Three Stages of Listening to Get to Fluency
This post is a transcript of a video on my YouTube channel.
Studying English? Here’s the transcript as a lesson to study on LingQ.
Hi there, Steve Kaufmann here. Today, I’m going to talk about listening. I’m going to talk about what I consider to be the three stages of sort of a listening strategy.
I’m experimenting today. I’m in a different room. This room has a carpet on the floor, has some curtains hanging here, so I think the sound will be better. I may get some of those movers’ blankets to hang on the wall in order to absorb more sound, if that turns out to be worthwhile. You’ve got these goofy fish prints behind me. I might even spring for some kind of a backdrop, but I don’t know if I need to go that far. I might get another light on the side here to get more even lighting.
At any rate, I’m learning. I’m learning about it because I think everyone likes to improve. I mean, language learning is all about improving. Improving usually means learning more about something and as we learn more about something, then we can develop better skills. So I’m trying to do a better job with my podcast, but getting back to the subject of listening.
I thought about it today. I went for a run yesterday without listening to any language and, of course, that’s a good time to think. You need some time to think. I can’t spend all my time listening to language. It dawned on me that there are three stages in our listening strategy. There’s an initial stage where we need a lot of repetition. I would call this sort of intensive listening. This is where I listen 30 or 40 times to the same mini stories. Not right away, but I’ll go lesson 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, back to lesson 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, eventually, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, back to 1. So you’re listening repeatedly to a lot of the same content.
A lot of this content, as in the case of our mini stories, has a lot of high-frequency verbs. You’re certainly going to come across the high-frequency words and verbs often and, therefore, it’s easier to get to know them. As you listen to this stuff whereas when you started everything was just noise and you think you’ll never learn this language, particularly if it’s written in a different script like the Arabic script, but with time all of a sudden you start to understand things.
This is what I’ve often referred to as the sort of steep part of the upside down hockey stick. All of a sudden you understand something, you can say something and you feel good about yourself. Now comes the second part of the listening strategy. This is where you suddenly realize that the high-frequency verbs, the frequency drops off so quickly. That the words you need to know appear so infrequently now that they’re much more difficult to learn.
I was thinking about it today. The third period, the final period is what I came to in Russian or in some of the other languages that I have learned or Portuguese. I’m not there yet in Korean. I’m there in Czech and Ukrainian. I’m not there in Greek or Romanian. These are the languages where I can just grab anything and I will understand most of it and so I don’t have to listen more than once. If I have access to the transcript I read it. I might pick up a few words. But by and large; I can go for a run, like I went for a run yesterday, and I can be listening to something that’s interesting on whatever is of interest to me, history, literature, politics. I’m reviewing words and phrases that I’ve learned. I’m learning new things. My brain is getting used to the language. I’m kind of launched there. It’s a little difficult, but it’s not very difficult and it’s very satisfying. That’s the sort of goal.
Once you’re in that third stage where you can listen for enjoyment and listen out of interest and you’re just filling your brain with phrases and words in the language, words you’ve learned once, twice, three times, they come up again. You’re just strengthening a whole other language. That’s a very solid base from which to really embark in speaking, speaking often and speaking on subjects of interest, which I can do with a tutor online. If I go to the country, I’m now launched in the language. So how do we get there?
The first stage was kind of getting a toehold in the language with a lot of repetitive listening and that third stage is when the difficult, interesting, authentic material is accessible and comprehensible and you can just go off listening to it. Put it in your car, listen to it. You’re just enjoying the language. You’re enjoying the rewards of your labor. How do we get there?
I often get this question. How do we jump from, essentially, A2 to B2 in the European framework? We have to make that investment. We have to invest in acquiring more words so that, eventually, we can then listen and enjoy it. So what I do now at LingQ is I go into sentence mode and I use the five second repeat, especially in Farsi where we don’t have text to speech, and I listen to it. I listen to the sentence and then I listen to the sentence again. I look up the new words and I hear the sentence again, but I’m dealing with potentially interesting content, difficult content.
I’m not getting worse, this is the thing. The brain likes to learn. We all like to learn. There are no shortcuts. Every time I put effort into it, even though I think I’m not getting anywhere, of course I am. I’m building up my vocabulary, my ability to understand when I hear not just when I read and that’s difficult. You can read through it and pick out the words and you didn’t quite get it the first time, but you look at the word, you know what it is and then you hear it and it’s still not comprehensible and you just have to continue.
In a way, the rewards are fewer in that middle stage. You’re not listening as often to the same material because, typically, whereas the mini stories are four minutes long, here I might be dealing with a podcast that’s 15 minutes long. I’m going through it sentence by sentence and I’m working it and mining it for words and phrases. I save a word and then I save the phrase. If it’s in Arabic, I can hear the text to speech of the phrase or I use the actual live audio track and go over that sentence.
By the way, I shouldn’t spill the beans, so to speak, but we’re working on a number of interesting things for LingQ and one of these will be the ability in sentence view to set the timestamps because the automatic timestamps often don’t work. If you click on the text to speech for that sentence, you get the text to speech. We want it to be so that you click on that audio indicator and you get the natural voice for that sentence.
All of these things are going to become better. There are a number of things that we have in the pipeline that are going to make it better and I think a big part of it is to make that intermediate stage where we’re building ourselves up so that we will be able to. That’s the goal. We will be able to eventually just grab an interesting audio book, an interesting podcast and just listen to it, enjoy it, discover the culture, discover the language, feed the brain, all this kind of stuff. That’s kind of the third stage, the glide portion.
Just to summarize, I see three stages. There’s the initial very steep climb, but you have that sense that you’re achieving something. Then you have that long grind where you just have to sock in more words and phrases, train the brain, sentence mode or full-listen mode, whatever you prefer so that you eventually get to the point where you can just listen for fun and now you’re well on your way. When you do a lot of listening for fun and you have a significant vocabulary, then you can really start speaking a lot, which you eventually have to do. You have to speak a lot in order to speak well.
I would say that in my own learning strategy even now I’m spending all my time working with these texts developing my ability to understand what I hear and increasing my vocabulary. I’m not doing any online tutor session. It would be fun to do it, but I just feel I don’t have enough. I’m more concerned about how well I’m going to speak at the end of my journey rather than what I’m able to do in the first phrase or the second phase. Although, I enjoy interacting with online tutors and I may get started, especially in Farsi where we don’t have text to speech in order to have a better sense of these words, how they’re pronounced, and so forth and so on.
Anyway, there you have it, the three stages in our language learning strategy. I hope that this was helpful. Bye for now.