Listening comprehension is the base skill, in my view. We have to understand in order to be able to have conversations with people. If we have good comprehension skills, speaking skills are easier to develop. Here is an exchange on this subject from our Forum at LingQ.
I have a few weeks before I start a class that requires students to understand speeches given by French-speaking presidents and world leaders. My French comprehension is, honestly, at about 70 to 80% at the moment.
I have a tutor who records 30-minute monologues on subjects that I am interested in, so the input is interesting and compelling. He speaks at native-level speed, and the expressions and sentences are not made any easier just because I’m a student.
But, today, I went to the Elysee’s website to watch “Le Point Presse,” which is similar to the “Press Briefings” held at the White House, and I had trouble following along. I also couldn’t follow some of the speeches by François Hollande.
While I understood about 80% – that’s not enough. I need to be able to clearly understand the points these speakers are making so I can discuss them in class. I can’t discuss what I haven’t understood.
Am I fighting a losing battle? I don’t know how much improvement I can expect over the next two months, but in order to pass this class, I need to be able to listen and understand this highly educated and deeply-idiomatic French.
Admittedly, for the past two months, I haven’t been listening to much French because I was focusing on exams. But now I have more time to dedicate to this goal. I feel like I am soooo close, but yet so far away. Let me know what you think.
Thanks a million,
Here is what I answered David:
1. First of all, you can improve a lot in two months, so relax. The more relaxed and confident you are, the more you enjoy your listening and reading, the better you will do. Make sure you listen a lot, at least an hour a day, whenever you have the chance while doing other tasks. Do so in a relaxed manner. Choose content that interests you, and focus mostly on the meaning. Seek to learn about the subject matter of what you are listening to. The language improvement will largely take care of itself. However, there are some things you can do to make it even better.
2. Maintain your reading activities, whether it is material for which you have the audio or not. Reading is a powerful way to increase vocabulary. Besides, when we read in a foreign language, we usually subvocalize, in other words we make the sounds in our heads. This is going to help your listening comprehension.
3. If possible, try to find content that has matching audio and text so that you can look up words or phrases that you are missing. This is not necessary but helpful. However, don’t limit yourself to this. You can’t always find such material, so in your reading and listening use different sources, a newspaper article here, a podcast or interview there. Try to stay within a narrow range of topics which cover more or less the same vocabulary, in your case current events and politics.
4. When you find audio content that you like, where you are interested in the subject and like the voice, listen more than once to the same audio material. If you like the voice, the intonation and the rhythm of the language will penetrate your mind better. I have found that this not only helps with pronunciation but also with comprehension.
5. Plan to tackle some longer content in your field of interest. This could be an audio book on history or current events for which you have the text. You can then import the book into LingQ and save the audio to your mp3 player or smart phone. Make sure you like the voice of the narrator and find the subject interesting.
I have found that interspersing short material with a longer book is powerful. I improve in my overall ability, and going to the longer book, regularly, is both enjoyable, and helpful. The comfort of a familiar environment, as I grow accustomed to the voice and context, gives me confidence and improves my overall listening skills. There is also a great sense of satisfaction when we complete the book. The feeling that we have climbed a mountain.
6. Wherever possible, while listening or reading for meaning, try to focus on a few phrases or terms that you have just discovered, or just noticed. This helps the brain retain these expressions and will improve your listening comprehension. It also ensures that you stay focused.
7. When you are at an intermediate or higher level in a language, you need to speak a lot. If you have a tutor, get him or her to give you a google doc with your mistakes and with phrases that cause you trouble. Import these into LingQ to study as content. You will then pay more attention to these words and phrases in your reading and listening. This makes your listening more focused and gives it more resonance, as you come across words and phrases that you once tried to use.
8. Most of all remain relaxed, focus on enjoyment, and be confident that you can improve your listening comprehension a great deal in two months if you remain committed to these activities.