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Getting out of a listening rut

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AdamD

That's a very good point. Noted. If I do make progress in that time, I'll update this thread with what worked.

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Flickserve

FluentU,

I got it just before the pricing went up. I choose the intermediate video clips. I don't like the fact it always has pinyin and little written Chinese at this stage when doing the tests. The material is pitched right at my level. There is stuff I know, stuff I don't know and stuff that I know but have weak listening skills in. So the material is just right if going for 80/20 principle.. Sometimes, there is a computer generated voice giving variations of sentences - I don't think that's helpful.

The acid test is after doing the exercises, can I listen to people talking from direct improvement of listening skills? I don't think so. Do I come across sentence patterns/structures that can be used in daily life? yes. It's good to see the variety of scenarios and expressions.

I am just thinking of the next step forward, because it isn't enough. I think the next step is to review a video, get the vocabulary and grammar and be talked to using those words by a native speaker. That native speaker has to be intune with the idea of playing with those words in a conversation pitched at your level. Then, as you build up scenarios, they can build up more complex conversations and revisit the vocabulary.

Then, I will go back to a previous fluentU video and just listen to the video again (not watch it). That's to avoid picking up the visual clues.

Do I need fluentU to do this? No

Does it save me time? I think so.

Does it have variety to pick and choose? Yes.

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歐博思

 

 

People talk to me like I have full fluency. Although I can understand a basic conversation, when something deeper comes up, I get somewhat lost with the vocabulary. Then, this vocabulary comes up infrequently so I can't remember for future conversations.

If you imagine how many topics with specialised words exist, it seems like a mountain. One day you might be talking about cooking in a restaurant, but how often would that specific vocabulary turn up in daily conversation? Could be a few months later.

If only it were possible to categorize life into some basic categories and then learn the most common N percentage of words from each category  :mrgreen:

 

 

100 x this. You can control reading speed, and even pre-recorded audio to some extent, but that person in a shop has got a job to do. Last week I ended up with a glass of hot milk, because people were behind me in the queue and I was just saying yes to everything I didn't understand.

I concur with others who've said you've graduated from the "I want a bowl of noodles, no 香菜"; now you're trying to fit in with the flow more and be less of a 'foreign presence'. If you feel your being a foreigner and speaking with xyz coffee shop at a certain time will be too much of an interruption to 'flow', then maybe you could start frequenting that coffee shop in off hours? Ease into busier hours?

 

That said, some restaurants and coffee shops just have really disorganized menus regardless of language.

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AdamD

Thanks, Flickserve. It sounds like there's value in the service but not enough to make it essential.

 

@欧博思:

 

If you feel your being a foreigner and speaking with xyz coffee shop at a certain time will be too much of an interruption to 'flow', then maybe you could start frequenting that coffee shop in off hours? Ease into busier hours?

 

I did try that a couple of weeks ago, but it resulted in longer exchanges that I couldn't understand, hence me taking stock.

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Flickserve

When you repeat talking abut the same topics, invariably, new words do come up. Don't pressure yourself into learning every single word. Well, it's ok if you have come across those words before but you have to screen the utility of new words into immedaitely useful, maybe another time, don't waste time categories.

 

I wouldn't worry about having the same conversations, it's good - it has a few effects

 

i) you get used to hearing words in the similar, yet slightly different presentations.

 

ii) you may not recognise different accents saying the same words but you will pick it up.

 

iii) you will pick up abbreviations or speech slurring

 

iv) you start to recognise the same words in other conversations.

 

 

Again, I re-emphasize not to go for two hour sessions. Max at an hour. Apart from tiredness, the topic content goes too deep if you stay too long on it.

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AdamD
Don't pressure yourself into learning every single word. Well, it's ok if you have come across those words before but you have to screen the utility of new words into immedaitely useful, maybe another time, don't waste time categories.

 

This is a really good point. I know in theory, but I still look up words I don't know, probably as a subconscious stalling tactic.

 

Again, I re-emphasize not to go for two hour sessions. Max at an hour. Apart from tiredness, the topic content goes too deep if you stay too long on it.

 

Another good point, and one I hadn't considered (that topics get deeper). I can plan to leave two-hour language groups early, or perhaps just use that second hour to help people with English.

 

I hope we reach a point where we no longer have self-imposed limits like this.

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roddy

Adam - how long would you have a conversation for in English? Bearing in mind that when you're hanging out with friends or family, you might be much more likely to kick back and listen for a while, or watch the world go by, than be actively engaged as you might be in a conversation practice session. Plenty of people would consider two hours of native language conversation to be long, especially with people they don't know very well or on unfamiliar topics. Don't beat yourself up about getting tired doing it in Chinese.  

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AdamD

That's something I'd never considered. It's true: when people speak to me in English for even half an hour, I tune in and out constantly, but when people speak to me in Chinese for half an hour, every part of my brain goes into hyperdrive and stays there.

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tysond

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?

 

Well that has been my experience.  Practicing discussion leads to faster and faster response.  There's a stage a lot of learners go through where they can only respond with "对" because they can't get anything else out fast enough.  And then you realize that's boring, and mix it up with some 好的,行,不错,同意 etc, and then you start some 但是,可是,其实,有时候, etc, which need some follow-up, then you learn to restate the question X的话?to buy some time to make a more thoughtful response,  and so on.

 

Your responses get easier and easier as you have building blocks to choose from that are well practiced and you can pronounce without even thinking.  Leaving your brain free to think of more complex vocab or even your ideas.  I turned one of my business meetings into Chinese and at first I was struggling to contribute to the meeting as well as understand and speak Chinese (I remember struggling with the numbers and to say percentages at first, then struggling with all the varied measure words for describing things in our business, then verbs used to manipulate things - like "raising a purchase order", even how to close the meeting).  But repetition helped a lot and instead of 80% brainpower on language and 20% on business, it was 20% and 80%. 

 

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 used HSK (particularly 1-4) because textbooks and apps tend to converge on this list, so you can build a good solid base using it.

And then I used SUBTLEX-ZH which is a frequency list of words from movie subtitles.  

 

The best list is what you are interested in.  

So, I also fed in books/texts on topics I was interested in and picked off the most common words from these books.  

 

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?

 

 

 

Yes, I have an actual teacher because she frequently stops me and corrects my tones, corrects my pronunciation or corrects my grammar.  And she does it precisely - she knows how to explain mouth position, tongue position, lip shape, etc.

 

It's not that structured - we start with telling stories - usually I tell one, it might take 45 minutes given all the side-discussions we also have (e.g. went to an island, ate crab, different flavors of crab, cooking techniques, other types of seafood, coconut trees, dangers of coconuts, other things cooked with coconut, back to the island, etc etc).  Then she might tell me a story, which is a test of my listening at first as I don't know the topic in advance.  I'll write down a bunch of new vocab during this time and study it later, so that I can re-tell the stories during the week.

 

If no stories, we'll read some of the textbook, or read an article from the paper or something like that.  All discussion is in Chinese except for the occasional translation - so we discuss mouth position, grammar, everything in Chinese.  Actually this is the first area where I became quite comfortable - discussing learning Chinese in Chinese.  I even practiced reading out all instructions and grammar explanations in my textbook in Chinese.  Very daunting at first but 12 months later, I'm quite comfortable.

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laurenth
I just want to thank the OP and all contributors for this very interesting thread. 

 

I keep on hitting the same wall as AdamD - though I don't live in a Chinese speaking environment, which make things all the more challenging I guess-, so I find the whole discussion particularly helpful.

 

I have made a lot of dictation exercices in pinyin recently. It's too soon to tell whether it will make any difference, but it certainly helped to highlight some weak points in my listening comprehension, ie  tones  (unsuprinsingly) and the distinction between initials ji-/ti-/qi-, but also between finals -an/-ang, -in/-ing, etc. I do recognise them in artificial exercices like pair drills, but not in the wild. I  do recognise words which I have studied well enough before, tones and all, even when they contain those pesky initials or finals. It sounds obvious of course, but it goes to show that knowing many many words that are relevant for the kind of audio you're listening to is key.

 

Another idea is this: once you've reached a satisfying level of understanding by working intensively on a podcast about a certain topic, it might be a good idea to listen to many other audio files on the same subject. The knowledge you've acquired thanks to the first podcast(s) may help bootstrap you to the next level, when those parts you don't understand stop preventing you from understanding anything at all. That's the method I've been using to teach myself to read the news, and I think it's been really helpful.

 

Also, a big thanks to pross for mentioning  the grammar course on Edx. I started following it. The teacher speaks crystal clear Mandarin. For once, my listening comprehension level is totally adequate, so it's extremely rewarding to be able to listen to that. Of course, it's  artificially slow and clear Mandarin, but, hey, you have to start somewhere, and for me it's a big first.

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mouse

 

 

footpath/sidewalk

 

Pavement/sidewalk, surely  :P

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AdamD

I made some progress! On Tuesday last week I went to a two-hour language-switching event (all-English and all-Chinese at 15 minute intervals), and understood nearly half of what people were saying to me. When I lost track, it was because the other person was talking about specific topics (e.g. insects) or just quietly spoken in the noisy room. I felt pretty buoyed afterwards.

That, and I got 87% (or 89%?) for HSK 3 listening, which I wasn't expecting.

Beyond that, I've not been able to begin any structured techniques because things have been utterly utterly crazy (hence my lack of posting). I'm hoping for a bit more breathing space in a few weeks.

@tysond: Thanks for your huge post and the countless tips. You also reinforced a strong theme in this thread that repetition around a narrow band of topics is the basis for building other conversational skills. HSK word lists are certainly excellent, and I use them a lot, but slang and other current words don't make it into those lists, although looking for a list for such words is probably a waste of time.

Do you find that your teacher stopping you helps or hinders? I don't cope at all well with that because I can't build a head of steam, even if that head of steam is terrible and full of mistakes. Once I totally gave up talking to someone in Chinese because he corrected everything I said, even when it wasn't wrong.

Finding the perfect teacher is going to be rough. I hate letting go perfectly good and skilled teachers because they don't provide exactly what I need, but I'm going to have to keep doing that.

@laurenth: Recently I've been teaching a friend how to pronounce Chinese syllables with correct tones, which has got me thinking about my own pronunciations. Also, your point about podcasts on a theme is more or less what I've been doing recently. As news stories evolve, I recognise more and more of the frequently used words about that topic.

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roddy

Have you tried explaining to the teacher what you want, and why? For example on the over-correction, explain that you'd like then to note mistakes and cover them later. That said, if it really is terrible and riddled with mistakes, there's probably a good argument for trying something simpler and cutting down on the number of mistakes you make. 

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Flickserve

Thanks, Flickserve. It sounds like there's value in the service but not enough to make it essential.

I did get the subscription at the lower price so I though I would try it out. Since I have been really busy, I haven't had a chance to try it more often.

However, I am thinking perhaps the Glossika method may be a better. It's easier to fit 15minutes in of repeating the same sentences. FluentU requires internet access and bandwidth.

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AdamD

@roddy:

 

Have you tried explaining to the teacher what you want, and why?

 

I have. It hasn't worked. I presume it's because some teachers have a specific scope and method of teaching, and catering to other requirements is difficult.

 

if it really is terrible and riddled with mistakes, there's probably a good argument for trying something simpler and cutting down on the number of mistakes you make.

 

It can even be hard to know, because some people are 100% encouraging, and others even pick up phrases that just have alternative expressions, i.e. are not wrong. I suppose it's all down to finding the right teacher for my needs, which is probably going to be a long search.

 

@Flickserve: Any bandwidth requirement is certainly restrictive. If a learning method requires me to go out of my way, I'm far less inclined to stick with it.

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Flickserve

I am in Beijing right now. First trip ever. It's like stepping into a movie as the only exposure to 北京口语 I have had exposure to is via YouTube.

With a bit of careful listening, I can get by. It's mainly asking for prices rather than any deep and meaningful conversations! I tend to flit in and out of concentration. Waiter asked me, "加果汁?“ which I totally missed and another said "我帮你收", of which I missed the first three words when she took my plate away.

Popped by Wangfujing 书店 and managed to ask for the 发展汉语 books. I picked up a couple of the listening comprehension series. Honestly had to stop myself buying the whole lot because of the weight issue.

Overall, I feel pretty pleased I can get about and understand simple things like the soldiers marching past shouting "请让一下“ and knocking us over like bowling pins or ordering us to queue on one side because of us carrying bags and needing a security check.

Just had dinner with a Singaporean who had just moved to China. He also had problems with listening skills. He didn't know 空调 so not knowing that is OK :D

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AdamD

A few weeks ago I quit the job that I'm now certain contributed to my flatlining Chinese. My uni course (Chinese) starts again in a few days, and I'm going back to Taiwan in a couple of weeks. My expectations of my own ability will be far more reasonable, thanks to many people here. I'll also slow down my speech and see how that goes.

 

I've only really ramped up my Chinese practise in the past few days, but I'm already aware that I'm understanding more spoken words than I used to. imron's tip about treating Chinese words as synonyms and not another language really struck a chord with me, and all my listening has been based on that. Now it's common for me to hear "身体不好" and think "oh, 身体不好, that's a shame" instead of involuntarily translating it into English and then reacting.

 

My listening chain will hit 500 days on Tuesday, and it's only full-speed audio now (i.e. not slowed down). I really do think that's helping my real world comprehension.

 

A distinct improvement (not related to this thread) is my ability to recognise traditional characters, just in the last three months. Now I spend at least 60% less time looking up the simplified form. I didn't work hard at this so it's a nice surprise.

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AdamD

This Taiwan trip is like being reborn. In stark contrast with the abject failure that was November, I can understand something like 50% of circumstantial speech, and at least 75% of the speech being directed at me. I've had a number of long conversations with people (mainly in cabs but elsewhere too) that are in no way basic, even though I think those people have been slowing down just a little bit for me to keep up, and even though I've been getting stuck on the odd word or needing to ask them to repeat occasionally. It's felt incredible, and I'm starting to kickstart those conversations myself simply because they're so much fun.

This is what I think worked:

1. Thinking in synonyms as per imron's tip.

2. Quitting that job which left me perpetually exhausted.

3. Not pushing myself.

That last point is important. This trip was always going to be a holiday, not a language project, so I haven't been putting pressure on myself to achieve anything. I think that's allowed me to just relax and go with the flow, and now something massive and permanent has clicked into place.

These are the times when I've had trouble understanding speech:

- Tour guides (ferries etc). I've got no hope keeping up but it doesn't matter at this stage.

- Masks. People in shops who wear a 口罩 (sometimes a 塑料口罩!) or are behind a big sheet of glass. I can't understand them because I can't hear them. Occasionally they've flicked to English because they've thought my level wasn't up to scratch, but I've still not been able to hear their voice.

- Noise in the environment. Less a problem in Taiwan, but sometimes it's just high enough that I can't parse what someone is saying to me.

I'm here until the end of Easter and I can't wait to see what happens next. If I collapse mentally at this point, it doesn't matter because I've hit that new high watermark.

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tysond

@Flickserve -- in Singapore they say 冷气机 rather than 空调 -- I actually discussed that with an Uber driver yesterday.  Regional variations in vocabulary are common, it's not such a big deal once your vocabulary expands.  Both words make a lot of sense, and after a while you can just switch to what's used locally.    Don't assume Singaporeans have amazing Chinese, some are good at everyday discussions but many of them don't have highly advanced vocabularies, classical education, etc.  

 

@AdamD - Great!  Get as much practice as you can.  Even practicing the "oh wait so what you are saying is this?" and "i get the rest of it but what does X mean?" is super useful to keep the conversation flowing.  Glad it's working well.

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AdamD

Thanks! I'm pushing it a lot more now, even if it feels hopeless, because as you said there's always potential for some learning.

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