If you were like me, your teachers just put a cassette tape (or CD) in the player and said "Listen to this." Of course, we all tried hard to listen. But we weren't really given clear directions. It is like walking. Just do it. After all, who gives instructions for walking? I felt very frustrated with my problems when I tried to listen to other languages.
What Are Your Problems?
The problems I had were hidden. If you asked me if listening was difficult, then I said, "yes, of course." If you asked me what problems I had, I said, "It's difficult." That was my problem. I was not more clear than that. And neither was my teacher. The problem was, I did not know my problem. And neither did my teacher.
What Are Your Real Problems?
Once you know your problems, you can do something about them. That feels great! Let's think about what my problems were.
- Attention span
Many languages have different sounds. They have special sounds. English has special sounds that many other languages do not have. But more importantly, English has special sound combinations. The patterns of sounds in English is different from many other languages. English probably has different sound patterns than your language. The same is true for rhythm.
The rhythms of English may be different from your language. English rhythm speeds up and slows down. There are fast beats and slow beats.
Chunks are the words that you can put together with one special meaning. When students hear English, they often have to think about each word. When I hear English, I think of the meaning that several words together. This makes it much easier for me to listen to English. Some of the chunks I hear also have reductions.
Reductions are words that are not completely said. They may have some sounds missing. They may have sounds changed. Or overlapping sounds. This makes English sound fast. It is easy to listen to if you study these reductions.
How long can you listen and remember what you are hearing? This is related to chunks. But it is also a general power to listen to English for long periods of time. This is where most students start to practice listening.
But they do not have the other skills yet. (Do you?) You need to practice the other skills. Without them listening is extremely difficult. And you will only improve slowly. But when you start to practice the basic skills I talk about, you start to find listening easier and easier.
How can you overcome them?
So what can you do to practice these skills? I have written about these skills. I have described these skills. I have ideas about how to practice (of course!). Spend time on this site reading lots (it is also good reading practice). There are three general areas that I want you to know about.
- Intensive listening Techniques
- Extensive listening
Some books say intensive listening is listening for specific information. I agree. But there is so much more. I prefer to say that intensive listening has a target. It is short. You can repeat it easily.
Listening to practice hearing the sounds. Listening to practice hearing the rhythms. Listen to practice making bigger and better chunks. Learn the common reductions by listening. And listen actively. One of the techniques I like is shadowing (another great link here). You can even use shadowing for extensive listening.
Once you have a good solid foundation of listening skills, you can practice listening to longer and longer English passages. Many people do this for pleasure, but it also helps for passing tests, or listening to business meetings which are often long.
But I Have Heard Other People Say Different Things
Yes, and their ideas are good. If you want to know whose ideas are correct, we could talk all day. Instead of talking, try what I say. Give it s fair test. Practice English with my ideas for one month (no cheating!). If you don't think they help you, then try another site. Lots of my material is free. You have a great chance to practice and see what works for you.
One of my students at my school did not want to do homework. Megan told me that she did not like homework. I told her to do shadowing. I gave her some short MP3 audio recordings. Stories. After one week, she came back, to class. I asked her how it went. She said it was easier than reading and writing. She was not sure if it worked or not, but it was not hard. And it did not take a lot of time.
A month later, I asked her again. She told me she liked it. It was easy. And she did not have to think. She thought she was making progress, but she was not really sure. After three months, she came in to class and we talked for fifteen minutes. It was not really difficult conversation, but it was all English.
She did not seem to have trouble understanding me. I could easily see her progress. I showed her the time. I said, "We spoke English for fifteen minutes." She smiled. Then I introduced her to the next step in the listening practice. She listened eagerly.
The biggest problem with English listening practice is that many student don't know how to practice. They don't know their problems. Their problems are usually one or more of the following: sounds, rhythm, chunking reductions,or attention span. You can overcome them with clear, active listening practice.
First do intensive listening. This is listening with a target, to short selections of English again and again. Use the techniques on this site, and the stories too. Then when you feel you are getting more comfortable, start extensive listening. I strongly suggest you take time to regularly practice intensive listening.
You may listen to the stories I have on this site.