Question about Language Comprehension

Hi. I seem to have this problem where I can understand what I read or hear in the language as it comes in, but it doesn’t seem to stick after I’ve finished. I mean I could tell you what I was reading as I was reading it, but it almost feels like the weight of the words is lost unless I think of it in my own language, and if you asked me what it was about I could only tell you generally, even though in some cases I understand every word.

Has anyone else had this problem, and if so, do you have a solution? I’m wondering if it may just be that I need more time to get used to the language and develop an attachment to the words.

One added bit of information is that I also tend to get an image of what a word represents more often than a direct language to language translation. I figure this is because I am reasonably young (early 20’s) and I’m still in the phase of language learning where my brain isn’t entirely dependent on equivalent words in my native language (English).

Also, for context, the language I am studying is Italian and I have been studying it for six months. I think I’m making very quick progress, and many times I will retain what I’ve read, but sometimes I just can’t bring it from my short-short term memory to my medium-short term memory, ya know?

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I think when you can understand spoken language is when you really start to internalize it. Reading is good for learning words but listening is where the real magic happens. Also, you’ll need to read lots and lots of words in order to internalize grammar. A good goal for number of words read is like 2-3 million. How many do you have now? Also you can try repeating a sentence that you hear (or read without looking) to make sure you can reproduce it. That‘s just a way to check your retention. This would be very difficult for a beginner. Even reproducing one word in a completely new language is hard when first starting a language.


I have just over 130,000 words read. I mean I have the same problem with listening, although I am getting much better at it. I do a lot of listening nowadays off of LingQ, and many things I can comprehend perfectly, word-for-word and at the end it just doesn’t have as much impact on me as it would if it was in English even if I retain a decent portion of it.

I like your idea on repeating the sentence I just heard/read without looking at it, I think I’ll start doing that. I think one of the other things is that I need to do is speak more, so that may be a good excuse to. It seems like that is a more a way to test retention. Any tips on improving retention? I suppose just more reading and listening?

Yeah you’ll need need a lot more input. Try 3M words read and 2000 hours of listening. These are good goals.

One thing that I accidentally did and found out later was an actual technique (shadowing) is to simultaneously repeat the words as you’re hearing them. I think doing this while speaking would be too hard without chopping the words (unless the audio is slow), but if you pretend that you’re the one speaking as you’re hearing the words is an excellent way to improve listening comprehension. It feels like it forces your brain to always focus on the current word instead or trying to figure out a previous word. Hopefully that makes sense.


Yeah, great advice! I already do that actually, I didn’t know there was a name for it but I kind of repeat the word in my head faintly, and sometimes vaguely mouth the word, or at least feel I am mouthing it/think about mouthing it. It’s kind of automatic, unless I force it. I think I may have heard it referred to as echoing or something like that, I don’t know. It’s nice to hear it does end up helping, though. Thanks again for your help!

I would say it is absolutely normal. In my experience, that feeling will desapear gradually, especially when you have the chance to speak the language often. As for the numbers, 2-3 million word count is right, but would say 500-1000 hours range of listening is also ok.


Ok, thank you!

I think you are doing incredibly well for someone who has been studying for 6 months! Well done you!

Remember language learning is a life long journey and just keep going. You will keep improving. Just think what you’ve achieved in these 6 months alone and how much different you’ll be in another 6 months if you keep up the pace!

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Thank you so much for the encouragement and advice! I like that way of looking at it!

I think the problem is when we want to force our brain to do what we would like, or have its learning times and processes fit in with our natural anxiety to achieve it. I believe that what happens to you is normal, it is not a problem, simply the answer is almost always “longer”, even longer than we initially imagined, and patience … Yes, when you listen to the content and you understand you have a good and enjoyable experience … keep it !, and do not rush to the brain’s own times. I hope my opinion relieves you a bit of believing that what is happening to you is a problem. Hug

I use google translate :wink: . El mensaje original es en español, mi lengua nativa:

Creo que el problema es cuando queremos obligar a nuestro cerebro a que haga lo que nos gustaría, o que sus tiempos y procesos de aprendizaje encajen con nuestra ansiedad natural de lograrlo. Yo creo que lo que te ocurre es normal, no es un problema, simplemente la respuesta casi siempre es “más tiempo”, incluso más de lo que en un principio imaginamos, y paciencia…Si cuando escuchas el contenido y lo entiendes tienes una buena y disfrutable experiencia…mantenla!, y no te apresures a los tiempos propios del cerebro. Ojalá mi opinión te alivie un poco de creer que es un problema lo que te ocurre. Abrazo

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Thank you! You make a good point. I thought that might be the problem, I just wanted to see if there was a work-around :). I guess it’s just time.