terça-feira, 12 de julho de 2011
Tune Your Ear
Listening comprehension can be challenging when you learn a foreign language. I wrote about it preveiously here, but I want to revisit the topic.
One of my students recently expressed his frustration about not being able to understand the English he hears on the TV, the radio or on the podcast sites I'd recommended to him. I told him to keep at it, because even if he can't understand what he hears, he's getting used to English sounds. I call this "tuning your ear".
When I was in university, I'd studied French for a year before going on a summer study program to France. I was also frustrated in the beginning because I couldn't understand what was being said around me. After a couple weeks of being surrounded by French, though, I started to recognize more words. Even if I didn't always understand what the word meant, I could recognize it, and even imagine how it was spelled. Later, either by learning it in class, from looking it up in a dictionary or even just figuring it out from context, I could more easily attach the meaning to the sound.
A similar thing happened to me when I first moved to Taiwan. Josh was showing me around the neighborhood and telling me all the street names, but because I was TOTALLY unfamiliar with the sounds of Mandarin, I had no idea what he was saying. He got really angry at me when he realized I was no longer listening, but I told him he might as well have been speaking Martian. After being in Taiwan for a while, though, I started becoming more familiar with Mandarin sounds and then more easily connected the word to the sound I was hearing.
Both of these experiences remind me of the old Charlie Brown cartoons. When the kids in Charlie Brown cartoons speak (Charlie Brown and his friends), you can understand them. They speak English. When an adult speaks, however, all you hear is "wah wah wah wah wah". When I first went to France, or when I first came to Taiwan, all I heard was "wah wah wah wah" (in different accents). You can listen to this clip from a Charlie Brown cartoon to see what I mean:
So when you are learning a new language, you should "tune your ear" to the sounds by getting as much listening practice as you can, even if you don't understand the words very well. As your ear becomes accustomed to the sounds of that language, you will gradually start to recognize more words. Once you are able to recognize the words, you will more easily be able to attach their meaning to them.