I just started listening to Italian in December 2018. At this stage, listening requires my full concentration.
I am starting with short audios, about 1-2 minutes long, that I listen to over and over. If an audio is too long, then I edit it with Audacity to break it into 1-2 minute segments.
My first listening goal is to be able to understand what they are saying – not understanding the meaning, just understanding what words they are saying. As I become familiar with the words, then I understand the meaning of what I am listening to as well.
For a new audio, I usually need to follow the transcript the first time. Then the next few times, I usually stop the audio after each sentence or two. Then after that, I listen to the audio without stopping. I notice which parts I understand the best, and focus on the parts that I am having the most trouble with.
I usually listen to an audio for five times in a row. After that, I need to switch to a different audio or take a break, because my mind starts to tune out the audio. I am listening to five different audios (from five different series). I listen to the most difficult audio (which is at 100 words per minute) for 3-5 sessions per day, so I listen to this audio about 15-25 times a day. After about a week, I am usually ready to move to the next audio in each series.
The slowest audio I listen to is at 80 words per minute, and the fastest is at 120 words per minute. The fastest audio is not the most difficult, because it is only 20-30 seconds long.
My listening process may sound hard and tedious, but I see it as training my mind to understand Italian, to understand the sounds, the rhythm of the language, etc.
I think that at the beginning levels, you need to listen to an audio with your full attention. Before I started my active listening process, I would occasionally listen to one of the easier audios in the background while driving. After I started listening to the same audio with my full concentration, I discovered that there were many words that I was missing or misunderstanding.
I think that we have two listening comprehension levels – one level for when we are listening with full concentration, and the other level for listening in the background. When my foreground listening level is at the Intermediate level, then I will probably be able to listen to Beginner level materials in the background and understand them.