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Repetitive listening for language learning - how often should we listen?

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Repetitive listening is a powerful way to get used to a new language. How often should we listen to the same content?

The key is to do what you want to do. There are two principles at work.

1) Repetition: Repetition helps to create new neural networks in the brain.
2) Novelty: The brain likes new things. Once you are bored, you stop noticing and you stop learning.

You have to find your own balance between repetition and novelty. Some content is interesting, or you like the voice and you can listen many times. Some content you do not want to listen to again. Keep the interest level up, and choose when to repeat and when to move on.

It is your own personal journey.


I usually get bored after the second listening.
Hope I won't be crucified for my comment. :o) Me, the infidel one! :o)

Posted by: Igor

I know some people that can listen to a news broadcast over 50 times in a row, but I'd just want to hang myself after that.

Only with movies I feel the urge to watch/listen it again and again (simply because I enjoy it every time).

My advice is to just listen something as many times as you want, but you shouldn't do it because you think you need to listen to it again.

Posted by: Ramses

Interesting. I can rarely watch a movie more than once. I can listen to content in a new language over and over, no problem. When I was learning Chinese I found that the rhythm of the Xiang Sheng comics like Hou Baolin was almost hypnotic. I could listen over an over. It helps when there are parts that you always can't seem to understand. This helps to keep you alert, hoping to get it the next time.

Posted by: Steve Kaufmann

I try to listen to the same podcast in Spanish for 10 times at least. I saw your video on youtube about the guy that listened to the same podcast for 1000 times!! And got near-native fluency in 3 years. I'd like to know more about it. What kind of podcasts did he listen to? How did he choose them. Did he only listen to it or also read along with it? Thanks.

Posted by: Marcelo

I usually listen to the same content 400-500 times on average as what my Ipod displays.

I tend to get bored after about the 10th re-listen and then tune out. If there is that 1 sentence I must recall, I listen to it over 1000 times and I found my fluency or automatism of that phrase becomes second nature.

So I now normally follow about 3 different dialogues together in a loop over and over, rather than the same dialogue over and over.

Posted by: Milan

Finding new and interesting content is one of my biggest problems. Some of the Lingq pod casts from Vera's diary I've listened to 20 times other don't feel right when I first listen to them.
Competing against L2 content I have LOTS of english ipod and radio content that I'm always interested in.

Posted by: Michael

Michael is it not time to graduate to some of the native speaker podcasts that we have in the library?

Posted by: Steve Kaufmann

Michael, I'm sure there is plenty of interesting content out there, only it does not come with a transcript.

Try not to limit your content options to stuff that already comes with a transcript.

Consider hiring a native speaker to produce transcripts for you for any interesting content that you find, for example, on YouTube. Download the audio from the YouTube videos (very easy to do), import the transcript into LingQ, and you're set.

If you're willing to go this far, your content options are pretty much infinite.

Posted by: Marc

You should never listen to content that is boring or bores you!

I think the best types of content for repeated listening are conversations that are not too simple, and not so complex that you don't understand anything. Also it should be fairly short (1-20 minutes).

I Think if the content is very short, then listening to it too many times in a short time period leads to burn-out.
I don't understand people listening to the same content 1000 times, my mp3 player doesn't keep track of play counts, but I don't think I listen to most stuff more than 30 times before I feel I understand it and can move on. of course I'm listening to fairly simple stuff that incrementally becomes more complex.

I do the same as Steve, I listen til I get bored and move on. I don't really care if I've understood everything yet because I can come back again later if I want. And if there's something important that I've missed it will show up again in something else. So there is no reason to listen to content that is boring.

Posted by: John W

I usually listen to the same content several times. But instead of trying to force myself about listening in a row, I try to use 4 or 5 mp3 or more. In this way, if I get bored with one, I go to for another (btw, shuffle mode is great for this). I also combine it with listening just one time other interesting content, without worring to much about understanding 100%.

Posted by: Òscar


This person from China listened to the same CD 1,000 times. He claimed that it was effective for getting the pronunciation. Obviously it will not help him acquire a large vocabulary. I think, though, that repetitive listening to limited content can help with pronunciation. It was my experience as well, although I did not get to 1000 times! The problem is finding something that you are prepared to listen to a lot.

Posted by: Steve Kaufmann

Thanks for you reply Steve. That sounds more like Pimsleur's CD's.

Posted by: Marcelo

How often should we listen to the same content?

Once? It's possibly more ideal hearing something similar but slightly different every time.

Posted by: Kevin Geoghegan

I add each item to my iTunes library and slowly build up a collection which I shuffle and listen to over and over. Obviously, in the eatly stages I might only have 10 or so items, but as the content amount gradually increases, so does the ratio of repetition with novelty, since I end up listening to the older items less and less as a result of adding more and more new content. This way the process feels natural and I don't have to worry too much about how many times to listen. The only factor controlling it is the rate at which I study new content. I will always be "reviewing" and re-listening to old content items when iTunes runs over them with the shuffler.

Posted by: Chris

I think Kevin has an interesting point here. I remember when I first moved over to Germany (i.e. before I had really got to know too many folks) I would just spent most evenings and weekends sitting in my home chain-smoking cigarettes and watching German TV. I have sometimes wondered whether this was what got me off the ground with speaking German? (The TV I mean, not the cigarettes!)

The point is, if you watch TV a lot in a foreign language, you are getting roughly the same pool of words, but in continually changing combinations. (And of course the pictures help you to figure out roughly what the action is too.)

Posted by: Teutophobe Jones

I think Chris is on the right track. I do not agree with Kevin at all. Repetitive listening is a the core of my approach to learning a new language. I also do not spend much time watching TV or movies that I do not understand.

Posted by: Steve Kaufmann

Source: thelinguist.blogs.com

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