If you are like one of 1.5 billion students learning English today, you are always looking for more ways to improve. In this blog we have already spoken about some of the most effective ways to improve your English learning, including fun methods and proven techniques. One of those techniques is simply LISTENING. Sounds easy, right?
Listening is one of those skills that many people don’t do very well in their everyday life. With everyone’s attention being constantly fought over between phone screens, computer screens, television screens and of course work, school, kids, friends and all the other things we have to do every day, we have lost the art of truly listening. The age of the soundbite and 2-minute video has taught us to take information in quick, small doses that are already analysed for us. In one TED talk about the topic, sound expert Julian Treasure even claims “we are losing our listening.”
But it remains true that listening is one of the most effective, and probably underused, techniques for improving your English learning. Why?
Because listening is the way our brain naturally takes in language. The repetition of words and sounds, social situations and vocabulary for different subjects, as well as linking an experience and/or an emotion to the conversation, causes our brain to remember language naturally— just like we do when we learn as children.
In this way, listening to correct English any way you can is always beneficial to learning. We can listen to the radio, sing songs, watch films or television series, go to the theater, or visit an English-speaking country. One of the best ways to listen and learn is to have a conversation with a native speaker. But it can be difficult to listen to your partner in this situation because we are too worried about what we are saying ourselves! We are too worried about making mistakes and sounding intelligent that we don’t REALLY listen to our partner!
This can also pose a problem in business. If you are working in a language that is not your native tongue (often in business we must speak English!), it can be hard to keep up with meetings and conference calls. If we don’t have our listening skills well-tuned, we can miss important information! And in business, this can cost us money!
To help you continue to learn English (or any language!) more easily, here are a few tips for “conscious listening” to improve your listening skills. Try them the next time you are speaking with a native speaker!
- Make a short list of topics to discuss if necessary. This way, you will always have something to say. Personal stories generally work better than current events discussions, because we remember them and the language used much better.
- Make eye contact with the speaker if possible (in person); be present and pay attention. Looking directly at your partner, whether in person or via internet, shows them that you are listening. It is a sign of respect, and shows that you are open to having a meaningful conversation.
- Try to clear your mind, turn off your phone, and ignore the sound around you and your partner. It can be difficult in a public place, but cutting down on distractions will help you focus on your partner and hearing what they are saying.
- Don’t assume that you already know what the other person is going to say. You might be surprised or learn something new!
- Try to pick up key words, expressions or phrases and get an general idea of what the speaker is trying to say. If listening and understanding is difficult for you, this is one effective technique. Without panicking, focus on the main words that are stressed when your partner speaks. In English, the most important words in a sentence tend to be stressed, and this can help us understand the topic.
- Try to feel what the speaker is feeling. Is your partner expressing emotion in their face or body language? Are they expressing emotion in their voice, or with the words they are using? Feelings are linked to language, and tuning into the emotion behind the words is a key part of understanding and remembering naturally.
- Discreetly note words or expressions you hear. Use a small piece of paper to jot down new words or expressions that you’d like to remember. But don’t spend all your time writing– this is just a tool, not the focus on the activity.
- Don’t interrupt. People who interrupt are not really listening. The point is to let the other person finish speaking. This can take some practice in patience, but if you take your time and give your full attention to your partner, it is easy.
- Listen to understand, not to reply. Don’t worry about how to reply or making mistakes. Your priority is to understand what your partner is saying. If you don’t understand your partner, you won’t be able to reply very well anyway!
- Paraphrase for clarifiction, but only when the speaker pauses. Paraphrasing what your partner is saying is a great way to verify that you understand, repeat the words used, and speak! You can make sure you are understanding the conversation by asking questions and repeating what you have just heard. You may even ask how to spell something, or what something means. These kinds of personal explanations allow us to learn much more quickly than from a book or a recording.
- Have fun! The most important part of talking to someone is to enjoy the conversation! Make sure to smile, relax, and enjoy!
Do you find listening to another language difficult?
Have you ever tried listening using these conversation techniques?
Did it work for you? Let us know!
Sources include: The Wall Street Journal and Forbes magazine