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Good ol' fashioned active listening. But what about passive listening? Is there any place for it as a way to improve your listening skills in French?

Good ol’ fashioned active listening. But what about passive listening? Is there any place for it as a way to improve your listening skills in French?

We’ve all got busy schedules, and sometimes it may seem like you don’t have enough hours in the day to do everything you want to do, like squeeze in an hour or two of listening to French.

Other times, you may find the act of listening to French to be pure drudgery and highly frustrating because you understand so little of what’s being said.

It’s only natural to wonder if you can take care of this task all while preserving your sanity by listening passively to the radio or television as you tend to more important matters, like your job or homework.

But is passive listening any good?

Passive listening has a bad reputation because we assume that we must suffer by listening hard to get any benefit. Even I used to believe this. But listening should never be painful or frustrating. If it is for you, keep reading.

You’ll notice that when you do passive listening, it isn’t always 100% passive. You’re 95% tuned out for a few moments, then 95% tuned in for another few moments, then tuned out, tuned in, tuned out, tuned in, and so on.

In those moments when you’re tuned in, you’re doing active listening. In the moments when you’re tuned out, you’ll notice that you still catch a word here and there.

I see nothing wrong with this. In fact, I highly recommend doing passive listening when you’re first starting with a new language. It’s also excellent for those of you who feel terribly put off by listening to an hour’s worth of French and not understanding anything.

Try it. You’ll begin to feel more comfortable with the sound of French entering your ears the more passive listening you do. You can progress to larger amounts of active listening when you want to.

But what if you’re already attempting a lot of active listening and you find yourself getting frustrated because you only understand 1% of the dialogue?

Stop forcing yourself to understand.

It’s a waste of time and energy. When your brain is ready for it, you’ll understand without having to force it. If you don’t understand what you hear, your brain hasn’t figured it out yet. Give it time. Keep listening, and let whatever you don’t understand wash over you.

As you listen, get excited at the 1 word out of 30 that you understood. Just listen for the words you understand. In a few weeks’ time, you’ll be at 2 words out of 30, then 3, then 4, then… oops, back down to 3 again. Keep going long enough, and I promise that one day it will be 30 out of 30.

So, back to passive listening — do I think it’s any good? If you’re tired and can’t concentrate fully; if you’re new to French; if you want to keep the sound of French around you all day; if active listening is still too demanding for you, then yes, it’s just what the doctor ordered!

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