TV Shows

I’m curious if other people experience this. I like watching TV in my target language because I think it’s a lazy but enjoyable way to get lots of input.

I currently follow along with several TV shows, one of them I can understand nearly everything that is being said, to the point where I don’t need to think about anything and I can just enjoy what I’m watching.

However sometimes I can watch something and barely understand anything at all. It feels as if I’m either in-tune or out-of-tune, if that makes sense. Yes, I can make out words, but it just doesn’t come together and I have a very hard time enjoying it and eventually just switch off. I also have similar experiences when I’m reading or listening to the radio.

I haven’t been able to work out why. It’s like a switch in my head which either tunes in or tunes out. Does anyone else experience this?

Yes, I have this experience from time to time as well.

The same thing happens to me when I’m listening to my target language. I haven’t been able to pinpoint why, either. When you say, “It feels as if I’m either in-tune or out-of-tune,” I understand exactly what you mean.

A few thoughts.

Sometimes it’s probably due merely to unfamiliar vocabulary or phrases.

Sometimes it’s because I’m too tired.

Partly it seems due to how relaxed my mind is. When I’m out-of-tune, sometimes it seems as if I’m working too hard at it. Something similar occurred to me when I used to play a musical instrument and was trying to play a new passage just right. I discovered that if I watched television at the same time, the passage would be easier to play. As if TV provided just enough distraction to prevent my mind from trying too hard.

But I don’t know how to apply playing music to listening to my target language. Because if I do something else while listening—folding laundry, driving a car, and so on—I often simply lose my concentration on listening altogether.

Because I can’t see any way to facilitate relaxing my mind or getting it “in-tune,” my only solution is simply to do more controlled listening. By controlled listening, I mean listening to something for which I can refer to a written text when and if I have to.

By the way, this tuning out happens to me no matter what the listening text may be—TV, radio, movies, LinqQ lessons—but it never happens to me while I read. Some texts are intrinsically harder to read than others, of course, because of unfamiliar vocabulary or phrases, unusually long or complex sentences, or difficult concepts, but I never go “out-of-tune.” Sometimes I set down a difficult text for another time, but I never go “out-of-tune” with it.


I think with me, when I become “out-of-tune”, I start to lose interest, my mind wonders and in the end I completely switch off. This happens more so when I’m tired, or just not in the mood. I think I don’t follow along with a TV show within in the first minute or so, I automatically start to switch off. I think it’s like you said, the ones I stay with are the ones which start out with the vocabularly that I know. I have exactly the same problem with reading. I can say I have a very short attention span, my mind tends to wonder a lot.

I can’t often do other things whilst listening which require a bit of concentration. I certainly can’t do it whilst browsing the web, but I can whilst driving or walking.