Great Literature = Better Listening Skills?

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reineke
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Re: Great Literature = Better Listening Skills?

Postby reineke » Tue Apr 11, 2017 6:31 pm

Φιλόσοφος wrote:When you read literature you engage with a language in its fullest expression. You are exposed to a wide range of vocabulary and more complex forms of its syntax. With this knowledge, tackling the spoken language becomes much easier as it represents a simpler, more streamlined subset of the language, allowing you to concentrate on decoding the phonological rules that govern it without the further hindrance and uncertainty of grappling with unknown vocabulary and uncertain grammatical patterns.


I'd concentrate on this phonological decoding from day 1. Regarding the supposed superiority of the written language:

"Homer's verses were first set down in writing around 700 BC, soon after the Greeks invented their own alphabet by incorporating vowels into the existing Phoenician alphabet. The verses were probably significantly older than this, because we know that until this point they had been memorized by travelling bards who earnt a living by reciting them..."

PBS
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Re: Great Literature = Better Listening Skills?

Postby s_allard » Tue Apr 11, 2017 8:02 pm

Φιλόσοφος wrote:When you read literature you engage with a language in its fullest expression. You are exposed to a wide range of vocabulary and more complex forms of its syntax. With this knowledge, tackling the spoken language becomes much easier as it represents a simpler, more streamlined subset of the language, allowing you to concentrate on decoding the phonological rules that govern it without the further hindrance and uncertainty of grappling with unknown vocabulary and uncertain grammatical patterns.


This is a fallacy. The assumption here is that the written language, especially literature, encompasses all the spoken language (a subset of the former). Therefore decoding the spoken language becomes easier after one consumes great literature. There are two objections here. First, the spoken language has its own features of use sui generis that are not necessarily a subset of the written language. Second the literary language includes considerable material that is not present in the spoken language. One glaring example of this is the passé simple literary tense that is still widely used in French literature but totally absent from the spontaneous spoken language.

So, why waste time with great literature if you are primarily interested in the spoken language? If you want to understand the language of CNN or The House of Cards, is it a good idea to start with Shakespeare, Dickens or Steinbeck when you could just watch the screen with subtitles? As I said before, is studying Don Quijote the most efficient way to get to understanding modern Spanish television?
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Re: Great Literature = Better Listening Skills?

Postby DaveBee » Tue Apr 11, 2017 8:21 pm

s_allard wrote:As I said before, is studying Don Quijote the most efficient way to get to understanding modern Spanish television?
Books and audio-books provide a lot more words-per-hour than modern television. If your objective is to get a lot of L2 input, books, written or audio, are more efficient.
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Re: Great Literature = Better Listening Skills?

Postby s_allard » Tue Apr 11, 2017 9:19 pm

DaveBee wrote:
s_allard wrote:As I said before, is studying Don Quijote the most efficient way to get to understanding modern Spanish television?
Books and audio-books provide a lot more words-per-hour than modern television. If your objective is to get a lot of L2 input, books, written or audio, are more efficient.


That may be true but the objective here is "better listening skills"; it's not a lot of L2 input. I'm not in any way discouraging learners from reading in their target language. Let's not be silly. But, as I said earlier, if your objective is to improve your listening skills, why not focus on that? If your objective is to understand the written language, contemporary or earlier, then obviously the solution is to do more reading. I just don't get this idea of doing one thing to improve another when you can tackle the problem directly. It reminds of the high school Latin teacher who said that you had to learn Latin in order to learn Spanish.
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Re: Great Literature = Better Listening Skills?

Postby iguanamon » Tue Apr 11, 2017 9:50 pm

Setting up "either/or" dichotomies seems to be common here on the forum. Like most things, it doesn't have to be one or the other. I like to read great, good and even low literature. I can learn something from all of them. I do believe that each skill tends to inform the other and helps with all of them. I've also seen, in my observation here on the forum, people who have concentrated on course work and reading often have considerable difficulty when it comes to listening to native films, tv and podcasts- mainly because they don't work on listening enough.

In Portuguese, I have read Machado de Assis from Brazil, Eça de Queiroz from Portugal and the literary novels of Mia Couto, the poetry of Fernando Pessoa and Carlos Drummond de Andrade. I've also read "chick-lit" by Carina Rissi of Brazil and the translated version of "The Walking Dead" comics. All have something to contribute to the stew. And each is a top representative of its field, even in the lower genres.

Colloquial speech can be found in writing. Comic books (thanks, emk) and "chick-lit" have lots of colloquial dialog, even in translation they're useful in that regard. Great literature works on a different level. The best of great literature spurs a reader to thought and reflection. Great literature, may or may not have colloquial dialog. I do find, in general (outside of language-learning), that people who are well read tend to have a greater ease and skill with language use in both writing and speaking.

In my experience, to gain listening skills, I have to work on that separately as a skill too. In my observation in my time on HTLAL and here, most problems learners have with listening come from not giving listening the same or equivalent importance as they place on reading. Reading is relatively easier to do than listening (without pause and rewind). Human nature seems to be such that people tend to want to do what's easiest and most comfortable. Reading can be done at one's own pace with time to think and search unknown words. Course audio doesn't really prepare a learner for listening outside of course world, in my opinion, which tends to lead to learners becoming frustrated with listening and gravitating more to what they can do best (reading). Of course, some learners have little to no need for speaking and may not be interested all that much in listening either. To each their own.
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Re: Great Literature = Better Listening Skills?

Postby s_allard » Wed Apr 12, 2017 11:55 am

Iguanamon's ecellent post probably says it all but I'd just add a few nuances. When we speak of "listening skills" here, I assume we are speaking of oral comprehension. I like the term listening though because it emphasizes the initial active part of decoding what is being said. This is opposed to just hearing.

There is a lot going on in the listening process. Probably the biggest challenge is to determine what is being said, the actual parsing of the words. For this an accurate transcript is a fabulous tool. Natural speech is so fast that as learners we simply can't figure out what is being said. After all these years of studying Spanish I still find myself having to ask my tutor to listen to recordings to help me just break up the sounds in to words. For example, watching the classic Mexican comedy El chavo del ocho without the aid of a tutor or a transcript is extremely frustrating.

Then there is the big issue of understanding the actual words once you can make them out. That's a whole challenge in itself that I won't even touch. We know that spontaneous speech is highly idiomatic, and there are all sorts of cultural and historical references that go into understanding a language. Watching a movie or a television program in the company of a native speaker is for me always an enlightening experience. What is obvious is that we just don't have the same depth of understanding.

As iguanamon has pointed out, the right reading material is certainly very useful for developing listening skills. And it certainly doesn't have to be great literature. But I think that listening skills are best improved by focused work on listening, preferably under the guidance of a good tutor.
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Re: Great Literature = Better Listening Skills?

Postby NoManches » Wed Apr 12, 2017 2:16 pm

I'll be honest: I I answered this question not thinking about "great literature" but reading in general. That is, I figured that lots of reading will help with listening skills although I had in mind modern stuff.

People have made some good points though that "great literature" contains vocabulary and phrases that we are not likely to come across in every day conversation. I agree with this and can see why reading "great literature" may not be the best material to read if one wants to improve listening skills.

Some people make the point that reading and listening are so distinct that reading will hardly help your listening. My question is this: is there a huge difference between reading a modern book with lots of dialog and listening to the audio version of that same book? I know that listening and reading are two different things, but isn't reading tons of books that use "close to conversational language" very similar to reading transcripts of audio or the subtitles of a movie.

How about this, if I were to take the subtitles from my favorite TV show and read them over, wouldn't this help with listening comprehension if I were to later watch that show, a similar show, or any other show using similar vocabulary and dialog.

I do know that written and spoken language are very different but there are some books that are pretty close to conversational due to lots of dialog.

, Sorry for any typos, I'm doing this from my phone and will make corrections later.
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Re: Great Literature = Better Listening Skills?

Postby YtownPolyglot » Wed Apr 12, 2017 5:47 pm

Le Petit Prince was the first book I ever read in French. Not coincidentally, it was my first exposure to the passé simple. It's a good tense to know if you're going to be doing some reading, but it is not helpful for understanding contemporary spoken French.

Some of the vocabulary of what you read will be interesting, but it won't be all that helpful in some other situations. The vocabulary in science fiction or Harry Potter is lots of fun to acquire, but these things don't ordinarily come up in conversation for most of us.

The more guided listening you do, the better your listening comprehension will get.
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reineke
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Re: Great Literature = Better Listening Skills?

Postby reineke » Wed Apr 12, 2017 7:11 pm

DaveBee wrote:Books and audio-books provide a lot more words-per-hour than modern television. If your objective is to get a lot of L2 input, books, written or audio, are more efficient.


This "input" is not a shipment of potatoes. TV programs deliver more of the stuff per hour of input if you're after certain words and constructions.

While there are books that contain colloquialisms etc. TV programs are a richer source of this type of language. The sentences are shorter (has anyone tried counting sentences per minute? ) there are more questions, the pronouns are used more often etc.

Some statistics:

Subtlexus vs the Brown corpus (TV fiction vs reading)

Word frequency per million words of running text (number of recurrences):

This 7,979 vs 5,146
Now 3,202 vs 1,314
Was 5,654 vs 9,815
In 9,773 vs 21,345
Out 3,865 vs 2,096
Me 9,242 vs 1,183
My 6,763 vs 1,319
Mine 251 vs 59
Can 5,247 vs 1,772
Will 2,124 vs 2,244
Would 1,768 vs 2,715
There 4,348 vs 2,725
But 4,418 vs 4,381
By 1,340 vs 5,307
He 7,637 vs 9,542
Him 3,484 vs 2,619
So 4,244 vs 1,985
Go 3,793 vs. 626
Goes 217 vs 89
Going 2,123 vs 399
Went 411 vs 507
Gone 297 vs 195
Like 3,999 vs 1,290
Likes 76 vs 20
Liked 79 vs 58
How 3,056 vs 836
If 3,541 vs 2,199
Just 4,749 vs 872
Get 4,583 vs 749
gets: 223 vs 66
Got 3,306 vs 482
Had 1,676 vs 5,131
Come 3,141 vs 630
comes 229 vs 137
came 464 vs 622
Coming 527 vs 174
They 4,102 vs 3,619
See 2,557 vs 772
saw 403 vs. 352
seen: 385 vs 279
Let 2,419 vs 384
Did 2,341 vs 1044
From 2,039 vs 4370
Want 2,759 vs 329
Wants 307 vs 71
Wanted 502 vs 226
Think 2,691 vs 433
thinks 103 vs 23
Thought 809 vs 516
thinking 281 vs 145
Take 1,891 vs 611
Took 342 vs 426
Taken 281 vs 139
Look 1,947 vs 399
looks: 311 vs 78
looked 121 vs 361
Some 1,727 vs 1,617
Then 1,490 vs 1,377
Why 2,248 vs 404
Where 1,830 vs 938
Too 1,372 vs 833
More 1,299 vs 2,216
Down 1,490 vs 895
Yes 1,997 vs 144
Tell 1,724 vs 268
Little 1,446 vs 831
Thing 1,088 vs 333
Mean 1,244 vs 199
Said 1,109 vs 1,961
Sure 1,100 vs 264
First 840 vs 1361
Put 829 vs 437
Please 1,101 vs 62
Wildlife 2 vs 19
Father 555 vs 183
Mother 480 vs 216
English 74 vs 195
hasn't 91 vs 20
Tuesday 24 vs 59
January 7 vs 53
Economical 0.33 vs 22
Arrested 35 vs 19
Run 350 vs 217
Court 101 vs 230
Office 204 vs 255
Planet 39 vs. 21
Planets 4 vs 22
Political 22 vs 258
Theoretical 2 vs 21
...

The importance of literature.

DICKENS, NCFWD, BROWN and SUBTLEXUS compared (Frequency per million words)
Brown: frequency rank number in parentheses. The Brown corpus contains 1,014,312 words sampled from 15 text categories. NCFWD = classic fiction.

Man
Dickens 2037
NCFWD 1587
Brown 1210(no 81)
SUBTLEXUS: 1099

Old
Dickens 1973
NCFWD 1335
Brown: 660 (no. 140)
SUBTLEXUS: 609

Hand:
Dickens 1289
NCFWD 871
Brown: 431
SUBTLEXUS: 280

Head
Dickens 1212
NCFWD 616
Brown: 404 (no 201)
SUBTLEXUS: 371

Face
Dickens 1075
NCFWD 765
Brown 371 (no 245)
SUBTLEXUS: 289


Dear
Dickens 1284
NCFWD 790
BROWN 54 (no 2040)
SUBTLEXUS: 223

LADY
Dickens 834
NCFWD 1284
BROWN: 80 (no 1328)
SUBTLEXUS: 217

Door
Dickens 986
Ncfwd 614
BROWN 312 (no 295)
SUBTLEXUS: 292

Manner
dickens 547
ncfwd 285
BROWN 124 (no 831)
SUBTLEXUS: 12

Child
Dickens 538
Ncfwd 338
BROWN 213 (no 435)
SUBTLEXUS: 158

Seemed
Dickens 535
Ncfwd 569
BROWN 332 (no 274)
SUBTLEXUS: 54

Yet
Dickens 590
Ncfwd: 864
BROWN 419 (no 202)
SUBTLEXUS: 342

Let
DICKENS 656
NCFWD 726
BROWN: 384 (no 231)
SUBTLEXUS: 2,419

Half
Dickens 618
Ncfwd 580
Brown 275 (no 337)
SUBTLEXUS: 199

Love
Dickens 420
Ncfwd 775
Brown 232 (no 397)
SUBTLEXUs: 1,115

Returned
Dickens: 846
NCFWD 264
Brown: 115 (return: 180)
SUBTLEXUS: 25 (return: 92)

Replied
Dickens: 823
NCFWD: 299
Brown: 57 (reply: 42)
SUBTLEXUS: 1 (reply: 5)

Slowly
Dickens: 178
NCFWD: 117
Brown 115 (no.900) slow: 60 (no.1817)
SUBTLEXUS: 25 slow: 76

Softly
Dickens: 101
NCFWD: 36
Brown: 31 (no. 3425)Soft: 62
SUBTLEXUS: 5 Soft: 1126

Hastily
Dickens: 87
NCFWD: 45
Brown: n/a not in the top 5,000 (less than 19)
SUBTLEXUS: 1 (haste: 2)

Gently
Dickens: 83
NCFWD: 59
Brown: 31 (no.3441) Gentle: 27
SUBTLEXUS: 9 Gentle: 17

Quietly
Dickens: 78
NCFWD: 85
Brown: 48 (no.2250) Quiet: 76
SUBTLEXUS: 12 Quiet: 117

Carefully
Dickens: 65
NCFWD: 56
Brown: 87 (no.1213) Careful: 62 care: 162
SUBTLEXUS: 24 Careful: 109 Care: 485

Heartily
Dickens: 54
NCFWD: 26
Brown: not in the top 5,000
SUBTLEXUS: 1

Steadily
Dickens: 47
NCFWD: 19
Brown: 22 (no 4499) Steady: 41
SUBTLEXUS:: 1 Steady: 23

Frequently
Dickens: 42
NCFWD: 52
Brown: 91 (no.1146) Frequent: 34
SUBTLEXUS: 3 Frequent: 2

Thoughtfully
Dickens: 39
NCFWD: 5
Brown: not in the top 5,000; neither is thoughtful (less than 19)
SUBTLEXUS: 1 Thoughtful: 8

Eagerly
Dickens: 37
NCFWD: 49
not in the top 5,000 Eager: 27 (no. 3772)
SUBTLEXUS: 1 Eager: 7

Freely
Dickens: 35
NCFWD: 24
Brown: 22 (no 4476) Free: 260 (no.358)
SUBTLEXUS: 4 Free: 178

Happily
Dickens: 32
NCFWD: 27
Brown: 20 (no 4836) Happy: 98 (no1069).
SUBTLEXUS: 10 Happy: 333

Sharply
Dickens: 31
NCFWD: 25
Brown: 38 (no.2827) Sharp: 72
SUBTLEXUS: 1 Sharp: 24

Sternly
Dickens: 26
NCFWD: 12
Brown not in the top 5,000 Stern: 23 (no.4295)
SUBTLEXUS: 0.1 Stern 6

Timidly
Dickens: 26
NCFWD: 19
Brown not in the top 5,000 (neither is “timid”)
SUBTLEXUS: 0.1 Timid: 2

Source: my own research

It's no secret that if you watch documentaries or news you will run into many instances of words like "wildlife, " "political", "theoretical" and "planet", the sentences will look and feel different etc.

"In a script, there are approximately 125 words of dialogue per minute. This estimate is based upon recent American films. The words of dialogue per minute might range from 50 to 200 within a script."

Online source. TV scripts will have their own characteristics.

In addition to the differences between the types of content, the differences in how the brain processes language material become critical for foreign language learners. Numerous factors may interfere with second language listening comprehension and the skill takes time to develop. One can, of course, read subtitles in preparation for listening activities and listen to audio books with or without the accompanying text.
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