My listening comprehension is awful! How to improve it?

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mjd550
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Re: My listening comprehension is awful! How to improve it?

Postby mjd550 » Wed Jan 11, 2017 10:17 pm

Brun Ugle wrote:
mjd550 wrote:
Brun Ugle wrote:I've made a tremendous improvement in my Spanish listening comprehension during this past year just by watching highly addictive TV shows. When I started, I couldn't really understand much Spanish, but I could follow the basic plot of the show even without understanding a lot of the dialogue. I didn't really worry about actually understanding what they said; I just enjoyed the show and by the end, I didn't have much problem understanding the dialogue. It's a very lazy method, but it works. You might have to watch 50 or more hours before you notice any difference, but it doesn't require a lot of effort, only time.


I am interested to hear more about this. I am currently trying to improve my Spanish comprehension. I have netflix and access to star trek dubbed, if I watch some series and many episodes of it will my listening comprehension improve that much? Depending on the speed at the moment I understand about 40% of it. Thanks


That's probably about where I was when I started. At first I only watched a few episodes a week while continuing with my regular studies, but after a while, I got hooked and started watching an episode a day, and then several a day. Soon after that is when I started to really notice a jump in comprehension. I occasionally went back a few minutes to try to catch something I found interesting, but didn't quite understand, and I sometimes noted down words or phrases to look up, but mostly I just watched and enjoyed the show.

I was watching on YouTube and one thing I found helpful early on was to read all the comments before watching the show. I stopped doing that later when I could understand most of it on my own and was tired of spoilers, but during the early episodes I found it useful. It was a popular show and there were a lot of comments. Some people would ask why so-and-so did such-and-such, or comment that it was really funny/stupid/annoying/whatever when such-and-such happened. This meant I knew a bit of what was going to happen in the episode. Also people would write out their favorite bits of dialogue and I could look up any words I didn't know before actually watching.

All this was fun and it didn't feel like any effort at all because I was just watching a show I loved. Of course, I continued to do real study alongside of watching my telenovela. Even now, I still have a lot of work to do on my Spanish even though I can enjoy watching TV in the language.

At present, I am using the same technique to improve my German listening comprehension and this time it's going much faster. This is probably because German is a much more transparent language for me. My level of German as far as vocabulary and reading comprehension are concerned, is much higher than my level of Spanish was when I started watching TV in Spanish. So, my listening comprehension in German has improved very quickly. Again I am watching a telenovela on YouTube. This one doesn't have many comments, but the first 20 episodes or so had a summary written in the description. I read the summary before each episode in order to understand in the beginning, but now I don't need them anymore.

Anyway, listening comprehension is partly a matter of learning to listen and separate the sounds into words, but it is also a matter of knowing the words and grammar as well. In Spanish, I was able to improve both skills at once through massive TV watching combined with regular study. My German listening comprehension is improving faster because I'm mostly working on the first skill.


Thanks a lot for that post. Perhaps 40% is too high more like 20% of it I understand. I am on lesson 80 of assimil, and have started watching dubbed spanish star trek with english subtitles. It helps reinforce what I know. I plan to finish assimil it has given me a solid base and put me at a breakthrough level already. I plan on watching one or two episodes or star trek a day. Its enjoyable. After a couple of seasons I will make a thread about it to see if it has helped I hope it will. In language learning one of my main goals is to watch Spanish TV.
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Re: My listening comprehension is awful! How to improve it?

Postby mitcht » Thu Jan 12, 2017 2:13 am

Just to reinforce what has been said already - if you wouldn't understand it written you are no chance of understanding it spoken. It's important for the audio to be at a level where you are at a minimum comfortable reading. So when you say you can understand most things when reading but slowly to me that means you will probably be best listening/watching something at a non native level and work your way up as your general comprehension improves.
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Re: My listening comprehension is awful! How to improve it?

Postby Voytek » Thu Jan 12, 2017 6:53 am

Personally, I`ve used the L-R method to imrove my listening comprehension for Spanish, it took me about 150h but it helped me a lot. Now I`m uisng this method with Swedish and after as little as 8h I noticed a little improvement. I`m going to use this method for at least 100h in total and then I`m going to try listening only and if I need an improvement I`ll continiue this process.
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Re: My listening comprehension is awful! How to improve it?

Postby Brun Ugle » Thu Jan 12, 2017 6:58 am

Also remember that you have to watch A LOT. I watched something like 60 episodes before noticing a real improvement in Spanish. And when I started watching my first real telenovela, I'd already watched Destinos, a 52 episode telenovela for learners and Extr@, a 13 episode sit-com for learners.

My point is: don't give up after two or three episodes if you can't understand. Find a show that's fun enough that you can watch it even when you don't understand much.

You can also "cheat" a little to increase your understanding, by finding target language subtitles, transcripts, or episode summaries.
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Re: My listening comprehension is awful! How to improve it?

Postby mjd550 » Thu Jan 12, 2017 4:34 pm

mitcht wrote:Just to reinforce what has been said already - if you wouldn't understand it written you are no chance of understanding it spoken. It's important for the audio to be at a level where you are at a minimum comfortable reading. So when you say you can understand most things when reading but slowly to me that means you will probably be best listening/watching something at a non native level and work your way up as your general comprehension improves.


So if I watch dubbed dramas and only understand say 20% its a pointless exercise? I guess its harder than what I thought. I hoped to finish Assmil and watch a few seasons of star trek and somehow improve my listening comprehension.
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Re: My listening comprehension is awful! How to improve it?

Postby Brun Ugle » Thu Jan 12, 2017 4:37 pm

mjd550 wrote:
mitcht wrote:Just to reinforce what has been said already - if you wouldn't understand it written you are no chance of understanding it spoken. It's important for the audio to be at a level where you are at a minimum comfortable reading. So when you say you can understand most things when reading but slowly to me that means you will probably be best listening/watching something at a non native level and work your way up as your general comprehension improves.


So if I watch dubbed dramas and only understand say 20% its a pointless exercise? I guess its harder than what I thought. I hoped to finish Assmil and watch a few seasons of star trek and somehow improve my listening comprehension.


It's not pointless, but it takes time. You will pick up lots of vocabulary from watching TV, but you should still continue regular studying too. I find a combination of activities works better than just doing one thing.
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Re: My listening comprehension is awful! How to improve it?

Postby iguanamon » Thu Jan 12, 2017 6:07 pm

There's lots of good advice here in this thread. One of the things with listening I find is that it is not as easy as reading to master. Courses don't help as much as a learner may think with listening because the rate of speech is slower and clearer than what is typically found in the wild. People have accents, variations in voice levels, sometimes they drop letters, speak faster, etc... just like they do in our native language. Some learners don't place as much emphasis on listening as they do other aspects of language use such as reading. Sometimes learners' expectations may not be realistic. Completing Assimil, for example, doesn't mean that a learner can jump straight into native TV, films or audio with no problems.

The good news is that listening is a skill that can be trained. In my experience, I like to continue studying and reading, building my vocabulary and using native audio with a transcript. Familiarity with the subject matter is important. I have used the news with a transcript in the past... even better is having an L1 translation in a parallel text. I believe that doing it this way helps me to work on all aspects.
mjd550 wrote:I am interested to hear more about this. I am currently trying to improve my Spanish comprehension. I have netflix and access to star trek dubbed...

Your Star Trek idea could work well. Subtitle files are easily found online in both L1 and L2. Subtitle files open in windows in notepad. You can copy and paste them in a two column, one row word doc to make your own parallel text. You can read the transcript first; read it after; read it while listening; read it after listening; use at as a check against your comprehension as you transcribe what you hear. There are many ways to use an accurate transcript. Dubbed series are notorious for dubbed audio not matching L2 subs. Still, it will help with comprehension and understanding. Better yet, for Spanish, is a program like "Democracy Now!" which is translated from English and has an accurate transcript in Spanish. Also, VeinteMundos is a learner intended magazine type resource with a transcript and audio, free to download both. The articles are of varied topics across the Spanish-speaking world and I believe would be great to work with after a course like Assimil. I often download the audio to articles I find interesting just to listen for enjoyment.

Listening as a skill takes time to acquire- more time than many may think or may be willing to give. It can be trained but it takes effort, consistency and persistence. A transcript can be a big help in that it will allow learners to test themselves against it in listening accuracy and train listening by reading along while listening and seeing the words as the learner hears them. True, not everything that a learner would like has an accurate transcript/subtitles along with it, that's life. With my Haitian Creole, I've had little choice but to use a half an hour Bible Study podcast because it has an accurate transcript... but... it works! It works but a learner has to work with it and listen regularly, daily for more than a few minutes. I find 15 minutes to a half an hour to be optimal at first. Obviously, at some point after working with a transcript or subs, it will be necessary to start weaning yourself from them. Working with a transcript can help bridge the gap from jumping straight in after a course and going straight to a series. Like Brun Ugle, my listening breakthrough in Portuguese came after my first 79 episode novela. Prior to this, I had listened from the beginning though, news with a transcript, music, non-English-speaking tutor. Even with that prior experience I still had to work it at. I had no subtitles or transcript but worked with my tutor on it.

See my posts re: Understanding spoken Latin American Spanish
Using GlobalVoices.org to make simple parallel texts
Leosmith's Listening from the beginning (at HTLAL)
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Re: My listening comprehension is awful! How to improve it?

Postby mjd550 » Thu Jan 12, 2017 6:34 pm

iguanamon wrote:There's lots of good advice here in this thread. One of the things with listening I find is that it is not as easy as reading to master. Courses don't help as much as a learner may think with listening because the rate of speech is slower and clearer than what is typically found in the wild. People have accents, variations in voice levels, sometimes they drop letters, speak faster, etc... just like they do in our native language. Some learners don't place as much emphasis on listening as they do other aspects of language use such as reading. Sometimes learners' expectations may not be realistic. Completing Assimil, for example, doesn't mean that a learner can jump straight into native TV, films or audio with no problems.

The good news is that listening is a skill that can be trained. In my experience, I like to continue studying and reading, building my vocabulary and using native audio with a transcript. Familiarity with the subject matter is important. I have used the news with a transcript in the past... even better is having an L1 translation in a parallel text. I believe that doing it this way helps me to work on all aspects.
mjd550 wrote:I am interested to hear more about this. I am currently trying to improve my Spanish comprehension. I have netflix and access to star trek dubbed...

Your Star Trek idea could work well. Subtitle files are easily found online in both L1 and L2. Subtitle files open in windows in notepad. You can copy and paste them in a two column, one row word doc to make your own parallel text. You can read the transcript first; read it after; read it while listening; read it after listening; use at as a check against your comprehension as you transcribe what you hear. There are many ways to use an accurate transcript. Dubbed series are notorious for dubbed audio not matching L2 subs. Still, it will help with comprehension and understanding. Better yet, for Spanish, is a program like "Democracy Now!" which is translated from English and has an accurate transcript in Spanish. Also, VeinteMundos is a learner intended magazine type resource with a transcript and audio, free to download both. The articles are of varied topics across the Spanish-speaking world and I believe would be great to work with after a course like Assimil. I often download the audio to articles I find interesting just to listen for enjoyment.

Listening as a skill takes time to acquire- more time than many may think or may be willing to give. It can be trained but it takes effort, consistency and persistence. A transcript can be a big help in that it will allow learners to test themselves against it in listening accuracy and train listening by reading along while listening and seeing the words as the learner hears them. True, not everything that a learner would like has an accurate transcript/subtitles along with it, that's life. With my Haitian Creole, I've had little choice but to use a half an hour Bible Study podcast because it has an accurate transcript... but... it works! It works but a learner has to work with it and listen regularly, daily for more than a few minutes. I find 15 minutes to a half an hour to be optimal at first. Obviously, at some point after working with a transcript or subs, it will be necessary to start weaning yourself from them. Working with a transcript can help bridge the gap from jumping straight in after a course and going straight to a series. Like Brun Ugle, my listening breakthrough in Portuguese came after my first 79 episode novela. Prior to this, I had listened from the beginning though, news with a transcript, music, non-English-speaking tutor. Even with that prior experience I still had to work it at. I had no subtitles or transcript but worked with my tutor on it.

See my posts re: Understanding spoken Latin American Spanish
Using GlobalVoices.org to make simple parallel texts
Leosmith's Listening from the beginning (at HTLAL)


Many thanks for the post. I hope it helps others as well. The transcript idea is good, I'll try and find some for a drama.
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Re: My listening comprehension is awful! How to improve it?

Postby Brun Ugle » Thu Jan 12, 2017 6:36 pm

It should also be noted that a certain tolerance for ambiguity is essential, especially if you don't have transcripts, subtitles or other "crutches." Since you will be watching a dubbed series which you presumably have seen before in English, that won't be such a problem. Your understanding will be helped along by your having seen the show before and remembering what happens. In my case, after having worked through courses for a while, and having watched a telenovela for learners and a sit-com for learners, I decided to dive headfirst into a native telenovela with no subtitles. So I had to tolerate not understanding everything. I could see from the action what was happening, but sometimes I had missed some dialogue that was essential to understanding why it was happening. I had to accept just getting the gist of things. For example, I knew they were pulling some shady deal with the company, but I didn't understand all the ins and outs of the deal. Still, all I had to know to enjoy the story was that they were up to something fishy with the company and were in big trouble financially. If you worry too much about understanding all the details, you'll find yourself constantly frustrated.
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Re: My listening comprehension is awful! How to improve it?

Postby klvik » Thu Jan 12, 2017 7:18 pm

When I was making the transition away from course-based listening, I found it very useful to have two types of listening activities 1) intensive listening to short learner podcasts with transcripts. I would listen to these multiple times, sometimes reading the transcript and sometimes not, until I could hear and understand everything. 2) watching movies and tv shows (one time through, no rewinding to catch something I missed - I can't stand rewinding.). I enjoyed this type of listening very much but for a period of time I benefited much more from the first type of listening.

It is important to start listening to native materials, but you don't need to dive in head first. Some people like to dive into the lake but others need to slowly get used to the water. If a transition period of learner/native material helps you to improve, go for it! If learner materials bore you, avoid them! However, if you decide to use learner materials to transition, I would recommend trying to constantly increase the percentage of native materials in your listening diet. Good luck!
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