Make sure listening isn’t a practical problem

As I have settled in another article (Listening, a matter of practice?), listening is mostly about quantity and there are few tricks you can use that will allow you avoid this fact. However, even though “listening a lot” is a very straightforward and uncomplicated strategy, it is very hard to follow for most people. How do you keep on spending the hours you need to improve, especially when you know that the road is so long? Well, the answer is not simple either, but I will try to answer one part of it here (the rest can be found in a special article dedicated to this problem: How to find more time to practise listening.

Rule number one: Make sure you can listen whenever you want to, wherever you are

If you ever find yourself in a situation where you are alone and aren’t doing anything important, you should be able to listen to Chinese if you want to. If you can’t, you have made a mistake and need to change something to avoid this in the future. This sounds easy, but even I, who have listened to audio books for about ten hours a week for many, many years, fail sometimes.

Here are some common problems:

  • You haven’t found any suitable material
  • You haven’t downloaded the material to your portable media player
  • You earphones aren’t working properly
  • You’re out of batteries
  • You forgot your media player at home

Except for the first point (which will be dealt with in a separate article), these are all issues that can be easily solved. The goal is to make sure you never encounter these problems at all, because it will decrease the time you can practise listening by a significant amount, if allowed to accumulate. If you’ve found suitable material, make sure you’ve transferred the oaudio to your phone and have it ready. Transfer some extra audio in case you need it. I usually do this in large chunks, so I have fifty hours of radio shows recorded or podcasts. Always make sue that part of this is on your media player, even if it’s not the ideal listening material.Listening to something twice is not bad, so don’t remove old audio if you can’t replace it with new.

Failing earphones, forgotten phones

Regarding earphones, throw away or repair those that only work half the time. I tend to be lazy and not buy new ones even when my current pair isn’t working properly. This is completely unnecessary and stupid. Besides, you can easily buy more than one pair at a time. If you’re not in a hurry, you can buy very cheap and reasonably good earphones from eBay for almost no money.

The remedy to the problem of forgetting the audio at home is hard to get at, but most people seem to be able to remember their phones. Even if you follow the below advice of having an mp3-player just for Chinese, you can still have some audio on your phone (or any other device you happen to carry around), thus avoiding putting all eggs in the same basket. If you have audio on an mp3-player in your bag, some podcasts on your phone and still more on your laptop, you should be safe.

In fact, there is one thing you can do which will make everything a lot easier:

Get hold of a cheap mp3-player and only use it for Chinese

If you don’t already have an old one or if you can’t find a friend who has, these come really cheap these days and listening only to audio, the batteries will last for ages. This way, your everyday life won’t interfere very much with your listening practice (such as not having enough space on your phone, batteries running out, and so on). If you buy an mp3-player without internal batteries, you can easily have a few extra AAA batteries handy to make sure you never run out of power.

If we can’t even manage practical problems, how are we supposed to cope with the more complicated problems of motivation and perseverance?

If we have agreed on that the main problem with listening is that we don’t listen enough, encountering technical or practical problems is unforgivable. Every time you encounter a practical problem which makes you unable to listen even though you want to, ask yourself the above question and let it be a sobering reminder. Managing practical problem is a prerequisite for dealing with more complicated problems. Listening a lot is hard, don’t make it harder than it have to be.