My experience with listening to chinese has been a rather mixed one. Initially, i started learning chinese in a classroom at a university. At that time we didn’t have too many listening resources. The class would sporadically go to a special classroom equipped with headphones, and we’d listen to some very short dialogs, always with the pressure of a test on the content. In our regular class time, the teacher would explain things in english, and then mostly just make us practice contrived dialogs and act out situations. We spent very little time actually just listening to chinese speakers. That was the introductory course…we weren’t introduced to much actual chinese 😉
Then i started an “intensive immersion” course, which was 20 hours of class per week, but we didn’t actually listen that much in comparison to the grammar instruction we received. In each of our 4hr classes, we probably did 30mins of “listening” where we also had the stress of answering questions. The teacher did a lot of english instruction, although sometimes in very simplified chinese at a very slow speed. We never did any free listening just for the sake of listening.
After 3 months of that course, we went off to china to continue immersion courses. These courses were actually what i would call immersion, because they were entirely in chinese. I think this period helped me the most because i could just listen to real chinese all the time in class, and i understood most of it right away because it was related to the real context in front of me, and the language was a little bit simplified, but still authentic. At the same time, i was going out for dinner at chinese restaurants all the time, so i learned a lot of practical speaking skills doing that.
After the courses were over, i looked for ways to get more chinese exposure. My main method was to listen to Radio Canada International, which has several different radio shows for different languages, one of which is in mandarin, called Voice of the North. They have an mp3 podcast that i download. The problem with the show is that it has no written transcript. For a lot of the shows, they talk away really fast using lots of complicated words, so i get lost fairly easily. What i really need is something with either a chinese transcript or an english translation, or both.
There’s a related learning strategy called “Listening-Reading” or “L-R”, which i’ve heard about on forums such as How-to-learn-any-language.com. In L-R, you get an audio book in your target language, as well as the text copy of the book and follow along with the audio book. When you start, you can also use the english version of the text, if it’s available, and then you know exactly what the speaker is supposed to be saying, before they say it. That way, you’re all set up for learning the new vocab in context as the story goes along. As you get better, you just switch to the target-language version of the text and continue listening, letting your brain just pick up everything naturally.
Unfortunately, i haven’t been able to find that many chinese audiobooks. There were some that i saw that were audio versions of some famous kung-fu adventure novels, but i haven’t been able to get a copy of them yet. I should look around to see if there’s an audiobook of chinese harry potter. Anyone have other suggestions?
The result of all of these experiences is that i don’t feel very confident in my listening and speaking skills beyond the basics. I have two strategies for improving right now. Part one is to work on increasing my vocabulary through reading. Reading is fun and interesting, and i don’t have any stress about being able to perform in front of others. Reading should also be great for my vocab, and with more vocab i should be able to understand more that i hear.
The next thing is just to do more listening. I need to find more fun videos to watch, but for now i just have the (quite difficult) RCI mp3 podcasts. I need more listening suggestions for this, if anyone has them.
Doing these things will obviously help me, but i just hope it’s enough.