Most effective listening strategy?

Hey guys. My current study routine involves studying spanish dialogue of about 12-16 minutes spoken at a native speed. (I used to do different dialogues in the same series, spoken at a slightly slower speed but have now finished them)

I was just wondering what the best method of improving my listening ability is with these transcripts + audio. A I feel going from intermediate to advanced in terms of my listening ability is a lot harder than from beginner to intermediate and I’ve become a bit stumped as to how to improve my ability when it comes to understanding audio spoken fast.

So, supposing i’ve read a particular text enough times, “learned” all the words, listened to the audio, with reading and without, and want to listen just to try and improve my listening…would it be more beneficial to keep listening to the audio without the text, or to listen repeatedly whilst reading the text?

I used to do like you : listening to a text that I’ve previously “studied”.

But I’ve found out that, by doing so, my listening skills were not improving so much : I was “surprised”, or at least not at ease, when I was listening to something totally new or different.
In my opinion, listening to something that you already know creates no “surprise”, because you can anticipate what will be said.

Since a few weeks, in order to improve my listening skills in Portuguese and Thai, I just listen to radio or watch TV, without prior study of the topic.
By doing so, my ability to understand spoken Portuguese and Thai have greatly improved in a matter of weeks !

(In fact, I’m starting to understand quite well Thai TV news, and the only thing that I study is Harry Potter !)

To resume : read texts and learn vocabulary on LingQ, and listen to something UNrelated to these texts (radio/TV). :slight_smile:

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True, all though supposing I listen to spanish radio and just hear words, in other words, I can’t make sense of what I hear. how will this improve my listening drastically if i’m not understanding enough of it to have an effect?

According to your stats, you know 6821 words in Spanish (nice job, by the way !).

When you listen to Spanish radio, I can assure you that at least 95% of these 6821 words are used by the radio hosters.
So why can’t you understand ?

In my opinion, it’s because listening to the same contents over and over again does NOT improve your ability to GRASP NEW STUFF.

In Steve’s routine, there is one step that I find to be VERY important : when he chooses a text to study, before reading it and LingQing, he listens to this text and try to understand what is being said. At this stage, the text is totally new for him.

I consider this step to be VERY important to develop better listening skills. You should give it a try.

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For me personally, I find watching movies extremely helpful. I like to choose things that I am relatively familiar with that is attention grabbing. I like to watch Jurassic Park, Jaws, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and other movies like that in other languages because they keep my attention and I’ve seen them enough so that I don’t feel totally lost. It’s also good to have an idea of what’s going on or else it sounds like a jumbled mess, to me at least. I don’t re-watch these movies over and over, but just once, and then move on to a different movie that I enjoy. I find this helps greatly with being able to understand because there are different emotions that are being portrayed, different speeds at which they talk, and it’s about daily things as well as more complicated concepts. It also exposes you to a wide variety of words, but since you sort of know what’s going on, your subconscious mind becomes familiar with whatever the word is. It may not “know” this word yet, but it’s becoming familiarized with it. Then the next time you see this word, you feel like, “hey, I’ve heard this word before” or, “I think I’ve seen this one before”. It’s amazing what our subconscious can pick up on. I also love movies so it works very well for me. Then perhaps read a few books you love in Spanish with the audio tape, so you at least have an idea of what’s being said, and then move on to a different book. This is what I do, and it’s worked so far. Haha. I hope you find that to be useful.

@Adlai hehe, thanks man, that does sound a pretty cool way of doing it!

@JujuLeCaribou the majority of the time I do hear and recognize the words spoken it’s just the speed they are spoken at that doesn’t allow me enough time to translate, or the speed they are spoken at means that words start sounding like 1 word because they’re said too quickly. If I listen to some content I’ve never listened to before to try and improve do you suggest I just listen and try to translate whatever I can? or start and pause whilst trying to write down the things I hear? What would you say are the best methods when listening to something for the first time?or the best way of doing it when improving listening ability?

I bang into this problem, too, Corin. I have no definitive answers, but here are some things that I try.

  1. Focus, focus, focus. My mind wanders very quickly and very often when I listen to difficult audio, so I have to focus very hard.
  2. Slow down the audio until you understand all or most of it. Then speed it up and listen to it again. Audacity and Anytune help with this. Audacity has versions for Macs, Windows and Linux. Anytune is a iOs app for iPod Touch. I think there is a version for iPhone and iPad, too. Probably non-Apple gadgets have something similar.
  3. I agree with Juju and Adlai. Don’t listen very many times to the same audio.
  4. For audio that has no video, pick something YOU find VERY interesting, even if–especially if–you can’t find a transcript for it.
  5. I find that watching a TV talk show day after day helps me understand spoken language a lot. The presenter is always the same, so you get used to her or his voice and speech patterns. Even if you don’t know the guests from Adam, you’ll quickly decipher the topic. Don’t stress about this. Just watch the show, and when it finishes, move on. In a month or so, I find myself understanding enough so that it becomes a pleasure to listen.
  6. I agree with what Juju and Adlai say about this. Like Adlai, I suggest watching movies of the kind you like. And watch them just once, or twice, if you really like them, and move on.
  7. I don’t ever try to make a formal kind of translation. I never write down anything at all, except the very occasional unknown word or clever thought.
  8. Overriding everything, I find, is interest. If I find some audio, TV show, or movie that I REALLY, REALLY like, I will listen to it over and over or go back to it again and again. I can’t think right now of a Spanish example, but I can’t tell you how many times I have listened to a few of the stories of Anna Gavalda read by the author herself or to “Bonjour Tristesse” read by professional actress Jacqueline Pagnol or to some (repeat SOME) of “Remembrance of Things Past” read by a Librivox reader.

Here kind of highlights my point: I just tried an experiment. I listened to the first 8 minutes of the harry potter number 1 in Spanish. I’d say I could “make sense” of about 5%-10% of it. the rest sounded like words i’d heard before in no understandable order. Surely you guys can understand how I feel this would not improve my listening skill when instead it’s just frustrating me at how little I actually understand. The more I don’t understand the less I feel like i’m improving my listening skill or doing anything worth while.

I think everyone has to work this out individually. If you do not understand more than 5% you should be listening to shorter content, in my view. Your brain needs two things, repetition and novelty. Try to vary repeating short passages that you have read and where understand 60-70 %, with more difficult and more interesting passages.

If you have 6,000 words you will not have 95% of the words in what you are listening to. You will miss many of the words you already know. You will not recognize them. What is more, the key words to understanding the context may well be the words you don’t yet know.

But above all you need patience. These things take time.


Another recent thread on the forum addresses this issue, too:

I would need ten lifetimes to catch up with Steve and his knowledge about learning languages. I would like to thumbtack all of what he says to my forehead, but it won’t all fit. So I’m content with thumbtacking this: “But above all you need patience. These things take time.” I try to remind myself of that everyday.

@ Corin_Wright
“Here kind of highlights my point: I just tried an experiment.(…) The more I don’t understand the less I feel like i’m improving my listening skill or doing anything worth while.”

I am sure you already know a HUGE majority of these words (I disagree with Steve on that).
Your problem is that you are not used to hear them “randomly”.

My advice : listen to this short passage at least 5 times.
I am sure that the 5th time, you will understand more than the 1st time. Why ? Will you learn new words ? No !
You just learned to RECOGNISE the words that you already know !

Another point where I totally disagree with Steve :
I know something like 3000-4000 words in Thai. That’s not a lot of words, I agree, but I know these words VERY well, i.e. I can recognize them whenever I hear them (and I don’t need to translate them in my mind!). This enables me to understand quite well TV series and daily real-life conversations.

Try to follow donhamiltontx’s advices : they are excellent, indeed !

To resume my thoughts on this matter : before learning new words, try to “master” those that you already know.

Good luck ! :slight_smile:

I have different strategies, depending on how I’m feeling. Sometimes being engaged in other tasks while listening helps, especially early on, or when I’m tired of active listening. I think it assists in filling up those “comprehension gaps” in your subconscious that active listening can’t always provide.

Other times, it’s essential for me to block out all distractions and listen hard to every word. Either way, I think the words being branded into our memory banks is KEY. If you’re a native English speaker: how many times have you read and heard the words “house” or “man”? Virtually innumerable times. I suspect that’s also necessary for the common words in our target language(s). You shouldn’t have to think about the words - you just know them, as you do the words in your native tongue.

Another thing I do is listen upon waking, before my mind is tempted to wander onto other things. Likewise, it would be similar (perhaps much better) if one knew how to “meditate” during a lesson: simply let the words penetrate your mind; let the understanding come naturally (or not), without conscious effort.

As Steve has said many times, anxiety is a major obstacle to language learning. I would also throw “self-consciousness” under that banner. I find myself thinking ABOUT listening way too often, instead of JUST listening. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to absorb any meaningful information when you’re conscious of trying to learn. That’s why I think the “meditative approach” is a good idea. Not to resist the information, but not to “over-contemplate” it either. Not that sort of “meditation”.

Openness, acceptance, a mixture of active and passive learning, a lack of anxiety and self-conscious “learning”, and, above all, massive exposure. Just a few of my current ideas.

@russophile82 - it would be similar (perhaps much better) if one knew how to “meditate” during a lesson

Good idea, and I agree wholeheartedly.

Would it help to play relaxing music in the background and to take short (very short) and playful breaks every 20 minutes or so?

@donhamiltontx “Would it help to play relaxing music in the background and to take short (very short) and playful breaks every 20 minutes or so?”

Absolutely, if it helps you relax. Anything that helps quell an overactive mind, takes away anxiety. Really, it could be any music you enjoy, so long as it didn’t distract you. (Others might find it best to study in silence; I like both, depending on how I feel.)

Taking short breaks is another good idea! Unless you’re Superman (which I sort of suspect Steve is), taking regular breaks might help one retain the information better, as well as heighten enjoyability (and thus help ward off “burn out”). “Little, but often” - another good philosophy.