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Getting out of a listening rut

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DavyJonesLocker
5 hours ago, AdamD said:

I'm deliberately not focusing on listening right now because it's frankly soul destroying, but right now I'm on a group call with a few people speaking English and Chinese. One of them suggested I do all the things I've been doing for years (which haven't worked for me but apparently work for everyone else), and then suggested I try something different (which I've also tried doing for years). Now they've all jumped to Chinese and I can't understand enough to know what's going on.

  

Where I'm going with the above is this: it's great that people want to help, but when people who have achieved listening proficiency suggest techniques I've already tried and failed at, it actually makes me feel worse. A lot worse. It's the number one reason I don't want to keep trying.

 

Sorry, I'm not looking for reassurance or sympathy or pep talks, I just wanted to say this.

 

 

I get where your coming from, it is soul destroying at times. I was talking to a friend of mine last week who has been learning Chinese for 10+ years and basically getting nowhere. We were discussing that if, at the very start you could foretell how much effort you needed to put in just to be able,many years later stumble through a conversation not really understanding half of it , would you have taken up Chinese in the first place. For me its a resounding "No, not a chance"!  For example my flash card total hasn't increased in a year and thats with studying every day. So people say read more, I read every day from text books graded, to signs outside, wechat etc. I read all the graded readers yet I can hardly remember a single word. It simply doesn't sink it. For example I am reviewing my spoken chinese book for the 9th time and its filled with words that not only can I not recall, but I have no recollection even seeing them in the first place. I write characters almost every  day, yet in more than a year I cannot get past 1000, a weeks break like at christmas sets me back at least a month. My brain will instantly throw out the information and be resistant to learning it again. My anki default review times of 2 and 10 minutes I have had to readjust to 1min, 3m 10m as if I leave it at 2min there is no chance i will recall it

 

People are generally helpful and say "oh anyone can learn and can attain an advanced level , I think thats BS to be honest. I ask them them if you can learn physics, computer science or mathematics which I always found easy (my PhD is in mathematics and I passed the microsoft coding exams) and they say "oh no no I was never any good at that".  Its the same argument, people are inclined towards one discipline over another and these natural abilities can differ to a great extend. My teacher told me that I really am not cut out for learning Chinese as my work effort v output is appalling. As you say, people offer solutions so you adapt your learning, try if for a while and realise actually  there is no path of enlightenment no matter what you do. I am resigned to the fact that I will hover around HSK 5 level and asymptotically tend towards HSK 6 over the next 5 odd years

 

My attitude now is that I don't want it taking over my life, so I am not bothered about it too much anymore, I will end up resenting it. Striking the balence is a personal choice

 

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mouse

It seems to me that you need to ditch the textbooks. If they're not helping, then the only benefit of using them (that they are simplified, petri-dish versions of the real language) is not present, and so only their downsides (that they are simplified, petri-dish versions of the real language) remain. If you're going to struggle through material, you may as well make it native material.

 

Of course that's only my opinion, everyone's different, etc etc.

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AdamD
2 hours ago, DavyJonesLocker said:

People are generally helpful and say "oh anyone can learn and can attain an advanced level , I think thats BS to be honest.

 

Yeah, I think there are certain things we can't penetrate. For some, as you mentioned, it's computer science or physics. I can do the reading part but I don't have a facility for the listening part.

 

Also, like you I don't want to resent it either, but I've been feeling pretty resentful for a while and I'm still studying the language. I don't know what that means.

 

53 minutes ago, mouse said:

It seems to me that you need to ditch the textbooks.

 

I've not touched a textbook in years, apart from checking grammar points. I've relied entirely on authentic natural speech, mostly in online chats, YouTube videos (not language instruction videos), podcasts (usually not language instruction podcasts), and by actually going there and immersing.

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mouse
1 hour ago, AdamD said:

I've not touched a textbook in years, apart from checking grammar points. I've relied entirely on authentic natural speech, mostly in online chats, YouTube videos (not language instruction videos), podcasts (usually not language instruction podcasts), and by actually going there and immersing.

 

I was replying to Davy.

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imron
4 hours ago, DavyJonesLocker said:

My anki default review times of 2 and 10 minutes I have had to readjust to 1min, 3m 10m as if I leave it at 2min there is no chance i will recall it

How big is your deck, and how much time would you say you spend reviewing cards each day?  By comparison how much time would you spend doing long-form reading (either a graded reader, or a newspaper article or something similar)?

 

I ask because flashcards can give the illusion of learning and progress without actually giving you much learning or progress.  Depending on how strict you are in passing or failing cards, you might not even be learning anything to level required for practical use.

 

This is why I always recommend some other primary activity as the driver and measure of learning, with flashcards playing a secondary role.

 

4 hours ago, DavyJonesLocker said:

a weeks break like at christmas sets me back at least a month.

Sets you back in what way?  Flashcard revisions?

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Wurstmann
9 hours ago, AdamD said:

Yeah, I think there are certain things we can't penetrate. For some, as you mentioned, it's computer science or physics. I can do the reading part but I don't have a facility for the listening part.

 

I don't think that's true. You can understand your native language just fine, right? Most people just say they can't do maths or draw, but they don't even really try. If they would do it every day for an extended amount of time, they would get good. 

 

How much listening do you do every day? I think if you watch at least 2 hours of TV every day for a year, you will notice improvements. And be sure to turn off/block the subtitles, otherwise you just train your reading.

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AdamD

I appreciate you trying to help but this is exactly the type of response I was referring to yesterday. I did precisely what you said for years, it didn’t work, and now of course I feel stupider.

 

(edit)

 

And just to get the jump on what might happen next, because historically it usually has: while step 1 of my eternal hell is people kindly suggesting techniques that have not worked for me, step 2 is people expecting me to explain or justify my failure to make those techniques work. If that happens here now I’ll straight up abandon the thread for a while.

 

I revived the thread specifically to point out the effect this cycle has on me, and to stress that I don’t want to keep going through it.

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imron
1 hour ago, AdamD said:

If that happens here now I’ll straight up abandon the thread for a while.

Lucky I saw your edit before I posted what I was going to post because I am interested in what could be going wrong and whether there is way to address it, and some of the things I was going to ask probably would have touched on 'step 2' - not for the purpose of getting you to justify or explain your failure, but rather so that I could try and help identify where the main problem might be.

 

So rather than posting what I was going to post, instead I'm just going to say that if you ever get to a point where you want to work on your listening again, I'd be happy to try and help identify what could be going wrong to see if there's something similar to the synonym trick mentioned earlier, that can help you move past whatever it is that is blocking you.  I'd also be happy to discuss via PM if you don't want to go into specifics in public, and if you find something that works you can always provide an update here later.

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AdamD

@imron I really really appreciate your offer to help.

 

By step 2 I’m totally fine with discussing what might be going wrong, pulling apart how I’m doing things, digging for the root cause of my lack of progress. It’s specifically the undercurrent of ‘you’re not really trying’ or ‘you’re not being honest with yourself’ which I can’t deal with any more.

 

I’m happy to discuss it, but I don’t know whether I’m ready to try again just yet, considering how comprehensively I get deflated by this ongoing failure.

 

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imron
3 minutes ago, AdamD said:

but I don’t know whether I’m ready to try again just yet,

That's fine.  It's probably best to leave it for a while because by pulling apart and digging for the root cause, part of that would involve trying to identify what, if any progress has been made. 

 

I suspect some progress has been made over 4 years, but in drilling down in to how much I don't want to give off any 'you're not being honest with yourself' vibe, because that wouldn't be where I am coming from, unfortunatley while the subject is still so raw it might be difficult not to feel that way and I wouldn't want that to shut you down further.

 

I also suspect there is something going on with the way in which you've approached listening practice.  Similar to what I mentioned above (and elsewhere) that flashcard and flashcarding and flashcarding new vocabulary isn't necessarily going to help you learn to read (because it's not practising the other skills required for reading), there's likely something going in how you were practising listening that didn't address all the skills required for listening to random, unscripted content.

 

Anyway, rather than going in to all of this now, instead I would concentrate on the parts of learning Chinese that don't bring you frustration, and from time to time see if there are any small listening wins you can have too, to build back up your listening confidence.

 

 

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Flickserve

I agree it can get very frustrating. There's just so much variation in a language when you hear it. Different accents, speed, different expressions and intonations. In the past, I have had total blackout to listening in Chinese when not directed because it has been just too much effort.

 

I am not convinced that going through textbooks and flashcarding vocabulary is the way to go. I am struggling with Mandarin listening skills and I just don't hear enough Mandarin and often enough in real daily life situations. 

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Moshen

Hi Adam,

I believe that if you followed around some people who seem to be naturally good at learning languages - followed them around and observed them closely the way an anthropologist would - you would eventually notice some things they're doing that you are not.

Perhaps you're not doing them because they conflict with long-established personality habits or your image of yourself - or just because you've never tried to operate in the world in that way.

I don't say this to blame you, but to share something I learned from observing my husband over 30+ years. He has been taking things apart since he was a small chil[d - first watches and radios, then cars and then toilets and computers.

I'm very un-mechanically minded. My curiosity doesn't run in that direction and I have ve[ry little experience with fixing things. I used to go all helpless whenever something broke down, but now I can sometimes calmly analyze the situation, try a few things and solve the problem on my own. That is, I overcame my "natural" limitations to a certain extent.

Another idea: a gifted language teacher - someone who takes a student's unique abilities and personality as a starting point - may be able to help you in just a few sessions, figure out what you are doing that doesn't work and some alternative methods keyed to the way your unique mind and pe[rsonal history works that do pull you forward.

It does seem that continuing with your method that doesn't work for you will continue to yield the same unsatisfying results.

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AdamD
7 hours ago, imron said:

That's fine.  It's probably best to leave it for a while because by pulling apart and digging for the root cause, part of that would involve trying to identify what, if any progress has been made. 

 

I agree, and doing that right now would offset my confidence in other areas.

 

7 hours ago, imron said:

I suspect some progress has been made over 4 years, but in drilling down in to how much I don't want to give off any 'you're not being honest with yourself' vibe, because that wouldn't be where I am coming from, unfortunatley while the subject is still so raw it might be difficult not to feel that way and I wouldn't want that to shut you down further.

 

While I don't disagree in principle, there's no evidence whatsoever to indicate my practical listening has had any lasting improvements at all.

 

7 hours ago, imron said:

there's likely something going in how you were practising listening that didn't address all the skills required for listening to random, unscripted content.

 

It does seem that way, but I haven't been able to identify what it is, and I've researched the absolute pants off listening comprehension issues.

 

7 hours ago, imron said:

from time to time see if there are any small listening wins you can have too, to build back up your listening confidence.

 

That's the approach I'm going with, but every time I have a moment of optimism, I can't understand any speech and have to back away for self-preservation.

 

6 hours ago, Flickserve said:

There's just so much variation in a language when you hear it. Different accents, speed, different expressions and intonations.

 

Most of the people who tell me this have at least been able to manage with standard speech. I know you have similar trouble with comprehension, so I'm not directing this towards you at all, but I do feel the variation argument is overemphasised, and that the range of Chinese speech varieties shouldn't stop us understanding even one of those varieties.

 

6 hours ago, Flickserve said:

I am not convinced that going through textbooks and flashcarding vocabulary is the way to go.

 

Yeah, I've done plenty of that too, so I really think our knowledge isn't the problem. I know I'm hearing sentences full of words I've learnt, because every time I ask someone to break down their speech or write/type what they said, it's nearly all words and grammar I already know.

 

6 hours ago, Moshen said:

I believe that if you followed around some people who seem to be naturally good at learning languages - followed them around and observed them closely the way an anthropologist would - you would eventually notice some things they're doing that you are not.

 

I have spent a lot of time observing friends who can do this, not at an anthropological level but the best way I've been able to. Unfortunately it got me nowhere. I appreciate your suggestion though.

 

One of the advantages of failing at every technique I've tried is that I know not to spend time just trying things in the hope they will work. That's what I've done for eight years and counting, and it's never once paid off in any meaningful or lasting way.

 

6 hours ago, Moshen said:

I'm very un-mechanically minded. My curiosity doesn't run in that direction and I have ve[ry little experience with fixing things. I used to go all helpless whenever something broke down, but now I can sometimes calmly analyze the situation, try a few things and solve the problem on my own. That is, I overcame my "natural" limitations to a certain extent.

 

That's great, but honestly it reflects one of the many approaches I've taken to understanding Chinese speech. I've had successes like yours in other areas of life, but not this one.

 

6 hours ago, Moshen said:

Another idea: a gifted language teacher - someone who takes a student's unique abilities and personality as a starting point - may be able to help you in just a few sessions, figure out what you are doing that doesn't work and some alternative methods keyed to the way your unique mind and pe[rsonal history works that do pull you forward.

 

That's a terrific idea, and it's actually what I've been considering recently. My only misgiving is that none of my teachers over the years have been able to help me improve. They've all been supportive (except one, who said I'm probably not cut out for languages and should reconsider altogether), but encouragement doesn't fix comprehension.

 

So what I've considered doing is churning through personal teachers/tutors and ruthlessly dropping them until I can find one who can help me. However, as I mentioned above, if I do that now and my listening still gets nowhere, I'll be even more devastated than I've been in the past year. And this is the risk — throwing good effort after bad, shattering what enthusiasm I have left and sending me packing for good.

 

Thanks for your support everyone. This is a living nightmare and a total embarrassment, and I'm really not coping with it at all.

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Wurstmann
15 minutes ago, AdamD said:

That's a terrific idea, and it's actually what I've been considering recently.

I don't know if you've used it before, but italki is good.

 

Listening to Chinese is hard. I think it's because most words only have one or two syllables, and almost no one speaks in pure 普通话. Even with my almost non-existent Japanese, I find it way easier to hear the words clearly. But then again, I only listened to about 350 hours of Chinese so far and watched a tons of anime in the past, so that is to be expected.

I really don't know what else you can do, other than listening to a few thousand hours of Chinese.

 

Good luck with your studies. I hope you can overcome this hurdle and become a listening-god in the future.

 

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AdamD

Thanks. And your italki suggestion is good, but the one time I used it I had even more trouble understanding the teacher due to connection quality. If I’m going to pursue active tutoring, we need to be in the same room, at least until I work out what’s going on.

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Flickserve
1 hour ago, AdamD said:

My only misgiving is that none of my teachers over the years have been able to help me improve.

 

Here's a trick that I did. Take a few lessons with some fairly established community tutors on italki. Ask them about how different students like to learn Chinese and their results.

 

Can get an insight into novel ways people approach their learning.

 

One of my tutors had a student who was only interested in playing a musical instrument videos which had no subtitles.  They had many lessons of breaking down instructional videos.

According to her, the student performed quite well after the sessions but she didn't say after how many lessons.

 

 

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AdamD

It’s a good idea, but as above I want to be in the same room for now, as the fact of a video call plus connection quality issues made an italki session even harder for me to understand.

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imron
17 minutes ago, AdamD said:

but as above I want to be in the same room for now

Only Australians will properly understand.

 

Many places in Australia still rely on broken down copper cabling for their primary Internet connection - my old Internet used to cut out when it rained.  It was pretty embarrassing to have to tell clients - sorry, we can't have a meeting today because it's raining :shrug:

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AdamD

Yep. I’m still on ADSL. It’s hopeless.

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