a table) and move them to another boxes until they go into the folder “completed”.

I have been doing this for over a month and I like how structured my learning got. The big problem with listening is that there is so much different strategies. Some people like to listen first and read later, some start with reading, others do both simultaneously, yet other will tell you to stay away from written material. The mix I have works for me, I don’t have to think about it and I also feel like my comprehension is improving nicely. The only thing I could change is maybe make the fragments a bit shorter, so that I could fit all the work in an hour. I suppose that there is a point where you would be too advanced and repetition could just slow you down, but I have just started with French, so I am definitely not there yet.

Anyway I just thought this might be interesting for you and others on this forum, and if you’d try it, please tell me how it goes for you.


Hi, emde33!

Congratulations! That sounds like an effective and sustainable learning practice.
However, at least at the (absolute) beginner stage(s), there are probably more efficient approaches like the “Thinking Method”, “Michel Thomas”, Paul Noble’s approach based on cognates, the use of flashcards with the XY frequent words / collocations, etc.
But, efficiency is not everything. Consistency, on the other hand, is :-).
Anyway, thanks for sharing your experience in such detail!
I always find it interesting how others approach language learning.

PS .-
I share your passion for 19th century literature (Balzac, Flaubert, Rimbaud, Baudelaire, etc.).
And there may also be a “danger of sounding like a 19th century peasant”.
But at least I can sound like a French peasant who is able to talk about AIs :slight_smile:

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“IMO you are too fixated in the idea that learning a language consists in memorizing new words.” - I have actually never believed that. That would be sort of like thinking you could become a great lego builder simply by owning a lot of lego blocks.


Lots of good replies here. I think what I need is to simply keep listening and slowly the conditioning of always wanting to see stats go up as a reward will fade away. It just takes a while to get used to.

  1. There’s really no answer to this unfortunately. Maybe you can have a time goal…I will (try) to listen to an hour a day for example. I’ll try to get to 500 hours of listening (or whatever goal) by the end of the year. Unfortunately there will not be any obvious markers to know exactly how you are progressing skill wise other than perhaps coming across something that you know you wouldn’t have understood before, but you can now.

  2. and 3) Yeah I totally get both of these.

On issue #2…probably just about ANY listening is helpful. Obviously if it’s just “Hello, my name is Eric. How are you”…that’s not going to help much…so it really can be toooo easy. If it is too easy…maybe speed the sound up and see if you can listen to it at a faster speed.

On issue #3, I experience this a ton. Whether I’m with my gf’s family (all from Germany) or watching native tv shows with no subtitles. I keep thinking…ok I’ve made a lot of progress, I’ll understand so much more on my next visit to Germany, only to find I almost feel I understand no more than I did the first trip to visit her family =D. The reality for me, as I’ve come to realize, is that I probably simply don’t have enough vocabulary. Not the same issue for you based on your word counts, but from a listening standpoint it’s the case…you don’t know these words yet…if you only know them to maybe an intermediate level of listening, that’s not good enough obviously.

On this point…when you listen to something that frustrates you, when you look at the words/transcript. Do you know the words? Are you not “hearing” the words, or is it that you can’t process what you hear quick enough? Have you tried slowing down the dialogue to .75x speed? Maybe try that…then speed it up until you can go full speed.? Maybe read along with the listening first might help too?

Something else I’ve been contemplating is reading speed. Although reading does not equal listening…does comprehension speed of reading indicate the speed at which one might be able to process listening? I may be able to understand a sentence, but it takes me a few seconds, or a few re-readings to comprehend precisely what it’s say. Obviously, at that pace I wouldn’t understand it if I was listening to it. So would working on reading speed be beneficial to comprehension speed and thus listening?