Listening to a foreign language can be very exciting, but at the same time it can be quite overwhelming. A good strategy is to focus on what you do understand, such as brand names, places, or other cognates that sound familiar. A cognate is a word that is similar in two or more languages, such as the French words ‘musique’, ‘problème’, or ‘international’.
But how can you ignore what you don’t understand so that you can focus on what you do know? There are many words, called fillers, which you can ignore because they don’t carry key information. Another technique is listening for common word combinations or chunks. For example, in French, ‘Il y a’, ‘Je suis’ or ‘Je ne suis pas’ are chunks. A word of caution though. Chunks tend to be said quickly. Most people don’t say ‘Je ne suis pas’. They say ‘J’suis Pas’ or ‘Suispas’ or even ‘Sh’uispas’.
Try familiarising yourself with words that appear often in a given context. Looking at the starters on the menu, for instance, will help you break down ‘En entrée soupe ou salade?’ into separate words. Remember, when you’re interacting with others in real life, they take in clues and signals from you as much as you are from them. So don’t be afraid to ask people to repeat, speak more slowly, or clarify the meaning of specific words.
If you don’t understand something, don’t nod out of politeness. Let people know. Get as much exposure to the language as possible. Podcasts, films, music-- there’s plenty of choice out there. Don’t focus on trying to understand everything you hear. Instead, try to enjoy the sound and flow and get comfortable with it.