Why is listening so hard for me?

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Listening always seems to challenge language learners. I often get the complaint from beginning learners that everything seems to just run together. I often get the complaint from more advanced learners that by the time the figure out what’s said first, they’ve missed everything that follows.

What makes listening so challenging for language learners? It’s the lack of control. Let’s picture it in terms of four different elements and go over each:

Graphic of 4 listening challenges
4 Challenging Components

Speed: You may be able to ask someone to slowdown, but not always. You have no control over how fast the actors on your favorite TV program speak.

Speaker: The speaker (or speakers) you’re listening to may have different accents or use different dialects. You have no control over the speaker and the pronunciation that person has.

Background Noise:
When you’re on your cell and an ambulance drives by, or you drive into a tunnel, the background noise makes focusing on the meaning of the words very difficult. Of course, it always seems like that critical piece of information is right when the two Vespas pass you on the corner.

Vocabulary: When you’re in a class, your teacher knows what you know and what to test you on. When you’re required to use the language in the real word, you have no control over what words the speaker is going to use.