The TestDaF Quest: Learning to Listen

What have I gotten myself into?

I’ve definitely overcommitted, I think. I recorded two German songs last week because I missed a song in week one, and I’m going to miss it again this week. Doing the recording is a time investment of several hours, and it’s clear to me at this point that this is not the speaking practice I need. I find myself far more concerned with things like rhythm, pitch, and harmony, and a lot less with the pronunciation of words, which frankly is a much simpler thing to deal with! I’m going to have to sleep on the speaking exercises for a while.

The German podcast listening project has also foundered. After a strong start when I listened to German public radio obsessively for one and a half days, I realised it wasn’t working for me, and I knew why: I wasn’t working at figuring out what was being said. The kind of casual listening that you can do in your first language is much more difficult in a second language. Listening might be considered a “passive” skill, but unless you’re listening actively, no information is being processed at all.


In August 2008, I decided I was going to try to learn Spanish, and I was going to do it out of a book.’

How I did it and what I learnt from doing it that way is perhaps a story for another time, but I decided to set myself a very ambitious target. I knew I was going to be a film major in college, but I decided that I wanted to double major in Spanish, too. I did some digging into the major requirements and course catalogues of both departments, and I realised that I would need to place into at least Spanish 4 in my first semester.

That became my target: to teach myself enough Spanish to land in Spanish 4 within a year. (As things turned out, I didn’t get to college until Fall 2010, which probably helped.)

I had plenty of reading material, and I could teach myself to write. Finding appropriately-pitched listening material was a challenge, though, and I ended up mostly neglecting that part. And as for speaking, well, there wasn’t anyone to speak Spanish to, and I didn’t go out of my way to find a conversation partner.

The placement test did not include a speaking or listening component. I made it and placed into Spanish 4, which turned out to be the first class of my college career.

Until 7:59am on that first Tuesday morning, I was under the impression that the class would be taught in a mixture of English and Spanish, and so when the professor started class at 8am by spewing out a stream of Spanish, I panicked.

To this date, I do not think my brain has ever worked as hard as it did those first 75 minutes of college. Every last iota of my attention and energy went into parsing the sounds and sentences swirling around the classroom. Many of these words I had only ever seen in print. Everyone introduced themselves, and when it came to my turn, that was the first time I had ever spoken in Spanish to another person.

This listening and speaking stuff - I was going to have to learn how to do it, fast.

About halfway through that first semester of my freshman year of college, sitting in my dorm room, I found myself looking at Eurovision videos. As a Spanish major wannabe, I naturally searched out Spain’s Eurovision entry.

It was Algo pequenito, sung by Daniel Diges:

Listening to it, I noticed something - I understood it. Not all of it, but enough that I could probably fill in the blanks quite easily. To test this, I put the song on repeat and transcribed it - and I managed to get 80% of it just by listening. A dictionary and some guessing took care of the last 20%.

This was a first for me - I had gotten used to merely treading water in a sea of unfamiliar sounds, and occasionally thrashing madly to stay afloat. Now, I was discovering that I had somehow learnt to swim.


I’m modifying my German podcast listening exercise. Instead of simply “listening”, the task will be to choose a podcast episode and transcribe some portion of it. For now, for now I’m not going to set


Duolingo Progress Report

According to Duolingo, I am now 39% fluent in German, compared to 26% last week. I’m still sticking by my goal of completing the entire Duolingo German course by next Wednesday, 21 September 2016.

Everything before this point is complete, nothing after this point is complete:

I have 74 skills left to go in Duolingo, and just five days. Including strengthening skills as they decay, this means I have to be working through about 20 skills a day.

You could say that I made it much harder than it had to be. Here’s how much I’ve practised over the last week:

Well, I’m going to go for it, and I’ll let you know how it goes. Tschüss!