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imron

Getting out of a listening rut

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amytheorangutan

I remember watching a youtube video of this guy who is learning Mandarin and had problems with listening in the beginning. He said the problem is because most words in chinese are 1-2 syllables so the words are spoken at a much faster rate than English for example, combine that with a lot of words sounding very similar if not the same and how Chinese people love to shorten words in a sentence when the context is clear to them. I have to say I agree with this assessment.

 

My husband has a lot of problems with listening too, much more than I do. From what I can gather in his case, when he listens to someone speaking, if he come across two words that he doesn’t understand or get, he basically stop listening to the rest and stuck to figure out these 2 words he didn’t get, while I just kept going and ignore the 2 words and mostly can get the gist of the meaning and then go back to those words once I understand the overall meaning. Of course sometimes the words I don’t understand could be the most important thing in the dialogue but sometimes you can still guess or figure out the meaning of some of them when you get the other words in the dialogue.

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Wurstmann
30 minutes ago, Balthazar said:

Not talking about anyone here specifically, but I know that I myself have a tendency to compare reading at a comfortable pace with listening to similarly difficult material that is spoken with a much higher WPM. So for a text that I can comfortably read at my cozy snail's pace, I will understand almost nothing of the audio version. (Additionally, my listening skills are well below my reading skills because (1) I spend more time reading and (2) I do most of my listening with a limited attention, while doing something else)

Yeah, listening != hearing != reading.

 

When listening it can be hard to hear the sounds clearly in the first place. So even if you know all the words in the sentence 100% you simply don't hear them.

 

Then there's the problem of not knowing a word/phrase/collocation/成语/... 100%. Even if you could comprehend the sentence when it's written by thinking about it thoroughly, you don't have that time when it comes to listening.

 

The last problem is not knowing all the words. One or two new words in a couple of sentences can often be ignored and you still get the gist of what was said. If there are more it gets hard.

 

All of these issues can be fixed by simply doing more active listening. So concentrating and trying to understand, not having something on in the background. And if you add flashcards and reading, the process gets faster and more efficient.

I simply refuse to believe, that that doesn't work. We probably need a lot more hours for Chinese than someone who is studying Spanish though.

 

41 minutes ago, Balthazar said:

Regarding the whole "I'm horrible at listening" stuff that seems to affect so many learners of foreign languages that have no problems listening to their mother tongue, here's my two cents on the matter: 

I think if you were able to learn to understand your mother tongue, then you should be able to do the same with a foreign language.

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mungouk
4 minutes ago, AdamD said:

突破!Breakthrough!

 

Hallelujah!  It had to come eventually.

 

A useful lesson for us all — thanks for sharing this.

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imron
1 hour ago, AdamD said:

突破!Breakthrough!

Also known as "years of hard work" :mrgreen:

 

I'm glad you've managed to break through the mental blocks.

 

1 hour ago, AdamD said:

I’ve not been this excited or confident in a long time. 

Remember this feeling for the next plateau.

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Flickserve

Good for you! 90 minutes of following a conversation in mandarin is a beast.

 

Hope that it carries on. I am sure that hard work before helps you now.

 

Reduce the reading , increase the aural input proportion significantly. That has been my strategy as well. I deliberately don't read in order to force myself to pay attention to listening. The trade off is slower acquisition of vocabulary.

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Dawei3
On 3/4/2019 at 6:24 AM, DavyJonesLocker said:

yet if i do not actively write a word down and put it in anki I will not remember it no matter how many times I hear it.  

This is great advice.  I often talk with friends while exercising and I don't write new words down, but I should.  

 

I do lots of passive listening, i.e., to Chinesepod, while doing chores & other things.  However, as several have noted, this is just minimally effective.  However, it's better than zero;  I find that if later a friend teaches me something I've heard on a Chinesepod lesson, I tend to retain it better. 

 

For the difference between active & passive learning, I love the following quote:

  

"A man may hear a 1000 lectures and read a 1000 volumes, and be at the end of the process very much where he was, as regards knowledge.  

 

Something more than merely admitting it in a negative way into the mind is necessary, if it is to remain there.  

 

It must not be passively received, but actually and actively entered into, embraced, mastered. The mind must go half-way to meet what comes to it from without."

John Henry Newman, (1852) The Idea of a University (English prelate and theologian)
 

While Newman was talking about learning in general, what he said is particularly applicable to language learning (and supports the theme in many/most of the posted comments).  

 

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AdamD
17 hours ago, imron said:

Also known as "years of hard work" :mrgreen:

 

Part of me says ‘well no, all the hard work hasn’t got me very far’, but part of me recognises that I have actually come a long way in aspect like vocabulary and tone recollection.

 

I’ve just now ordered breakfast at a place I’ve been coming to for a few years, with the same person at the register, but this time I was quicker to order, I understood all her questions and (most importantly because she’s always super efficient in getting through the queue) I didn’t get in her way.

 

16 hours ago, Flickserve said:

Good for you! 90 minutes of following a conversation in mandarin is a beast.

 

I followed parts of it, and I tailed off in the second half, but I know why: they lapsed into talking amongst themselves, so they sped up and got more colloquial.

 

16 hours ago, Flickserve said:

Reduce the reading , increase the aural input proportion significantly. That has been my strategy as well.

 

Excellent advice. I’ve started trying to do that (so far I’ve only spent half an hour in a bookshop instead of half a day, for example), and I’m chatting more often to people. Yesterday I had a long chat with a barista; last year I would have dropped a ‘听不懂’, run out the door and read a book on the train, but yesterday I stayed and let him keep talking.

 

@DavyJonesLocker: I can’t get this to quote for some reason but in response to this:

 

"A man may hear a 1000 lectures and read a 1000 volumes, and be at the end of the process very much where he was, as regards knowledge.  

 

Last night someone whose English is incredible gave me one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever had: you don’t learn to play the piano by watching someone else play the piano. It hit me so hard that I just about collapsed on the floor. That is why watching loads of TV and listening to loads of radio/podcasts hasn’t worked for me.

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Flickserve
5 hours ago, AdamD said:

Excellent advice. I’ve started trying to do that (so far I’ve only spent half an hour in a bookshop instead of half a day, for example), and I’m chatting more often to people. 

 

..... And crucially, not beating yourself up for not understanding easy stuff. This time, you are not saying to yourself ' I should have known this word', you are just moving things along the conversation regardless which is how it should be. 

 

loads of TV and podcasts help but they only a step of the process along the way to real life interaction.

 

I challenge you to go to a different place for breakfast tomorrow 🙂 . Same situation but slightly different input, environment and learning. 加油! 

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abcdefg
On 3/5/2019 at 1:29 AM, Wurstmann said:

I think to get good you kinda have to live your live in Chinese. When you want to read a book, read a Chinese one, when you want to watch Youtube, watch something in Chinese and so on.

 

That's what I do. Plus reviewing words I've looked up in my Pleco dictionary. (Don't misunderstand; I'm not suggesting that this is really enough. I am not your role model.) 好榜样

 

Quote

I challenge you to go to a different place for breakfast tomorrow.

 

@Flickserve -- I like that advice a lot! Don't ever just settle into a comfort zone and stay there, whether you are a beginner, intermediate or advanced. 

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AdamD

I’ve just come off eight hours straight of language exchange with a friend, so four quality hours of Chinese. I understood most of what he said, when I knew I wasn’t getting it I always asked him to repeat/clarify, and I expressed myself pretty well and had full and proper conversations with him and others. It was only at the eight hour mark that I ran out of brain.

 

At times it properly felt like a superpower. I really can’t believe this is happening.

 

9 hours ago, Flickserve said:

..... And crucially, not beating yourself up for not understanding easy stuff. This time, you are not saying to yourself ' I should have known this word', you are just moving things along the conversation regardless which is how it should be. 

 

Yep! If I don’t know, I’m asking. Today I was monitoring my own comprehension and the accuracy of my responses as we went, so I could be sure of what was and wasn’t real. Previous successes were certainly flukes but today I wasn’t allowing that.

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AdamD
18 hours ago, Flickserve said:

I challenge you to go to a different place for breakfast tomorrow 🙂 . Same situation but slightly different input, environment and learning. 加油! 

 

I did this! It was just the local McDonald’s (it was open), and just like previous years I didn’t understand most of what she said, but this time I slowed myself down and asked her about the words I didn’t pick up. I knew nearly all of them, I just didn’t scan them when she said them the first time.

 

Even last year I would hear the questions I couldn’t understand,  collapse in an anxious pile of 听不懂s and slink away, but this time I made a point of asking what she said, and got through it with almost full comprehension.

 

Separately from that, I’ve been asking for help from random people on trains and in shops. It’s very unlike me (I’m super introverted, which I’m sure has also been hurting my progress), and it’s been largely successful and buckets of fun. I’m here for another nine full days so I’m excited to see what will happen next — there’s a very real chance I’ll return home with lasting confidence.

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Flickserve
12 hours ago, AdamD said:

Even last year I would hear the questions I couldn’t understand,  collapse in an anxious pile of 听不懂s and slink away, but this time I made a point of asking what she said, and got through it with almost full comprehension.

 

Separately from that, I’ve been asking for help from random people on trains and in shops. It’s very unlike me (I’m super introverted, which I’m sure has also been hurting my progress), and it’s been largely successful and buckets of fun. I’m here for another nine full days so I’m excited to see what will happen next — there’s a very real chance I’ll return home with lasting confidence.

 

Must be your extensive vocabulary kicking in to be able to have long conversations.

 

Great to hear it’s going well. Just keep asking those locals what they mean. Mind you, some might accidentally mix a bit of Taiwanese if you are travelling around outside of the city area.

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imron
On 4/20/2019 at 10:56 AM, AdamD said:

gave me one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever had: you don’t learn to play the piano by watching someone else play the piano. It hit me so hard that I just about collapsed on the floor. That is why watching loads of TV and listening to loads of radio/podcasts hasn’t worked for me.

I like to call this concept Train what you want to learn.  You get good at the things you do.

 

As I mentioned a few years earlier in this thread:

On 11/13/2015 at 12:50 PM, imron said:

Listening practice is different from conversation practice and although there is some crossover, they are different skills.  If you haven't been practicing conversation then don't be surprised if you still aren't that good at it yet.

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Flickserve
1 hour ago, imron said:

I like to call this concept Train what you want to learn.  You get good at the things you do.

 

Well, he did with his chain. He got very good at not breaking the chain. What he didn't intuitively recognize was that the training is only one intermediate step to real life interaction and variation. There was previously an unrealistic expectation of straight away being able to understand most things or even simple things which are presented differently in real life compared to a podcast. 

 

It might sound strange to think of a person not even asking for clarification. Actually, we do this many times automatically in our own native language when learning a new process or in a new job. However, for many, language learning comes with some abnormal expectations. 

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AdamD
23 hours ago, Flickserve said:

Must be your extensive vocabulary kicking in to be able to have long conversations.

 

I reckon so! The words aren’t far away, and my tones are right most of the time. I did wonder when I’d get some use out of this enormous toolbox.

 

23 hours ago, Flickserve said:

Mind you, some might accidentally mix a bit of Taiwanese if you are travelling around outside of the city area.

 

It has been happening, but people have been telling me it’s Taiwanese when I ask, so that’s been working out too.

 

3 hours ago, imron said:

As I mentioned a few years earlier in this thread:

 

I remember it coming up somewhere here, but I didn’t realise it was in this thread! The piano analogy came along at the right time, which is probably why it struck a chord and continued to resonate.

 

Yesterday I smashed out 100 km on share bikes and slept for four hours, but I just checked into a hotel and understood more than 90% of everything they said to me at a decent speed: check-in, housekeeping, local sights, the works. Real comprehension, not the self-delusional assumption-making I used to do. I’ve been paying incredible attention to what I actually do understand, always asking when I don’t.

 

Also, I seem to be averaging four hours of pure unbroken stretches of Chinese per day, which is miles away from my previous avoidance tactics (tired, stressed, need a coffee, need to go to this bookshop, etc., and managing maybe 20 minutes total in a day). At times I really do believe I’m thinking in Chinese when I speak, not translating. Not always but definitely some of the time.

 

I’m recording the fine detail here in case it helps others, but also so that I can look back on it and know that I really did achieve this. I’ve never been this analytical or this realistic about what’s happening and what I’m achieving. Thank you everyone for encouraging me for so long.

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AdamD
9 hours ago, AdamD said:

I just checked into a hotel and understood more than 90% of everything they said to me at a decent speed: check-in, housekeeping, local sights, the works.

 

Afterwards I went back and someone else spoke, but I barely understood a thing. A friend who was with me said she was fast because she was nervous to see a foreigner. Later she caught me and told me (also in Chinese) that she had since realised she needed to speak a bit more slowly. All of this makes perfect sense.

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AdamD

Yes, I’ve found the same too. I try really hard to ask pointed questions the other person will be able to pick up on and answer. It’s been working well, and if the other person switches to English to help me, I can explain that Chinese is fine and I just need to hear it again more clearly (or I didn’t know some words, or I want them to repeat exactly the same sentence, or I need them to slow down a bit, or the dubstep behind me cut into what they said). Directing the conversation that way is helping me a lot.

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Flickserve

@abcdefg

 

totally agree with you. In real life, I say 请再说慢点儿.

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