Moving from Reading to Understanding Conversation

I’d be very interested in your experience… I’ve learnt Greek with podcasts and transcripts on LingQ and it has been encouraging in that I would otherwise not have understood anything. Now when I listen to the audios on a run I understand a lot more. Still, understanding new content, especially in conversations, when I am stressed, is still very difficult to me. Also, I’ve switched from podcasts zu books, just because the content is more interesting to me and I am more comfortable with the difficulty. I am now finishing the first Harry Potter volume in Greek and it’s actually quite easy (lot of yellow lingqs, but only 10% or so new words left now towards the end). I’ve reached 5000 words and I guess I still already know a lot more (I’ve been learning Greek for years before I switched to LingQ), I just won’t mark as many as known if I continue with this kind of content … My question is this: If my goal is to become better in conversation, is there a point where I have to force myself outside of my comfort zone into the 30% to 40% novel word range? I’m still encountering new things in Harry Potter, mostly idioms, etc. And there are ca. 6000 or so LingQs that I see again and again and thus begin to internalize. So I’d actually be happy with just continuing that. I guess my question is: If I just continue reading without sound etc. (I read between 2000 and 4000 words every day) is it realistic to expect that with more known words, perhaps 15k or so, I will find it much easier to return to conversation? Or should I focus more on conversation/podcasts/dialogues etc. if conversation is what I might be doing in, let’s say, September (two months from now)? Any experience with that in any language?


Visually recognizing letters (symbols) on a page is not the same as recognizing sound combinations. Reading without listening to how the sentences are pronounced by various native speakers will not give you listening comprehension or lead to you yourself being able to form sentences comfortably in a conversation. Sorry, but there it is. This is a very familiar trap that many fall into. Listening comprehension requires not merely understanding the sound combinations of individual words, but being able to recognize them in many different word combinations and contexts – social as well as grammatical. Moreover, this occurs at a pace much faster than you read. When you read, you control how long the words stay in your vision. By contrast, spoken words fly by at a pace you don’t control and once they are uttered, they are G O N E. Understanding spoken speech requires being able to retain an auditory memory of the sounds that were just uttered in order to understand how they make sense in a given sentence. This is easy in a sentence of 3-5 words but when the sentence contains 15-20 words or more, this becomes much harder.

Different languages have different intonations and they phrase things slightly differently than your native language or other languages that you know well. You may think you are pronouncing the words correctly in your head, but authentic native pronunciation may be quite different and slur or skip over syllables that you see on a page. (For example, in American English, “djeet?” is a common conversational contraction of, “did you eat?”) It is likewise common not to understand all native speakers easily as not everyone speaks as clearly as a professional narrator of an audio book or documentary film.

To improve your listening comprehension, I recommend listening more to things that you mostly comprehend (80-90%) and to many different native voices (male, female, young, older). Start with material that is easier than you are reading. (More of it will stick in your head and you will spend more time doing it, thereby getting more practice hearing common grammatical patterns.) Moreover, listen to people who are speaking naturally – e.g., talking about everyday topics. They will use connecting phrases and expressions that aren’t necessarily found in books. There are lots of these on Youtube that you can import into LingQ. (Try searching in Greek for easy native content that interests you.) Choose those with subtitles so that you can check that you understand everything but once you do, only listen to the lessons. You might have to slow it down at first which you can do on LingQ to .9 or even .75 of normal speed. You may feel frustrated at first because the textual content is easier and you think you know the language better than you actually do. Keep in mind that while your visual recognition of words is good, you have to train a different part of your brain that deals with auditory comprehension. Moreover, if you want to be able to speak Greek as well, then you are going to have to practice speaking. Begin by reading out loud what you have just heard, trying to mimic the pronunciation and intonation of the native speaker. One step harder is to try “shadowing” what you have just heard out loud without reading it. When you have to repeat what you just heard, you have to pay closer attention to the words and the grammar. You may think you understood the gist of the sentence, but did you understand it exactly?

In my own experience, listening is THE most important activity in language acquisition. It is critical for pronunciation and intonation not only when I myself speak, but also when I listen to native speakers. Reading is a great way to increase one’s vocabulary but if you don’t know how sounds are combined in everyday speech, then you will greatly struggle to understand native speakers and to converse.

About a year and a half ago I did a month-long “challenge” on LingQ in which I listened for 2 hours/day to material in Spanish that I mostly (80-90%) understood, a language that I knew at an intermediate level but in which I felt my ability to speak was waning due to my intense focus on Russian. (I wrote about it on this forum.) I not only recaptured my speaking proficiency in Spanish in one week, but went on to improve while listening to a more moderate 1/2 hour a day at the same time that I spent a similar amount of time learning Russian. I am now at an advanced level in Spanish which I had the opportunity to enjoy when I visited Spain in January. Moreover, since the approach was so successful, I drastically changed my approach to Russian to include much more time listening and speaking out loud and have had similar positive results. What has been most surprising is that my revised approach is easier and more fun. Good luck.


In my experience as a native speaker of American English for around 39 years, “djeet” is NOT common overall. Having never heard it, is this a regional thing Tracey? Southern? Or maybe that odd Minnesota/Dakota/Fargo the Movie type accent?

However, in Spanish, my experience has largely paralleled Tracey’s and I concur with 98% of everything else posted. The first of two asterisks I would add are that I am skeptical of shadowing and its effectiveness, but have found that speaking aloud, even to oneself is helpful in building confidence and getting used to saying and hearing the foreign language.

Secondly, I think that reading is by far the most important part of language acquisition since that is how you building your passive vocabulary. However, listening is the most important part of conversation and the second most important activity overall.

For all of the reasons Tracey said, I found that, despite my high number of known words that I could understand while reading, even at fast speeds like the subtitles of a telenovela, I had difficultly keeping up with the dialogue without seeing it written out. Granted, I knew how to pronounce everything since Spanish is easy that way, but associating native speakers and their patterns of dialogue with individual words I knew well was very necessary. Further, I also picked up more phrases that you would seldom see when reading. After a few hundred hours of listening, including watching a lot of Spanish TV while reading the subtitles, my listening ability caught up to my reading ability and my speaking ability greatly improved, bringing me to true “fluency.”

So, Christoph, in short, I think that when you have increased your exposure, namely accumulating 10 times the number of known words, 20 times the hours of listening, 2-3 times the amount of reading, and speaking a lot more (to yourself and others) you’ll see a dramatic improvement over where you are now.

Good luck!

1 Like

Nods to both TraceyG and LILingquist on their responses. Specifically concerning conversation, you already know the obvious answer to “should I focus more on conversation/podcasts/dialogues etc. if conversation is what I might be doing”.

Listening is harder than reading, and listening to conversation is the hardest. Compared to other types of speech, people speak faster and perhaps incompletely with some things tacitly understood by the partners Syllables are skipped and compressed as noted by TraceyG… A different register of speech is used. ('sup, dawg?) On the plus side, conversational registers can be simpler than literature and news, but they’ll still be baffling if you learn only from literature and news. Scripted conversations on television and film are not like real-life conversations, but they are better than reading for learning this skill. As for your own conversations, listening will be half of those.

Disclaimer: I have no conversation partners and thus have not started speaking, though I’m fairly advanced in Russian by word count and by ability to read. I developed my listening comprehension mostly with Russian YouTube, which I watch for a couple of hours most evenings not for study but for entertainment and education. I am able to understand most of what I listen to effortlessly. I sense the more challenging channels becoming easier to grasp with time. I continue to build vocabulary by reading both in and outside of Lingq, and it’s not unusual for me to start noticing in speech new words that I recently learned while reading. But conversation, even movie conversation, remains challenging.

Interestingly, I now often find it easier to understand the same content when spoken rather than written. If it’s especially difficult, yes, I need the written version to pore over and analyze. But otherwise the additional clues in the speaker’s pacing and intonation just seem to make it easier to grasp meaning.

By the way, your profile says that German is your native language, but you write excellent English. Do you speak it as well? I suspect you already have more extensive foreign language experience than I do, which makes me question why I’m even writing here.


Not sure about “djeet”…I’d have to hear how Tracey would pronounce that, but possibly if you throw in an extra syllable “didja eat”–>“didjaeat”…lots of didja which would be blend of “did ya” (did you). Sounds like something my Virginia brother in law might say…or some other Southern kind of thing.

Regardless, definitely a good point that there’s all these blendings of words in all kinds of ways and even if someone who speaks English has never heard that “blend” that probably would still understand. For the foreign language learner its much more difficult.

For myself I’m not close to a level that you guys are, but so far it’s quite tricky for me to understand conversation at my 12,000 word level. Disappointing because I know I’ve made awesome progress, but still native level conversation is way out of reach still. The language learning process is fun though so I still plug away.

The point about nicely narrated audible books is important too. A lot of the content I’ve listened to personally is of that nice narration. Even if you don’t know the word, you can picture it in your mind. During actual conversation (native–girlfriend’s family is German) and tv shows it is a blurred mess. I pick out words here and there but it is nearly impossible to really specifically understand at my current level.

From my experience: If I’ve learned a word I can hear it in conversations. The more internalized that word has become the easier it is to pick it out in the midst of fluid conversations. I would suggest you keep on reading so as to acquire/internalize more words, in addition do some listening practice everyday as well.


Well, your writing here has helped me, even if he is more experienced and doesn’t need it. Haha.

I was actually a little surprised to hear you say you haven’t really spoken yet. Do you think you’ll start soon? The reason why I ask is that I remember someone saying a few years back (and I referenced this the other day) that something happens in Russian around the 60K mark. Any ideas what that could have been? Was it potential fluency, or the ability to participate in conversations? When you’re about “ready” to speak or have a meaninful conversation?

Als, I’m wondering if the reason you have found listening easier at times is because you didn’t have to try to translate that pretty, but hurty Cyrillic alphabet? Maybe you just went by sound?

Lastly, a totally irrelevant point, but you writing “'sup, dawg?” reminded me: until I saw your new profile picture a few days ago, I had always imagined you as a black woman in the mold of Moses McCormick with the name Khardy.” But now I suspect you are a very white man named “K Hardy.” LOL

Hah! Your suspicion is correct. ))

I don’t know when I’ll start talking. There are no Russian speakers around me. It’s been years since I had a Russian coworker, but now, working remotely, even that would present limited opportunity for conversation. Truth be told, I’m not much of a conversationalist even in English, and I don’t go out of my way to strike up conversations with strangers (in stark contrast to my father who was quite gregarious) Nevertheless, I’ve toyed with the idea of scheduling time online with a tutor. I might act on that idea if it ferments long enough.

I think that not dealing with the Cyrillic alphabet definitely has some bearing on ease of listening vs. reading, though not solely. Even though I’ve known it for very many years, am quite comfortable with it, and never confuse a “Р” for “P”, Cyrillic still doesn’t scan for me as easily as the Latin alphabet. And I mean the alphabets, not the languages – having recently started on it, I find it easier to scan German words than Russian (5-root compound words excepted, perhaps!) I think at least part of it has to do with the fact that Cyrillic letters have less variation in the width, height, and weight of the letters with fewer descenders and risers. It’s well known that fast readers recognize the shapes of the words without looking at each letter in each word, and lower-case Cyrillic, which predominately is just smaller upper-case Cyrillic, has more visual uniformity than Latin lower case. It doesn’t help that п and л are so similar (a serif font helps), nor ш and щ . That said, obviously those who grew up with Cyrillic have no problem reading swiftly, so it’s still probably more a matter of it not.being the alphabet that I grew up with.

There’s also the fact that to listen you cannot dwell on unknown words – the speaker isn’t waiting for you. If the rate of unknowns is low then you still understand because of context, intonation, visual cues, etc., without wasting brain power on the unknown When reading it’s easy to get slowed down by each unknown word, even when not using this site to create and review lings. As an exercise I think that there may be value to the suggestion to repeat what you hear. Otherwise It’s just too easy to gloss over the unknown words.

On the production side, when in a conversation you are not going to constantly rephrase what you’re trying to say to get it just right. And if not in a tutoring sitution, your interlocutor is more interested in what you’re trying to say than in how you’re saying it, and is unlikely to correct you much, if at all. Once something is uttered, it and its grammatical errors are gone, and only the meaning remains in the mind of the listener.

By contrast, any mistakes that I make here in writing, in any language, remain frozen for the ages to critique. I tend to obsess when writing. Even writing these English paragraphs, I’m going very slowly, trying to select the best word and be mindful of grammar, phrasing, and composition. My best friend is the Edit button, and I frequently use it immediately after posting a comment because I see some small slip. The same compulsion of course slows my written Russian output even more by an order of magnitude.

As point of proof, I went way over my lunch break to write this response, making me late getting back to work. ¯_(ツ)_/¯

Edit: As for what someone said for Russian around the 60k word mark, no I don’t recall that. At some point (I don’t recall when it struck me) grammatical endings do start sounding and feeling “right”. And I do find myself more often finding the native Russian way of phrasing things, when writing, instead of just translating English phrasing. It’s an incomplete process but noticeably underway, and it would probably be farther along if I was an active conversationalist.


excellent. Thank you for the thoughtful reply and the confirmation of my suspicious. The in depth analysis is also appreciated.

I remember Master Steve saying several times over the years that you really can’t overstate the difference of ease in reading in yoru own alphabet.

May your lunch break, rest in peace. I myself am still on the clock as well.