Hacking Chinese

A better way of learning Mandarin

How to find more time to practise Chinese listening

As I have written before, listening is mostly a matter of practice. There are some things you can do to increase the time, however, such as eliminating practical problems, but if you really want to listen a lot, you need to really make an effort. If you want to improve your listening ability to a very high level (or very quickly if you’re a beginner), you need to make listening to Chinese a part of your life.

Two approaches to extending the time available for listening

Having eliminated practical problems (see above), it’s time to look at how to make more time available for listening. These are not different methods, but simply different angles from which to approach the problem that there is never enough time to do everything. The first method focuses on listening at the same time as doing something important, the other emphasises how listening can be made more worthwhile by doing something else at the same time. As can be seen, the difference between the two is merely a shift in focus.

Doing something important and listening to Chinese at the same time

Life is full of things that we have to do and that eats up a lot of time, such as walking, cooking, doing the laundry and so on. These are things that usually can’t be neglected, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t combine them with listening practice. Many menial everyday activities can be combined with listening without trouble, although it might requite some practice before it works smoothly.

Here are a few examples:

  • Walking/driving/biking
  • Doing the laundry
  • Washing dishes
  • Shopping groceries
  • Cleaning/tidying up
  • Cooking
  • Eating

The amount of time spent on these activities every day will of course vary from person to person, but a rough estimate is that I spend around 20 hours weekly on these activities. Again, depending on your civil status and social situations, not all of this time will be available for listening purposes (you can’t listen to the radio while eating with your spouse or put your earphones on when taking a walk with your neighbour), but even if only half the time is available, it’s still ten hours!

Don’t worry if you don’t focus very much on what you hear, because anything is better than nothing. If you want to read more about background listening, check my article about it.

Doing something else while listening to make it more worthwhile

You can also approach the problem from the opposite direction. Say that you’ve found a radio show you want to listen to, but leading a hectic life, you might not find the time to sit down and just listen. Then why don’t you try to find something you can do at the same time, which will perhaps not be worthwhile on its own, but is ok when combined with the listening practice? You can do this with virtually anything, but here are some suggestions of varying degrees of seriousness:

  • Gardening/replanting potted plants
  • Knitting/sewing/crafting
  • Reorganising drawers/cupboards
  • Baking/cooking
  • Jogging/exercising
  • Playing video/computer games

Actually, you can combine listening with almost anything that doesn’t require you to hear what’s going on. If you listen to recorded material, it isn’t very important that you understand or hear everything either, you can just play the same part again if something made you lose focus.

Practice makes perfect

Listening to audio while doing the above-mentioned tasks requires some skill and most people can’t do it flawlessly without practice. If you try listening to Chinese while cooking and constantly lose focus on either task, don’t give up! I wasn’t particularly good at this when I started out, but now I can comfortably combine most tasks with listening to Chinese if I want to. With practice and some patience, you can too.

Challenge yourself and see how much time you can find!

Even though we can surely find many hours of time every week, I should say something about humans being human and not robots. Don’t overdo it! If you find music you really like or a radio programme you enjoy, listen as much as you can, but filling every second of your waking time with something useful might prove very tiring in the long run. Listen to yourself as well as to Chinese!

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  1. Libor says:

    Hallo, I enjoy all your articles a lot, since time I´ve discovered your webpage. This article is very useful, from my experience, I used to listen chinese dialogues, while working on my PC or having fun on the internet and it helped (and it´s still helping) me with understanding tones, speach, remembering vocabulary or give base for pronouncation in natural way. I especially agree with last paragraph of this article, as you have written on another post, one should enjoy his practise. Aim is not to get flustrated or dissatisfied with spending “only” two hours with chinese instead of spending four with it.

    Best to you

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