How efficient are TV shows for improving listening comprehension?

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Re: How efficient are TV shows for improving listening comprehension?

Postby emk » Tue Apr 26, 2016 1:48 pm

NoManches wrote:So I have watched entire seasons of certain TV shows and I'm sure it has helped my listening a bunch....but like you said, after 10 minutes I start questioning myself: " How efficient is this? I've watched x amount of minutes and only understand 60% of it. Or, if watching a show in Spanish (such as a telenovela) I will hear dramatic music when a character is talking and j get frustrated because I know they are saying something important but I'm just missing it. It's like I'm only getting a portion of what they are saying.

I haven't reposted my Cheating & Consolidating graphic in a while, but it's relevant to this conversation:

Image

The basic idea is that input can be roughly divided into three categories:

  1. Opaque. It's all just a blur, and you understand nothing.
  2. Decipherable. You don't understand this at any deep level, but because of some lucky combination of context, images, cognates, prior knowledge, transcripts, etc., you can puzzle out what something means.
  3. Automatic. You understand this without even thinking about it—the meaning is completely transparent to you.
To get from (1) to (2), cheat like crazy with every trick at your disposal. If you watch an entertaining dubbed TV series, for example, you get a boost from hearing the same few actors all the time, from knowing the vocabulary of that series, from following the plot, and from looking at the images on screen. I use fun series that I've already seen in another language, which provides even more clues about what people are saying. To get from (2) to (3), you need so much exposure that "decipherable" knowledge wears grooves in your brain. This is where the Super Challenge is useful.

I'm convinced that most failed attempts at improving listening involve inadequate "cheating" (and thus not enough content is comprehensible) or far too few hours of "consolidation" (and thus nothing ever becomes automatic). In particular, you can't jump straight from "opaque" to "automatic"—if you can't manage to decipher something, you can't learn it. And to make comprehension automatic, you need a lot of input—I probably watched 15 seasons of French television before I could channel surf and have a 50/50 chance of enjoying a randomly selected French TV show I'd never seen before. (And I combined that with a couple million words of reading, which definitely helped fill in vocabulary.)

To get your listening comprehension up, you actually need to rewire your brain tissue, and that takes time. It's a bit like building muscle: If you want to squat three plates, you begin by squatting just the empty bar, and then you add 5 or 10 pounds a week. And you keep doing it for months and months, until you have 270 pounds on the bar, because muscle takes an annoyingly long time to grow. (As usual, Khatzumoto has a relevant essay.) But it's important to make sure you're not wasting that time, which is why finding something which provides lots of clues and context and "decipherable" input is essential. You don't need 90% comprehension to benefit, but you do need to be able to figure lots of stuff out from context.
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Re: How efficient are TV shows for improving listening comprehension?

Postby NoManches » Tue Apr 26, 2016 3:02 pm

emk wrote:
NoManches wrote:So I have watched entire seasons of certain TV shows and I'm sure it has helped my listening a bunch....but like you said, after 10 minutes I start questioning myself: " How efficient is this? I've watched x amount of minutes and only understand 60% of it. Or, if watching a show in Spanish (such as a telenovela) I will hear dramatic music when a character is talking and j get frustrated because I know they are saying something important but I'm just missing it. It's like I'm only getting a portion of what they are saying.

I haven't reposted my Cheating & Consolidating graphic in a while, but it's relevant to this conversation:

Image

The basic idea is that input can be roughly divided into three categories:

  1. Opaque. It's all just a blur, and you understand nothing.
  2. Decipherable. You don't understand this at any deep level, but because of some lucky combination of context, images, cognates, prior knowledge, transcripts, etc., you can puzzle out what something means.
  3. Automatic. You understand this without even thinking about it—the meaning is completely transparent to you.
To get from (1) to (2), cheat like crazy with every tricky at your disposal. If you watch an entertaining dubbed TV series, for example, you get a boost from hearing the same few actors all the time, from knowing the vocabulary of that series, from following the plot, and from looking at the images on screen. I use fun series that I've already seen in another language, which provides even more clues about what people are saying. To get from (2) to (3), you need so much exposure that "decipherable" knowledge wears grooves in your brain. This is where the Super Challenge is useful.

I'm convinced that most failed attempts at improving listening involve inadequate "cheating" (and thus not enough content is comprehensible) or far too few hours of "consolidation" (and thus nothing ever becomes automatic). In particular, you can't jump straight from "opaque" to "automatic"—if you can't manage to decipher something, you can't learn it. And to make comprehension automatic, you need a lot of input—I probably watched 15 seasons of French television before I could channel surf and have a 50/50 chance of enjoying a randomly selected French TV show I'd never seen before. (And I combined that with a couple million words of reading, which definitely helped fill in vocabulary.)

To get your listening comprehension up, you actually need to rewire your brain tissue, and that takes time. It's a bit like building muscle: If you want to squat three plates, you begin by squatting just the empty bar, and then you add 5 or 10 pounds a week. And you keep doing it for months and months, until you have 270 pounds on the bar, because muscle takes an annoyingly long time to grow. (As usual, Khatzumoto has a relevant essay.) But it's important to make sure you're not wasting that time, which is why finding something which provides lots of clues and context and "decipherable" input is essential. You don't need 90% comprehension to benefit, but you do need to be able to figure lots of stuff out from context.




I am pretty sure this answered so many questions for me and made sense of a lot of things that may not seem so obvious to everyone. Thank you for sharing this.

On a related note, the other day I made a post about using audiobooks to improve listening. There is one that I like (I have already read the book in Spanish and recently found an audio book for it). Anyway, the audio book is really easy and although not very challenging, it is fun to listen to and I can listen and basically understand 95% of what is said. I now consider this to be extensive listening. Do you consider extensive listening to be a part of your "consolidation phase"?

Oh, and I just signed up for the super challenge! I'm pretty excited and think this will really help me out and give me the ability to watch TV in my target language.
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Re: How efficient are TV shows for improving listening comprehension?

Postby Cavesa » Tue Apr 26, 2016 5:00 pm

So I have watched entire seasons of certain TV shows and I'm sure it has helped my listening a bunch....but like you said, after 10 minutes I start questioning myself: " How efficient is this? I've watched x amount of minutes and only understand 60% of it. Or, if watching a show in Spanish (such as a telenovela) I will hear dramatic music when a character is talking and j get frustrated because I know they are saying something important but I'm just missing it. It's like I'm only getting a portion of what they are saying.


A few things you can do:

1.choose something easier first. My first tv series in Spanish was dubbed Once Upon a Time=Erase una vez. Not an original series,nothing too serious. And it worked well. As was said, documentaries and sports events are easier in general, use them. Dubbing of your favourite american show will do. But to reach your goals, you will need to leave your comfort zone every now and then. I'd say the will to leave the comfort zone is conditio sine qua non of the language learning.

2.Rewatch the episodes or the tricky bits. If that keeps you going, do it. You are likely to catch more at the second or third try. If that piece of dialogue is not too important, skip it. You will undertand much more in a few months.

3.Resist the urge to turn it off after 10 minutes or to even start thinking too much about not understanding enough. Your brain is supposed to deal with the language, not with self-doubt.

4.Longer sessions. I found it extremely useful, at the beginning, to watch four or five episodes in a row instead of one episode four times a week. After several such afternoons, I continue normally. But what is so great about these few large doses at the beginning (at least from my experience, that of others may vary): Immersion. You need something you are interested in, something you enjoy. During those several hours, you get used to the voices, accents, repeated phrases and subjects. And, if you really watch something enjoyable (dubbed version of your favourite American series will do at the beginning), your brain will have time to get rid of the self-doubt, of the "I don't understand" panic, and so on. You will gain a certain momentum and progress from there. In the short sessions, at least at the beginning, you spend the whole episode getting used to the language without having the time to spend practicing and progressing afterwards. I hope I've explained it clearly, I'll try to rephrase it, if needed.

5.Yes, use transcript at the beginning, or perhaps it might be better to study them beforehand and watch without. But you should know that when you drop the subtitles/transcript, you will have some kind of "help, I don't understand" crisis too. I really don't think it is avoidable. Yes, you may prepare yourself better and make it less severe, but that is all. I know dozens of people who got stuck at watching movies and tv series in English with English subtitles but never got further, never made the leap of faith. Every time they tried dropping the subtitles, they gave up after a short while and turned them back on. Eventually, they stopped trying. My boyfriend has been one of them and is right now getting rid of the subtitles (as I am lazy to look for them, download them, synchronize them, and too impatient to wait for him to do it), we are watching with or without them depending on the series. He appears quite surprised and pleased with his progress. I'd say approximately one half of my generation is stuck at the English sound+subtitles, it is a very real thing. Your goal appears to be higher than that.
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Re: How efficient are TV shows for improving listening comprehension?

Postby reineke » Tue Apr 26, 2016 5:14 pm

"Resist the urge to turn it off after 10 minutes or to even start thinking too much about not understanding enough."

For some people the urge is almost physical. If you can overcome this feeling, live TV is very efficient for improving listening comprehension. Long sessions are also useful.
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Re: How efficient are TV shows for improving listening comprehension?

Postby iguanamon » Tue Apr 26, 2016 5:34 pm

Cavesa wrote:... I know dozens of people who got stuck at watching movies and tv series in English with English subtitles but never got further, never made the leap of faith. Every time they tried dropping the subtitles, they gave up after a short while and turned them back on. Eventually, they stopped trying. My boyfriend has been one of them and is right now getting rid of the subtitles (as I am lazy to look for them, download them, synchronize them, and too impatient to wait for him to do it), we are watching with or without them depending on the series. He appears quite surprised and pleased with his progress. I'd say approximately one half of my generation is stuck at the English sound+subtitles, it is a very real thing. ...

Yes, it is a very real thing. Many learners don't want to deal with any "pain" at all. It can be very frustrating and painful. When I watched my first series in Portuguese, I had no choice. There were NO subtitles available. I did work with a tutor who helped clear up my doubts. It takes time, a lot more time than most people think when they start down this road. If you stick with it and have faith that things will get better, it's worth the aggravation.

If I were to learn a next language that has TV series, I would look first for a dubbed US series and then search at opensubtitles.org for subtitles in both my TL and my L1. Then, the options are many. Even if/when the subtitles do not match the dialog exactly, they can still be of help by reading them in advance and then watching- or you can even make parallel texts. Subtitles can be opened and read on a windows machine in notepad. Obviously exact matching subs are best. I also agree with Cavesa about "binge-watching".

Yes, documentaries, Ted talks, youtube videos, etc. are easier than a fictional TV series. The thing about a fictional TV series that I find valuable, depending on the situation portrayed, is that they are more likely to contain everyday dialog and speech that is used in social situations. You won't see a Ted talker sitting down to dinner or in a bar talking with her friends. It's this kind of language that helps make the ability to speak (and understand) more naturally- better, in my experience. I believe series are better because the listener gets a chance to get used to the situation being explored, it's associated vocabulary, the actors voices and accents and some bits of dialog get repeated often. The choice of media often depends on what one wants to do with a language.
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Re: How efficient are TV shows for improving listening comprehension?

Postby jeff_lindqvist » Tue Apr 26, 2016 5:44 pm

NoManches wrote:On a related note, the other day I made a post about using audiobooks to improve listening. There is one that I like (I have already read the book in Spanish and recently found an audio book for it). Anyway, the audio book is really easy and although not very challenging, it is fun to listen to and I can listen and basically understand 95% of what is said. I now consider this to be extensive listening. Do you consider extensive listening to be a part of your "consolidation phase"?


You might want to have a look at the recent thread about Listening-Reading - it's an interesting way to use audiobooks (and books) to improve comprehension fast.
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Re: How efficient are TV shows for improving listening comprehension?

Postby Montmorency » Tue Apr 26, 2016 6:20 pm

NoManches wrote:
I described it to you here in your first post. Apparently it went over like a lead balloon. The only reason I mention it is because you're still asking the same question.


First off, thank you so much for your advice! In that particular question I wanted to know how to improve my listening in order to watch TV in my target language. In this question, I just want to know if people think TV is efficient or not (since in my first question some people said TV wasn't that efficient because it contains a lot of visual distractions, and that I was better off listening to podcasts).


That would be me I suppose, although if it is my posting you are referring to, I hope I expressed it in a rather more nuanced way.

I don't think I would have said it has to be an either-or thing; you can do both, and you can also use audiobooks, which you were doing, although you were afraid the one you were using was too easy. (If you understood it at the 96% level, in fact it's perfect for extensive listening, and you can use it to consolidate existing vocabulary, and learn new vocabulary by context. If it really is too easy, then find another audiobook).

Clearly the advice about podcasts was not what you wanted to hear, so you have come back here seeking reassurance that your original idea of watching TV was the "right" answer.

Well, there are a lot of answers, and what is "right" for one person isn't necessarily "right" for another; but also one person can find many answers that suit them, and the more ways you can find into your TL, the better, in general. Note that of course there are many different types of podcast, some for learners, others for native speakers, with and without transcripts. Again, it's not an "either|or" situation. What I would say, and probably did say, is that watching TV drama and especially movies without subtitles is actually an advanced skill. Which is not to say you shouldn't do it as an early stage learner, but it won't be surprising if things are hard to understand. What I would say is that if you cannot understand a well-enunciated podcast without a transcript, then your chances of understanding the mumbles and slang on the average TV drama series or movie are slim.

Since you ask about "efficiency", then I would say that in terms of words-per-minute, then no, TV (esp. drama) and movies are not particularly efficient. You will be exposed to many more words per given unit of time in an audiobook, and even more in a (speech-only) podcast at native-speaker speed. The reason is obvious: In TV (especially drama), and in movies there are dramatic pauses, musical intervals, etc, where no words are necessary. That may be fine in a visual medium, but it doesn't happen in an audio-only medium (or only rarely). Now you may say that this is not a problem, because you can use those pauses to absorb the TL words you have just heard, or read the subtitles. Fair enough, but you can do the same thing if you absolutely have to with an audiobook/podcast by hitting the pause button.

But as I say, it's not an either-or thing. Do both. Do many things.


In this post though it seems like a lot of people are in favor of TV for working on their target languages, and that has given me enough confidence to keep doing what I've been doing without feeling like I'm wasting my time.


Yes, they did, but people also added qualifications; I hope you will take note of them.


I will follow the advice you gave me in that first post which I truly appreciate. I only point all of this out because I don't want you to think I didn't pay attention to your advice. It was great advice and I will start using it this very night!


You didn't pay any attention to mine, but that's ok; I'm old enough and ugly enough not to care. :-)

Seriously, which ever "mode" you choose (and I think you should use a lot of different modes), try to include some intensive listening.



But, once you get there, it's all worth it and the feeling is great. It's cool knowing that I understand Spanish better and have a wider vocabulary than heritage speakers who have spoken it their whole lives. That's because they never bothered doing anything they didn't have to with it besides talking to family and friends unlike me.


THIS is exactly what I want. I want to reach a level in between a native speaker and a heritage speaker (it will be near imposible for me to reach a native like level, but I am already surpassing some heritage speakers). I think at this level you can earn the respect of native speakers and heritage speakers, and people will feel comfortable interacting with you in your target language (their heritage/native language). This has nothing to do with competition or trying to be better than anybody. Where I live there are a ton of heritage speakers, and unless you speak better than them and speak better Spanish than the native speakers who also speak English, it can be near imposible to find anybody to practice with. Basically, this is the level I think I can reach and will be satisfied with if I can obtain. Hopefully this made sense 8-)


Don't forget to practice your speaking then, as well as listening. Without a partner I mean, as well as with one, if you can find any.

Thanks all for the advice! I will continue with my plan of watching TV in my target language and will keep plowing through although I feel like some of the time I'm wasting my time. I suppose I won't see a huge difference until i get another 100 episodes under my belt


Fine. But don't forget it is the listening part that is the most important, when you are "watching TV" for language-learning/maintaining/improving purposes.
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Re: How efficient are TV shows for improving listening comprehension?

Postby reineke » Tue Apr 26, 2016 7:13 pm

Montmorency wrote:...
Since you ask about "efficiency", then I would say that in terms of words-per-minute, then no, TV (esp. drama) and movies are not particularly efficient. You will be exposed to many more words per given unit of time in an audiobook, and even more in a (speech-only) podcast at native-speaker speed. The reason is obvious: In TV (especially drama), and in movies there are dramatic pauses, musical intervals, etc, where no words are necessary. That may be fine in a visual medium, but it doesn't happen in an audio-only medium (or only rarely). Now you may say that this is not a problem, because you can use those pauses to absorb the TL words you have just heard, or read the subtitles. Fair enough, but you can do the same thing if you absolutely have to with an audiobook/podcast by hitting the pause button.

But as I say, it's not an either-or thing. Do both. Do many things....

Seriously, which ever "mode" you choose (and I think you should use a lot of different modes), try to include some intensive listening.

Thanks all for the advice! I will continue with my plan of watching TV in my target language and will keep plowing through although I feel like some of the time I'm wasting my time. I suppose I won't see a huge difference until i get another 100 episodes under my belt


Fine. But don't forget it is the listening part that is the most important, when you are "watching TV" for language-learning/maintaining/improving purposes.


Excellent discussion. My thoughts:

- "TV" is a substantially different medium from podcasts and audio books. Watching DVDs is loosely termed here as "watching TV" although there are some important differences between the two activities. Anyone watching DVDs will have limited exposure to language as it exists in broadcast media.

- Fiction is substantially different from non-fiction.

- "TV" need not be less efficient in words per minute than your average audio book. Some animated shows easily go over 150 words per minute.

- The visual component of TV shows is extremely helpful in figuring out the meaning of words and plot points.

- Watching 100 episodes @ 22-45 minutes each is a great way of refreshing one's language skills. It's insufficient to penetrate deeply into the language.

- L1 subtitles are not an efficient use of one's time. I initially wrote "L1 subtitles are evil".

- Nothing prevents you from listening to TV (vs watching it).
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Re: How efficient are TV shows for improving listening comprehension?

Postby Cavesa » Tue Apr 26, 2016 7:33 pm

I totally agree there are various paths. And I would say there so much advice and experience (including failures) on this forum to anyone to choose from, try, find their own mix, and eventually share it with us.

Audiobooks, podcast, documentaries, all of that is good. Movies are great but I'd say they tend to be harder than the tv series, as you've got much lower amount of material to stick to.

Efficiency as words per minute, you are right there but I don't think that matters so much, even though this might be highly individual. Efficiency as progress per 100 hours, that is a totally different matter, or efficiency of regular tvseries watching vs regular podcast listening. However, these are hard to measure and all the evidence we've got are testimonies by individual forum members. However, we can tell from these that tv series as a learning tool are highly useful and various htlalers, using them in various manners, have reached impressive results. And we've already got enough such progress logs to get rid of the notion that any success story is just a weird coincidence or lie.

What makes tv series unique and better than may alternatives, in my opinion, are several factors:
1.The length. You have time to get used to the series and progress further before switching to another. I can't imagine an audiobook or a podcast series as long as a several season long tv series.
2.Tv series are as close to natural speech in situ as you can get without moving to the target country and immersing yourself in the original sense. Audiobooks are easier, they are slower, they are read by people with exceptional skills in reading clearly. TED talks and news and many other things are great, but they are mostly monologues. Each does have some value but you said you wanted to understand tv series, movies, living people.
3.There are various difficulty levels. Really, you don't need to deal with too much slang, unless you want to, many tv series use clear, standard langauge with not too loud background. You can choose whatever you like, there are simply tons of them in the larger languages. And understanding well the difficult ones is an advanced skill, true. Having understood Engrenages and Kaamelott without much of a trouble, you certainly won't have any problem with the other listening sources or real life, except for quite rare and difficult moments.

Ah, I am a slow writer. I don't think Montmorency's experience with a 100 20-45 minute long episodes not being enough to penetrate into the language is necessarily true in most cases. It depends on the "penetrate into the language" definition and the language in question. Talking about "easy" languages: it is enough to get you to solid listening skills but far from the C levels and shaky, whenever it comes to really difficult tv series. It is enough to give you a huge base to support your grammar and vocabulary learning at the intermediate level and help you leave the plateau. It is the amount which may or may not already affect speaking. However, I'd agree this amount (half SC) could be something totally else in a more distant language.

It is all about pairing realistic goals with the proper tools.
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Re: How efficient are TV shows for improving listening comprehension?

Postby reineke » Tue Apr 26, 2016 9:51 pm

TV series can be shorter or longer than audiobooks. Some great TV series are fairly short. Shogun, the audiobook, is 48 hours and 26 minutes long. The TV series is less than ten hours long. I have no problem getting used to either medium regardless of length. Difficulty levels will vary from episode to episode and more so for some TV series than others. Vocabulary size required to watch movies and TV is smaller than what is required for most adult books yet a lot of advanced language learners are unable to follow TV programs comfortably. Native speakers have a superior ability at deciphering language through background noise so watching TV is a good exercise in that regard. Consuming 100 episodes or 20 - 45 hours of language material will make a dent but I would disagree that anyone will achieve "solid listening skills" after some 30 hours of listening. If you're watching TV the worst visual trap is the L1 subtitle. In order to match a particular image in the video stream to its meaning you also need to listen intently. You can't "rely on the image" without listening. While few interactions with native speakers are done with closed eyes :D as a language exercise you may consider listening to TV shows on an mp3 player.
Last edited by reineke on Sun Jul 10, 2016 4:46 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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