Use Narrow Listening & Reading to Get Repetition Without the Boredom

Aug 10, 2015

Repetition is a fundamental part of successful language learning. Until you hear, read, and use the same words or structures enough times within meaningful contexts, they won’t stick in your long-term memory no matter how much you may want to remember them.

A love for repetition is perhaps one of the biggest advantages children have when learning their first language. I am simply amazed how my nieces and nephews can watch the same Sesame Street video or read the same Dr. Seuss book a zillion times without getting bored. We adults, on the other hand, quickly get bored with such repetition. We may watch the same Christmas movie every year, but we see watching the same foreign film every week as a form of punishment, not pleasure.

Fortunately, there is a powerful ways to eat our “repetition cake” without having to eat the “boredom broccoli" along with it: "narrow reading" and "narrow listening."

This approach was popularized by the American linguist Stephen Krashen, and essentially involves consuming a variety of materials on the same, “narrow” topic. This way you will be re-exposed to much of the same vocabulary and patterns in a meaningful and interesting way without having to read or listen to the exact same piece again and again.

💡 Pro Tip: One of the best ways I've found to apply narrow listening and reading, while also getting some speaking practice to boot, is interviewing a number of native speakers using the same predefined questions. Though answers and opinions will certainly vary (and thus increase how interesting the content will be to later review), you will inevitably come across many of the same terms and language structures. Even if you don't live where the language is spoken, you can find thousands of native speakers online using tutoring sites like italki.