For the longest time, one of the parts of language learning that I had the hardest time with was improving my listening skills. I might get to the point where I could read a language just fine, maybe even write or speak it with a pretty high level of confidence, but couldn’t understand anything spoken. This made watching movies and having conversations nigh impossible, as I was constantly lost as to what was going on.
My main problem was, I hadn’t developed a method for practicing listening with comprehensible input. This is one of the main selling points of Glossika, which I’m reviewing as part of a 9 month long series, but what else can you do outside of that or a similar program1? Specifically, what else can you do that dove tails into your particular interests and combines with something you might do for fun anyways?
Personally, I’m an avid reader. I’m quite happy spending hours a day reading on my Kindle. This works nicely with improving reading skills in a language, but on the surface not so much with listening. In order to improve my listening skills, I pair reading in one language with listening to an audio book in a different language. This gives me comprehensible input in listening, as I have sitting in front of me the written translation of the text that’s being spoken out loud. Of course, it’s going to be a literary translation, not a literal translation, but it still works out surprisingly well.
This method is a variation of a method that got popular in polyglot circles (yes, this is a thing) a few years back, with the “L-R method”, or “listening-reading method”, which the original creator of has described in incredible detail here. I’ll describe the original version more in depth in a separate post, along with why I prefer skipping the parallel translations.
What you do, is while reading along with a book in your native language (or another language you’re familiar with enough to have some ability at skimming) you listen to an audio book recording of a translation of that book. The translation in your target language is not going to be word for word, and might even drop sentences here and there. But, it should be close enough that you can skim ahead in your written book and listen to the next sentence or paragraph spoken out loud and be able to understand what was said.
This method works best for languages where you already have a medium level of ability, but I’ve used it with some success for completely novel languages as well. The main goal is that because you already know the gist of what’s going to be said, you can listen to the audio and try to make sense of what words they used and how they piece them together.
You could just listen to the audiobook, but unless you’re at a very high level in that language already, you’re going to get lost quite quickly. Even reading along with the text you might get lost, especially at first, but generally there are enough words in common between the text and the spoken words (such as names), that you can find your place again. And if not, there’s always the next (or last) chapter break, which your audio version is probably labeled into sections based off chapter breaks as well.
I started using this method when I began to learn Tamil, because despite the fact there are over 70 million people who speak Tamil, there are almost zero useful resources for learning the language. However, Tamil has some incredibly rich literary works (which sadly are almost unknown outside of Tamil Nadu). One of these novels, Ponniyin Selvan is literally thousands of pages of fascinating historical intrigue (mileage may vary, but I enjoyed it). There’s two audio book versions available for relatively cheap, and there’s both a free English translation and a slightly newer translation available on Amazon. This provided a large source of practice for Tamil, which I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to have and greatly aided my comprehension of spoken Tamil when I visited Tamil Nadu earlier this year.
I’ve also used this method for practicing my Russian while listening to Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series and my Italian and Japanese while reading along with Harry Potter. For many languages, you can find quite a number of audio books online or for order, so you can always find something else to suit your personal interests and not have to rely on a possibly dry, stilted audio course.
Assimil, Michel Thomas, and Pimsleur all have similar selling points ↩