Friday, April 04, 2014

Are you listening?

Listening as a skill is something we rarely think about. In a rudimentary sense, a native speaker of a language should have good listening skills. After all, they understand all or most of the words in use, the grammar is naturally comprehended, we have broad exposure to different accents, and this is so much so that even if a phone line isn't clear, we'd still be able to get the gist of what someone said on the end.

But does that mean all native speakers with normal mental development have complete learning skill? If you think "yes", it's worth posing a few questions to you the reader. For example: Do we understand someone speaking in legalese? What about financial news? Do we follow a story written from another culture when we hear it? (Imagine listening to, say, a religious myth from India explained in English.) Perhaps not as easily. Even in our own language, learning skills can be genre/register specific. This is even truer when learning another language. 

In my own learning situation, when involved in a conversation, I can understand 95% of Mandarin and about 65% of Cantonese; I can understand 85% of the news in Mandarin and about 15% of Cantonese; listening to a story, I can understand understand 90% of stories in Mandarin, but only about 10% in Cantonese;  listening to an opinion monologue, though, I can understand about 90% and 80% of Mandarin and Cantonese respectively. This can show that the Cantonese skill is not correlated much to the Mandarin ability. The range of situations that I've practiced Cantonese has been much more limited and their are many "holes". It is a common student misunderstanding that one form of practice, say, watching movies, will help them in another context. 

As mentioned in the last blog, I mentioned my entering of the smartphone era. Podcasts are now delivered to my phone on a daily basis (a Cantonese opinion monologue being one of them); as much as these are nourishing, they aren't always that complementary to other forms of listening. Listening to my novel in Cantonese as an audiobook is similarly problematic to other skills. Right now the news in Cantonese is playing. And none of this is helping me (much) with listening to people speaking to me. Last night I called my parents-in-law and handled the conversation quite well but with a couple of moments when I froze when I missed what they said. 

During my convalescence, I resumed my diploma project work and re-directed one of the three section on to how we teach listening comprehension in class. It is a great topic that also makes me think deeply about me, who learns Cantonese outside of the classroom, about the kind of experiences my students and I need to strengthen my understanding of what I hear.

Anyway, it's week five since my kneecap splitting fall. My leg is no longer in a cast... it's in a knee immobiliser that does the same job but can be removed and attached more easily. I'll need it on for another three weeks. Rehabilitation starts in one week. Fortunately I'm back at work and at least getting into the swing of things. It's been obvious that a lot of the communication has not been well handled with me at home. There was a lot of "I thought you knew", when it's obvious that there were no e-mails or phone calls that would have got the message to me. In a cross-cultural office, with people of different levels of professional habits, it was always going to be hard to keep in the loop being at home for so long. For now, it's good to be back!

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