My listening ability in te reo is probably my worst thing – it seems I generally hear just an occasional verb or noun, and I definitely miss almost all of the actual grammar parts, and generally get distracted for whole chunks. So unless I can put together a general idea using context – which is fine in most real situations but not in assessments – then I have no idea what’s going on.
I was intending to work on listening skills properly this year… but I haven’t.
Despite this, I noticed this weekend (at the noho) that I was processing the speech of our teacher as sentences. So, what I mean is that instead of it kind of coming in to my mind as words that had to be put together, it was coming in as whole sentences. They were fairly short, simple sentences, but the point is that my brain seemed to be processing them as a whole concept.
One of the things that is tricky when learning a language is that words might be coming in in a different order than you’re used to – so you can’t just do a literal translation word-for-word in your head because it doesn’t always make sense. And particularly with long sentences or multiple clauses, you wonder how you are supposed to remember what happened at the start, so that you can match it up with what’s happening at the end. There’s too much going on if you have to remember all the different bits, and translate them, and then maybe alter the translations based on the context of what comes in later, and then put it all together at the end. Magically, when you understand a language properly (for example, your own first language), it seems that you understand each word of a sentence as it comes, despite not knowing what’s coming up. But really I think you must be processing the sentence (or rather, each phrase) as a whole at the end, while seeming to experience it in real time.
And so because of this, I think that this is a big, although perhaps subtle, breakthrough! I don’t think I just suddenly started processing whole (short) sentences on Saturday, but rather that because there were a lot of short, simply structured sentences in a row, I started to notice my ability to understand them. What’s more, I was able to notice that I could understand them, and still understand them! I sat there and I could understand what she was saying at the same time that I was thinking, “well, this is interesting, I’m translating whole sentences. Look, I’m still doing it. This seems new.” What I think this means is that listening wasn’t taking all of my brain power and attention, and was instead happening automatically in some kind of special “language processing” layer, rather than “conscious thought” layer.
This stuff is tough to write about because I don’t know if it makes sense to anyone else and I don’t know if we’re all operating from the same frame of reference – because who really knows how anyone else thinks?! But let me know in the comments if you remember any of your own language listening breakthroughs 🙂