Listening Comprehension in a Foreign Language – 12 Ways to Improve It

Listening comprehension in a foreign language

Improving listening comprehension in a foreign language is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the most challenging skills to master. The amount of time needed to understand a language is enormous. Unfortunately, not everyone succeeds in this field.

Not everyone reaches the finish line and has the pleasure of saying, "I understand most of everything I hear."

On the contrary, the bodies of poor souls who surrendered along the way colorfully decorate the entire length of the route. Everyone has their theory of why they failed.
"My ears are too small." 
"I can't listen to German for long because I start to sob."

And who knows, maybe the above is partially true. However, these reasons are not as important as the list you are about to see.

Here are 12 reasons why you have trouble understanding a foreign language.


LISTENING COMPREHENSION IN A FOREIGN LANGUAGE - 12 COMMON ISSUES AND WAYS TO SOLVE THEM

Understanding a spoken word is complex. It's affected by many factors.

LISTENING COMPREHENSION IN A FOREIGN LANGUAGE - 12 COMMON ISSUES AND WAYS TO SOLVE THEM

1. Limited vocabulary

7. Lack of concentration

2. Problems with pronunciation

8. Problems with interpretation/culture

3. Trying to understand everything

9. Problems with natural (i.e. colloquial) speech

4. Insufficient listening practice

10. No visual support

5. Too fast a pace

11. Passive listening

6. One-time listening to recordings

12. Insufficient knowledge of grammar

1. LIMITED VOCABULARY 


Insufficient knowledge of vocabulary is one of the main culprits. No wonder you have trouble understanding if your vocabulary is very limited! As you listen, each word and phrase at your disposal becomes your foothold.

Think of it as a puzzle - the more elements that fill the outline of an image, the easier it is to see what the picture is. Similarly, when listening, each subsequent word allows you to understand better what the general meaning/message of a given conversation or recording is.

There are two significant milestones for most languages:


1st milestone - 3000 words

Knowledge of the 3000 most frequently used words in a foreign language allows understanding of 95% of texts and conversations (Hazenberg and Hulstijn, 1996). It is worth remembering that, in this case, we count one word as all variations of a given word and its family of words.

For example: "run," "running," and "runner" are counted as one word by this classification.


2nd milestone  - 5000 words

Knowledge of the 5000 most-used words in a foreign language allows understanding of 98% of texts and conversations ((Nation (1990) and Laufer (1997)).


The minimum vocabulary required to listen effectively

If you want to be sure that you will understand to some degree recordings and conversations of all kinds, you should aim for a vocabulary of at least 2.5 - 3 thousand words. But as always - the more, the better!

So you don't know that many words? Come on, get to work! Don't be lazy!


2) PROBLEMS WITH PRONUNCIATION


Listening comprehension in a foreign language 12 ways to improve it



Issues with pronunciations are one of the hidden reasons why your understanding suffers; hence, many people are entirely unaware of it. 


How does sloppy pronunciation cause difficulties in understanding?


(I) Incorrect phonological representations

Each of us, as part of the so-called phonological memory, uses phonological representations.


A phonological representation is the way you think a word sounds.


If your phonological representation largely coincides with the actual pronunciation of the word, then everything is fine, and your brain should recognize the word.

It is worse when your interpretation of the pronunciation of a word completely diverges from its actual pronunciation. The result is a complete lack of understanding, although you often KNOW the word (Rixon 1986: 38). You pronounce it in your "specific" way.

For example, if in your head the pronunciation of the word "gist" sounds like / gɪst / with a hard " g," then you may not completely understand it when you hear its correct pronunciation / ʤɪst/.


(II) Lack of knowledge about assimilations


A separate problem is the so-called phonetic assimilation phenomenon


Phonetic similarity (phonetic assimilation) - a common phonetic process in which a sound changes to be more similar to a neighboring sound. The essence of every phonetic preference is coarticulation, whose mechanism of action is the influence of a given sound on the articulation of sounds that are adjacent to it. - Wikipedia

Assimilation simply means that the pronunciation of a letter can change due to the letter before or after it.

A typical example of assimilation in a language is when a word ends in a consonant, and the other begins in a vowel. Most often, such words "merge" in pronunciation and are pronounced as one.


E.g. "It is", which we pronounce as / ɪtɪz / /, not / ɪt ɪz /.


How to deal with these problems?


I) Try to accurately internalize the pronunciation of the words you learn

It will affect not only your ability to understand, but also your ability to learn vocabulary. As research shows (Fowler, 1991; Pierce et al. 2017), phonological representations can affect your coding ability, which is an early step in the process of learning and remembering words.


II) Learn the pronunciation and the International Phonetic Alphabet of the language

I know that most people won't do it, but I recommend delving into the sounds of your target language.

It's worth knowing which of them are in your native language and which are not. With this knowledge, you'll know which ones require your special attention.

Read more: Master Pronunciation of a Foreign Language.


3) TRYING TO UNDERSTAND EVERYTHING

Great, you're ambitious, but the level of ambition should be in proportion to your current level of capability. Efforts to understand everything do not make sense if, after the first hearing of the recording, you do not know whether the conversation is about politics or whether they offend you. 

Listen for the gist, and only then for details - it is the best strategy.

Attempts to pick out individual words by ear make sense only when you can understand the overall meaning of the recording.

If you have not reached this point yet, it is worth listening to the recording again.


4) INSUFFICIENT LISTENING PRACTICE


Good listening comprehension in a foreign language is the most time-consuming language competence. Don't expect 20 minutes of listening a day to work wonders. You should aim for a minimum of 1 hour of listening per day!

I can already hear those moans: "Well, he's crazy! More than 20 minutes! Lord, I have a life! "

Contrary to appearances, it is not so difficult. All you have to do is plan your day well. After all, you can listen to music or recordings almost anywhere! At home, gym, shop, commuting, and often even at work!


5) TOO FAST A PACE



Many people feel that one of the biggest obstacles preventing them from understanding a language well is the high rate of influx when listening.A constant stream of words creates the impression that you always miss essential information, which can make you unnecessarily stressed. Fortunately, it is quite easy to get rid of this problem these days.


(I) Manipulation of the recording speed

Almost every movie and music player nowadays is equipped with speed control. YouTube is a good example. If the average tempo of the recording prevents you from understanding, lower the speed to 0.75. You should immediately notice a big difference.


(II) The word "please."

In the case of conversations with foreigners, the matter is even more straightforward - ask them to speak more slowly and clearly. Most people shouldn't have any problem with this.

They don't want to do it? A quick blow to the temple should subtly encourage them to cooperate.


6) ONE-TIME LISTENING TO RECORDINGS 


Repeated listening to a given recording or conversation is not always possible. However, if it's possible, you should always listen to your materials more than once if you have trouble understanding them.

Here's a simple plan you can stick to:


(I)) Learners at levels A1-B1


Find a recording/video on YT or something similar, and listen to it over and over again.


When should you move to the next recording?

When you understand about 80% of the recording, i.e., you grasp its gist - hunting for particular words at this level is pointless. 

However, it is essential to become familiar with the prosody of the language and to improve the ability to capture the most common words in a given language.

It is a particularly useful listening system when you want to learn a language for which there are practically no listening materials.

At the time when I was doing my first major language project (learning Swedish from scratch to a level B2 in about four months - a full story here), I could listen to one radio program, lasting about 10 minutes, even a dozen times. This is how long the phonetic identification of "theoretically" simple words that "theoretically" I knew took me.


(II) Learners at B2-C2 levels

Here the matter is much simpler. Assuming that you are indeed at this language level, you should know between 3 and 5 thousand words. Thus, your understanding should range between 95-98%.

Since you are already quite advanced, listening to recordings repeatedly does not make sense, After all, you are already able to identify the essential words appearing in a given language. At these levels, the most important thing is to listen to as many language users as possible to get used to the variety of accents and language patterns.


7) LACK OF CONCENTRATION


Sometimes, problems with understanding are dictated by nothing else but a good old lack of concentration. Each of us knows the moment when, after 2 minutes of listening to the interlocutor, you completely sail away to ride on a pony in a happy place in your head, while saliva begins to gather in the corners of your mouth.

Where does this state come from, and how to remedy it?


(I) Ditch boring recordings

Listen, you are not in an interrogation room in Guantánamo. Nobody compels you to listen to things you don't enjoy. If the subject of the recording causes your eyes to spasm, then change it. Simple logic works here - the more you like a topic, the more willingly and longer you will listen to it.


b) Chunk your listening sessions

There is definitely such a thing as too much of a good thing.

If the recording is too long, break up your listening session into many parts.

For example, instead of watching one 40-minute episode of a series in one hearing, try to do it in two or three sessions. Everything according to the slogan: "A large elephant is eaten piece by piece."


(III) Avoid adverse conditions

Sometimes the conditions are not conducive to listening. Maybe a bunch of airheads is rehearsing Tibetan throat singing it's a demonstration in defense of the rights of bakers. 

In this situation, there are only two things you can do, depending on the nature of the problem:

  • find a quiet place to listen
  • Keep on listening

If this does not help, get into a fight with some guy in the YT comment section to vent off.


8) PROBLEMS WITH INTERPRETATION / CULTURE




Sometimes the culprit of communication problems is the cultural gulf between interlocutors (Underwood). Interestingly, this problem also occurs among native speakers of a given language. There is no simple remedy.

The only solution is to continually broaden your horizons and explore the culture from which your target language originates.

A classic example of misunderstanding is an enthusiastic thumbs-up. Doing so in the Middle East, West Africa, and South America is a delicate suggestion that you intend to violate the dignity of your interlocutor's rectum. A classic faux pas!


9) PROBLEMS WITH NATURAL (I.E., COLLOQUIAL) SPEECH


The difference between the natural, colloquial language spoken by native speakers and the one that is usually taught in language schools, or which can be heard on the radio, can be huge (Hedge).

In real life, a situation where the interlocutor speaks to you very slowly and clearly shows that:


  • a) he will get a stroke soon
  • b) thinks you're "special" and it's not a compliment!


(I) Various accents and dialects

Another problem in this category is the variety of accents and dialects. Unfortunately, the uniformity of languages varies dramatically.

For example, in Germanic languages (e.g. English, German, Swedish, Dutch), after driving only 20 km, we may come across a completely different dialect.

For many, this is a huge shock. They spend years convinced that they understand the language well, and suddenly it feels as if they were starting all over again.!

A great example is the Scottish accent, which causes a lot of problems for many people who comprehend very well (classic) English.

P.S. Here is some stand-up of the most famous Scottish stand-up comedian, Frankie Boyle: YouTube (heads up - it's full of swear words!)

If you want to be sure that you will be able to understand native speakers without significant problems, you need to diversify the materials you listen to. It should always be a mix containing both colloquial (e.g., videos on YT) and more formal speech (radio, news, etc.).

Listening to different dialects is not necessary unless you need the ability to understand them for some reason (i.e., moving to a specific region).


10) NO VISUAL SUPPORT


In real life, communication with our potential interlocutor is more abundant with body language or facial expressions. The value of this additional information cannot be overestimated, as it often helps to understand the meaning of the speech, despite the lack of understanding of individual words.

It would be a mistake to limit listening only to the radio or podcasts.

It's worth enlarging your listening toolbox to include audio-visual materials  (e.g., TV series or YouTube videos). They will not only speed up your pace of understanding but will also make learning more enjoyable!

11) PASSIVE LISTENING



Many people equate listening to a purely passive activity. Nothing necessary but crash in your armchair and start your favorite podcast! Of course, there is nothing wrong with it, and I usually prefer this type of listening. There is an alternative - active listening.

While listening actively, you should try to make a note of the recording text and words you do not know. Although this is a time-consuming process, it has a positive impact on your understanding.


12) INSUFFICIENT KNOWLEDGE OF GRAMMAR


Lack of (good) knowledge of grammar is one of the last obstacles on your path to full understanding.

It is interesting that the lack of knowledge of grammar does not prevent complete understanding, but only makes it difficult.

I'm sure you know people who went abroad, and after 5 years they still don't know the language. Despite this, they can communicate with native speakers at a basic level, using the requisite words, gestures, and the occasional grunts.

I like to explain this phenomenon, and also the role of grammar in understanding, using the following metaphor.

Imagine that words are building blocks, and grammar is nothing more than a logical mortar holding them together. When we have both, we can create a beautiful "palace of comprehension." If the mortar is missing, the only thing we can do is to stack the bricks on top of one another. This way, we will build "something," but it will certainly not be a palace - more like a swanky privy.

Read more: Master Grammar of Any Language with Deliberate Practice.


IMPROVING LISTENING COMPREHENSION IN A FOREIGN LANGUAGE - SUMMARY



As you can see, problems with listening comprehension in a foreign language are very diverse. Therefore, to effectively benefit from the advice contained in this article, you should analyze your particular situation as accurately as possible and choose the tips that apply to you.

Regardless, for many language learners, the two main factors which usually impair their listening comprehension are limited vocabulary and insufficient listening practice - these are always the right places to start.

Good luck!

How To Improve Listening Skills In A Foreign Language – Learn a Language On Your Own (Part 5)

How To Improve Listening Skills In A Foreign Language

 

Before I explain how to improve listening skills in a foreign language, I have one thing to confess.

You wouldn’t believe how long I’ve ignored this skill! I was convinced that mastering grammar and vocabulary is, more or less, enough to have a decent conversation with foreigners. And that these competencies will take care of the rest.

Boy, oh boy, was I wrong! Of course, like all the theories, it all seemed rosy until it got confronted with reality.

 

How to Improve Listening Skills in a Foreign Language

 

My “Brilliant” Theory

Years ago, I was obsessing about German. I rolled up my sleeves, got down to work, learned about 8000 words, and got a pretty good grasp of grammar. I could say almost anything I wanted without being too vague. It felt great!

Not so long afterward, I got a chance to visit France. I met an elderly German couple there. “That’s my chance to socialize! That’s my chance to SHINE!”, a naive thought crossed my mind. I approached them and asked them some questions. You know, just an ordinary small-talk.
What happened just a moment later left nasty scars on my linguistic self-esteem.

What came out of their mouths was absolute nonsense. They could have, as well, farted with their armpits. My face went red as I asked them, time and time again, to repeat what they had just said. Just one more time. But slower. DAMN YOU! Slower and clearer, I said! And there I stood with glassy eyes, staring at the debris of what was once my theory.

 

Listening as a Key Language Competence

 

I guess what I am trying to say is that listening is critical. Since the failure mentioned above, I’ve met many people who are fully functional in the language of their choice just because they understand what they hear.

It’s not that surprising when you think about it. EVERY complex skill consists of several smaller elements. These elements, in turn, are composed of even tinier parts.

Roughly said, communication is nothing more than being able to understand what you hear and being able to express yourself. But as I so painfully learned, listening is much more critical. That’s what makes any social interaction possible.

Since then, I established listening and speaking as a core of my language skills. These skills require an immediate response.

 

Improve Listening Skills In A Foreign Language

 

Listening provides you with more sensory channels, such as emotions, hearing visual stimuli (when you listen and watch something). That’s why it’s much easier for you to remember real-life conversations than excerpts from articles.

The final and essential reason to opt for listening is that nobody cares if you read or write slowly. While doing these things, you can typically take your time to double-check anything your heart desires.

“Smith is such a slow reader. I think I’ll fire him.”. Yep, I also have never heard of such a situation. However, it is essential to note that writing and reading are interconnected with speaking and listening. And the progress in any of these areas influences one another.

 

Improve Listening Skills – Find the Right Resources

 

Do you have to go through the preparation before the listening practice? Of course not. But don’t be too surprised if you end up getting frustrated quickly or bitterly realize that your progress is excruciatingly slow.

So, where should you start?

FIND THE RIGHT RESOURCES

You might wonder what “right resources” means. The answer is – it depends.

Beginners / Intermediate Learners

If you fall into this category, you should find some simplified materials where the speech is slower, clearer, and ideally – transcribed. 

Advanced Learners

If you’re at least on a B2 level, it means that the only right solution for you is to lay your hands on original programs, talk shows, movies, etc. in your target language.

GET YOUR RESOURCES HANDY

Do you know this annoying feeling when you promise yourself something, and then you can’t seem to force yourself to follow through?

Why is that?

Well, the research (and experience) has it that if you need to spend more than 20 seconds to start doing something, there is a big chance that you’ll fail. The “activation time” should be as short as possible. Choose one or two programs to listen to and make sure that they are just a click away.

Read more: Important Factors That Affect Your Listening Comprehension – the Only Two That Matter If You Want to Understand ASAP.

Improve Listening Skills – Pre-practice Tips

 

MENTAL PREPARATION

 

  • Come to terms with the fact that you are not going to understand everything for a long time.
  • Listen as often as it’s only possible. Listen while doing household chores. Do it when you’re at the gym. Listen when you’re in a car. You get it. LISTEN!
  • Don’t get annoyed when you don’t understand something. Stress is your archenemy in learning. It’s like with Tibetan throat singing. You won’t be able to wrap your head around it at the beginning. Hmm, I need to work on my comparisons.
  • And no matter what, don’t give up, you softie! Grin and bear it!

 

MATTER-OF-FACT PREPARATION

 

  • Do not translate into your native tongue. You should be entirely focused on a speaker, not the translation process.
  • Listen to something you enjoy.
  • Prepare before listening – quite often it’s possible to check what the news or some program is about. Thanks to this knowledge, you can prepare vocabulary beforehand. If you’re not sure about words that might be used, try to brainstorm them.
  • Remove distractions – you know why. Interestingly, they’re a welcome addition when you already understand much as they make your listening practice more natural.
  • Set a goal. You can listen for meaning, for sounds, for tones, for a melody, or stress.
  • If you find listening incredibly dull, try to gamify your practice – e.g., give yourself 1 point each time when you hear a word starting with P. Or drink one shot of Tequila. Just make sure it’s fun for you!
  • Build sound recognition. Do you know the most distinctive sounds of your target language? No? Then move to Part 3 of this series. Such knowledge can considerably accelerate your understanding capabilities!
  • Be aware of how the language changes when it’s spoken. I can’t stress this one enough. If you know how the sounds connect, when they are deleted or inserted, you’ll need much less time to progress!

Example

Look at this example: What are you going to do – Whaddya gonna do?

Being aware of the fact that when a consonant of one word neighbors a vowel of another word, it makes you pronounce these two separate words as one, can help you tremendously with your listening practice.

That’s why you pronounce – “it is” as one word – “itis.” 

Another example from English is the transformation of [d] and [y]. When these sounds neighbor each other, they are transformed into [dʒ]

[d] + [y] = [dʒ]

 

Strategies To Follow During Listening Practice

 

How To Improve Listening Skills In A Foreign Language

 

Throughout the years, I’ve managed to come up with quite many solutions on how I can improve my listening capabilities. Digest them at your own pace, take what you need, and ignore the rest.

 

  1. Listen for the gist of the conversation. Once you understand it, move on to details
  2. When you watch materials in original, observe mouths of actors/hosts and read their lips.
  3. Try to understand the non-verbal communication of your speaking partner (actors, etc.).
  4. Listen to the melody of the language
  5. Once you get accustomed to the melody of the language, try to separate the ongoing flow of words by (e.g.) pressing your fingers against a table whenever you hear that some word is accented. It’s my favorite trick. Interestingly, sometimes, when I listen to French and perform the said activity, I can understand almost every word. Once I stop, my understanding goes down significantly.
  6. Concentrate on sounds that are foreign to you. This technique can also help you maintain your concentration.
  7. Listen to the first and last letter of a word. It’s especially helpful when you’re just starting your listening practice. In this case, this technique will help separate different words. S ..sm…(smile?), smi…(smirk? smite?), smit… (smite?!), smith (I knew it!)
  8. Use logic to conclude what will follow (get in the habit of guessing).
  9. Listen to a recording more than once. At first, to understand the gist and then to get details.
  10. Slow down the speed of recording. For this purpose, use Audacity, AllPlayer, or simply YouTube.
  11. Speed up the speed of the recording to extend your comfort zone and then move back to an actual pace.
  12. Remember that listening is an active process, note down any phrases or words which you find interesting or don’t understand.

 

Improve Listening Skills – Summary

 

Improving listening skills is one of the two most important language skills. Unfortunately, it’s is also terribly time-consuming.

The strategies mentioned above will undoubtedly help you to get faster to the finish line, i.e., understand your target language. Still, you need to keep in mind that the secret sauce is patience.
Permanently banish any thoughts of giving up. It is the only way to become successful in language learning.

That’s all, folks! Do you know other listening strategies to improve listening skills? I’d love to hear them! Let me know in the comments.

 

1 Great Tip On How To Find Lyrics In Your Target Language Of Almost Any Song

Find Lyrics In Your Target Language Of Almost Any Song

I’m sure that you have some songs that make you cry. Now you can make others cry as well while you sing in your target language!

Alright, I admit – that sounded like a bad advertisement! Anyway, I highly recommend that you check LyricsTranslate.com.

What is this magical website?

 

The website contains over 280k translations of all kinds of songs. The translations are available in dozens of languages. Sure, you won’t always find the song you want, especially if it is acid, vegetarian dubstep. But don’t be picky – simply move on to the next song which interests you.

However, if you’re really desperate, you can request somebody to translate the lyrics for you! I guess it’s also worth mentioning that it’s FREE like the lead-laden air we breathe in!

How does it work?

 

Search for the song you’d like to hear and when the original lyrics appear, simply choose the language which they should be translated into. Let’s try to find one of my favorite songs of Bon Jovi – Bad Medicine.

Effect?
Find Lyrics In Your Target Language Of Almost Any Song

 

Great, isn’t it? Now find the backing track on youtube and you’re ready to go. Sing your heart out!

If you want some extra language practice, you might register on the website and start translating the lyrics to help others. Have fun and pass this article to the fellow language learners who have musical inclinations!

 

Foreign Languages – Learn By Talking To Yourself and Get a Job Thanks To This!

Foreign Languages - Learn By Talking To Yourself and Get a Job Thanks To This!

 

It’s funny, isn’t it?

All your life we’ve been told that the only place where talking to yourself can get you is a padded cell. And yet, somehow it landed me a job in one of the top corporations at this side of Milky Way.

You might ask – so what’s so special about this story? Well, I learned Swedish in order to get the job in less than 4 months without talking to anyone in Swedish. And while working 50+ hours per week.

I also managed to break up with my fiancée and started drinking after a 1,5-year break of abstinence. So if you’re expecting only rainbows and unicorns go somewhere else. I’m pretty sure there is a lesson somewhere in this story but I can’t quite put my finger on it.

Here is how it happened, more or less, and how you can duplicate the results. Hopefully without crippling your private life.

Discovering Swedish – Beginnings

 

“It is such a beautiful-sounding language”, I said to myself. I was standing in the middle of a bookshop in my hometown. My then-girlfriend who recently had moved to Sweden was pointing at some sentence in a textbook and asking me to read it.

I tried but my effort was mediocre at best. Why do you pronounce these f***ing letters so randomly?! Here is some foretaste:

It was about 8 years ago. Shortly thereafter we went our separate ways and I was left with just a few words. Quickly I lost interest in this language and moved on with my life.

Rekindling Of Interest

 

About 2 years ago I started feeling this unbearable itch to switch a job. At that time I had been working close to 3 years in the Industrial Automation industry while teaching English, German and Statistics and I really started feeling bored.

After browsing some job offers it hit me that there is a considerable amount of positions for Swedish speaking people and almost no competition since this language is considered a pretty exotic in Poland. And there was my solution – learn Swedish and go into corporate. With my skills and languages, how could I not make a career?!

I wish I could bitch-slap myself then and get back 11 months of my life. But that’s another story.

How To Learn By Talking To Yourself

Word of warning

It’s necessary to give you some background before I go into details. Back then I already spoke 5 foreign languages including German and English. Since they belong to the same language family as Swedish it gave me the upper hand I was also obsessed with mnemonics – that makes remembering much easier.

Approach

Foreign Languages - Learn By Talking To Yourself

Picture by: Alexandre Duret-Lutz

I’ve never been a big fan of language textbooks. Not only are they pricey but also (usually) structured in a pretty moronic way. I mean – who really needs to know the names of 30 professions when you can’t even ask “where is the nearest toilet?”.

That’s why I bought just a simple grammar book and dictionary. Total cost? About 25$. Not bad for the skill which has brought me a hundred times more since then.

Limitations

Always know your limitations. I knew mine. One of the main problems which I had to face was lack of time. I had a full-time job after all. And a fiancée.

That’s why I had to define my priorities. I knew that an interview would be conducted in Swedish and I had to be classified on (at least) B2 level to get the job. That’s why I decided to focus my efforts on speaking and listening. Throughout the preparation period, I read only about 4-5 articles.

What Real Learning Is All About

Have you heard about the Flow?

Flow, also known as Zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does.

Enjoyment? What a load of crap. If you want to get results quickly, learning won’t be pleasant. You can’t have it both ways. If you don’t feel exhausted after learning session it simply means that you haven’t pushed yourself beyond your comfort zone.

Deep work leaves you drained (Cal Newport is the unquestionable authority in this field) . That’s why top performers don’t do it for more than a few hours. And this is exactly all the time which I had during the day.

One of my favorite mathematicians of all time Henri Poincaré had the following routine:

He undertook mathematical research for four hours a day, between 10 a.m. and noon then again from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.. He would read articles in journals later in the evening.

And I do understand why. After every learning session, I felt like a shred of a man. Maybe I cried. I don’t really remember. I wanted everybody to leave me alone – and they did eventually. Now I remember! The lesson is: there is a price to pay for everything.

My Chamber Of Madness

 

Foreign Languages - Learn By Talking To Yourself

Picture by: Petri Damstén

This is how I called my room at that point in time. What another name there is for the room where you spend most of your time by talking to yourself?

But coming back to the story – after buying a dictionary and a grammar book I got home and for the first few days, I started outlining the grammar. That was an easy part. I knew that the biggest challenge lies in pronouncing things correctly. Back then I didn’t have any consistent method for learning pronunciation.

I also started learning tons of vocabulary. And that’s why my learning style is so different from others.
You might frequently hear that you don’t need a big vocabulary to talk with someone in your target language.

And that’s true. But the problem is that you need a lot of words to UNDERSTAND somebody.
It’s natural that your passive vocabulary will always be bigger than your active one. Even in your native tongue. But you need to know them in order to understand because the context won’t always save you.

That’s why after learning about 2k words I started listening to Sveriges Radio and conducting my proper learning sessions. Remember Rocky training? It was exactly like this but absolutely different – I was sitting at the desk and talking to myself. For hours. I covered about 4k in Anki and created thousands of sentences.

Interview

 

Foreign Languages - Learn By Talking To Yourself

Picture by: Ludovic Bertron

On my way to the company’s seat, I still was coming up with excuses for why I should call them and tell them that I found another job. Or that I got sick. Or that the homework which ate my dog got sick. Anything. Maybe the car will run me over.

She entered the room. I held my breath. I was scared sh*tless. Then I heard a first question:

– “Can you tell me something about yourself?”. I did. In details. Who wouldn’t expect such a question?

– “How did you learn Swedish?”, she asked.
– “On my own. At home. I talked to myself a lot.”

Awkward silence.

– “But I’m asking seriously”, she gazed at me in disbelief.
– “That’s the truth”, I mumbled

20 minutes, 2 questions and one grammar test later the interview was over. I don’t think she believed me. I don’t blame her.

Results

 

Two days later I got results of my language evaluation. I was on the B2 level. The job is mine if I want it. I do. I want to work there. It turned out that I didn’t want a relationship with my fiancée half as bad. I broke up with her. I couldn’t stand constant arguments.

Conclusion

 

I’m not even sure. I guess it’s better if you draw your own conclusions.