Language Learning Tips: Extensive and Repeated Listening

I recently re-read an article written for an academic journal that brought to light some interesting thoughts about different types of listening activities and their comparative effectiveness for language learners.  The article, Extensive or Repeated Listening? A comparison of their effects on the use of listening strategies investigates students’ use of listening strategies when engaged in both extensive and repeated listening.

It is an interesting article as are the findings but is a bit academic and so I won’t get into the details here.  There are some great takeaways though for the everyday language learner and hopefully a few new ideas to try out as part of your personal language learning program.

Extensive and Repeated Listening

Extensive listening is when a learner listens to several different recordings on the same topic.  In this study, students listened to five different audio recordings one time each. Repeated listening is when a learner listens to the same recording repeatedly.  In the study, students listened to the same recording five times. The researchers in the study found that:

The results of this study showed that the participants used significantly more listening strategies, including metacognitive and cognitive listening strategies, while engaging in repeated listening than in extensive listening. They also used significantly more types of listening strategies in repeated listening than in extensive listening.

Okay, I’ll admit I am not entirely certain what all those terms mean even though I’ve nearly completed my Masters in ESL.  My purpose in sharing the article today is not however to compare these two ideas or look at the data but rather to introduce them.  Using the article lends weight to the concepts – they are activities widely discussed in academia in regards to language learning.

They are also activities that I believe should be a part of everyone’s personal language learning plan of attack no matter what your level or situation.  I have written about each before and will continue to encourage people to use both extensive listening and repeated listening in the future.  They are both forms of narrow listening and can both be applied to reading as well which makes them an all around activity that you can use any where and any time. (Read more: Language Learning Tip: Narrow Listening)

How To Get Started

Again, extensive listening is when you listen to several recordings about the same topic (listening to four different podcasts all about Man United for example) and repeated listening is when you listen to one recording over and over again (listening to one podcast about Man United five times in a row).  In order to take advantage of these great learning activities, you’ll need to take some time to find good listening materials.  Great resources can be found with a little bit of hard work and a hackers mentality.


In order to best utilize both extensive and repeated listening, a few tools of the trade are necessary.

  1. Ipod or MP3 player for storing your audio files and taking them with you.
  2. Google Translate for finding listening materials. (Read more: Discovering a New Language from Afar)
  3. Audio Hijack for recording any audio from the Internet that isn’t downloadable.
  4. Time to search, collect, and listen.

How To: Extensive Listening

For repeated listening of course you just need to find one audio recording of a topic in which you’re interested.  Extensive listening will require a bit more work.

  • Before you begin searching yourself, it may be helpful to stop by any of the forums where language learners hang out and ask if others have found sites dedicated to creating these kinds of extensive listening materials.  This could save you a lot of time.  A few great examples of extensive listening sites I have found are: Culture Talk and Culture Interviews with Turkish Speaking Professionals.

If you can’t find a site dedicated to creating extensive listening resources, I’d first like to encourage you to consider making your own. It would be a great service to language learners everywhere.

  • The easiest way to find extensive listening audio is to be found in the news.  Most languages will have world news broadcasts and most will cover the same news topics.  So for example, here in Turkey, not only do we have all of the Turkish news stations but we also have BBC Turkish as well as CNN Turkish.
  • Another way to find extensive listening material is to use Google Translate to search for audio of a topic you are interested in.  Find the translation of the topic and then search for that term in iTunes, Youtube and other media sites.  You may have to try searching for a number of different nuances of the terms but should lead to at least some listening resources.
  • Once you have found listening resources, you can download them if possible or use Audio Hijack to record them for your personal use.  With the free version of Audio Hijack you can record up to ten minutes of audio.
  • Finally, you will want to collect all of the audio recordings into topical files so that you find them easily and can listen to the various recordings one after another.  Put these files on your ipod and you are ready to go.

Personal Experience

My own experience with extensive listening comes in the form of the Grand Tour Question and the audio is audio that I made myself.  This can be a great way to get extensive listening audio and it is especially good because it got me out into the community talking with native Turkish speakers (this of course is more difficult to do living in your home country). What I did was ask the same questions to several friends and record their answers.  By asking a question about a common cultural or historical topic, I was ensured a great amount of repeat material in the responses.  So for example, I asked the question:

What are your memories of the 1999 earthquake?  

Every response was of course from a different perspective but much of the themes, vocabulary and expressions were the same and all were using the same grammatical tense in their answers.  This created a rich listening experience.

How To: Repeated Listening

Repeated listening is much easier to prepare.  All you need is an interesting audio recording.  Try to find recordings about topic that you are familiar with and that you are passionate about.  This will make the repeated listening nature of the activity more interesting. You can listen in a  lot of different ways I suppose.  You could listen four or five times right in a row.  You could listen three times a day for three days.  You could listen once a day, everyday for a week.  The repetition creates a listening experience in which each pass through the material becomes more familiar than the last.  Most experts suggest that you listen to the files until they become unbearable.  Then  move on to something new.

Personal  Experience

About two years ago I picked up a dubbed copy of the movie We Are Marshall.  It is a movie about a college American football team and was one I had wanted to watch for a long time.  For one week I set aside two hours each day and watched it in Turkish. My first time through the movie, I spent a lot of time trying to keep up, trying to pick out the main points of conversations and trying figure out new words and expressions I was hearing.  It was a bit discouraging.  I kept at it though and was surprised to feel like I was understanding more the next day.  Each day was the same and by the fifth day, I was understandably a bit tired of the movie, but was understanding far more than I had the first day – noticeably more.

Now It’s Your Turn

Listening is an important piece to a robust personal language learning program and as an independent language learner, it is important to take advantage of any and all activities you can.  Extensive and repeated listening are both great activities that will help you focus in on increasing your listening comprehension as well as provide greater amounts of comprehensible input which will help you learn the language more effectively.

Give each of these a try this week and let me know how it goes.  I’d love to hear your personal experience with both extensive and repeated listening.

If in your search for listening materials you come across online resources, please let me know about them so that I can add them to the language specific resource page.

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9 Responses to Language Learning Tips: Extensive and Repeated Listening
  1. Rick
    April 2, 2012 | 9:29 pm

    Good post.

    I might add that if you’re running Windows, there’s Total Recorder – and if you’re running Linux you can use Jack and Audacity.

    Total Recorder isn’t free (it’s $18 for the standard version), but youcan get a taste of what it does by using the evaluation version, which limits you to 3 minutes and some white noise.

    The Linux solution is free, but Jack isn’t the friendliest of things to wrap your head around.


  2. aarongmyers
    April 2, 2012 | 10:18 pm

    As always Rick, you add such great extra content to the posts here. Thanks for sharing those resources!

  3. Denise
    April 3, 2012 | 2:26 am

    Really interesting and useful article, as I am trying to relearn French – which I actually taught 30+ years ago. I listen to dialaogues from my textbook on the ipod driving to work, and because I can’t read the words, many of which are unfamiliar, I am forced to listen even harder and work out expressions. I was trying to decided if I should keep moving ahead through the book – I am getting bored !- but I think I am actually practising so many listening skills this way that I’ll keep going over and over the dialogues.But I’ll give myself a break every now and then !

  4. Justin
    April 3, 2012 | 4:39 pm

    I notice you don’t mention having a transcript of the recording. I am always loathe to listen to any recording I don’t have a transcript for because I want to be able to understand what the person is saying, particularly if they don’t speak clearly (also makes for easy cut & paste into google translate). Some Turkish learning sites have clips from movies and I can’t make out what they’re saying but on the transcript I say “Oh, is that what he said?” Is that a weaker approach?

  5. SamB
    April 11, 2012 | 12:48 pm

    My personal opinion on this is yes, having a transcript does weaken the approach. I think when you have the ‘comfort’ of a transcript to fall back on, you’re less likely to give the listening your full attention and concentration, and perhaps not give it quite as much effort as you should.

    If you have a transcript to fall back on, there’ll always be a (probably subconscious) part of your brain thinking ‘oh well, it doesn’t matter that I didn’t understand that, I can always look on the transcript’. Without that safety net, I think you’re more likely to improve your listening skills. Sure, you’ll probably have some difficulties, and won’t necessarily understand everything, but I don’t think that’s a massive problem at this stage.

  6. Allan Ngo
    April 12, 2012 | 6:40 pm

    Hi Aaron,

    Thanks for the comprehensive and practical post.

    I am currently studying Mandarin Chinese and have definitely tried both extensive and repeated listening.

    I normally use them on specific mediums. For example, I usually use extensive listening for TV series because I find it hard to watch the same scene again and again.

    I found this cool Youtube channel produced by the local Chinese tv network for foreign students to learn everyday Chinese conversations. These are just 15 mins long. Chewable and fun content. It’s called Happy Chinese.

    I do use repeated listening for music. I can tolerate repeated music more than repeated shows. It’s good subliminal training.

    And since music typically conjure emotion, the understanding of certain words or sentences could even go deeper than it usually does with regular study. Mostly due to the association of certain words/sentences to key emotions.

    I found this funny rendition of the Backstreet Boy’s song “I Want it That Way” which is shamefully funny and addicting. Plus the words are pretty simple and easy to follow.

    Enjoyed reading your post. Hopefully some of the resources here could help your audience as well.


  7. Linda
    June 4, 2012 | 9:14 pm

    When I first started googling YouTube videos in my target language (Deutsch), I had trouble finding ones that weren’t captioned/translated to English. I found the solution: At the very bottom left of the YouTube page, I saw that you can set the language of the page. I set it to my target language, then typed word “cartoon” in the search. Many cartoons in native German popped up. I’m now enjoying “Der Rosarote Panther” with no distracting English captions.

    Bonus: I’m learning to navigate YouTube using links labeled in German.

    • Mark
      August 30, 2012 | 10:17 pm

      @Linda – Perfect idea. Thanks so much. I am already putting it to good use!!

  8. Mike
    October 21, 2012 | 1:18 pm

    My suggestions below are suitable for practicing listening comprehension in any language, although I specialize in English and take English as an example.
    In order to have good skills in listening comprehension in English and to speak it fluently, a learner should practise listening to audio and video aids in English (dialogues, thematic texts and narrative stories) with subsequent speaking. It is preferable to have English transcripts of audio and video material. I suggest that learners practise listening comprehension with subsequent speaking on a variety of topics and with materials for all levels on a regular long-term basis in the following sequence:

    1. Listen to each sentence several times. Alongside listening see and read each sentence in the transcript.

    2. Make sure you understand everything clearly in each sentence in terms of pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar.

    3. Without looking into the transcript, try to repeat each sentence (say it aloud) exactly as you have heard it. Being able to repeat a sentence means that a learner has remembered its content.

    4. Listen to that particular conversation or text (story) in short paragraphs or chunks, say each paragraph aloud, and compare to the transcript.

    5. Listen to the whole conversation or story without interruption several times, and try to tell the content of the whole conversation or text (story) you’ve heard. You can write key words and phrases, or main ideas as a plan, or questions on that particular dialogue or text to make easier for you to convey the content in English. It is important to compare what you’ve said to the transcript.

    It is a good idea to record one’s speech on audio aid to compare it with the original audio/video recording.
    I believe that for practising listening comprehension and speaking in English it is a good idea to include various practical topics for potential needs of learners with comprehensive vocabulary on each topic. As you know the content of materials matters a great deal.
    Ready-made thematic dialogues, questions and answers on conversation topics, thematic texts (informative texts and narrative stories), grammatical usage sentences (in the form of dialogues and texts), and sentences with difficult vocabulary on various topics, especially with fixed phrases and idioms can be used in practising listening comprehension in English.
    It’s possible and effective to practise listening comprehension and speaking in English on one’s own this way through self-check using transcripts, books, audio and video aids to provide additional solid practice and to accelerate mastering of English.

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