Selective Understanding

Do you ever find yourself listening a something in a language you thought you knew well, and having difficultly understanding it?

This happens to me, even with languages I speak fluently, such as Welsh and Irish, especially when people are talking about an unfamiliar subject, or using an unfamiliar vocabulary.

Yesterday, for example, I watched some videos on YouTube in Russian and Swedish. I don’t speak either language fluently, but I can usually get a least some idea what people are talking about in them. With these videos though, I found it difficult to understand very much at all, as they were talking about people and things I know little or nothing about.

This is the Russian video – something about US visas, I think:

This is the Swedish video – something about politicians, I think:

I can usually understand just about everything on Radio Cymru (a Welsh language radio station), but sometimes I find it difficult to follow what people are saying, especially if they’re using very colloquial or very formal language. So there’s always more to learn.

4 thoughts on “Selective Understanding

  1. I find the same with Quebecois French. I have lived in Canada for 47 years and taught French, Second Language for 28 years. I have problem with the French news on Radio Canada but when I hear interviews with Quebecois Francophones “on the street” I REALLY had to concentrate. I have little trouble with Acadian French but then I hear that most of the time

  2. The Swedish comedian is not speaking with a central Stockholm accent, which you maybe more used to, but rather with one more the south and west, perhaps Skånska.

  3. Simon, when I was in high school I took Spanish. The Spanish teacher told us about her graduate year in Spanish studies. She and other students took a trip to Spain to get first hand experience speaking Spanish with natives. She had a funny story about wanting American food, since she said everything in Spain was cooked in olive oil, which she disliked. So one day they were out sightseeing and saw a sign for “American food restaurant”. Well, they went in and ordered a New York Strip steak, and sure enough, it was cooked in olive oil. (Americans really don’t cook steak in olive oil.) Pretty funny. Anyway, the other story was that after staying in Spain for a year, the teacher said she could understand Spanish really well, EXCEPT for when Spanish songs were on the radio, which she could barely understand at all. At that point, I realized it’s not a problem understanding Spanish, because even I have problems understanding the lyrics of English songs. There is so much “noise” going on in a song, it’s very hard to make out everything. I would say, don’t be too hard on yourself. You’re trying to do something that is just plain hard to do.

  4. That was interesting to hear about limits to full comprehension of Welsh- which you have been learning for years and living in the midst of too. Amazing to think of the range of comprehension in one’s mother tongue though: for instance being able to follow “Coronation Street” at quite a young age (7 or 8) without any previous exposure to the strong accent of this series.

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