When do I get a listening epiphany?

Often when you hear people talking about learning a language, they describe a moment when they “just suddenly understood what people were saying”. Realistically this is not usually a permanent switch from not understanding to understanding, but rather something that happens multiple times in multiple occasions, as the ability comes and goes.

I have not had this experience.

I have not had really anything like this experience, and I regularly seem to understand very little of what people are saying in my target language, te reo Māori. Even when I understand a whole paragraph or conversation, it’s actually just that I picked up a bunch of verbs and nouns and extrapolated really well from the context of the discussion. Sometimes I can translate whole sentences. Sometimes I can “understand” an isolated word or word-phrase without translation.

I wonder what it will be like to understand another language. What will it sound like, when I understand it? Will it just “sound” like English does, in that it doesn’t exactly sound like words but “sounds” like meaning? If I simply “understand”, how do I know which language it is I’m listening to? I would really like to have this experience, and sometimes when I’m not sure why I’m even doing this anymore, that’s my driving motivation – I just want to know what it’s like to understand this language!

 

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2 thoughts on “When do I get a listening epiphany?

  1. A good question. I think I may have made it sound like I have reached that magic place when I’ve excitedly said ‘I understood. I understood what he said!’ but what’s happening is what you’ve described: I have recognised words, phrases, patterns and I’ve put these together to make meaning. This is what we all do – whatever the language. The more I listen to the patterns, I more I recognise that much is the same (e.g. at a pōwhiri or the start of a meeting). It’s the one to one interaction that I’m wanting to do well – it’s HARD but I’m motivated because I’m right in front of the person I’m having a conversation with and I WANT to understand and be understood. But, it’s exhausting. I don’t let the words at the pōwhiri wash over me: I strain to understand and probably I don’t but I make up the narrative with the few words and phrases I do know. Listening comprehension is the hardest part of communication. I know – almost all my students do way worse in this section of testing – even in their first language. But yeah, like you, I think I’m looking for that ‘switch’….

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  2. For me, it’s been a matter of time. More listening helps. And you’re right, it’s not a one moment realization. However, over time I’ve become a lot better about understanding spoken Māori. Listening to things which you know a bit about helps – and fortunately when it’s a conversation, you can ask for clarification. All the best with the listening! Ngā mihi!

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