Welcome to the very first episode of a new series, Language Diary!
As the name suggests, in this series, I’ll be vlogging about my thoughts on the language learning journey, as well as sharing with you guys some things that I’m currently doing with my languages.
Each episode will come with a challenge, so you’re not just listening to me rant on about the topic – you’ll be able to hopefully take something away from the video.
Today’s topic will be: “Reading, speaking, listening, writing – the most important skill is…”.
This is just my take on it, so feel free to comment on what you think about it below!
The video is down below, with subs, and the full transcript, as well as the challenge is below the video if you prefer reading over watching.
I do apologize if my video seems cringeworthy, so many things went wrong, but I just decided to publish it anyway (I think you’re more interested in what’s in the video than my bland background or the weird expressions I make anyway lol).
Thanks for dropping by and I look forward to hearing from you!
Hello, good day everyone, 大家好, and welcome to the first ever episode of Language Diary.
In this series, (sorry I should look at the camera, I always forget, because I feel that if I’m looking at myself in the video [on-screen], I’m looking at the camera – as you can see I don’t do this a lot, so please forgive me if I seem like a complete amateur).
So in this series, I’m just going to be talking about some of my thoughts regarding the language learning process, and perhaps to share a couple what I’m doing with my own languages, so hopefully that’s something that’s both interesting, and hopefully somewhat informative to you guys.
So today’s topic would be, as you can see with the title of the video, out of the four skills of language learning, so there’s reading, writing, listening and speaking, and out of those four skills, which is the most important one?
So, my answer’s gonna be two-pronged. I’m not going to say “all the skills are equally are as important”, because I don’t think they’re necessarily equally as important.
So I actually do have one answer. In my personal opinion, I think that the most important skill, without a single hint of a doubt, has to be listening.
And listening is so important because when you’re able to understand (excuse me, I have a bit of a cough!), when you’re able to understand a language, that’s when you start to feel you’ve unlocked your potential to that language, you’ve unlocked the “secret door” that allows you to access so much more in the language.
That’s reason number one, when you can understand what you hear around you, you can learn so much faster.
Number two, the vocabulary and structures you pick up through listening instead of through reading, they’re going to stick a lot longer, they’re going to be a lot stickier than learning through reading because if you listen to something and comprehend something, it’s going to be comprehension that’s contextual, and it’s also going to be comprehension that’s intuitive, so you understand it at a very deep, intuitive level that’s close to how a native speaker would understand it. Whereas if you’re reading something and you understand a word or a structure, it might not be as close to that core of understanding. Those would be the reasons, to me, for placing such a strong emphasis on listening.
And, also I feel that it’s very important because listening is probably the most understated and underestimated skill of all the four skills, and I feel that it deserves so much more attention and care when it comes to language learning. So those are my reasons for thinking that listening is the most important.
And so, how exactly should we listen?
To be more specific, I’ve written down seven “stages” I think we go through when listening. So, I’d love to share those with you, and perhaps you can see if that makes sense, and if that resonates with what you’re doing to train up your listening.
Stage 0 would be in the beginning, when a foreign language to you sounds like just a bunch of sounds, it doesn’t sound like anything, it doesn’t have any meaning, it’s just random sounds.
Hopefully the next level up, stage 1, would be that you’re able to distinguish the individual sounds of each word, and you can start to say, “hey you know what, this isn’t just a bunch of sounds I’m hearing, there’s actually language, this is actually a foreign language and I can start to hear these sounds belong to that language.” So you have an awareness of the sounds in that language. So that’s stage 1.
Stage 2 is when you’re, on top of being able to say that “those are actually sounds in that language”, you can say, “hey I can actually catch a couple of words, in terms of what I just heard, I can effectively grab a couple of words and start understanding a little bit of what people are saying.” So in other words, you’re able to start establishing word boundaries, so what separates one word from another.
And so, the next step up is when you’re really able to take that to a fairly high level, and so you’re able to establish word boundaries to the extent where you can probably transcribe everything, or close to everything, that a person says, on paper in at most two listens (which I think is reasonable in most cases that mirrors how native speakers listen as well). And so, at that stage you’re able to listen, you’re really good at mapping what you hear (in terms of sounds), to how words are spelt, to words you’ve learned, or even words you haven’t learned, as an extended bonus.
And that ability’s going to be crucial to developing your listening comprehension later on. Because there are two parts of it, aren’t there? One would be listening, in terms of being able to convert the sounds that you hear into words that you know, or don’t know. And then the other part would be to translate the words that you have down there, into an understanding, into comprehension, into understanding what’s going on.
So, one level up from that, stage 4, is where you’re able to, on top of having a very high level of dictation ability, you’re able to single out important keywords in what people listen to, so you can really start establishing the main context, and the main gist of what people talk about when listening to an extended speech or something like that, or a clip, like a YouTuber talking or something like that.
After that, one level up from that, would be stage 5, I believe, where you’re able to not only understand, pick up keywords and build up your understanding from there, you’re able to pick up key phrases, like collocations, fixed phrases, or just longer phrases and build up your comprehension from there. You have a more well-rounded and comprehensive kind of understanding of what you’re listening to.
And one level up from that would be, at that point, you’re pretty much, your comprehension is really just spot-on. And at stage 6, you’re probably able to understand everything that you hear.
That’s such a godsend, to be able to do that. But obviously, it’s not [a] godsend because you’ve put in so much effort to be able to do that through listening, through reading, and all the other skills.
As a matter of fact, I feel like all the other skills you do in order to ramp up your listening, which in turn, strengthens the other pillars of your skills. And that’s how important I feel listening is.
And at that point, you’re pretty much able to understand everything you hear, but let me be clear, in topics you’re interested in and that you’ve actually studied before. In areas that you haven’t listened to, your comprehension would be a little lower. But that’s fine, even for native speakers, if they listen to something they’re unfamiliar with, their comprehension goes down, that’s perfectly normal.
And so, last but not least, you’ve got the ultimate stage, the seventh stage, which I take it to interpret as the ability to distinguish the subtlest of nuances when listening. You’re able to pick up things like double entendre, double meaning, metaphors, or maybe even sarcasm. You’re able to not just understand things at a surface level, you’re able to understand highly figurative language, and fairly quickly as well, given how fast a lot of languages are, especially in comparison to English.
This is why I feel like why English speakers have a lot of trouble understanding other languages, just because they’re so much faster than English. I think virtually every single language on this planet is faster than English.
So that would be my answer to that question.
The second prong of my answer to that question is that, after listening, the skill that’s most important to you really depends, I think, on what your goals are and where you’re at.
For example, if you’re like me, and you don’t have a lot of opportunities to actually use the languages you’re studying, perhaps, I feel, writing would be a really good way to fill in that void, because you’re going to have an opportunity to strengthen and reinforce vocabulary that you might not have a lot of opportunities to use.
Or you can practise monologuing with yourself, or you might decide you feel that speaking is important, if you do have the opportunity to speak, or you need to speak a lot because you’re in that country, then speaking might be your number one priority after that.
And, number three, reading could be something you might want to focus on, especially when you’re moving from a beginner’s to an intermediate stage, and you really need to get used to, and get comfortable in seeing that language, so that’s something that depends on where you’re at, and what your goals are.
So that would be my two-pronged answer to the question, which skill is the most important skill of the four skills.
Okay, so that is that.
And, I feel that at the end of each episode (if you can call it that), I also want to share with you guys some exercises you can do, so you won’t just be listening to me ranting on about a topic, you’re actually hopefully picking up something useful that you can apply to your own language studies.
So today’s exercise is going to be, I would like to challenge you to pick a clip, from your favourite YouTuber, in a language you’re learning, maybe a news clip or a drama clip, depending on what you like. For me, [for example], I pick news clips, because dramas and YouTubers are actually very hard to understand. But with news, the language is a lot more straightforward.
So pick one of your favourite clips, and try to transcribe maybe 30 seconds to one minute of a section of that clip, of what you hear. Listen to it again if you need to, to fill in the gaps that you might have left during the first iteration. This will essentially tell you how much you can listen to, how good your listening ability is, and how well you can comprehend.
And that’s my challenge for you today, and that’s about it, in terms of time for today.
Thank you so much for tuning in, guys, start of the new series, I hope you guys will enjoy the content to come, and I look forward to sharing more thoughts with you guys, and hopefully my own forays into language learning. Alright, that’s it from me for now, and I will hopefully see you guys in a different episode. Thank you for watching, once again, and bye for now.
1. Pick your favourite YouTube, news or drama clip
2. Select your favourite segment of the clip
3. Transcribe 30 seconds (1 minute if you can manage!) of the clip
4. Assess how much you can listen, check with a native speaker if you can