Listening is generally regarded as one of the most difficult skills for language learners, particularly listening to a tape or the radio, compared with listening to a person when there is body language and context to help. It is important to listen, right from the start. At first a foreign language seems like a constant stream of sound, with no distinction between words. With time, individual words can be distinguished and eventually more and more of the words can be understood.
I was very interested to read about the “ground-breaking” research by Paul Sulzberger of Victoria University that shows that “just listening to the language, even though you don’t understand it, is critical”. Link to full article: (http://www.victoria.ac.nz/home/about/newspubs/news/ViewNews.aspx?id=2458&newslabel=hn)
Many people say that the only way to learn a foreign language properly is to live in the country and immerse yourself in it. While there is much to be said for this point of view, it is also possible to live for years in another country and avoid learning anything but the basic language, by staying in our own community, shopping at supermarkets and watching our own TV by satellite or over the Internet.
If we cannot live in the country whose language we wish to learn, we now have technology that enables us to do the next best thing. We can listen to the news in our chosen language on the Internet, download the language on to our ipods or watch films in the language with or without the subtitles turned off. We can buy audio magazines on CD or cassette with transcript, glossary and notes from companies like Champs Elysées. There is also a great deal of material available on the Internet. The BBC World Service has podcasts (http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/worldservice/ ) in a number of languages including Spanish, Chinese, Russian (business language) and Portuguese. The BBC languages site also has audio programmes in French (Le Mensuel) or La vie en Creuse (which comes with a transcript and questions to check understanding). Then there’s Radio Lingua (www.radiolingua.com) with its Coffee Break French and Spanish and One Minute languages series aimed at beginners. TV5 Monde is great if you want to watch French TV without leaving home. It is also worth searching the Internet to see what other TV channels you can pick up.
Through SC4 nursery age children can have an hour a day of Welsh language programmes. Many children are already learning Spanish through the TV programme “Dora the Explorer” and the spin-off programme “Go Diego Go”. In France Dora teaches nursery age children English. It struck me that we could give out children a great start in foreign languages if we could introduce them to children’s TV programmes in our chosen language from the earliest age. They wouldn’t even know they were learning and the grown-ups could learn along with them. It might even make them more receptive to language learning when they started school.