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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.