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PerpetualChange

Discouraged by my inability to understand movies/TV

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PerpetualChange

I realized last night just how far behind my listening is lagging from my speaking and reading. Tried watching a movie without subtitles, and I was totally lost within minutes. Tried switching to a TV show, and same thing. 

 

With Chinese subs or the same content written out, I'd have been fine, but it was the first time taking subtitles off in awhile, and very discouraging. I don't know how to improve this part of my Chinese. 

I read constantly. I spend several hours per week talking to native speakers. I listen to music and things like Learning Chinese Through Stories. Faced with native content, I'm still totally lost. 

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imron
1 hour ago, PerpetualChange said:

I don't know how to improve this part of my Chinese. 

Train what you want to learn.

 

If you want to get good at listening to TV shows/movies without subtitles, then you'll need to start doing lots of listening to TV shows/movies without subtitles.  This is the method I would recommend (make sure to keep reading that thread for the follow-up posts).  If you do that every day, then within 3 months, you should feel a noticeable improvement.  You'll have to find alternative sources for content though, as the links and that thread are all long broken.

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Flickserve

@PerpetualChange

 

i have been training listening skills in my own sweet time using the Growing Up with Chinese series. When I first heard the actors, I couldn’t make head nor tail of what was being said due to the 口音. I put the sentences into an anki deck (took a long time) and listen to each sentence five times and trying to guess the meaning before the card with the sentence is revealed. I found I am getting better with fewer gaps in random conversations. Still have a long way to go though and I would like to get more vocabulary in before I can say it really works. That’s one approach. 
 

 

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PerpetualChange
3 hours ago, imron said:

f you want to get good at listening to TV shows/movies without subtitles, then you'll need to start doing lots of listening to TV shows/movies without subtitles.  This is the method I would recommend (make sure to keep reading that thread for the follow-up posts).  If you do that every day, then within 3 months, you should feel a noticeable improvement.  You'll have to find alternative sources for content though, as the links and that thread are all long broken.

 

I like movies, but stopping them every 5 seconds to rewind the same thing 5x before giving up and looking at the subtitles ruins it for me. This is fundamentally different than writing or reading - which is fun, no matter how slow the process is. 

 

1 hour ago, Flickserve said:

i have been training listening skills in my own sweet time using the Growing Up with Chinese series. When I first heard the actors, I couldn’t make head nor tail of what was being said due to the 口音. I put the sentences into an anki deck (took a long time) and listen to each sentence five times and trying to guess the meaning before the card with the sentence is revealed. I found I am getting better with fewer gaps in random conversations. Still have a long way to go though and I would like to get more vocabulary in before I can say it really works. That’s one approach. 
 

I'll take a listen, thanks! 

 

 

 

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Shelley

I don't think you should necessarily be aiming to understand every word the first time you watch it, rewinding is not the best plan.

 

Just watch/listen, understanding what you can, then start it again watch and listen all the way through again.

 

If there are transcripts then you could look up one or two words at a time to aid comprehension, learn the names of people and places in the show and see if you can pick those out, but don't try reading along, that defeats the object.

 

Just keep listening, have it on in the background sometimes and other times give it your all. This will help "train" your ear to the sounds, rhythm, and cadence of the language.

Taking all this in to account I would pick short programs to start with and don't move on till you feel confident.

 

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imron
5 hours ago, PerpetualChange said:

 

I like movies, but stopping them every 5 seconds to rewind the same thing 5x before giving up and looking at the subtitles ruins it for me.

Yep. The thing to realize is that you are doing it for listening practice, not for enjoyment.  It will also get easier over time. 

 

If it’s something that has transcripts you can try prelearning the transcripts first so you don’t have so many unknown words, but at the end of the day the problem is caused because your brain can’t analyze and process the sounds of mandarin quickly enough when it comes in through your ears, so you need to practice listening again and again and again until it’s able to do all of that automatically, and at speed.  I wrote more about this here.

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Jan Finster
33 minutes ago, imron said:
6 hours ago, PerpetualChange said:

 

I like movies, but stopping them every 5 seconds to rewind the same thing 5x before giving up and looking at the subtitles ruins it for me.

Yep. The thing to realize is that you are doing it for listening practice, not for enjoyment.  It will also get easier over time. 

 

I agree with Imron. While I try to make my Chinese studies as "fun" and non-classroom-like as possible, there inevitably will be some not so fun elements if you want to progress rapidly. Listening again and again, ideally with something like Workaudiobook, is my strategy. Yes, it is boring! 

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Tomsima

its also worth noting that you'll meet many Chinese friends who will also balk at the idea of watching their favourite shows without subtitles, especially if it's at all historical in content. Working towards causal listening without subs is of course the right direction, but it's worth knowing that its natural to feel like you're not getting everything without the subs there: after all, Chinese is, as they say, “博大精深”

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mungouk
10 hours ago, PerpetualChange said:

Tried watching a movie without subtitles, and I was totally lost within minutes. Tried switching to a TV show, and same thing. 

 

Well yes, this.

 

Doesn't it enormously depend on your choice of content?  I remember the first time I tried to watch The Matrix — in German, with no subtitles — and I had no clue what was going on. I could happily watch a movie with a simpler story-line though. 

 

I know a few folk here have tried to come up with curated lists of media suitable for various levels.  There's an opportunity here (possibly commercial) for someone to fill the gap I think... curated content with indication of levels, a list of essential vocab, downloadable SRTs etc. Like "graded readers for videos" perhaps.

 

After all, as learners most of us still need "scaffolding".

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Flickserve
11 hours ago, PerpetualChange said:

I'll take a listen, thanks


some of my anki packs are here. Please let me know if you find the practice useful Or too easy. 

 

The others are right to say it’s not an exercise for enjoyment. It’s a training exercise that requires repetition. It is laborious work.

 

if you are picking a film, then pick only five minutes of dialogue and aim to understand every single sentence without needing subtitles. It will be almost like being an actor learning a script except you learn it by listening first and repetitively. Only refer to the script when you really can’t understand or to clarify certain words. Be mentally prepared to listen five or more times. The workaudio book app is great for this as it allows you to conveniently isolate a sentence within an mp3 and listen many times over. 

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oceancalligraphy

Television shows in Taiwan have subtitles for almost all pre-recorded shows, even the parts of a newscast that are pre-recorded. YouTube videos from Taiwan have subtitles in the video. Having subtitles is just a part of watching TV.

 

I think it's more about training ears to catch the words and cadence, than trying to watch something entirely without subtitles. 

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imron
23 minutes ago, oceancalligraphy said:

I think it's more about training ears to catch the words and cadence,

Right, the problem is that the brain is great at seeking the path of least resistance and if it can understand something with subtitles it'll do that rather than worry about catching words and cadence.

 

This is compounded by the fact that while it is focusing on the the subtitles to catch the meaning, it will be paying less attention on the sounds, and what you focus on is what you'll get better at.

 

Removing the subtitles is a way to force the brain to focus on the sounds.

 

23 minutes ago, oceancalligraphy said:

Having subtitles is just a part of watching TV.

Sure, but it's not an essential part - if it was, there wouldn't be a market for radio and podcasts (yes I know these are not TV, just pointing out although subtitles are there they aren't essential for understanding unless non-standard dialect is being spoken).

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Flickserve
14 hours ago, PerpetualChange said:

With Chinese subs or the same content written out, I'd have been fine,


I would love to be in the same position as you with the knowledge that you have.

 

There might be separate aspects to the problem all contributing to slow processing : 

 

- Dialogue is too fast (even in standard mandarin) 


- Not used to accent

 

- Not used to slurring of words

 

- Certain unknown expressions or lack of vocabulary (sounds like not in your case). 
 

 

If you are talking one on one to native speakers, do note they are probably dumbing down their speech somewhat to accommodate your level so this might not be a reliable indicator of your ability.

 

 

One of my favourite exercises is to grab a partly incomprehensible sentence, and play it to my wechat group. Sometimes it is a cross check because subtitles are not 100% consistent. Of course , I have the benefit of the subtitles when I ask them, “what do you hear?”. Some native speakers can’t work it out and one guy asked his wife who correctly heard it. Not all native speakers can hear the same things. 
 

Another time, the group chat gave the correct answer and then I said “But I really can’t hear these two words in this sentence”. The group then replied “oh yeah, those two words weren’t spoken but they are always together in this type of sentence so that’s how we know”....

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jannesan
20 hours ago, PerpetualChange said:

I listen to music and things like Learning Chinese Through Stories.

 

I also really like Learning Chinese Through Stories, but I think you should also try some native podcasts.

I currently listen to:

  • 狗熊有话说 (very self-help centered, easy language, repetitive content: perfect for learning :D)
  • 兩個女生的聊天記錄  (quite a bit harder, they speak quite fast + Taiwanese accent, but content and language is also quite easy)

Depending on the episode my understanding can be anywhere between 70%-95%, but I believe even if there are many details I miss out on,

it should still be very helpful to build a better listening comprehension.

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889

There's something about scripted TV and movies that makes them hard to understand. You can listen to three people sitting around a table speaking unscripted natural Chinese and grasp most of it, but then switch to a scripted drama show and find yourself at sea.

 

I'm not sure why.

 

Like others, I rely on subtitles mostly, but that means my ear tends to turn off the audio, which isn't good.

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PerpetualChange

You guys are right. It's practice, not for enjoyment. I need to get better at setting time every day to PRACTICE and then once I've done that I will feel more free to enjoy watching the movies I really like with Chinese or English subs. Two different buckets. 

 

15 hours ago, imron said:

If it’s something that has transcripts you can try prelearning the transcripts first so you don’t have so many unknown words, but at the end of the day the problem is caused because your brain can’t analyze and process the sounds of mandarin quickly enough when it comes in through your ears, so you need to practice listening again and again and again until it’s able to do all of that automatically, and at speed.  I wrote more about this here.

 

If you're listening to something at speed, and then falling back to a transcript or subtitle for most lines anyway, haven't you just short  circuited your mind's ability to practice processing the sounds and switched over to simply listening for the transcript which you have memorized? 

 

As far as looping sections go - I really like Amazing Slow Downer. Originally designed for people learning music by ear, you can slow down and loop sections of files you have and even files from Spotify and iTunes. Since I rarely ever have MP3's of any podcast, it's a good tool. 

 

10 hours ago, Flickserve said:

I would love to be in the same position as you with the knowledge that you have.

 

As someone who is somewhat literate but has pretty bad pronunciation and subpar listening, I'm not so sure the grass is that much greener. Seems like I have it backwards, in many ways. People who can speak and listen effortlessly seem to get much further even if what's under the hood - their reading and writing skills - are severely lacking. 

 

4 hours ago, jannesan said:

狗熊有话说 (very self-help centered, easy language, repetitive content: perfect for learning :D)

 

Are there transcripts? 

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imron
1 hour ago, PerpetualChange said:

If you're listening to something at speed, and then falling back to a transcript or subtitle for most lines anyway, haven't you just short  circuited your mind's ability to practice processing the sounds and switched over to simply listening for the transcript which you have memorized? 

The trick is to separate looking at the transcript from the listening, and to make sure you are engaging your brain when you are listening.

 

So you'd listen over and over to a small section of audio (maybe a sentence, maybe a paragraph, depending on your level) and try to isolate and figure out each individual word as you hear it.  When you get to the point where you've tried several times and you still can't make out some of the words, then you stop and go to the transcript and look it up and realise "oh right, that's what they were saying". 

 

Then you go back and listen (without the transcript), doing the same thing where you try and isolate the words you are hearing, but this time you pay particular attention to the bit you originally couldn't understand, filling in the gap with your new knowledge.  And you keep doing this until you can listen to the whole sentence, and pick up and hear every word without mental effort.

 

Yes, you were falling back on your newly memorized meaning, but you were actively engaging your listening the whole time and you've now plugged one small little hole.

 

Then you repeat with the next sentence, and you plug another small hole.  Then you put the two sentences together and make sure you can still hear everything automatically.

 

Then you repeat with the third sentence, and you plug some more holes.  Then you put all the sentences together and make sure you can still hear everything automatically and without much effort.

 

And so on, and so on.

 

Mind-numbing repetition, and yes, it was all just memorized transcripts, but those words and sentences are now branded in your brain from listening to them over and over again, and that's the point.  It's now branded in your brain, so when you hear that word in a different context you won't have to expend much (if any) effort to understand it because understanding it has become an automatic reflex.

 

If you spend some time on this every day, then over days, and weeks and months all the little holes that you've plugged will amount to a great big deal of improvement.

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imron
1 hour ago, PerpetualChange said:

As far as looping sections go - I really like Amazing Slow Downer.

I would recommend not listening to slowed down audio.

 

You've already said that with Chinese subs or the same content written out, you'd have been fine, so you know you can understand things when you have enough time to process them.

 

The whole point though is to develop the ability to listen and process audio at normal speed because that's the skill you currently lack.  Listening to slowed down audio doesn't help with that.

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Flickserve
1 hour ago, PerpetualChange said:

Seems like I have it backwards, in many ways. People who can speak and listen effortlessly seem to get much further even if what's under the hood - their reading and writing skills - are severely lacking. 

 

That's true but at least you know where the  weakness is. You may want to consider almost reducing to zero the book reading that you do and devote that time instead to practicing listening to Chinese. That's exactly the choice that I have made. 

 

For the slowing down of sounds, I don't use it routinely early on. It's only after going through the whole process of listening, relistening at native speed and then finally giving up would I might relisten at a slower speed. And that is only for the purpose of double checking with native speakers. In practice, I have done it only rarely. 

 

As a side effect, the more listening you do of individual sentences and repetition,  you might find yourself shadowing sentences more with improvement in your speaking.

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