5-Steps for Intensive Listening: How to Improve Listening Comprehension in a Foreign Language

Your listening comprehension in a foreign language can be one of the biggest hurdles you’ll face when learning languages. You probably feel so frustrated, annoyed and hopeless. This is how I have felt.


Are your listening skills making you feel stuck in your language learning?

I’ve made blank stares at native speakers of foreign languages because I simply couldn’t understand what they were saying. I have also sat confused as I tried watching a foreign language film in the language that I’m learning, because I could only understand a few words here and there, but I could never grasp the full meaning of what people were saying. What’s worse is that I have actually failed a foreign language exam (the Spanish DELE B2 test), mainly because my listening skills were not up to par with my other language skills.

Mr muscles

You’ve probably had similar situations as these with the foreign languages that you are learning, too.

Your listening comprehension (or lack of it) may be your biggest hurdle in learning a foreign language, as I have found that it is with me.

Using Intensive Listening SRS (ILS) to train your ears to listen intensively to a foreign language

Given that my listening comprehension skills need to be improved, I began focusing on this area of language learning. I tested a few different methods, until I discovered a method of intensive listening mixed with SRS, Spaced Repetition System.

I call my method “Intensive Listening SRS” or ILS, and you can use Anki or another SRS flashcard app or program to help you do it.

You can use the following tools to help you do Intensive Listening SRS by yourself. Here they are:

  • Anki – to help you create and study flashcards that use a Spaced Repetition System
  • YouTube Video or MP3 Audio – that is your native source material in your target language
  • Transcription or Subtitles of the YouTube Video or MP3 Audio
  • Clip Converter at www.clipconverter.cc – to help you create short snippets of the video or audio in MP3 format


5 Steps for the Intensive Listening SRS (ILS)

  1. Find a video or audio that interests you. Make sure it’s a video or audio about something you like. Also make sure that you can find a transcription or subtitles of the video/audio. I suggest an audio that is at least 20 seconds in total length to around 10 minutes in length. Anything longer is still OK, especially if the audio or video interests you.
  2. Find an audio sentence where you don’t understand it all, and you feel like you don’t fully comprehend the sentence just by listening to it.
  3. Use a special website, app or program to create an MP3 audio snippet of the audio sentence.
  4. Add the audio to the front side of a flashcard in an SRS flashcard program (such as Anki. I strongly suggest to also add a related image to this front side of the card, such as a screenshot of the video or any other image related to the context of what is being said. Add the actual transcribed text of the audio on the back side.
  5. Study your flashcards daily, and pretty soon, you’ll notice that your ability to comprehend what you’re listening to improves.

A Special Note About Creating and Studying the Listening Comprehension Flashcards

Ensure that 2 flashcards are created in your SRS.

a) One card that just gives you the audio, where you need to:

  1. transcribe in your head what is being said in the audio, as well as…
  2. be able to shadow the person speaking. By “shadowing”, I mean that you should be able to speak exactly what the person is saying at the same speed, intonation and pronunciation.

If you can do these 2 things, then you can mark the card as “Good” or “Learned”. If you cannot do either of thing correctly or are having difficulty and you feel you need more practice, then mark the card as “Hard” or “Again”.

b) The second flashcard should just show you the transcribed sentence, where you need to:

  1. be able to read the sentence with ease and say it at the same speed, intonation and pronunciation as the native speaker saying it.
  2. understand what all of the words mean.

If you can do these 2 things, then you can mark the card as “Good” or “Learned”. If you cannot do either of thing correctly or are having difficulty and you feel you need more practice, then mark the card as “Hard” or “Again”.

Benefits of Using the Intensive Listening Spaced Repetition System to Learn a Language

Here are the core benefits of following the Intensive Listening SRS system:

  • You train your ears to listen to the words and what is exactly said, as well as the meaning of those words and sentences. Over time, your ears will be more accustomed to listening to native speakers and the speed at which they usually talk.
  • You are not guessing or merely getting the “gist” of an audio. You will get the exact meaning.
  • Your brain will start to separate the words you hear, and connected speech becomes easier, since you get to see the transcript or subtitles of the audio or video.
  • You also get to practice your speaking skills through the shadowing aspect. You train yourself to speak as fast as a native speaker.
  • You focus on the words and sentences that are the hardest for you to comprehend (via listening) and hardest for you to speak (via shadowing), since the Spaced Repetition System of the flashcards will continue to prioritize on the hardest audios.
  • You will never forget how to comprehend or speak the sentences and words you’ve learned because the SRS flashcards push the cards further out into the future, as the cards get more ingrained in your memory. Whenever you do forget how to comprehend or speak a certain sentence, then you can again focus on that flashcard.
  • You get to choose audio and video materials that you actually enjoy, which are in the target foreign language.

The Bottom Line on Intensive Listening

When it comes to intensive listening, always make sure you are listening to things that interest you or are relevant to you. This will ensure that you are motivated to keep doing intensive listening for the long-term.

Also, make sure that you try and make the audios you choose progressively harder. If audios and videos become too easy for you and you comprehend everything already when you listen to it, then try and find sentences, dialogues, accents and slang in conversations that you can listen to in your target language to help boost your listening comprehension even further.

Finally, using SRS or a spaced repetition system is critical if you want to stick what you’ve learned from listening into your long term memory.

So, use my simple 5 steps for intensive listening, and enjoy the improvements you’ll make in your listening comprehension in a foreign language.

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