I'm learning standard Chinese and I recently realized that my listening skills are worse than I hoped. Once I hear something unexpected such as a common word but spoken with a different accent, the entire sentence becomes incomprehensible and it throws me off guard. As a result, one mistake leads to next sentences being also poorly understood.

I noticed a similar phenomenon when learning how to hear Morse code, which you practice in a way that's similar to practicing listening comprehension of a foreign language. I can currently do simple (4-character) exercises easily, but adding another one makes me feel overwhelmed and results in me remembering less (only the first 2 characters).

This makes me feel that the problem might not necessarily be related to whether I know certain words, but how I react to something unknown. Is there a way I can reduce or get rid of the brain freeze that happens when I hear something unexpected?

  • 1
    It's just an hypothesis but maybe the 'language processor' inside your brain is inadvertedly spending too much time trying to decode the unknown word. So if you hear, for example "Let's eat some XXX n' chips in tomorrow evening" where XXX are garbled sounds, maybe you'll also not catch the rest of the sentence, because you were too busy trying hard to hear what XXX was. Of course, an easy answer to this is more experience -- for the English example, you can probably guess the missing word, provided you know 'fish n' chips' which is a common multi word expression. Experience is key.
    – Brandin
    Commented Jan 7, 2022 at 14:08
  • @Brandin Having learnt Chinese for 6 years (as my fifth foreign language), I can assure you that learners can have this problem without having issues in the brain's language processor. The issue is that Chinese has far fewer syllables than Germanic or Romance languages, so you need to hear both the syllable and the tone to decode the audio stream correctly. This is vastly more challenging for Chinese than for any other language I have learnt.
    – Tsundoku
    Commented Jan 7, 2022 at 16:07
  • 1
    @Tsundoku what also doesn't help is that the southerners don't seem to agree with northerners about the pronunciation (zh vs z, etc).
    – d33tah
    Commented Jan 7, 2022 at 18:56


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