Practicing the “ability to notice"

What are you thoughts and distinctions on the principle of the “Ability to notice”?

When I immerse in reading or listening after yoga I find I am much more ‘in tune’ with the language, I am much more in my intuitive heart “feeling” for the language and I can observe and pay much closer attention to the language. I think the ability to notice is ultimatley how focused you can observe and pay full attention to the language, and as a result, your intuitive understanding of the language increases making it easier to acquire and therefore communicate.

Any other input, tips and insights welcome for discussion. I find this principle rather fascinating.


The higher your passive vocabulary the more you can notice in your listening and reading. The words you ‘know’ passivley pop out at you. You don’t have to force the ability to notice, it just happens so long as you stay present and awar with the language.


My method is brute force memorize a baseline of 2-3,000 words before I start “engaging” with the language. Then I start watching youtube and netflix. The words I have partly memorized are solidified when I “notice” them in a situation because I’m able to recall the situation later with the word in the correct context.

Long story short: noticing for me is about context.

You don’t have to force the ability to notice, it just happens so long as you stay present and awar with the language.

Sometimes I don’t have to force the ability and I would come to this state of mind purely through reading or listening. But sometimes I could use some extra adjustments like if I feel myself a little bit distracted or anxious, it would be good if I allocate at least a small part of attention to breathing and tensions of my body, while reading and listening.

Also an interesting observation I’ve got is when I’m watching a show or TV series, it’s even more helpful to listen to not just the language, but a person who speaks it. Increasing some kind of empathy, genuinely trying to understand a person facilitates language comprehension without the direct focus on the words and grammar constructions.

Sometimes I use a bilingual translation as a cheat sheet to notice grammar tenses and the usage of prepositions in my target language. i.e German. Then I read the same text again without using the translation. This time solely for overall understanding.
I also append a few selected sentences in Anki for later review. Again I pay attention to how a sentence is structured together. That’s how I notice things in my target language and keep them fresh through SRS review.

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Not at all. You can keep doing the same mistakes forever. Your eyes can easily skip tons of words that are not relevant to understand the topic. You need to constantly work on the language so that your mind is engaged in noticing. Otherwise you can plateau at any point and your mind won’t bother about it anymore. You won’t improve a bit even reading millions of words.

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I do blocks of reading for different purposes. For example one for focusing on listening, another to pay more attention to sentence structure, another for words density etc.

In this case there is already a connection between what I should do and the material I’m using.

When I’m listening+reading I stop at every page and a reset my focus on the first line. When I stop to create a LingQ I do the same to that I train my mind to reset.

Setting an intention before every step would be very important. Our mind tends to forget and go for the easy path.

Another technique I’ve taken from @Toby here. Sometimes I read here and there bits of grammar and then I pay attention to it when I read. More useful would be to do like he explained on reading 5 minutes before something about grammar and then paying attention to it afterwards.

On my left part of the screen I have a couple of .txt files opened. One for simple rules of grammar I want to focus now and one where I write bits of sentences that help me to collect info about a specific topic I’m trying to understand.

Just a few ideas.

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In my experience, doing stuff besides input is quite helpful. Let´s say, I get corrected by my teacher during a lesson, whateer they corrected will stand out a lot more when I go back to input. Same goes for reading about a certain grammar point etc.

The more you know about grammar and phonetics and the more languages you´ve studied, the easier it will get to notice things in your new language. You´ll also get better at seeing connections between languages in terms of vocab. When you learn the German word “der Strand” (the beach) it might remind of “stranded whale”. Looking up the etymology of words (for example on wiktionary) can help with that.

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I disagree in my own experience. The words I “skip” (as in my native language) are the filler words that don’t really add to the meaning of the sentence in a strong way. The words I don’t know stick out like a sore thumb. I notice them all the time. It may take me a REALLY LONG time before their meaning sticks. But it’s amazing, at some point these words just click. What has changed after all this time looking up these words over and over and over again, I don’t know. A context, or something that has planted a root in the brain for that word to cling to is now there. THAT, to me, is the noticing.

I think there are just some things, whether it is vocabulary, or particular word groupings (phrases), or a particular grammar point, that you may not be ready to ingrain into your brain. You do “skip” them a bit as you say, but that’s only because you’re not recognizing the patterns yet.
Then at some point something may click, or something may stick out (a pattern, or a grammar) that hadn’t before that makes you inquire a bit more closely on something. You just weren’t ready for that in previous readings/listening. You were too busy noticing other items, words, phrases, grammar points.

In that sense, and directly to the question of the poster. I’m not sure there’s anything you can “practice” to increase the ability to notice. I think it really is as simple as focusing on the task at hand without distractions (or as minimal distractions as possible). With time, one will notice certain things. These don’t happen at once. You’re brain will tell you when it’s ready. The biggest key to noticing I think is minimizing the distractions and trying to keep your mind focused.

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The poster mentioned yoga. I think he’s talking about the particular quality of attention after practicing either asanas or meditations of some kind.
I can tell from my personal experience that such practices indeed increase that quality. Actually, there’s no need to resort to somebody’s personal exp., because today it’s the common knowledge which backed by many scientific researches.
What I love about meditations, is that they are cleared of any other tasks while you’re practicing them.
The essense or, shall I say, the basic skill really is not to keep your mind focus, but to bring your mind back to the subject of focus each time it starts to wonder, but without judging yourself, without force etc. And since you haven’t any other tasks during the session, you’re able to set this habit by repeating it, because mind woders quite often. Over time this habit will work with all the other tasks like reading, listening, anything. Also it’s fascinating to observe how exactly it works.
All this may sound trivial, but the difference is crucial.
I highly recommend to check out the “Headspace Guide to Meditation” on NETFLIX. Beautiful work, simple, enjoyable! It’s worth to give it a try.

@eric: Well, let’s make it simple. If you don’t know it exists you won’t notice it. Or you won’t pay attention to it in a more profound way in order to master it and integrate it.

I don’t imply that you have to and that’s absolutely necessary but if you want to increase your ability to notice things you need to know what things you should notice. Otherwise your brain won’t care.

There are many things in a language you can improve, it doesn’t mean you have to.

I’ve listen to a lot of audiobooks in English but my English has not improved at all. This is because my brain wasn’t pay attention to words, grammar or anything else. It was only paying attention to the concepts I wanted to grasp from the audiobooks.

So, if I don’t “force” my brain to pay attention to something more it won’t progress by itself. Because the nature of our brain is to relax and not making any effort. You will plateau as soon as you will feel “comfortable” with what you will understand.

I can watch countless TV shows in English and never improve a bit. It won’t happen by magic or naturally.

Now. If I afterwards read the text of those audiobooks and I will “decide” to pay attention to the words I didn’t know it’s another story! Same with TV shows and so on.
My brain now will “notice” the words that it had skipped before and I can potentially improve them.

So, this answer was related to the fact that our brain will naturally improve a language without “forcing” its needs to improve the language.

If you don’t act in a way that you want to learn more, your brain will adapt and plateau. It won’t care about noticing anything else because you’ll have a feeling of satisfaction already and you won’t care about mistakes and so on.

I’m not saying that you have to but improvement doesn’t happen by magic.

If you read some grammar before reading an 1 hour book, probably your brain will “notice” some of what you read before in that book. Now you have “forced” your brain to noticing something that otherwise wouldn’t have done.

It’s just “mathematics”.

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