Improve your Listening!

You may wish to understand spoken English for a variety of reasons. Maybe you plan to take the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) so you can study abroad or get a good job in an English-speaking country. Perhaps you want to become a translator or a guide for English speakers. Or maybe you just want to enjoy an English movie or song in its original language. Whatever the reason, you will need to practice your English listening skills to improve.

Of course, English classes, preferably taught by a native English speaker are an excellent way to learn to understand the spoken word. However, you can do more to make your understanding more complete and natural. The ideas presented below will help you build your listening skills.

Check out a movie.

If you have a DVD or VHS player, check out a British or American movie and turn on both the English sound track and the English subtitles. Often times, English language learners are much further along in their reading skills than their speaking or listening skills. Feel free to watch the movie once for the fun of it, but then get ready to watch it slowly and with more care. Work through the movie scene by scene. Listen carefully to the dialog. If you can not make out what is being said, read the subtitle. Repeat the scene several times until you know you have understood each word. Then ask yourself the following questions. What was the scene about? Who were the main characters? How do these characters feel about each other? What things did they say that support your idea of who they are and how they relate to one another?

Catch the news.

Watch an English-speaking newscast. If the broadcast station provides closed-captioning, turn it on. Listen carefully, read if you have to. After the newscast, ask yourself the following questions. What happened? Where did it happen? How many people were affected by the event? When did it happen? You can come up with questions of your own. Try to ask yourself to recall specific details about the stories as well as the general nature of the story. If you do not think you understood some of these points, try to catch the broadcast again at another time during the day or see it on a station that broadcasts it in your own language..

Translation, please.

Volunteer to take an English speaker on a tour of your town. Check with local travel or bus companies. They might need someone to assist tourists. Visit museums and other cultural sites which tourist frequent. If you see someone struggling to find something, help them out. However, remember to respect the traveler’s wishes. Sometimes English speakers get overwhelmed with people who wish to practice their English.

Keep an English notebook.

When you learn new words or phrases, jot them down in your notebook so you can refer back to them later. If you are speaking with a native English speaker and they say something you are not familiar with, ask them to explain. Perhaps they can spell the word for you and tell you the definition they were using. Many English words have multiple meanings and it is helpful to know which meaning was being used. Some English phrases have a meaning that does not translate literally. For example, the phrase – his heart was in his throat – means the person was excited and fearful at the same time. Writing down the words and phrases which are new to you causes your brain to make a better record of these new items and you are more likely to remember them.

Start an “English Speaking” Club.

You’ll get practice at both speaking and listening to English. The idea of the club is meet with several other English students and spend an hour or so talking only in English. For added interest, perhaps you could invite a native English speaker to join your club for tea or coffee or a meal. Then you have a chance to ask about where they are from and what it is like in their hometown. Another idea for the club is to listen to an English book on tape or CD and discuss what you hear. Listen to short segments, stop the recording and then talk about what is happening in the story. Make sure everybody in the club understands what is happening and then listen to more. Check out my article on “Starting an English Speaking Club” for more ideas at on the Reference Desk page.

Developing English listening skills, although challenging, can be fun. Use the ideas above to improve your skills. Remember – the more you use English in your everyday life, the better your understanding of the English language will be.

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