Listening Problem

I’m not too bad at speaking but listening is way worse. Not sure why there should be such a difference between the two. Is this a common experience? How have others dealt with this?


Yes, it’s very common with second language learning.
When you’re speaking, you have control over what words come out and at what speed, but when you’re listening you have no control over either.
Normal native speech is fast and transient, things are said quickly and then they’ve disappeared. When speaking, people don’t pause to separate speech into distinct words and it comes out as a stream of sound. It’s also full of redundancies, extra language that includes false starts, digressions, and rephrasing, and this extra language is confusing. And of course, unfamiliar vocabulary doesn’t help either.
The best advice I can give from experience is not to listen “word-for-word” - instead try and listen for familiar patterns and structures, listen in ‘chunks’ rather than individual words.
It also helps to give your brain exposure to ‘passive listening’ where you’re just hearing the language without needing to actively listen to it - things like having S4C or BBC Cymru on while you’re doing other tasks for instance. This reinforces patterns and structures without you even having to think about it doing so.


Dwi’n cytuno, ‘passive listening’ is a great aid to learning the language and getting used to sentence structure and so on. It’s not necessary to actively listen, bits you hear repeatedly will sink in, helps you ‘tune in’ to the language also. Pob lwc.


Oh my goodness, yes - I’m exactly the same. Not just with Welsh but other languages where I have a limited knowledge (eg French). If I want to say “that orange and black cat is very friendly” I can slowly create the sentence, translating it slowly from English in my head, and say it. However, if someone says to me, in Welsh, “that tortoiseshell cat is really affectionate”, I immediately have two problems. First, although I can use the alternatives “orange and black” and “friendly”, I don’t know the Welsh for either “tortoiseshell” or “affectionate”, which means there are already two words I don’t know in what I’m hearing. Second, the translation in my head is quite slow, but what I’m hearing isn’t slow - it’s at normal talking speed, so by the time I’ve translated the third word in my head, the speaker has finished an entire sentence. Or paragraph!

Clearly, the solution is learning to not translate but to think in Welsh. My Welsh-speaking friends tell me this breakthrough point is called “croesi’r bont”, and once you manage that it’s a lot easier from then on. I’m hoping I will indeed cross that bridge at some point, but it seems a long way off!


Diolch! That is helpful. I wish I could watch, say a sporting event, where I could see what was happening and match it up to a Welsh commentary. That is quite hard to do in the USA!


I have the same problem with learning Spanish, but quite the opposite. I understand quite good the audio aspect. However, it is very problematic for me to write in Spanish.

@geoffreyallen have you had a look to see what’s available in the Worldwide category of S4C Clic?

A quick look showed me some programmes on Triathlon, Marathon, and other similar running events. Would they help?

@sofum perhaps we need a “practise writing” topic in the Spanish part of the forum. Would you be interested?

Geoff Causer ssiw
Very helpful explanation from Sharon James.
I have been learning for quite a while and have recently focused on trying to follow programmes such as Newyddion and Heno. I am experiencing exactly the things Sharon highlights so hopefully this will be a big help in the future.

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I have had the same problem - when you speak you can choose the words you know and then say them, but when listening there is no such filter. This is why I signed up to Say Something in Welsh and being plunged straight away into normal speed speech has been a really good thing for my understanding, and even though I am not quite there yet to fully follow a conversation, I am definitely getting better. It also helps not to be too analytical (as others have mentioned above) and not to worry about each word and then lose the thread wondering about something you didn’t understand so that you fail even to listen to what follows. So I am trying to do plenty of listening without constantly pausing the audio (which is often my natural inclination). So thanks to SSiW for really helping me here, as an antidote to the more formal learning I have had before (and am glad to have, I must say).


Thanks! I’ll give a try.

Lots of words of wisdom above, one more thing I’d add - if you’re living and using your Welsh in a particular area, there may be some funny dialect stuff which makes the language really tricky until you know it.
My welsh speaking husband is from near St. Davids (Pembs) and they change many words starting with “O” to “w” so “oes” becomes “wes”, “oedd” becomes “wedd” etc - once you know that it makes a huge difference so investigating local “tafodiaeth” is well worth a try :slight_smile: