Develop your skills – Listening
“How can I improve my listening?”
So many students ask me this question. To improve your listening, first you need to understand more about how to listen. In life, we listen to things for different reasons and in different ways.
For example, we listen to:
- announcements (eg. at the airport) – to find just the information we need (scan)
- news stories – to understand the general idea (skim)
- important information or instructions – we need to understand well (listen for detail)
- the radio or films – for enjoyment, in a relaxed way (listen for pleasure)
Sometimes we use more than one of these skills. If you listen to the radio, you may:
- skim for the general idea of the talkback chat
- scan to find a specific concert date or name of a song
- listen for detail to understand more about an important issue
Listening is a kind of processing – so to listen better, listen in the best way to get the information you need. And you need to use your background knowledge and experience of the world to help you guess when you don’t understand something.
Try to think about these questions quickly before you start listening:
- What am I listening to?
- Why am I listening to it?
- How should I listen to it?
If it’s a movie, sit back, relax and let the words wash over you like the sea. If it’s a test, tune in to find key words or synonyms related to the question. If you adapt yourapproach, then your listening will become more effective.
Try listening for just the information you need.
Learners sometimes worry too much about their listening. Remember, listening will always be more difficult if…
- there is a lot of background noise.
- speakers are talking fast or have a different accent.
- there are lots of words or phrases you don’t know.
- you feel stressed – this stops you from listening well, so try to relax!!
- you expect too much – you don’t need to understand every word!
So you need to adjust your expectations! If it’s a less familiar topic or accent, expect to understand less and be realistic about what you can achieve in each listening situation.
Finally, in your language, you don’t listen word by word because it is too slow. Don’t listen word by word in English. (You think it helps you understand better, but it doesn’t! If you listen to every word, you may miss the meaning of the whole sentence).
Try processing phrases or “chunks” of language – it’s faster and more effective.
Practise, practise and practise some more…. The more you listen, the more you’ll understand in time. Listen to a variety of podcasts, Youtube clips, news and songs. Try watching one TV show regularly – you’ll be amazed at how much more you understand once you become familiar with each main character and their particular style of speaking.
Check out other ideas to improve your listening here – Listening Activities.
And for a listening log click here – Keeping Track of Your Listening.