Here’s a reasonable question from Sue:
I would just like to know if you are allowed to make notes when doing listening exercises and of course during an exam. I find it impossible to remember details in English, never mind Italian. Many thanks in advance.
And my reply:
In an exam your approach should be appropriate to the task, which will vary according to what’s being tested. It’s rare that you would need to take notes because the typical approach is to make the task available before you listen. Read the questions carefully, that way you’ll know what you need to listen for. In most exams you then get a second attempt, so can catch anything you’ve missed, or guess. If you’re taking an exam, get hold of the sample paper or papers and practice with them beforehand.
When practising listening with the more general aim of improving your listening skills, trying to hear everything and remember it is pointless – you wouldn’t do that in your native language, either. What you WOULD do in your native language would be to formulate an idea of why you were listening (is it just your mother rambling on, or the bank manager discussing your loan application?) and therefore how much attention you should give to what you’re hearing, and with what expected outcome is – how would you know that your listening was appropriate and successful?
If there’s no task or transcript, just listen a couple of times and move on. If there’s a task, read it beforehand and do your best at completing it while listening twice at most – 60-70% correct usually means you’re doing OK, and higher than that, that you should move on to harder materials.
And if there’s a transcript, but no task, then you can select how you will use it according to your level, objectives and preferences. The easiest is to read first, then listen. Next comes listening and reading at the same time. Finally, there’s listen first, then read. And you can do it different ways in sequence, according to what you want to achieve.
For a language I knew reasonably well I might listen first without the transcript, to push myself to hear as much as I could. Then listen again with the transcript. And before moving on I’d listen one more time without, expecting to understand much more than at first.
For a language I’m just starting out with, I’d listen and read together (it’s quicker that way), then maybe go back and read the transcript carefully, and then listen and read again.
If you’ve been neglecting listening practice and would like to put that right, the club’s ‘listening’ page is one option, as are our thrice-weekly free bulletins of ‘easy’ Italian news.
As a language learner myself, albeit a rather lazy one, I’m a fan of exams, or at least exam sample papers, as a way of benchmarking my level in the languages I’m learning, and measuring my own progress over time, up through the levels.
I might, for instance, begin with a sample paper for the listening test at the level below what I estimate my current level to be. Then, if the results are good, try my current level. And again, if the results are good, try the next level up.
The usual result is that my ‘listeining’ level is significantly higher than I could achieve on other sections of the same exams (perhaps with the exception of ‘reading’), which is an obvious consequence of the fact that I prioritise listening and speaking rather than, say, studying grammar.
The major Italian language exam boards are CELI, and CILS, both associated with universities. Last time I looked, the exams were old-fashioned, with rubbish websites and zero understanding of the concept of customer service.
Like much of the Italian eductation system, and much of the Italian state sector, such organisations are protected from competition and staffed by incompetent jobsworths who have high opinions of their own expertise and self-worth.
It’s unsurprising then that the exams themselves are rather old-fashioned by the standards of other countries. I attest from personal experience that Swedish and British language exams are much better. I’ve yet to sample Spanish and French, but intend to.
Anyway, that’s why I refuse to link to CELI, and CILS here, or recommend them in any way, other than to say that if you search for them in Google, you’ll likely find at least one free sample exam at each of the six levels. If you can avoid paying them any money for the actual exams, please do so, and therefore hasten the day when they will either improve their offer (improbable) or collapse under the financial burden of their unproductive and undeserving staffs (I gave up hoping long ago…)
A final note about benchmarking your listening level and measuring progress. All of our (not free) ebook easy readers – there are eighty-five different Italian easy readers, and more coming – have FREE ONLINE AUDIO for the entire story. Access any of the 85 titles, which are listed by type and in level order, by clicking on the free sample links on the Catalog page. The link to the online audio is in the free sample chapter .pdf. Enjoy.
Obviously, if you’re not going to buy any of the books, you’ll want to start with a lower level, given that the audio is free but the text isn’t. Right? It would be foolish and demotivating not to.
So that’s literally hundreds of hours of free listening material right there. Begin with the baby level stuff, then work up gradually, one story at a time, until you get to the point at which you’re struggling without the support of the written text. That’ll be your current level, more or less. Verify that with a free sample exam, as described above, or with the CEFR Self-Assessment Grid.
Hope that gives you some ideas for this week’s learning.