Learning to Listen…

bookwormThe following article was given to me as part of a package of course material for an Introductory English Summer Course for new undergraduate students several years ago. I have kept it because in it there are some good good ideas about how to improve listening skills, but also some not so good ideas for lower level learners.

You can listen to the article as well as read if you wish by clicking the “start” button on the player below.

Students often come to me and ask how to improve their listening skills. Usually, they have a test coming up in a few weeks’ time and they want to get a higher score. Usually they don’t like the answer I give them. I tell them that you get good listening skills with time and practice. It takes hundreds of hours of listening practice for each level of English. I think the students are looking for rules, like in grammar teaching; or practice exercises, like in speaking or writing lessons.

One problem for students is the mental block. While listening, a student starts to think that he or she cannot understand, and they have a mental block. Maybe the student is trying to translate a word. Or maybe they just believe that the language is too difficult to understand and they…. stop listening. So, I try to help them by telling them that it’s OK not to understand something. There are so many words in English, and you’ll never know them all, so don’t get stuck on a word or even a sentence that you don’t understand. Just let it go and listen for the next one.

Another thing I tell my students is that they need to listen to English as often as possible, but for short periods of time. I always say:

“Imagine you want to get fit, so you decide to begin jogging. The very first day you go out and jog 10 kilometers. If you are lucky, you might be able to jog 10 kilometers. But, you probably won’t go out jogging again soon. Fitness trainers tell us that we must begin with little steps. Begin jogging short distances and walk some as well, over time you can increase how far and fast you go. If you do it this way, you’ll be more likely to continue and get fit.”

Students need to improve their listening skills in the same way. Watch some English language TV or listen to an English radio station, but don’t watch a whole film or listen for two hours. Students should listen often, but they should listen for short periods – five to ten minutes. This should happen four or five times a week. Even if they don’t understand anything, five to ten minutes is not too long. But, the students must know that their listening skills won’t improve quickly. The brain can do amazing things with time; students must have the patience to wait for results. Just five or ten minutes a day, four or five days a week, for three or four months will bring a great improvement.

The advice is clearly from an English teacher somewhere. I have run some of the text through Google to try identify who wrote it. However, I haven’t got any matches. If any of our readers can help with this, it would be greatly d.

The things that I like about the article are the advice about the need to try to avoid “mental block”, and the suggestion that students should listen to English as often as possible but for short periods of time. This kind of listening requires a lot of effort in order to keep your mind on trying to identify meaning. The speaker suggests 5 to 10 minute periods, but I would prefer to see a 10 to 15 minute target.

One point that I don’t agree with is the suggestion that English TV, radio and movies are good learning tools for lower level learners. Unless you are already at Intermediate level, these will have too much unknown vocabulary and too many atic expressions to be effective in developing listening. Any form of English listening will be of some benefit and, if you have extra time, by all means listen to English radio and watch English TV and movies. However, in order to get the most out of the 10 to 15 minute periods of “learning to listen”, you should listen to material at the right level for your level of English.

What is the right listening level? Unfortunately there is no one answer as it depends on how you have learned English. If, like most EFL learners you have been learning mostly from books and have not had a lot of time with a native speaking teacher or friend, you probably need to start at a level or two below your reading level. This is because you may know many words when you see them but not when you hear them. If you can, a very good method of improving your listening in this case is to go through each exercise three times: the first time listening only, the second time reading and listening, and the third time listening carefully again.

You will find that many of the links on the right have good reading and listening exercises at various levels. As time permits, we also hope to be able to add audiobook recordings of the various stories and articles on xpressenglish.com.

(v: appreciate, appreciates, appreciated, appreciating) 1. To be grateful or thankful for something. 2. To value someone or something highly. 3. To understand or be aware of something. 4. To increase in value. 2000

(n: idiom pl idioms) An expression that cannot be understood from the meanings of its separate words but has a meaning of its own which is generally understood by the native speakers of a language. It's a piece of cake. [= It's very easy.] It costs an arm and a leg. [= It's very expensive.] He has kicked the bucket. [= He is dead.] 8000