A listening question about volume, headphones, background noise, etc

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NoManches
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A listening question about volume, headphones, background noise, etc

Postby NoManches » Sat Mar 31, 2018 11:27 pm

I understand that there is a difference between listening with headphones and without, but why??

I've watched a TV show with headphones on and had few comprehension problems. If I watch the same show on the television (no headphones) it becomes a lot more difficult to understand.

I suppose it's obvious that listening to somebody in a quiet room will be easier than listening to that same person talk about the same thing with a lot of background noise. Is listening with background noise something we should "train in" or does it just take lots of regular listening practice to make the harder stuff easier to understand?

Volume is another thing I've wondered about. I normally watch television in English with a volume of "11-12" on the TV I currently own. Im currently watching a show in Spanish and had to put the volume up to 15-16 to be able to watch it. I always find it funny when people try to talk with somebody who doesn't understand their language and as a solution they think talking really loud will solve the problem :lol: In a way I'm doing this with the TV.

And while we are on the topic, why is it easier to listen to only 1 person vs 2, and why is listening to two people easier than a group of 3 or 4. Does it have to do with your brain trying to transition back and forth from hearing different voices?

Do you think we should train for certain "listening situations" (such as somebody calling on the phone with bad reception? Or do you think we should just listen to whatever is available and eventually tons of listening will give us the foundation to comprehend the harder stuff? This question reminds me of a question I had before regarding accents. Will listening to a "hard to understand" accent make listening to a neutral accent easier?
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Re: A listening question about volume, headphones, background noise, etc

Postby Spoonary » Sun Apr 01, 2018 11:46 am

You know, I have noticed this too. Listening to Spanish shows through headphones, I rarely have problems understanding. Whereas when I watch anything on my TV, even though there is nothing else going on, I really have to concentrate in order to hear/understand what is being said. This happens particularly when I watch something new, and often results in my resorting to TL subtitles, in order to make sure that I'm picking everything up.
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Re: A listening question about volume, headphones, background noise, etc

Postby Speakeasy » Sun Apr 01, 2018 12:15 pm

NoManches wrote:I understand that there is a difference between listening with headphones and without, but why?? I've watched a TV show with headphones on and had few comprehension problems. If I watch the same show on the television (no headphones) it becomes a lot more difficult to understand...
I suspect that this can be explained by the quality of the speakers and the direction of the sound.

Even in a situation where someone has installed high-quality speakers to his television set, unless these have been both designed and installed to send the sound waves to a specific zone which surrounds both of the listener's ears (surround sound speakers), which is quite a trick by the way, then much of the sound is diffused throughout the room, something that only cranking up the volume to 256 decibels would improve (sic). On the other hand, headphones send the sound signal directly into each ear and, no matter in which direction one turns one’s head, the complete sound signal is received.

NoManches wrote: ... And while we are on the topic, why is it easier to listen to only 1 person vs 2, and why is listening to two people easier than a group of 3 or 4. Does it have to do with your brain trying to transition back and forth from hearing different voices? Do you think we should train for certain "listening situations" (such as somebody calling on the phone with bad reception? Or do you think we should just listen to whatever is available and eventually tons of listening will give us the foundation to comprehend the harder stuff? This question reminds me of a question I had before regarding accents. Will listening to a "hard to understand" accent make listening to a neutral accent easier?
The first of these topics was discussed in the following thread. The second of these topics might just as well be considered as a subset of the first.

Speaking in a group - LLORG - December, 2017
https://forum.language-learners.org/viewtopic.php?f=17&p=92505#p92505
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Re: A listening question about volume, headphones, background noise, etc

Postby Dylan95 » Sun Apr 01, 2018 1:28 pm

As long as they are native speakers/speaking at native speed, I think that's good enough practice. I wouldn't purposefully force myself to listen to something that is largely inaudible if there's a way around it. I've been forced into situations where I had to make sense of largely inaudible content (e.g. bad phone reception, talking in bars, clubs, or even the bus. Dealing with low talkers etc.) But I wouldn't say it's necessarily anymore helpful than normal situations with clear sound. Don't be too hard on yourself. Sometimes things are just simply inaudible.
Last edited by Dylan95 on Mon Apr 02, 2018 5:31 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: A listening question about volume, headphones, background noise, etc

Postby Hank » Mon Apr 02, 2018 2:04 pm

I also find that it's easier to comprehend when using headphones but it in my mind it isn't practical and seems like a hindrance to overall listening comprehension. At this point I only use headphones when it's necessary. Like when I'm listening to a podcast while taking a walk. I have seen a great deal of improvement in my non-headphone listening comprehension. Like you, I do have to turn the volume up but I'm not too worried about that. My listening comprehension still needs work when there's a lot of background noise or dramatic music playing in the background. I'm still in the headphones all the time stage with Welsh.

I wonder if my expectations aren't too high in regards to Spanish compared to English. I can follow along with Spanish language TV and radio shows well enough but I know a miss details. For example, I know I'm able to understand every word on English language TV but do I really pick up every word? Or do I just absorb (I guess) enough that I know what's going on? If this is the case then it's not too different from my Spanish. It used to frustrate me when I would try to eavesdrop on a Spanish conversation and I couldn't comprehend too well. Then I tried eavesdropping on English conversations and I also couldn't comprehend too well. Not that I would ever eavesdrop on private conversations. :twisted: I hope this makes sense. It's too early!
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Re: A listening question about volume, headphones, background noise, etc

Postby 白田龍 » Tue Apr 03, 2018 10:50 am

I've been a fluent speaker speaker of English for about 15 years now. I still have trouble understanding movies on the television (whereas on the headphones there is no difficulty at all). So it is not something that fixes itself by getting more advanced, I would need to deliberatly practice listening in sub optimal conditions to improve.
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Re: A listening question about volume, headphones, background noise, etc

Postby NoManches » Wed Apr 04, 2018 12:55 pm

Thank you for the responses! Some of those answers make me feel better because I'm not the only person having this problem, and it seems like a normal problem. One thing I've noticed as well, is that in English if I'm watching a show and miss one word, it isn't a big deal. In Spanish, if I miss one word it might result in me not understanding the entire sentence. I've noticed exactly what Hank mentioned about eavesdropping (not that I'd ever eavesdrop to a private conversation 8-) ). However, in English if I eavesdrop I might at least get the gist of the conversation based on words I hear. My Spanish isn't advanced enough to get the gist based on hearing certain words from a conversation at advanced levels (I think I'd get an idea of what was going on, but it would be really fuzzy. In English, I'd at least have a better idea of what was going on, but like Hank said, it still wouldn't be full comprehension).

I suppose I'm sort of answering my own question here. Maybe I need the extra volume so I don't miss out on 1 word which could be the difference between me understanding and not understanding the dialog. In English I can afford to miss out on a word which is why I can multitask why watching TV and not miss much. In Spanish I don't (yet) have this luxury.


Speakeasy wrote:
NoManches wrote:I understand that there is a difference between listening with headphones and without, but why?? I've watched a TV show with headphones on and had few comprehension problems. If I watch the same show on the television (no headphones) it becomes a lot more difficult to understand...
I suspect that this can be explained by the quality of the speakers and the direction of the sound.


Speakeasy, first off thanks for the link to the other thread. I will check that out later. Also, thanks for your technical response, I think it makes perfect sense and for the most part answers my question. The problem still remains: why do I need higher volume in Spanish compared to English? I may have answered my own question though (above). It might be because I haven't reached a high enough level in Spanish where I can afford to miss a word or two and always put the pieces together. Maybe we turn the volume up or use headphones to compensate for this weakness.
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Re: A listening question about volume, headphones, background noise, etc

Postby Systematiker » Wed Apr 04, 2018 4:38 pm

NoManches, I think you're on target about missing words and filling in the gaps. I'm not sure about training specific situations, but I can offer the following anecdotes: Even after years living in Germany, when I came back to the US I found I had to have podcasts in the car louder in German than in English (this may be because I never listened to podcasts while driving in Germany, too!). That sort of situation, in the car or in the shower, which I didn't do while living in the TL environment, also balanced out after a couple years. My volume in German in those situations is the same as English. However, I've also noticed something similar happening in Spanish - as recently as a few weeks ago, I didn't do audiobooks in the car in Spanish because I couldn't follow them while driving with road noise, but without changing anything about how I'm consuming media or studying, I hit a point where it became possible (although still at a slightly higher volume than with German or English, or interestingly, Spanish podcasts). So here's at least one more anecdote for "lots of (even aided) listening trains for lower-quality situations."
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Re: A listening question about volume, headphones, background noise, etc

Postby Steve » Thu Apr 05, 2018 1:39 pm

Here are a few things about the physics of sound that probably play some role in this.

1. Using headphones eliminates any echoes or reflections of the sound. With headphones, it's straight to the ears from the speakers. A speaker or series of them across a room will introduce some amount of reflection, interference, and echoing of the sound. I've heard people speaking through mikes and amplifiers in some rooms (gymnasiums for example) that are acoustically "live". In some parts of the room, their voice can be nearly unintelligible. (This is why a good audio engineer will walk around a room listening to what the sound settings are doing in various locations.)

2. Most people run headphones at much higher volume levels than speakers across a room. What seems "comfortable" with headphones would often seem deafening if we turned up speakers across a room to deliver the same volume at our ears. If you cannot hear someone walking up behind you or you have to take off the headphones to hear what someone is saying, imagine how loud you would have to turn up a TV or sound system so as not to hear the person next to you or not hear anything else in the room.

3. The frequency response of the speakers or headphones can play a large role in how "natural" a reproduction of a voice is. Frequency settings (such as amplified bass) can make music or other things sound better to us, but produce an unnatural frequency distribution of the human speaking frequency range. Cheaper systems (such as most TV speakers or built-in computer speakers) don't have a great frequency response range.

Ultimately, a high signal to noise ratio usually helps. Less background sound, fewer echoes and reflections, a higher volume on the source, and speakers (or headphones) that reproduce the full frequency range of the human voice all help get an accurate sound to our ears with less distractions.
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Re: A listening question about volume, headphones, background noise, etc

Postby NoManches » Sat Apr 07, 2018 1:58 pm

Many people say after many, many, years of learning a language they still have problems listening to TV (with low volume) or hearing things that are bad quality (bad quality audio or listening with lots of background noises).

It seems that you probably can't train your hearing to hear these "low quality" things. You are better off spending your time working on listening with material that you have no problems hearing....that way you will at least have the comprehension skills to piece together the bits and pieces you miss in "low quality" situations. Thr person with the better comprehension skills will be better at "filling in the blanks" compared to a person with not so good comprehension skills.


This whole time I've watched TV thinking that eventually I would be able to hear (not just comprehend) it better. Maybe this was wrong.


So the question is:

Am I better of watching TV with headphones whenever I can, since this will lead to HEARING more words? If I can hear more words I'll have the ability to comprehend them. Eventually I should reach a point of great comprehension when I can listen in "low quality" situations and have great comprehension since I developed the ability to "fill in the gaps".


*By fill in the gaps I mean hear parts of a sentence and figure out unclear words based on context.
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