A bit of background: My girlfriend is Taiwanese and will attend TesDaF (German test) in a week. She has been previously learning for about 8 months now while being in Germany. So far, all points (writing, reading, explaining) except the listening, are great.

Her biggest problem right now is the listening.

So far:

  • I've been reading news articles to her, letting her take notes and asking her questions
  • We've been hearing radio / watching TV and then talked about the content of what we heard/saw in German
  • I let her ask additional questions to the salesman about products we are about to buy when we are in a shop (= improve her "street German" understanding)

Sadly, I think we arrived at a dead point. Her understanding doesn't seem to match the TestDaF C1 level right now. I also can't see any improvement with this "practice" methods.

The next point is, that if we're not actually tracking her understanding, everything works way better. For example, if I just normally talk in German to her, she understands pretty much everything. Her understanding diminishes the moment she starts actually concentrating about what I say in order to attempt to understand as much as possible.

What would other ways be, to improve the listening comprehension?

  • 2
    Her total exposure to German is 8 months? Maybe it is just not enough time. Especially when L1 (I assume Chinese) is drastically different. It might be helpful to hear her point-of-view regarding "Her understanding diminishes the moment she starts actually concentrating", beyond your observation.
    – user3169
    Commented Apr 12, 2016 at 16:28
  • @user3169 Yes, Chinese. She totally agrees with the fact, that it's harder for her to understand anything, as soon as she starts focussing too much on it.
    – Daniele D
    Commented Apr 12, 2016 at 16:49

4 Answers 4


Be patient, 8 months isn't very long.

I like your approach to letting her talk to the sales person. It gives her instant gratification when she gets something right and is useful in everyday life. Learning something that is useful is a great way to keep a student motivated.

Unfortunately I don't have a whiz bang magical way to improve listening. The best way is to just listen, listen, listen. I do have some pointers on how to approach it though.

  1. If the student (your girlfriend) has a goal (in this case the TesDaF), find listening resources that are relevant to that goal. Listening with relevant vocabulary is important.
  2. Make the listening activities useful and relevant to everyday life. Learning something that immediately benefits a student makes them feel good about themselves and can make learning fun.
  3. Try not to make it too difficult. It's good to push a student, but if is consistently too hard, it can demoralize and demotivate them.
  4. Make it interesting - songs and videos in the target language are a great way to mix things up and keep things interesting.
  5. Make friends with people in the target language. Talking with them can be a fun way to improve both speaking and listening.
  6. You could also try a technique called shadowing. This technique involves listen to audio, then attempting to repeat it-- to "shadow" -- what you hear as quickly as you hear it. Personally, I've not found this to be of much help, but it is worth a try.

You said that

I also can't see any improvement with this "practice" methods.

How are you assessing this? I think assessment is important because students often lose sight of where they have come from and where they are currently at. It is important to assess listening at the start of training and later at regular intervals, so that you have a realistic record of their development. Hopefully the results will serve to motivate them, but if for whatever reason there is no noticeable improvement (over a reasonable length of time), it will be an indicator that you (the teacher) need to change the listening materials or methods a bit.

Lastly, take every chance to listen. I found that my own listening improved the most back when I was commuting a lot. Since I wasn't doing anything anyway I just listened to language tapes during the trips. While active listening is best, most of the time I just passively listened to the tapes.

  • yeah i think more time is needed as well. Patience is critical in language acquisition
    – user326
    Commented May 11, 2016 at 6:10

Apart from all the good suggestions previously mentioned (Watching movies, make the listening activities useful and relevant to everyday life), I would like to give you some specific pointer about what to do and what not to do:

  • Find authentic, easy and interesting material for her. Authentic means is made by German people for German people, not for learners. Easy means she can understand without your clarifications, without stopping and without translating. If she's preparing for the C1 exam this is not going to be particularly hard. Interesting means things that she wants to listen to. No need to focus on serious material (news, radio). Cartoons, TV series are OK.

  • Use audiovisual material. TV is good because it provides images that make the input more comprehensible.

  • Do not force her to speak. She will speak when she's ready. First she has to develop a feel for the language.

In conclusion: watch and listen interesting, easy, authentic material.

And be patient.


You are correct, let her be herself when learning. When fluent with the basic and, hopefully, some advanced parts of her language, she should try to naturally speak to others to see if she can recall the words quickly and correctly. To help with her listening, try these methods:

  • Watching movies, clips, or some type of video

  • Reading books and poems out loud

  • Talking to herself and you

  • Study with flash cards out loud

  • Do normal communication tasks such talking with her community

  • Listening to music

As a reminder, let it flow!

  • I partially agree with your answer. But since I don't see how "reading books and poems" or "study with flash cards" will help the listening comprehension, I'd like to hear more opinions before accpeting an answer.
    – Daniele D
    Commented Apr 13, 2016 at 9:29

There have been several good suggestions to practice listening in the previous posting.

There is another point: You can train the typical formats of listening comprehension tests (answering yes/no questions of things being heard, answering multiple choice questions, answering questions with free answers).

But one week before the test is a very tight schedule ... I could as well propose doing the complete contrary: relax, take care to sleep well, and just go to test and see how it comes out.

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