Why I find it so hard to improve my listening
I am used to roughly dividing listening practice into two different activities:
- Passive immersion: just let an audio run in your target language, you don’t have to pay special attention to it or try to understand what it says.
- Active study: work on a short audio adapted to your level. You can either look up words, write down what you hear or repeat after the speaker, etc.
Being the lazy person that I am, I have always wanted to believe that doing the first activity would be enough to improve my listening. As language learners, we certainly all have heard stories of, or know people who have learned a language by watching films or listening to their favourite music band. Every time I hear such a story, it revives my faith in passive learning and I feel motivated to immerse myself in a Japanese environment.
The thing is that it never really worked for me. Listening passively to Japanese never seemed to have helped me to increase my level dramatically. It certainly helps, but not so much that I can measure it. Well, some people might be more receptive than others and able to get better results from a passive exposure to their language. I am definitely not one of these persons.
How the drama シグナル helped me improve my listening at last
On the contrary, working on an audio last week has helped me considerably. When I say “considerably” I mean that I can actually feel a difference between “before” and “after”.
I already talked about it last Friday, but I am watching the drama 『シグナル 長期未解決事件捜査班』. Instead of just watching it passively, I have tried to transcribe a whole episode (a 45 minutes episode takes me several days to transcribe). This exercise allowed me to go from “I understand almost nothing” to “I understand almost everything”. Of course, I could not understand every single word the actors said, but I could follow the drama without looking at the subtitles and I could explain what they were saying. There were even some scenes that I could transcribe word by word.
So from now on, I have decided to put in the extra effort and actively work on my listening instead of waiting for a miracle.
This week, I will focus on doing this transcription exercise and continue to use the drama シグナル for that. It will be this week’s challenge!
I was thinking that passively re=listening to something you actively listened is productive while just passively listening to something is nearly pointless. I think you’d be better off watching signal with japanse subtitles (jot down words to look up and anki them )and relistening to the episode multiple times. I never understood why people transcribed stuff down to improve their listening comprehension. it just seems time-consuming and not worth to it to me especially with a language like Japanese since you gotta write all that kanji unless you use hiragana liberally lol.
also you not being able to understand the show may have to do with the sound quality (not sure how you’re watching this) whether it’s because you’re watching on a low quality streaming site or the budget of the drama didn’t allow the drama to do after-recording, actors sucking at saying their lines clearly (sometimes this stuff feels really rampant in J-dramas especially compared to k-dramas. There are definitely people who are not professional trained in acting and don’t talk clearly. )
I linked a bunch of interesting articles about sound quality in Japanese media in an old post from 2013.
Right now I’m sporadically/lazily learning spanish and french and my main strategy to improve listening comprehension is listening/reading to something with a transcript (use pop-up dictionaries and translation sites), anking, and re-listening to stuff. It definitely works and I am moving at a slow pace but I’m okay with that. I’m okay as long as I’m not going backwards which tends to happen when people memorize and study stuff only to burn out and not touch anything in their language for x motnhs.
and I wanted to ask if you ever read or heard of konmari’s book called magic of cleaning (katazuke no mahou). that book was very easy to read and the book also serves as a self-help book that helps with self-confidence, decision-making, and living a happy life. I never would’ve guessed that before I read it and I’ve even seen her Japanese shows like kinsuma.
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I came across this post in language log forums which kinda reminds me of your transcription method. I might try this for my spanish/french if I ever feel like it when my comprehension gets better
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It’s very encouraging to see that other learners have results with this method!
Yes I should re-listen to the episode I studied, it certainly helps. I see what you mean, but I think I enjoy the transcription exercise for itself, and I do want to be able to write most kanji without having to look them up first to check their ”spelling”, so writing is always a good exercise to me.
Signal has a good audio quality, but yes, some drama are not that pleasant to listen to. I tried one that had a very loud music, and it sometimes covered the voices…
I didn’t know Magic of cleaning, but I will check it out! I haven’t read a self-help book for a while, it will certainly be my next one!
And the reason I recently felt so motivated to learn spanish/french is because I found all these amazing tools and resources that making learning more effortless and convenient and efficient. I have to make a post about it once I make noticeable improvements.
this program is one of the tools and maybe it could help you with your listening comprehension. what I used to do with j-dramas was watch without subittles of any sort, then go through all the lines in the episode following the transcript and using the audio (I’d make anki cards at this point). with this program it’s so much more efficient to do that. maybe you could do that to save time and improve faster provided that you have the video or audio file (you can easily rip the audio file from the video). if the subs for signal comes in .srt you could use rikai-sama (a pop-up dictionary that works in the internet browser pale moon)
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and i’d relisten to the ep multiple times
I love how the workaudiobook has the option to repeat the audio chunk automatically. I set it to repeat 9 times before moving on to the next audio chunk.
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Thanks for the tip! It looks great, especially if one can navigate easily in the file and repeat a certain part. It is such a bore to not be able to jump easily in an audio and to re-listen to a certain part several times!
And good luck with your French and Spanish!