What is MIA?
The Mass Immersion Approach (MIA) is a methodological approach to learning a foreign language. By no means is it new; it concisely sums up the method I and many others have used successfully to learn languages for many years, found here . Nevertheless, it is always nice to have a neat name to define concepts and approaches.
The creators behind MIA – Matt and Yoga – provide a guiding set of principles and techniques for gaining fluency in your target language at speed. Linguistic immersion, whether by listening to or reading in your target language, is considered to be the single most important factor in attaining fluency. Whether you’re physically in the country in which your target language (in our case, Russian) is spoken, is irrelevant. The hours of exposure through listening and reading practice, help to attune your ears to the unique features of the target language and repeated encounters with vocabulary through the practice of immersion helps to reinforce that knowledge in your brain.
Why should I listen to Russian-language podcasts?
Without investing serious time into listening to the language, memorising a large number of words can only get you so far. One of the best ways to train your ear to parse the sounds in the Russian language is to listen to Russian, particularly if you don’t live in Russia. This will help you to decode the distinct consonant and vowel sounds which combine to make up each word, gain an intuitive understanding of Russian grammar and expand your vocabulary. Over time, you’ll find you understand more and more spoken Russian.
One of the reasons why podcasts are such a good choice for honing your listening skills, is the fact that their format often resembles real-life conversations. In addition, getting as much input as you can from native-speakers of Russian is useful for perfecting your Russian accent. Podcast episodes are typically short and don’t take up as much of your time as a film would. There are also a variety of podcasts on a wide range of topics, meaning that you’re bound to find something aligned with your interests.
How will I know if I’ve found a good Russian podcast?
The most useful Russian podcasts at the beginner and intermediate levels, are those which are accompanied by a transcript or – even better – go further by providing you with material developed to test your understanding. It is much easier to follow podcast dialogue with a transcript and you can quickly identify new words.
If you really want to squeeze value out of podcasts, listen to them repeatedly and you’ll find that once you have matched sounds with text, or have translated key words, you’ll recognise more and more vocabulary each time. That’s the beauty of repetition. Try to determine the meaning of a word using the context as a clue before checking the meaning in a dictionary. The type of competition this breeds with yourself can help to cement the meaning in your memory. It will also help you to acquire the ability to understand conversations with native speakers despite not knowing the meaning of every single word. This isn’t necessary at all.
What type of podcast is best for each type of learner?
As a beginner, pure Russian podcasts are not recommended as they may be demotivating and it is much more difficult to determine the meaning of words without the visual cues that YouTube videos, films and TV series provide. However, if you’re up for the challenge, you can ease your way into the immersion process by selecting podcasts that are created with new learners in mind. Typically, the pace of the speech is slower, English is used to explain key grammatical concepts, the vocabulary you encounter will be amongst the most frequently used words and the sentence structure will be of low complexity.
As your vocabulary base increases and your confidence grows, you can find podcasts which are entirely in Russian and this will help you to understand the spoken language as spoken by native speakers. That is, at regular speed, with natural pronunciation patterns, sentence structures and colloquial language. Listening to this type of content is what will really push your comprehension of the spoken language to the next level.
Try to find content that is enjoyable as you’ll find it much easier to train your listening ability consistently that way.
Help! I tried to listen to a podcast and I couldn’t understand a word.
So, you tried to listen to a Russian podcast and can’t hear when one word ends and another begins. That’s okay! It’s absolutely normal to understand next to nothing in the early stages of the process. Although frustrating, you can be assured that you are not wasting your time at all. Your brain is busy at work trying to recognise speech patterns and expressions. It might not be today and it probably won’t be tomorrow either, but you’ll eventually be able to understand complete sequences of vocabulary; trust the process. By simply committing to actively trying to hear individual vowels and consonants as clearly as possible, you’ll speed up the process of your brain decoding Russian phonemes.
What is the best way to ‘listen’ to a podcast?
There are two types of approaches to podcasts: active listening and passive listening. For active listening, you need to focus your attention on the dialogue and you can use the transcript to support your understanding whether a limited vocabulary, or an untrained ear is your weak point. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted by anything else. With passive listening on the other hand, you can play the podcast in the background and accustom yourself to understanding spoken Russian as you go about your daily routine.
As time goes on, your brain will be able to identify distinct phonemes and you’ll be able to follow the dialogue, understanding words which are known or familiar to you, and hearing individual words which you might consider researching the meaning of if their meaning is unclear from the context and essential for grasping the overarching meaning of a sentence. You won’t get to this point if you can’t tolerate the early stages when you can’t understand much of the language you are being exposed to.
If you’re struggling to find the time to dedicate to listening to podcasts, try to take advantage of dead time such as when you’re taking your morning shower, heading to work, cleaning, cooking, exercising etc.
As long as you’re consistent, you’ll see a measurable difference in the amount of dialogue that you can understand. Set aside a regular period of time you can commit to on a daily basis in line with your other responsibilities and stick to it. Your comfort levels will steadily increase and in line with the philosophy behind spaced repetition, you’ll find that you memorise new vocabulary almost effortlessly; the only requirements on your part being a commitment to listening and having an inquisitive mind so that you search for the meaning of new words occasionally or regularly depending on your stamina. The more you encounter words, the easier it will be to recognise their meaning and move them from your passive to your active vocabulary.