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imron

Getting out of a listening rut

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Flickserve

"空调" versus “冷气” - I just learnt something new!

冷气 is used in HK. Thanks for that tip. ;)

I suppose one thing about listening skills is not to try and associate it with the written word too much. You might be trying to listen to Chinese, work out the meaning by having a mental picture of the Chinese character and then translating that written form in your head to English. That would slow you down a lot. It's only a guess from your previous statement that your reading skills are so much stronger.

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AdamD

@Lu:
 

The trick for dealing with accents is that it helps to know a few common pronunciation changes

 

Yes! Especially with stuff like 儿化 where you basically don't have a hope in hell unless you at least understand conceptually what the accent/dialect is doing.
 

But by all means, work with clean Putonghua first! It's not my intention to discourage you.

 

Last year imron suggested I listen to less clear speech so that 普通话 would be easier. I don't know whether that has gone to plan just yet, because even 普通话 has been a struggle. Recently I've been drifting back to 普通话 just to create the rather pathetic illusion that I'm getting somewhere.

@Flickserve:
 

It's only a guess from your previous statement that your reading skills are so much stronger.

 

Yeah, and a lot of the time I still picture the characters in my head as people are talking, even though it doesn't happen constantly like it used to. I started characters six years ago and speech in 2011, so my reading has a hell of a head start that has been difficult to shake.

I also mentally translate to English quite a lot still. One of my teachers told me to stop translating, but how? You can't really force that. I don't translate everything on the fly any more, but when I get stuck (which is most of the time) suddenly all the neurons kick in and I'm thinking too hard.

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AdamD

@tysond:

 

When I hit intermediate level, I felt useless so often, because every sentence I heard had 3-4 words I didn't know. 

And if I learned those 3-4 words, the next sentence had a different 3-4 words that I didn't know!

Then, every conversation with a native speaker went off into hyperspace.  And the speed is so fast!

 

Oh yeah, that's what's happening. I know some of the framing words, but by the end of the sentence I don't recognise the framing words because by then I'm so confused.

 

So, I tried to be disciplined about repeating stuff - so that at least if I studied 8 new words to learn 2 sentences, I would hear those two sentences again and again.

Even better, I'd use frequency lists to only study the 1 most frequent new word in the sentence, and the other ones... I just ignored them.  

I picked up most of them over time anyway.

 

Are you able to recommend a good frequency list? I tend to go by how many entries and example sentences my Pleco dictionaries have, but that's not a terribly orthodox gauge.

 

I'd do this by spending time with my teacher 1:1 telling her stories about my actual life, my travels, my work, etc.  (I do 4 hours of this a week). She'd correct me and suggest better vocabulary, and we'd discuss various thoughts about it, and I'd build up a pretty good capability in those areas.

 

I've given some thought to paying someone to just speak Chinese with me (no teaching, no English) for two hours every week. Is that the sort of thing you were doing here, but with an actual teacher and more structure?

 

When your brain works like that it's very tiring and you get discouraged, but it's actually helping send a signal to your brain that it needs to automate this (like lifting weights sends a signal to build muscle).

 

So just keeping it up will train my brain to bypass manual translation/interpretation and get me ever closer to thinking and responding within the language? Is that what you mean?

 

Thanks for these tips.

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Flickserve

You are like me, know a lot of characters but find it difficult to use.

I haven't done much in the way of lessons because of being overloaded with vocab that I wasn't able to use. I actually asked the teacher to go back over the old stuff to revise them again. Of course, I have gone and forgotten the words now so going back over them will be useful.

I second Tyson's method and quite impressed how active he was in talking to other people. Good practising on listening skills by having different people talk the same subject back to you.

A few weeks back, I clipped off two sentences off a movie and sent it to a native speaker to listen to. That native speaker was OK with the first one but couldn't work out the second. I then sent a screen capture of the subtitle. And then it made sense. So even native speakers have problems with native speech. Both dialogue and native speaker were from North China.

With your teacher, perhaps you should start off with a list of words around a topic you want to speak about in your life and work from there.

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roddy

I'd suggest doing some regular listening at a level you're comfortable with and not letting yourself think of characters or English or anything else. Just understand it, like you would with your English language. Any intermediate stage should be unnecessary. If it's become habitual it'll take quite a bit of effort to change, so start with something easyish. And post about it on here. 

 

Excellent topic, thanks all!

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realmayo

No mention of 听力 books? Good ones provide: mp3 audio with clear standard 普通话; graded to different and suitable levels; a focus on colloquial expressions and on how intonation/nuance change a sentence's meaning. Buying the 'teacher's book' too gives you the answers and a transcript. This kind of intensive training, along with extensive listening to TV etc, if done regularly and often, will inevitably mean better listening ability.

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roddy

True. These I still remember with fondness. Looks like they're still available from Elina's site. Man, I used to listen to those on tape! With a 复读机! 

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AdamD

@Flickserve:

 

You are like me, know a lot of characters but find it difficult to use.

 

Pretty much. It makes things awkward with people who think I know nothing because I can't understand their speech, even though I've been using those words myself for several years (I've gone into detail below).

 

With your teacher, perhaps you should start off with a list of words around a topic you want to speak about in your life and work from there.

 

That's a great plan. It'd make sense to collate/revise a reasonable number of words about the topic; take note of additional words the other people use and add those to the mix; and keep pushing on with that topic.

 

@roddy:

 

I'd suggest doing some regular listening at a level you're comfortable with and not letting yourself think of characters or English or anything else. Just understand it, like you would with your English language. Any intermediate stage should be unnecessary. If it's become habitual it'll take quite a bit of effort to change, so start with something easyish. And post about it on here.

 

I'd be interested to know how many people that works for and why, because it's what I've been doing all year and it doesn't seem to have made a difference to my progress. As a rule I'm disinclined to keep doing something that doesn't work for me (insanity = doing the same thing and expecting a different result), which is why I'm at this point now.

 

These I still remember with fondness.

 

I bought the intermediate ones in China a couple of years ago and failed to make any progress, but perhaps now is a good time to try going back to them.

 

@realmayo:

 

No mention of 听力 books? Good ones provide: mp3 audio with clear standard 普通话

 

The problem I've had with books like that, such as the Chinese Breeze series, is that they're not very interesting. I've got probably a dozen of those and similar books, so I should definitely go back to them and press on methodically.

 

This kind of intensive training, along with extensive listening to TV etc, if done regularly and often, will inevitably mean better listening ability.

 

I had intended to spend a lot of time this year watching Chinese TV, but it's been an unusually busy year, so I've been getting home late and just sort of staring at the wall. When I have tried to watch Chinese TV, it's never gone well, and my ability hasn't improved. I'll do more of this over the next few months (loads more free time) and see what happens.

 

-------------

 

Last night I spoke to a Chinese-native person for nearly two hours. Initially she thought I was a beginner because my listening was so bad, and she was explaining really basic words. Once she got to grips with my actual level, she pressed on slowly and we started having a real but utterly broken conversation. During all this, I paid attention to the main impediments to my listening comprehension:

 

1. Anxiety. When someone speaks to me, I get stressed and caught up in my thoughts. This is probably doing more harm than my actual listening skills.

 

2. Defeatism. I can feel myself deflating as the conversation goes on. My confidence and patience are worn down from so many years of this exact listening problem, and the prospect of going through all the awkwardness and embarrassment every single time has taken a hell of a toll on me.

 

3. New words. The person I spoke to last night used more new words than I was expecting.

 

The third one will come with time and effort, but those first two are killing me. At least I've identified them and spelt them out.

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Flickserve

AdamD

2 hours is pretty long! It's hard to keep up a 2hour conversation in English let alone Chinese!

Even in one hour, a lot of ground can be covered. Too many topics = too much overload = too many new words = more frustration. Keep it simple. Repeating some advice from wise sage Roddy, make sure you aren't tired.

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AdamD

That's true. I collapsed at the 90 minute mark.

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imron
Defeatism

This actually comes across quite strongly in your posts.  Thoughts and words can highly influence your thinking and habits, which in turn influence your thoughts and words and so on in an self perpetuating cycle.

 

That cycle will either be positive or negative depending on whether you choose to look at things negatively or positively (and yes, it is a choice, even if you don't realise you are making it), and it tends to become a self-fulfilling prophecy - either 'I can't do this' or 'I can do this' depending on your choice.

 

Don't look at (and exaggerate) failure, rather try to focus on things that have gone well.  Sure you need to look at things that didn't go so well in order to figure out how to improve them but don't dwell on or exaggerate them either.  For example, what happened was not a 'heroic failure', it's just a common part of language learning that everyone experiences - as tysond mentioned, the intermediate plateau.  A place where you've been putting in loads of effort but you can't see the rewards of that effort yet.

 

I'd be interested to know how many people that works for and why, because it's what I've been doing all year and it doesn't seem to have made a difference to my progress.

Are you sure that a) that's what you've been doing and b) it hasn't worked?  Note the key point that roddy mentioned 'understand it'.  Not translate it, just listen to it and understand it as is.  You mentioned before you weren't sure how to go about doing that, and what I found worked for me was to realise that even in English sometimes the same thing can have multiple words to describe it, for example what I mentioned above about Rubbish Bin/Trashcan.   Every time you hear the word Trashcan I bet you don't mentally translate that to Rubbish Bin, you just think of it as a can for trash and that's that.  Then you just need to realise that instead of 2 words to describe this one thing you can add another word e.g. 垃圾桶.  You don't need to mentally translate that in to English, you just think of it as a 桶 for 垃圾.  Then you do that for all parts of the language - easier said than done I know, but that's the core principle - don't think of it as a separate language, just think of it as a different word for the same thing.  If you've been listening and understanding new material for over a year I find it difficult to believe you won't have made any progress.

 

Also don't judge your progress based on recently failed conversations - you're comparing different things.  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.    You need to measure your progress against what you've actually been doing.  Go back and listen to some stuff you found difficult a year ago.  See if it's still as difficult.

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AdamD
it tends to become a self-fulfilling prophecy - either 'I can't do this' or 'I can do this' depending on your choice.

 

It's funny because I've been positive about Chinese for a long time. I've only become negative in the past couple of months, after noticing my apparently negligible progress and seeing other learners shoot past me.

 

Sure you need to look at things that didn't go so well in order to figure out how to improve them but don't dwell on or exaggerate them either.

 

I'm in the process of that now, but The Things That Have Not Gone Well is such an overwhelming list that there's not a lot left.

 

as tysond mentioned, the intermediate plateau.  A place where you've been putting in loads of effort but you can't see the rewards of that effort yet.

 

I'm willing to hang on and keep pushing (a complete turnaround from Monday), but realistically I need to reach a functional level while I have time left to make use of it. If I can get to 70% comprehension in three or four years, fine; if I increase by 3% a year, I won't live long enough to use the language properly. Those are extremes, but the prospect of wasting that portion of my life is now terrifying.

 

You mentioned before you weren't sure how to go about doing that, and what I found worked for me was to realise that even in English sometimes the same thing can have multiple words to describe it, for example what I mentioned above about Rubbish Bin/Trashcan.

 

99.9% of the time I can't make that happen. Even frequent words like 为什么 and 怎么 should be natural by now but they're not, and I've known them backwards for years. I still have to stop and think about everything everybody says. It's a great principle if I can ever get it to work.

 

Listening practice is different from conversation practice and although there is some crossover, they are different skills.

 

They are, but I don't know how I can improve my listening without speaking (as above, I've been trying to do exactly that), and I can't have conversations until I improve my listening. This is a dilemma I've been unable to crack.

 

Go back and listen to some stuff you found difficult a year ago.  See if it's still as difficult.

 

I have been comparing my listening with materials I was using a year ago, specifically HSK 3 practice exam audio. Perhaps I'm just not gauging the difference properly, I really don't know, but if it is better now it must have been horrible last year.

 

This whole post might look defeatist but I'm trying to be as realistic as possible here. Optimism alone isn't going to get me anywhere. Having said that, the good people here have suggested new approaches to take, so I'm going to keep trying.

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imron
and I can't have conversations until I improve my listening.

That's not true - you said yourself you had a 2 hour conversation with someone the other day.  It might have seemed slow and tedious, but you improve your conversations by having conversations.  You're never going to be able to study away quietly by yourself, and then jump in to full-blown conversations.  It just won't work out the way you expect.

 

Then, while you are having these (awkward and slow) conversations, you note down the things that caused you trouble and ask people for help - either by getting them to repeat (maybe even several times) what they said (maybe even at varying speeds) and/or ask what a proper response should be, and you note that down and study/revise it by yourself later.  In your next conversation you should then try to throw in similar sentence structures or patterns just to reinforce the learning and to make sure you've got it right (even better if you try it on a different person who doesn't know you've only just learnt that word/sentence structure).

 

And that's how you improve - you try something, notice where you get stuck and then try to fix that, and you repeat until you don't get stuck in those places anymore.  You should be able to find a tutor for a reasonable price who can help out, and there are enough online tutors around that you should be able to mix and match until you find someone suitable.

 

I still have to stop and think about everything everybody says. It's a great principle if I can ever get it to work.

When you learn a word, don't memorise the English, instead associate the word with that object/action.  Back to the example of 垃圾桶, when you see/hear that word don't think 'Rubbish Bin', think of this.  It can be a little hard to do this for some abstract things and/or words such as 的,而且 etc, but you don't need to worry about those ones initially.

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realmayo
The problem I've had with books like that, such as the Chinese Breeze series, is that they're not very interesting.

 

I was thinking more of Listening Comprehension books where you hear audio and have to answer questions. Wouldn't call them interesting though.

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Flickserve

I searched up how to improve listening on the Internet and most of articles wrote it needs a lot of time.

Keep chipping away. Practice some topics and discuss with a tutor, watch short clips of Chinese (I like 15 minute micro films) which are easier to rewind, keep to understanding the essence of the conversation and slow the dialogue but not too much.

It's hard when there is like two or three words in a sentence that we don't know that seems critical to understanding the whole sentence. But that's how we learn.

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AdamD

@imron:

 

Then, while you are having these (awkward and slow) conversations, you note down the things that caused you trouble and ask people for help - either by getting them to repeat (maybe even several times) what they said (maybe even at varying speeds) and/or ask what a proper response should be, and you note that down and study/revise it by yourself later.

 

So I really do need to pay someone to just speak Chinese, because one or more of these things happens every single time: (a) they don't slow down at all; (b) they use different words; © they switch to English.

 

Last week's conversation was great, in as much as speaking-to-a-two-year-old is a conversation.

 

When you learn a word, don't memorise the English, instead associate the word with that object/action.

 

Your suggestion to do this has struck a chord with me, in that it feels exactly right for my way of learning and categorising. Already this weekend I've spent time mentally looking at objects and thinking of their (spoken) Chinese names in my head, but simply as synonyms, just as you suggested. It feels like this will reduce my anxiety about performing in another language v just using alternative words.

 

imron, you've spent quite a bit of time writing pointed techniques in this thread, and I appreciate it immensely. I won't be able to use all of them straight away, but in the coming days I'll use this whole thread to put together a plan for the next few months.

 

@realmayo:

 

I was thinking more of Listening Comprehension books where you hear audio and have to answer questions. Wouldn't call them interesting though.

 

Ah, I know what you mean. All the ones I've done have made me feel dumb because my answers are usually guesswork.

 

@Flickserve:

 

I searched up how to improve listening on the Internet and most of articles wrote it needs a lot of time.

Keep chipping away.

 

It's draining but you're right. I've also spoken to plenty of Chinese native speakers who said their biggest hurdle was listening comprehension. The thing that really gets to me is that most people seem to work their way through the worst of this in less time than I've spent chasing my tail.

 

A week ago I posted my intention to walk away from listening and speech altogether, not as a cry for help but because I had made up my mind. So many of you here have turned me around—not with well-meaning encouragement but with solutions—and now I'm prepared to keep working at it. What an incredible community and resource this is.

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Flickserve

It's draining but you're right. I've also spoken to plenty of Chinese native speakers who said their biggest hurdle was listening comprehension. The thing that really gets to me is that most people seem to work their way through the worst of this in less time than I've spent chasing my tail.

This is where I think being in the situation face to face really helps. I am really unsure if Skype video is a good replacement but for sure it is the next best thing. Sure, some people pick it up faster - that's life. I am not too hot on Mandarin listening skills but I still keep trying. ATM, I am trying out fluentU.

Just sticking to reading and writing Chinese would be like knowing the theory of riding a bike but not actually getting on it.

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AdamD

@Flickserve

 

I am really unsure if Skype video is a good replacement but for sure it is the next best thing.

 

Being in front of a video camera is my Room 101. I'd do language exchange that way if I were desperate and/or nailed to something. Audio is fine.

 

ATM, I am trying out fluentU.

 

The introductory pricing has gone, and I can't justify US$30/month (plus) or US$15/month (basic). I'd love to hear your impressions though.

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imron
So many of you here have turned me around—not with well-meaning encouragement but with solutions—and now I'm prepared to keep working at it. What an incredible community and resource this is.

Many of us here have been in the exact same position you have been, and even though we each might have approached the solution in different ways, we each found something that worked for us.

 

Anyway, make a mental note of that 2 hour conversation you had the other day.  That can now serve as your reference point 1 year from now.

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