How good can I get at listening in 8 weeks?

Sorry for the slightly clickbait title.

So I currently work in a high school as an ALT and I run a kind of independent research class (not an English class although within my specific research class the students must choose a topic related to “海外”, language learning, or the English language and they have the option to do their final presentation in English). Sometimes the students lack a clear vision of what a good final presentation and project would look like so I thought I would make an example for them. Originally I was going to just mock something up but I thought this would be a good excuse to do a little study project and dress it up as anecdotal research so after mulling over a few ideas I settled on the theme: How good can I get at listening in 8 weeks?

Short note on why the time period is 8 weeks

I have test week and then two-ish weeks of classes followed by the summer holidays. Although I have work over this period it is far less than normal so I will have extra time and energy to study. I will take some breaks through the summer and this isn’t a speed run kind of project but I will try to work hard regardless. I will have a week spare at the end of summer to write my results up and write my presentation (in Japanese) to present to my students.


First, I want to quickly define listening so it is clear what the task at hand is. So, what is “listening”? This may sound like a silly question but in the context of language learning there are multiple competences and skills involved with listening as a whole. To keep things simple I am going to just mention a few different but related skills such as: the ability to catch sounds; the ability to smoothly comprehend familiar words and grammar in context; the ability to identify and isolate unknown words and grammar in context.

Second, there is the question of what is meant by “getting good”. This is not a real scientific study but I still don’t want to make my tests overly narrow and thus make any progress seem better than it really is. As such, I am going to use two different testing methods with the intention of showing progress in some areas but not all. The first and easiest test to adminster is just taking an N1 past paper listening section (or mock test version). The second test is to take a wide cross-section of native audio media and work out what percentage of words and sentences I understand. I will have three graded categories of “unknown/not understand”. The worst level being “I do not understand this sentence properly”. The second level being “I do not understand this word (in this context)”. The first level being “I am not familiar with this word but I can understand it in this context”. Notably I can still understand what is happening at that first level but I am likely meeting the word for the first time or that usage for the first time. These would be so-called i+1 sentences. As for what media to use, I will probably use 10-15 different sources across various speech registers and topics and use 20-30 minute sections. At the end of the 8 weeks I will repeat the percentage measurements with both the original clips used and with similar but different clips (e.g., an episode of the same show). I am interested how much influence having seen the clip once before, even 8 weeks prior, has on my comprehension.


My methodology: Following the categorisations of Paul Nation I will divide activities between four main areas. First, meaning-focused input. This is widely known as comprehensible input in the online Japanese learning community and this is the focus of Krashen’s research and the AJATT method, etc. Second, meaning-focused output. This is an area often neglected by many non-traditional learners and, equally, an area often over-emphasised and rushed into by more traditional learners. It may be known to many here as pushed output. Third, fluency development. This covers all four skills, not just speaking. This is the extensive reading level of input (98%+ comprehension) and focuses on i-1 level input/output. Fourth, language-focused learning. This is traditional textbook study, grammar study, vocab SRS, etc. It is explicit learning intended to help acquisition. I won’t go into the details and theory behind these areas in this post (probably will do in the final update) but there are good reasons to balance these areas, although the balance will depend on the goals and inclinations of the student.

Meaning-focused input activities: Inlcudes any close listening, using subtitles and a dictionary to help increas comprehension. Mostly 90-97% comprehensible material. Will include some reading as I don’t think I will totally give up reading. These activities will take up the majority of my time, hopefully around 50-60%.

Meaning-focused output activities: Does not include chatting to coworkers and friends. Does include writing and speaking exercises aimed at pushing passive skills into active ones. E.g., a 5/4/3/2 speaking exercise. Choose a topic and watch a video or read an article on it. Have 5 minutes of planning time to note down new or difficult words and phrases and plan what I want to say. Have 4 minutes to summarise the topic. Then again in 3 minutes. Then again in 2 minutes. These activities will take up minimal time, hopefully around 5-15%.

Fluency development: Includes extensive listening of 98%+ comprehensible material with no lookups. Also includes passive listening but I will not track that even though I will push to do it when comfortable. These activities will take up a medium amount of time, hopefully around 20-30%.

Language-focused learning: Includes vocab SRS, transcription exercises, minimal pair testing, etc. This exists purely to support the other strands. These activities will take up a minimal amount of time, hopefully 10-15%.

The most important principle here is time on task. Crudely put you get better at something you spend time on and, as such, you can see that the vast majority of above activities directly involve listening. As much as possible I will listen and if I am not listening then I will try to do something that will make listening easier. I am ignoring all other skills here but I do live in Japan so will still have to speak and read and write Japanese. I will be trying to record the time I spend on any 100% focused study activity, so that excludes day to day uses of Japanese and passive or low effort input.


My hypothesis of what will happen: I honestly don’t know. I think I will improve and it may be measurable for some media but I also think that for specialist areas (a university lecture on a topic I don’t understand, etc) I will make no measurable progress. I think if I were a beginner then very clear progress would happen but at this stage 8 weeks is not that much time, even with a buttload of study daily. One of my motivations here is to show my students that they can improve in a short time and how to study outside of their textbooks and classes so hopefully that can be achieved but, having said that, I will present the results honestly and won’t lie if they don’t turn out how I want.


I hope you enjoyed reading. I will be posting the results and a detailed breakdown of the research and methodology behind this once the project is finished. Feel free to ask any questions or give me any suggestions you may have. There are a few days before I start so let me know if there is some obvious thing I am missing or some great addition to my plan that you have in mind!

P.S.

I made a post asking people what they thought the best method to get good at listening is the other day and I wanted to follow up with my thoughts on how some AJATT or AJATT-adjacent ways of thinking may be improved but I will save it for another post as this already got long enough.

Also, I am posting before proofreading and will proofread later. If this message is still here then I have not proofread yet! Please forgive my errors!

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Hi. In my experience listening skills generally develop slowly over time. It can be very difficult to recognize any progress day to day, but if you were to go back and listen to something you did not understand fully a few months to a year ago, you might just find that you understand it now.

However, you asked how much progress you could make in two months. I think that really depends on how much time you are willing to listen to Japanese every day for those two months. The activities you described sound useful, but a lot of them seem to require you to sit down and actively study. If you have any time where you don’t need to be intellectually present, I would recommend having some japanese audio playing in the background (passive listening). If you can manage it, 8+ hours of listening and studying a day should probably lead to a measurable improvement in such a constrained timespan…

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This is one of the motivations for doing this project, to try and give some quantifiable (even if non-rigorous) measure of how much I improve, if at all.

As I mentioned in the main post, I will be pushing to do passive listening when it is comfortable but there aren’t that many spaces in my day when I can do passive listening, maybe 20-40 minutes.

I should have a lot of time but probably not that much, at least not consistently. The aim here isn’t really to speedrun my listening skills but rather just to show what is reasonably possible.

I didn’t mention it explicitly in my main post but I have been learning for two or three years now and am lower advanced. For reference, from the TV shows I have measured my comprehension on so far the range has been from 97.6% (for a documentary about Mishima debating student protestors) to 99.5% (for a sitcom). Both of those were with subs though. I will try and collect some lower comprehension things as well (lectures on maths with no subs, etc, which I guess would be in the 70-80% range). I also did an N1 mock listening test this morning and only got 65% so there is clearly scope to improve, especially as my listening is weaker than my reading, but showing progress outside of specific domains is actually quite hard for me to do at this point so I’m wondering if any difference can be measured in general; I’m pretty certain I will feel better at listening but who knows if that can be shown. For flat beginners a very clear improvement would be shown though, I am certain.

Anyway, all that is just to preface my question here: Have you done a lot of passive listening yourself? Have you tried speedrunnng listening and done 8 hours days? Any tips I should follow or pitfalls to avoid? I’ve always treated listening casually compared with reading so I am very curious to see what happens.

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Yes, maybe a year or so into learning Japanese I wanted to get better at listening so I did as much passive listening as possible. I would actively watch a show (I think I started with terrace house) and then I would download all the audio from the episodes on my phone and I would listen to it on repeat. I would listen when I was commuting back and forward to university, on walks, doing dishes and other chores. I was probably doing around 4 hours of passive listening every day, in addition to an hour of actively watching new episodes, an hour reading and about 2 hours of SRS.

It works, but I found this approach really tedious in the long run. Passive listening is not as effective or enjoyable as active listening. The real benefit of it is that you can do it outside of your normal study schedule. It can also be really beneficial for beginners to start getting used to hearing the language.

Most pitfalls I found were when I forced myself to do it everyday for a long time. Two months would not be a problem, I think.

You also seem to have really high comprehension, but do you think it is as high with only audio? If so maybe listening to an advanced audiobook would be a better choice? You could listen through it and then test your comprehension by writing down what you thought they meant and comparing it to what is written in the physical book?

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