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Getting out of a listening rut


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Flickserve

@tysond

Agree it's not a big deal.

Interesting thing about Singaporeans is the 35 and above cohort. In that time of their secondary schooling, all things Chinese were 'unfashionable'. You can hear many struggling to pass their Chinese whilst at school. With the economic changes in China, I can imagine all the parents are now much more serious about pushing Chinese Mandarin to their children.

Alas for me, I am just not getting enough practice listening. Too many things going on.

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Today in an Aldi in Australia, a woman asked me a question in Chinese. She didn't know I knew any Chinese, she just tried the nearest person because there were no other 华人 in sight and she didn't have a choice.

 

What really surprised me is that I replied in Chinese like it was nothing, and didn't even realise I was doing it until she said “你会讲中文!” 

 

She was asking me about vitamins and coffee, and she wanted a type of coffee I've never heard of because I don't know the words for anything other than the coffees I drink (美式黑咖啡、浓缩、拿铁), but at least I knew why I couldn't understand her, and I could explain that to her in Chinese. (Then her friend got desperate for a toilet. That's where I'm a viking.)

 

I suppose my point here is that my sudden leap over the (listening) intermediate hump is permanent. After all these years.

 

@Flickserve: Are you getting any passive listening in? Here's a couple of articles from the ever-excellent Olle Linge that you might find useful:

 

http://www.hackingchinese.com/listening-strategies-background-listening/

http://www.hackingchinese.com/listening-strategies-passive-listening/

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Flickserve

Thanks for asking AdamD.

Yes. I do the passive listening. Radio for about half an hour or more a day. Listen to Mandarin songs.

After a while, I think Mandarin songs for passive listening is rather overrated. I am not a singer by any means. I listen but I don't understand, I listen but I cannot keep up with the speed if I want to shadow (or attempt to sing). Actually, I listen because I like the song(s) rather than learn Mandarin. I have been listening to Mandarin songs for a number of years even before actively learning just over a year and a half ago - I am rather dubious of purported benefits.

Even though I listen to the mandarin radio and discussions, the material is way past my level. As mentioned before, that really doesn't help comprehension but I use it to try and discern the sounds and get used to hearing the language.

I am on a bit of a break as I need to train up on my badminton - HK annual championships is coming up. Want to get to the last four of my division.

The break will be good - I have been reassessing how to get more mileage out of studying. Really what I need is to carry a recording of every conversation I have in Mandarin, pick out the sentences I don't understand from the other person, decipher, learn the vocab and expressions and relisten. It is quite hard to do that in real life. After all, I can listen all day but not take in any of what is being said.

All in all, it's very difficult to assess objectively the mileage one can get from passive listening.

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imron
it's very difficult to assess objectively the mileage one can get from passive listening

I'm sure there are some benefits to passive listening, but I've found that active listening is always more productive.

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Flickserve

I'm sure there are some benefits to passive listening, but I've found that active listening is always more productive.

for sure :-)
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@Flickserve:

 

After a while, I think Mandarin songs for passive listening is rather overrated. I am not a singer by any means. I listen but I don't understand, I listen but I cannot keep up with the speed if I want to shadow (or attempt to sing).

 

I agree. I used to think there was a benefit—and there probably is a marginal one—but the grammar is non-standard, the subject matter is limited and the tones don't exist. I think it got me used to a handful of words (爱情,眼泪,that sort of thing) but that's all.

 

Having said that, I can now understand lyrics I couldn't a couple of years ago. Listening to music didn't get me to that level, though.

 

The break will be good

Breaks are great for letting things settle in your head, and for taking the edge off any anxiety you have about your ability. Returning from a break feels weirdly like coming out of hibernation, but you hit your straps pretty quickly.

 

@imron (and also @Flickserve):

 

I'm sure there are some benefits to passive listening, but I've found that active listening is always more productive.

Definitely, but if you're not getting enough listening practice in, would passive listening hurt?

 

Hitting 500 days in my listening chain didn't feel much like a milestone, especially as most of the listening has been beyond my ability, but it did get me used to the cadence of speech, certain repeated words (more useful than what's in your typical pop lyrics), and tonal expression.

 

I'm experimenting with passive listening myself, but specifically in finding content that's easy for me to digest (in addition to active, applied listening, which I'll keep doing every day). I've pretty much proved to myself that listening passively to advanced speech, like radio podcasts for Chinese-native speakers, is of limited benefit to me despite being relatively interesting, but listening to something relatively basic might take much better. The problem is finding basic audio content that's not boring—I can't main interest in most Chinese Breeze books, Graded Chinese Readers, NPCR audio and so on, because they're either aimed at kids or dry as hell.

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Flickserve

@Flickserve:

I agree. I used to think there was a benefit—and there probably is a marginal one—but the grammar is non-standard, the subject matter is limited and the tones don't exist. I think it got me used to a handful of words (爱情,眼泪,that sort of thing) but that's all.

Having said that, I can now understand lyrics I couldn't a couple of years ago. Listening to music didn't get me to that level, though.

Breaks are great for letting things settle in your head, and for taking the edge off any anxiety you have about your ability. Returning from a break feels weirdly like coming out of hibernation, but you hit your straps pretty quickly.

@imron (and also @Flickserve):

Definitely, but if you're not getting enough listening practice in, would passive listening hurt?

Hitting 500 days in my listening chain didn't feel much like a milestone, especially as most of the listening has been beyond my ability, but it did get me used to the cadence of speech, certain repeated words (more useful than what's in your typical pop lyrics), and tonal expression.

I'm experimenting with passive listening myself, but specifically in finding content that's easy for me to digest (in addition to active, applied listening, which I'll keep doing every day). I've pretty much proved to myself that listening passively to advanced speech, like radio podcasts for Chinese-native speakers, is of limited benefit to me despite being relatively interesting, but listening to something relatively basic might take much better. The problem is finding basic audio content that's not boring—I can't main interest in most Chinese Breeze books, Graded Chinese Readers, NPCR audio and so on, because they're either aimed at kids or dry as hell.

nah, no harm at all for passive listening. It can make you feel good by giving you the impression you are doing something to learn the language. Psychological well being is also important:) Theoretically, I have had passive listening to Mandarin for years as I have been listening to Mandarin songs for a long time. Also every so often, I hear Mandarin in Hong Kong. But it was still very difficult to pick the language up. Even going back way back to learning Cantonese, it was all around me but after three months of living in HK, I had only picked up a smattering of words. It wasn't for lack of desire either nor lack of willingness to talk. I just didn't have the basic vocabulary. Oh yeah, I used to listen to Cantopop as well. After I had lessons in HK, and because I was able to immediately try out the words at work and repeatedly ask colleagues (because it was so convenient for daily reinforcement), did my Cantonese improve. And that, represents active listening.
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stapler
Today in an Aldi in Australia, a woman asked me a question in Chinese...

 

Good work! I hope one day I can do this to (though I don't think the odds of someone suddenly speaking to me in Chinese are very high!)

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imron

I agree with flickserve, it's not going to hurt, just don't be under the illusion that it will help you make great leaps in progress.

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Good work! I hope one day I can do this to (though I don't think the odds of someone suddenly speaking to me in Chinese are very high!)

The odds are so, so low. I still can't believe it happened. I wasn't even in a Chinese area (Russian/Israeli/Polish, more than anything). In fact I can't remember the last time a random person here spoke any non-English language to me.

just don't be under the illusion that it will help you make great leaps in progress.

Yeah. Having it around can reinforce what you know, but even if it only supports a holding pattern it's better than having no exposure and losing progress.

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I'm experimenting with passive listening myself, but specifically in finding content that's easy for me to digest (in addition to active, applied listening, which I'll keep doing every day). I've pretty much proved to myself that listening passively to advanced speech, like radio podcasts for Chinese-native speakers, is of limited benefit to me despite being relatively interesting, but listening to something relatively basic might take much better. The problem is finding basic audio content that's not boring—I can't main interest in most Chinese Breeze books, Graded Chinese Readers, NPCR audio and so on, because they're either aimed at kids or dry as hell.

 

It sounds like you should be listening more to podcasts for language learners, like ChinesePod. They have hundreds of hours of content which is aimed at adults and meant to be interesting and fun. And it's all split up into difficulty levels so you can skip straight to the level that you want. On lower levels they make it easier by mixing in English. On the highest levels it's all Chinese but still somewhat easier than native content. So it's a great stepping stone if you find that native content is not really working well for you yet due to an insufficient level of comprehension. 

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Thanks for the tip! Has it been of direct benefit to you?

As luck would have it I've just recently signed up (another Olle Linge recommendation), and I'm really impressed by the tiers you mentioned, but also the relevance of the content. My uni course and textbook are getting bogged down in ancient poets and calligraphy and bonsai trees and sword dancing, which culturally is fine, but this is telling me how to book a flight and use an ATM and recharge my phone and swipe an access card and respond to an earthquake. It has a reputation for being expensive, but at this point I'm impressed enough to go quarterly.

I'm now thinking at least half the reason for my slow listening progress is the dry, irrelevant (to me) content in most learning materials, and the vast disconnect between those materials and what we actually need to get done in China/Chinese.

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ChinesePod has been super useful to me. In fact it's probably been my second most useful resource (after Pleco). I started at their Intermediate level but their podcasts pretty much single-handedly got my listening skills from intermediate up to where I am now, which is that I have no problem finding native content that's interesting and comprehensible. I've been a subscriber for over a year. BTW, I never bothered to study their transcripts or vocab lists, all I did was listen to each podcast once and move on to the next one. So it was definitely a relatively passive form of listening. I mean, I was paying attention and not trying to do some other mental activity at the same time. But that's it.

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imron

I mean, I was paying attention and not trying to do some other mental activity at the same time

To me, that is almost the very definition of active listening - putting your mental focus on listening to some material.

Passive listening is when you play some content in the background but have your mind focused on some other activity.

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Flickserve

ChinesePod has been super useful to me. In fact it's probably been my second most useful resource (after Pleco). I started at their Intermediate level but their podcasts pretty much single-handedly got my listening skills from intermediate up to where I am now, which is that I have no problem finding native content that's interesting and comprehensible. I've been a subscriber for over a year. BTW, I never bothered to study their transcripts or vocab lists, all I did was listen to each podcast once and move on to the next one. So it was definitely a relatively passive form of listening. I mean, I was paying attention and not trying to do some other mental activity at the same time. But that's it.

given that description, what is active listening for you?
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Ok, so maybe people think of different things when they hear terms like "passive" and "active". So let me be clear about what I mean. I did not actively "study" the material--listening multiple times, reading transcripts, looking up words and creating flashcards, etc. I simply listened and tried to understand. Now, I said that I didn't do any other mental activity at the same time. But I could easily do mindless activities at the same time, like riding the train, walking around, or doing chores. I wouldn't have been able to do that if I was trying to study the material more carefully. So I was being active enough to comprehend the material but passive enough that it was easy to fit it into my life.

If someone's idea of passive listening is to play something in the background and not pay attention to it at all, I gotta say I think that's pretty useless. You can't learn by osmosis, not even in your native language. And the human mind can only think about one thing at a time.

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Flickserve

@eddyf, From my point of view, you have been doing active listening + active studying.

If I am doing a secondary non-related activity during passive listening, I might flit into active listening, which for me, means trying to pick words or sentences every so often out of the content I am listening to.

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Flickserve

Here's something interesting - I am evesdropping on my wife's phone conversation with a work colleague and I can understand 70-80%. Yet, for a china drama, I am dependent on subtitles and a quick reference to Pleco. Perhaps she is using more 南方式普通話.

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If you want to call it active listening, that's fine, it's just that my experience has been that what you are calling passive listening is just not helpful. To me, listening is almost like a yes/no proposition--am I listening to it, or not. If not, I'm not learning anything. And it's not because I haven't tried. I have a desk job that is fairly mentally demanding and it would be great if I could get in some listening practice while working but I've really found it impossible. When I'm listening, I'm not working. When I'm working, I'm not listening. Such is life.

I think of passive/active more as a matter of input vs output. What I would call active listening is more like shadowing. Pure listening is inherently a passive activity.

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