Teaching listening skills is one of the most difficult tasks for any
teacher. This is because successful listening skills are acquired over
time and with lots of practice. It's frustrating for students because
there are no rules as in grammar teaching. Speaking and writing also
have very specific exercises that can lead to improved skills. This is
not to say that there are not ways of improving listening skills,
however they are difficult to quantify. One of the largest inhibitors
for students is often mental block. While listening, a student suddenly
decides that he or she doesn't understand what is being said. At this
point, many students just tune out or get caught up in an internal
dialogue trying translate a specific word. Some students convince
themselves that they are not able to understand spoken English well and
create problems for themselves. They key to helping students improve
their listening skills is to convince them that not understanding is OK.
This is more of an attitude adjustment than anything else, and it is
easier for some students to accept than others. Another important point
try to teach students (with differing amounts of success) is that they
need to listen to English as often as possible, but for short periods of
time. I like to use this analogy: Imagine you want to get in shape. You
decide to begin jogging. The very first day you go out and jog seven
miles. If you are lucky, you might even be able to jog the seven miles.
However, chances are good that you will not soon go out jogging again.
Fitness trainers have taught us that we must begin with little steps.
Begin jogging short distances and walk some as well, over time you can
build up the distance. Using this approach, you'll be much more likely
to continue jogging and get fit. Students need to apply the same
approach to listening skills. Encourage them to get a film, or listen to
an English radio station, but not to watch an entire film or listen for
two hours. Students should often listen, 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 a minor investement. However, for this strategy to work,
students must not expect improved understanding too quickly. The brain
is capable of amazing things if given time, students must have the
patience to wait for results. If a student continues this exercise over
two to three months their listening comprehension skills will greatly
improve. Here are some other exericses to help your students improve
their listening skills.
Once you have begun to listen on a regular basis, you might still be
frustrated (adjective=upset) by limited understanding. What should you
Here is some of the advice to give students:
Accept the fact that you are not going to understand everything.
Keep cool (idiom=stay relaxed) when you do not understand - even if you continue to not understand for a long time.
Do not translate into your native language (synonym=mother tongue)
Listen for the gist (noun=general idea) of the conversation. Don't
concentrate on detail until you have understood the main ideas.
I remember the problems I had in understanding spoken German when I
first went to Germany. In the beginning, when I didn't understand a
word, I insisted on translating it in my mind. This approach
(synonym=method) usually resulted in confusion. Then, after the first
six months, I discovered two extremely important facts; Firstly,
translating creates a barrier (noun=wall, separation) between the
listener and the speaker. Secondly, most people repeat themselves
constantly. By remaining calm (adjective=relaxed), I noticed that - even
if I spaced out (idiom=to not pay attention) I could usually understand
what the speaker had said. I had discovered some of the most important
things about listening comprehension:
Translating creates a barrier between yourself and the person who is speaking
While you are listening to another person speaking a foreign language
(English in this case), the temptation is to immediately translate into
your native language. This temptation becomes much stronger when you
hear a word you don't understand. This is only natural as we want to
understand everything that is said. However, when you translate into
your native language, you are taking the focusof your attention away
from the speaker and concentrating on the translation process taking
place in your brain. This would be fine if you could put the speaker on
hold (phrasal verb=to make a person wait). In real life however, the
person continues talking while you translate. This situation obviously
leads to less -not more- understanding. I have discovered that
translation leads to a kind of block (noun=no movement or activity ) in
my brain which sometimes doesn't allow me to understand anything at all!
Most people repeat themselves
Listen to something you enjoy
Probably the greatest advantage about using the Internet to improve your
listening skills is that you can choose what you would like to listen
to and how many and times you would like to listen to it. By listening
to something you enjoy, you are also likely to know a lot more of the
Listen for Keywords
Use keywords (noun=principal words) or keyphrases to help you understand
the general ideas. If you understand "New York", "business trip", "last
year" you can assume (verb=to take for granted, suppose) that the
person is speaking about a business trip to New York last year. This may
seem obvious to you, but remember that understanding the main idea will
help you to understand the detail as the person continues to speak.
Think for a moment about your friends, family and colleagues. When they
speak in your native tongue, do they repeat themselves? I don't mean
literally (adverb=word for word), I mean the general idea. If they are
like most people I have met, they probably do. That means that whenever
you listen to someone speaking, it is very likely (adjective=probable)
that he/she will repeat the information, giving you a second, third or
even fourth chance to understand what has been said.
By remaining calm, allowing yourself to notunderstand, and not
translating while listening, your brain is free to concentrate on the
most important thing: Understanding English in English.