You have been studying English for a long time. You have a good knowledge of English grammar and you know lots of words. You can read things in English and you can communicate well in writing. You have trouble understanding what people are saying, however, and it’s impossible for you to watch English movies or TV shows without subtitles. Does that describe you?
You are not alone. Listening is usually the slowest skill to improve. For most language learners, listening is their weakest skill. There are two reasons for this:
- You may be pronouncing a word incorrectly, and therefore you can’t understand the word when it’s pronounced correctly.
- You are listening for the wrong words and sounds. Natural spoken English is a mixture of stressed & unstressed words, linked words, contracted words, and reduced words. Many words are not fully pronounced.
Here’s an activity that you can do to improve your listening skills and get used to the sounds of natural spoken English. I learned this activity fromCarl Kwan, and I’ve expanded on his method.
Choose a short audio clip at your level.
If you are a beginner or low intermediate, choose something that is about 1-2 minutes; more advanced learners should choose longer clips that are about 3-5 minutes. Make sure you also have the words to the audio clip. You need to be able to check your work!
Here are some suggestions:
1. Listen to the whole audio clip once without looking at the words. Relax. Take a deep breath. Don’t panic.
2. Listen to the entire clip again. It’s easier to hear and understand what you’re listening to when you’re relaxed and not panicking.
3. Listen to the clip, but pause the clip every 5 seconds.
- After you pause the audio, write down a word, phrase or anything you can remember from the clip.
- When you have finished and listened to the entire clip, read through your notes completely.
- It’s OK if you don’t understand every word, but can you understand the general theme of what the speaker is saying?
4. Repeat step 3. Check your work. Correct your work. Add any new words you heard.
5. Read through your notes completely again. Try to finish the sentences. If you wrote down one or two words, can you figure out the sentence from those words? Use your knowledge of grammar to try to complete the sentences.
6. Hide your notes. Listen to the clip again, but this time stop after 10 seconds. Again, write down the main words you hear. Check your work compared to what you wrote down in step 5.
7. Listen to the clip completely one last time while reading your notes.
8. Compare your notes to the actual words.
- What words did you get right?
- Did you have trouble hearing certain words?
- Are there any words that you should have heard [words that you already know] but did not? Why? Is your pronunciation wrong? Was the word unstressed in the sentence? Was it linked to a word before or after it?
- Look up any new words that you don’t know.
9. Listen to the clip while reading the words. Check your pronunciation of words you know but didn’t hear or understand when you were listening.
10. Hide all your notes and the words. Listen one final time to the clip. It should be easier now to understand what the speaker is saying.
11. After about a week, come back and listen to the clip again to refresh your memory.
NOTE: Your listening skills will not improve overnight. Like anything in life, it takes a lot of practice! If you practice consistently 3-4 times a week, soon you will start to see an improvement in your listening skills.
Good luck and happy studying!
Read this article in Japanese. (Easykaiwa.seesaa.net)
Read this article in Portuguese (Brazilian). (Learnendo)