Please, don’t make listening to Chinese harder than it needs to be.
Figuring out what Chinese people say isn’t easy. They tend to speak very fast, and with accents different from the perfect Mandarin your teacher uses. Even the tones sound different than what you’d expect (because of tone sandhi).
You’d think that with all the things that make Chinese listening such a difficult skill, that Chinese learners wouldn’t make things harder for themselves. But they do.
Multitasking = not listening
Many years ago, computers brought us multitasking (doing two things at once), and since then people have convinced themselves that they, too, can multitask. People can’t multitask. Your brain isn’t good at task switching. Multitasking during listening practice, isn’t really practicing listening.
Here are some common examples of what people do but shouldn’t do. Avoid them.
- Stop translating (interpreting) what you’re hearing. Lots of beginners translate themselves out of a conversation. They half listen and half match the Chinese words they hear with the English translations they know. This is very hard to do. Unless you’re a professional interpreter, trying to translate in your head is the quickest way to lose track of what you’re listening to.
- Stop rewinding the conversation. It’s easy to get lost when someone speaks faster than you’re used to, or uses words you’re not familiar with. But the problem just compounds when you try to rewind the conversation and figure out what they just said. When you think about what someone said in the past, you’re missing out on what they’re saying right now. Instead of doting on what you didn’t catch, focus on what they’re saying in the present. You’re much more likely to figure out what you missed later on in the conversation.
- Stop looking up words in a dictionary. Are you really capable of flipping pages, reading and listening to someone talk at the same time? I understand the desire to do this because it’s happened to me: you just have to know the meaning of the word you just heard for the first time. Don’t worry, you’re bound to encounter that word again, trust me. If you really must know what word they used, record the conversation and make notes later.
- Stop the distractions. Don’t do your listening practice in a noisy environment. You shouldn’t have to ask your tutor to repeat themselves because the coffee shop you’re in is noisy.
If you avoid these pitfalls, you’re on the way to getting really good listening practice.