I have now finished week 37 of learning French through LingQ. Weeks 1-25 were all about reading, weeks 26-50 are all about listening. Of course I am reading and writing, and may soon also be speaking, but the core activity right now is listening. And lots of it. My current aim is to listen to at least 10 hours of French a week.
But what kind of listening? There have been lots of discussions on the LingQ forums over the years about what to listen to, how to listen and how much. Whether to read the content first, or listen first. Whether to listen intensively to the same content, or extensively to a wider variety of content. Whether to listen actively, trying to understand every word and phrase, or to listen passively by leaving the radio on all the time and hoping that the language just seeps into your mind whilst you’re not noticing.
Underpinning all these questions is the concern: am I listening the right way? Could I be listening better? And it is an understandable concern given that LingQ puts special emphasis on listening as the most important language skill. We want to be doing it right.
Nevertheless I think we can worry a little too much sometimes. Obviously the more intensively and actively we engage with the material, the more we’re going to get out of it. But I think we can set ourselves up to fail when we try to concentrate 100% of the time, and feel bad when our mind wanders off, or a certain phrase just remains beyond our understanding. How do we measure concentration anyway? Its for this reason that I don’t think the distinction between “passive” and “active” listening is that helpful. My strategy is to find content in the “sweet spot” that is interesting and challenging, but not too difficult, and then I try and listen to as much of it as I can. Sometimes I will be listening very intently, and taking everything in. At other times I will be barely paying attention. I don’t think it matters, as long as I am enjoying the content.
And there is another reason why I don’t think it helps to get hung up about active/passive listening: more passive listening means more active listening. If I set a goal to listen attentively to 3 hours of French a week, not only will I have no idea whether I have achieved my goal, but I would probably give up. It sounds too much like hard work! But if I aim to listen to 10 hours of French a week – passively, actively and everything in between – I will inevitably achieve that goal of 3 hours of active listening, and probably more. So my advice for this week: worry less, listen more!