The aim of this routine is primarily to improve my listening comprehension. I'm learning Cantonese right now, but you can apply this to any language.
If you struggle to understand native speakers, or you want to learn more colloquial vocabulary, this is for you. My specific interest, in this case, is something called connected speech. I struggle to catch individual words when Cantonese are speaking fast, so this will be a great exercise for that, as I get to analyse every word!
Step 1: Find some good audio material
Choose something short but challenging.
I chose a simple 30-second excerpt from a video from Hong Kong (Edit: no longer available on YouTube). I like it because the guy speaks really fast, and uses a bunch of words I don't know.
It's important to keep short, otherwise it will quickly get overwhelming.
Focus on different phrases in turn, trying to pick out every little word, and every little sound. Really push yourself here, and try to understand as much as possible.
(There will still be lots you don't understand, though, and that's completely normal!)
Step 4: Study the transcript
Study the transcript until you understand it all.
There's no secret sauce here. It's time to get your “study hat” on and break it down, one word at a time.
(This is why it should be short, so that it doesn't take you forever!)
Use your dictionary as much as you need to. I like to make notes, mark up the paper, do whatever I need to in order to thoroughly understand what's going on.
What Happens Next?
The work done up to this point is great, but it's really only half what you need to do.
Just because you study something until you understand it, doesn't mean you can then apply it in the real world.
Something I've noticed experienced language learners do is to really milk their material for everything it's worth.
Don't just stop once you understand what's going on… keep going and try to use the words and phrases you've learn yourself!
Here's how I do it:
During the rest of my day, continue to listen over and over – I find myself becoming much more comfortable with what I'm listening to now I understand what's going on
Export the most important vocabulary into my flashcards and review periodically – This is a huge step, because although I understand the material now, I haven't learned the words yet. Exporting them to my flashcards takes only a few seconds, but I can then review the new vocabulary any time, any place, as they're stored on my phone.
Learn and practise repeating the audio myself! This is one of my favourite things to do. Now I've learned all this difficult vocabulary, spoken at native speed, what better than to actually learn to say it just like the guy in the video? This takes time, but the rewards are huge. If you do it properly, you get to experience what it feels like to speak like a native, even though you can't quite fly solo yet!
I'll usually spend a couple of weeks on an activity like this, in order to learn the vocabulary thoroughly and to be able to learn the dialogue myself.