Listening a lot for language learning

I get a lot of email from people asking me questions about how to learn English better. Instead of just sending my replies to each person individually, I will post my answers publicly here so everyone can benefit. Note that I am not spending a lot of time researching or writing these answers…it’s the advice that comes to me spontaneously and off the top of my head. This first entry is from “D”.

D’s email question (verbatim):

Hello maim [sic], I am new here. I just want to increase my confidence level and English too. I hesitate alot in asking questions to my teacher and also in my group activity.what should I do. I have tried reading newspaper alot, but it don’t work. Because the newspaper contain too many difficult words, that is too difficult for me to memorise.
Can you give me some suggestions about this?
I will be very thankful to you.

My email with advice:

Hi D,
Thanks for writing. I agree with you that newspapers aren’t great for general English listening and speaking skills. Everybody is different, but all I can do is share my own language learning experience with you and hope you find it useful.

I’ve found that doing LOTS of listening works best for me, combined with studying at least some grammar and vocabulary. When I was learning to understand spoken Dutch, I found some Dutch language podcasts (for native speakers) about topics I was interested in, and would listen to them as much as I could. I listened when I was walking my dog, cleaning my house, exercising, working in the garden, driving the car, etc. I would say I spent a couple of hours almost every day with my headphones on, listening to Dutch.

I also practiced a “listen and repeat” style audio course (I think it was Pimsleur). Honestly, the course was not compelling or interesting, but I forced myself to do it — the whole thing — several times. I really focused on getting the pronunciation as good as I could when I was repeating out loud, and I really think this did a LOT to help my understanding.

I admit, sometimes all this was pretty boring. And at first it was really difficult and frustrating. But I persisted …