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It seems like today we want everything now. We get our dinner at a drive-through, we wash our hair with shampoo and conditioner in one bottle, and we always want to do more things in the least amount of time.
All that multi-tasking and rushing around may not always be for the best, however. In this post, I’m going to focus on a topic on which a whole industry is based that needs to be thought out a little more carefully. I’m talking about “passive listening”.
Passive listening is what happens when you’re busy doing something while some type of noise is going on around you – like a radio, or the television, or your iPod. You’re not really paying attention to the sound, but it’s there.
There are language learning systems based on this idea that encourage you to listen and learn in your car, while doing housework, sleeping, or any other activity. All you have to do is let the sound play and go about your business. It is claimed the brain will subconsciously absorb the material and process it automatically. The problem is, without focusing on the material, the benefits you receive from this amounts to about 5% of what you could get if you were giving your full attention to the lesson.
Why are these methods being created and marketed? They cater to the everyday thoughts of “I don’t have time” or “I’m too busy”, so just letting the lessons run in the background seems the best way to do it.
Unfortunately, these passive listening methods just aren’t all that effective if they’re the only way you try to learn. You are led to believe you’re doing something useful, but when it comes time to actually use the language, you may be disappointed if you can’t speak or understand it despite all the time and “work” you put in.
First off, don’t turn off your radio or stop listening to podcasts – they are still useful tools. I’m just letting you know that passive listening is not the one and only way to learn a language. If you’ve never learned a language before, you may be better off using a software program or a book and CD combo pack to begin learning.
That said, there are a few benefits to passive listening. For example, you can use it to get used to the sounds of the language before tackling a language course or class. You can listen to the rhythm and tone of the speech, how questions sound in contrast to statements, how native speakers sounds when expressing emotions like joy, anger, sadness, etc.
In your more advanced lessons, you can also use passive listening to go on to help you keep the language fresh in your mind. This is when the brain will actually absorb the information and think “Hey, I recognize that word/phrase!” before filing it in your long term memory.
Be More Active!
There’s only so far you can go with passive methods, though. It’s a fact that in order to effectively learn a language, you will need to actively devote time and effort to the different aspects of the language. You can continue with listening activities, but give the audio your full attention and analyze it. The pause and rewind buttons should be your best friends – use them often.
Whenever you can, take a few minutes and listen actively. Listen to the audio CDs or online radio and write notes about what is being said (use a dictionary if you have to). Be active with your language by finding ways to converse with natives as soon as possible.
Tell us about how you use active listening in your language learning courses. How has it benefitted you? Do you have any stories or tips to share?