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Improving Listening Skills

Listening Tips

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Does this situation seem familiar to you? Your English is progressing well, the grammar is now familiar, the reading comprehension is no problem, you are communicating quite fluently, but: Listening is STILL a problem!

First of all, remember that you are not alone. Listening comprehension is probably the most difficult task (noun=exercise, job) for almost all learners of English as a foreign language. So, now you know you are not alone....! OK. The most important thing is to listen, and that means as often as possible. The next step is to find listening resources. This is where the Internet really comes in handy (idiom = to be useful) as a tool for English students. Here are some suggestions for interesting listening selections:

Strategies

Once you have begun to listen on a regular basis, you might still be frustrated (adjective=upset) by limited understanding. What should you do?

Here is some of the advice I give my students:

  • Accept the fact that you are not going to understand everything.
  • Keep cool (idiom=stay relaxed) when you do not understand - even if you continue to not understand for a long time.
  • Do not translate into your native language (synonym=mother tongue)
  • Listen for the gist (noun=general idea) of the conversation. Don't concentrate on detail until you have understood the main ideas.
I remember the problems I had in understanding spoken German when I first went to Germany. In the beginning, when I didn't understand a word, I insisted on translating it in my mind. This approach (synonym=method) usually resulted in confusion. Then, after the first six months, I discovered two extremely important facts; Firstly, translating creates a barrier (noun=wall, separation) between the listener and the speaker. Secondly, most people repeat themselves constantly. By remaining calm (adjective=relaxed), I noticed that - even if I spaced out (idiom=to not pay attention) I could usually understand what the speaker had said. I had discovered some of the most important things about listening comprehension:

Translating creates a barrier between yourself and the person who is speaking

While you are listening to another person speaking a foreign language (English in this case), the temptation is to immediately translate into your native language. This temptation becomes much stronger when you hear a word you don't understand. This is only natural as we want to understand everything that is said. However, when you translate into your native language, you are taking the focusof your attention away from the speaker and concentrating on the translation process taking place in your brain. This would be fine if you could put the speaker on hold (phrasal verb=to make a person wait). In real life however, the person continues talking while you translate. This situation obviously leads to less -not more- understanding. I have discovered that translation leads to a kind of block (noun=no movement or activity ) in my brain which sometimes doesn't allow me to understand anything at all!

Most people repeat themselves

Think for a moment about your friends, family and colleagues. When they speak in your native tongue, do they repeat themselves? I don't mean literally (adverb=word for word), I mean the general idea. If they are like most people I have met, they probably do. That means that whenever you listen to someone speaking, it is very likely (adjective=probable) that he/she will repeat the information, giving you a second, third or even fourth chance to understand what has been said.

By remaining calm, allowing yourself to notunderstand, and not translating while listening, your brain is free to concentrate on the most important thing: Understanding English in English.

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