Listening Problems. Any advice?

I did a search but nothing came up for what I’m actually looking for.

So, here’s the problem.
First off, I use the Shi Da series and I’m on chapter ten of book one. I initially just went and did it myself - taught myself by learning the MPS system for pronunciation instead of pinyin. The reading and writing came rather naturally to me and I have no problems there whatsoever. I can remember all the characters I learnt and I can write them from memory. When I speak (I’m told) my tones are reasonably good. I also have no real problem there.
The BIG problem is listening. Obviously in a conversation you don’t have the leisure as with writing and reading where you can “figure” out the meaning before proceeding with an answer. So my listening abilities are very poor. I have now recruited a private teacher, but after each lesson I’m left feeling a little stupid, because I have real difficulty understanding what her meanings are, especially when she introduces the odd new word.

Funny thing is, I have little problems with conversation in the pub when I’ve had a drink or two, and I even once had a nice 45 minute conversation with a cab driver…
But, other than that it just seems like I’m a complete numb nuts when it comes to listening comprehension.

I have purchased a MP3 recorder in which I record the conversation in the book, and my chinese lessons and listen to them over and over.

What else can I do to improve my listening comprehension?
Please :help: … I’m getting really frustrated and just so wish I can get muself up to a decent conversational level so I can effectively communicate with folks without looking (and feeling) like a complete dumbass. "ti bu dong… :astonished:

I had a friend record a short story for me: first, in a slow speed and then, at a faster one. I kept listening to the slower one over and over again until I could pronounce everything correctly at that speed; then did the same thing with the faster speed. I still can’t speak at the faster speed, but I can hear most of the words now. I think the key is not to expect too much from yourself early on. Just try to listen for a few key words, and then get excited every time you understand one you weren’t expecting to :bravo:

Oh, and I also spent extra time with my tutor working on listening to tones. He would say a bunch of words and then I would have to say what the tones were. Then he would say similar sounding words and I would have to guess which had the meaning he wanted.

I haven’t been studying that long yet, but I hope this helps a little.

Listening is something that falls in place naturally later. Don’t worry about it too much–soon you will be understand far more than you can say.

What you can do in the meantime is watch TV dramas (soap operas). While you watch, try to actively repeat what you are hearing. At first, you will only be able to repeat small chunks, like greetings and common phrases. But soon you will be able to repeat more and more. It really helps both fluency and listening.

I strongly suspect that your main problem is that your vocabulary is way too small at this point. It is also true that there is a considerable divergence between how people really speak on the street in Taiwan and the ‘standard’ Mandarin taught in the textbooks. That includes both vocabulary and syntax. For example, your textbook will probably teach you that ‘to speak’’ is shuo1hua4. In fact most people in Taiwan say ‘jiang3hua4’ (jiang3 = kong5 in Taiwanese).

You should really learn Hanyu Pinyin. It is exactly the same as MPS (don’t believe the propoganda about MPS), and there are many useful tools (like dictionaries in ABC order) that you will be able to use if you do.

And if I can give you two final pieces of advice:

  1. Stop studying the written language for at least a year (better two)

  2. Make sure you know the tone of every word you hear and make sure you can transcribe it aurally (i.e… develop the ability to take dictation correctly in Pinyin from a native speaker).

You can search this forum for some of my arguments for these ‘unorthodox’ suggestions.

Good luck!

Did I misread your post or is it that you have difficulty understanding when your teacher speaks? If so, that could be because she’s bunging on “proper” Mandarin pronunciation. Those witches in Shi Da are notorious for that. Sounds quite dissimilar from what you hear out and about. Mind you, technically it is the correct pronunciation.

I’d say try incorporating TV watching into your study, especially Mandarin soaps. These are quite good for daily speak and are often surprisingly simple. Try tracking what you hear with the subtitles.


I second every advice given, except for "1. Stop studying the written language for at least a year (better two) "

Yeah, Feiren, give us the lowdown (or at least link to click on!)

Oh and OP: go to the pub more. Take more taxis. Sack the tutor.

I took the book one and two from Shi-da but funny my listening didn’t improve until I stared studiyng from the Mandrian book that my school uses. It produced by Han Lin and pm if you are interested. I really noticed a big difference when I started using their book. I don’t know it is but I have learned a lot from the books. And yea, taking taxis did help but not all that much :wink:

Best of luck :rainbow:

If you follow Feiren’s advice, you’ll have more time early on to focus on building spoken vocab and listening. This actually follows the natural progression that a child would go through more closely – listening a lot, picking up vocab and using it, THEN reading and writing. I think this progression makes sense, but you have to ask yourself, how long are you willing to wait until you can read basic menu items and order food, read the compass direction on a bus number like 0東, etc.? So it’s up to you to find your own balance.

Oh yeah, and I bought this in the U.S. before I left: … 0300104707

It’s for advanced learners of Chinese and written with simplified characters, but I still find it useful. It comes with two DVDs containing 8 televised debates from CCTV on issues like whether or not children should be spanked. Each program is about 35 minutes long and is divided into about 7 minute segments. There is a host and 4 guest speakers, two pro and two con. There is a live audience and video clips. There is a live band that punctuates the commentary Jay Leno style. People speak quickly with strong retroflex and incorrect grammar at times. The book contains full transcription of each program with notes in the margins that tell you the meaning of the more difficult/regional/slang words it thinks you may not know. It also has a revised transcription showing what the people would have said if they spoke with proper grammar, completed their sentences, and used the correct words.

As a beginner, I side-step the advice to watch the program several times before looking at the transcript. Instead, I look at the transcript and try to listen for the key words defined in the margin. Then I just try to watch everyone’s facial expressions and hand gestures to figure out the rest of the meaning. I also find it fun and good practice to try to repeat what they say while imitating their movements. :smiley: Since I can’t read simplified or traditional Chinese, the transcript itself doesn’t help me too much, but I’m still making progress. You’ll probably get even more from it. Just make sure your DVD player plays US dvds.

The main impediment to listening comprehension is lack of vocabulary. Not just lack of “having learned it one time I think”, but really truly knowing it deep in your bones so that you don’t even have to think about the word when you hear it.

That requires repetition. It requires hearing a new item at least 7 times in novel contexts, before you really absorb it.

My advice is to focus on the vocab in your book, plus anything you think is crucially useful in the “real world”. Limit what you’re working on and learn it deeply, instead of trying to learn a lot but not actually learning anything.

Another good LC trick: record your vocabulary as mp3 files: “Chinese, English, Chinese”. Make each item a separate “track”, then put them on your mp3 player and play them back in scramble mode. Instant audio flashcards.

Another good way to absorb vocab is to have someone make up a story with words you know plus two or three new ones, and make it as absurd as possible. Record it and listen. The listening you want to do is to learn to understand, not to listen – if you know what I mean – so you don’t want to be using TV necessarily. Nothing wrong with watching TV to see what you CAN understand and to pick up new stuff, if you have the time and energy, but I believe your primary focus should be on learning the basics, and that would best be done through repetition of the basics. There is not nearly enough repetition in the Shi Da books.

Lastly, can the writing for now. You don’t need to write much besides your name and address anyway, do you? I mean for life, not for school! Reading – only worry about reading things that you already know down cold aurally. Reading should not be about decoding, it should be about looking at symbols that “remind” you of spoken language – language that should already be in your head. Learning to read, speak, and write Chinese at the same time using the same vocabulary simultaneously is absurd.


Thanks for posting Ironlady. I never miss a post of yours as they always clarify or confirm something. You may find the following post of mine a bit redundant however…

For what it’s worth I’m still studying Chinese (ten years altogether but only four seriously and of those four, well… not that seriously either actually) as though the written language did not exist. I know “up and down” from the bus and “enter and exit” and “door” of course and “taipei” and “OK” and “Be careful” and “le” and “ma” and quite a bit other than that I suppose too but I certainly never really tried to learn any of it.

Call it accidental learning.

For me the language is primarily a spoken phenomenon that can, with great effort, be transcribed into phonetic script (PinYin). In my opinion there are not nearly enough interesting, fun, innovative learning materials presented in this lovely medium. There are, of course, plenty of dictionaries, phrase books and language learning programs such as the Shi Da, series, book one, to work with but few of these could be considered fun, interesting or innovative.

In any event here is the thing that strikes me. On numerous occassions I have met foriegners who had studied Mandarin at Shi Da or some other language school and who claimed sometimes even “to be able to read a newspaper” - that’s a mark of honor apparently and one well deserved I would imagine, chinese script being what it is. However when the time came to actually use the language conversationaly the feeling I get is that their fluency isn’t a lot greater than mine. I have no doubt that in terms of proper grammar they have it all over me but in the day to day humph and grunt of day to day Mandarin I sometimes have a bit of an advantage it appears. Consider too that I didn’t start to study properly till about the age of 42, have never been to school or had a teacher and am coming at this challenge, shall we say, from the wrong side of the tracks. This may sound like bragging. It is not. I am disappointed in my Mandarin on a daily basis. I did however make one good decision and that was to learn to listen and speak first. I know that some people are fascinated by Chinese writing and others really need to learn to read for some reason but I think there is a very good argument to made that by doing so your speaking and listening will suffer, especially in the short term.

I think you should write a book. :notworthy: Great metaphor!

Thought you might appreciate that bit. Thanks! :bouncy:

Excellent posts from everyone so far, so I wont bore you with too much detail, other than to say “maximize your immersion opportunities.” That is to say, throw yourself into as many situations as possible where you have to engage with native speakers. Avoid like the plague those people who are out to share with you the one sentence in English they have memorized for their job. Sure, you wont understand everything that is said to you, but try to guess the meaning as much as possible. In fact guessing is key - we don’t actually ‘hear’ everything that is spoken to us in our native tongue. Filling-in the gaps with intelligent estimates is part and parcel of normal conversation for native speakers (I read somewhere that about 80% comprehension is pretty normal). The same goes for your second language, only more so.

Hey guys, thanks sooooo much for all the great posts… :notworthy: I was pleasantly surprised by the massive amounts of great suggestions. I will certainly try all the techniques and advice offered. One thing though, I’m not all that much of an aural learner and need to “see” what I’m learning.

Actually my teacher is great. She’s very patient and uses different techniques to get me to learn. She’s also very pro-aural learning and said that’s what she wants to concentrate on. She says the writing is something I’ve been doing on my own and can continue to do so on my own asking her for help when and where problems crop up, but actually it’s just learning pictures anyway.

The suggestions about watching soaps and so forth are awesome. I’ll definitely start doing that on a daily basis. The suggestions about recording on my mp3 are also great and something I will utilise more, including in the more constructive manner you’ve all suggested.

I agree with the view that the oral abilities should be cultivated first and I’ll certainly concentrate on that more now. However, I don’t think I’ll put it to one side as part of the reason for my studying the language is to be able to read and write. This is something that comes more naturally to me, but in future, I’ll integrate your advice in that I’ll first learn new words and phrases verbally and get comfortable listening and identifying them first before learning to write the relevant characters.

Thanks for the awesome advice. I appreciate it more than you know…