Yesterday morning I hadn’t studied French for nearly 30 years.
By yesterday afternoon I was on my way to a better understanding of the language, and already noticing an improvement.
Seems incredible, really. I even surprised myself. Guess I must be a great teacher! (Only joking.)
In fact, there’s no amazing secret or method, and no particular ability is required.
Anyone can improve their listening in a foreign language, with time and with the right approach, even you!
The first stage in improving your listening comprehension in Italian is to understand your current level. Not your general level in Italian, just your listening ability. Where are you at? Where do you need to be?
I did this with my French by searching the Internet for “test your level in French” and the like. Plenty of language schools offer free resources to attract traffic. The quality is variable, but hey, it’s free.
Having found a suitable site, with exercises graded A1, A2, B1, and so on, I started with a couple at the first level. At first I “didn’t understand anything” (a common student complaint, which is rarely if ever true…). But my scores were consistently 75-100%, which gave me confidence to try the A2 material.
At A2 I was surprised to also score 80%. The audio extract was two strangers talking in a train station. I was pleased to actually follow the conversation (reading the questions first helped a lot, as they acted as a guide).
There not being other A2 exercises on that particular site, I went on to the B1 page, knowing that it would likely be a step too far. This time I scored a terrible 5%, once points were deducted for the wrong answers I’d picked (sneaky French habit…)
More interestingly though, this time I had the clear sensation that I genuinely hadn’t understood large parts of the text. It was just a flow of sound, unlike the A2 material. My score came as no surprise.
Provisional conclusion: I’m nowhere near a B1, but A1 and A2 don’t seem to present problems.
Now do this
This rough and ready method of understanding your current level of ability at listening comprehension can be firmed up a little in two ways:
1. By reading the “level descriptors”
- Elementary A2: can understand isolated phrases and common expressions that relate to areas of high personal relevance (like personal or family information, shopping, immediate environment, work).
- Intermediate B1: can understand the main points of clear standard speech on familiar subjects in work, school, leisure activities, etc.
It was pretty clear to me, just from the 15 minutes or so that I’d already put in, that A2 was the correct description for me.
And that B1 was not.
“Isolated phrases” yes, “main points of clear, standard speech”, not a hope.
(You’ll find the level descriptors in this post on understanding your level in Italian.)
2. By finding some “official” exams and doing some practice tests to confirm your level
I found out that for French the standard exams are called D.E.L.F., then searched for D.E.L.F. practice material and did an “official” A2 listening test while sat in my very noisy family kitchen.
While with hind-sight a quieter environment would have proved to be more advisable, the listening test itself was stimulating and fun to do.
My results on the four sections were 4/6, 2/3, 4/7, and 3/3, which was quite satisfactory, and confirmed what I had previously decided about my level.
(The “official” exams for Italian are either CILS or CELI by the way. You can find CILS past papers from 2012 here.)
The logic is this:
- I’ve measured, in a more or less objective way, my current level. I know that I can understand “isolated phrases” but not “the main points of clear, standard speech”.
- So I know which materials I need to use to improve. A1 materials might be good for revision of the basics I’ve forgotten, and for building the habit of studying, but won’t push me much. Any listening material at A2 level should be achievable and stimulating. The B1 stuff will be challenging, but represents my objective, and so will help me measure future progress. B2 is going to be too hard to be of much use, and should be left well alone, for now!
- I’ve defined what “improving my level” means for me. My mission: to be able to understand the main points when someone speaks in a clear way (the B1 descriptor).
Now I just need to work out how to make that leap!
Over to you
So, that’s how I started. Now it’s your turn:
- Work out your level. Be objective, not pessimistic or modest. Use listening exercises like those on this site, use the CEFR level descriptors, use “official exams” (which should, in theory, be more reliable…)
- Understand what you can do already, and what YOUR “next” stage should be
- You should now have an idea of what you will have to do to improve!
Ignoring the time spent writing this up, I maybe spent an hour on finding materials and doing the listenings.
I now know I’m a ‘rusty-as-hell A2’.
I know that I want to focus on understanding the main points in clear speech.
And I know that IF I make that progress, I should be able to verify it with practice material for a B1 D.E.L.F. exam, or similar.
Tocca a te (Your turn).
Go do the work and report back.
I’d suggest you post links to any good materials you find so everyone can save time.
P.S. Don’t forget the Free Online Italian Lesson offer… 5 days left to get a one-to-one online lesson worth €20, for absolutely nothing! Click here.