Improving Your ESL Listening Skills
In our English Intensive classes at Excel English Institute here in Dallas, we focus on many different areas of learning English. There are specific exercises for reading, writing, spelling, and speaking English. Most people would probably say that their primary goal in studying the English language is learning how to speak English, and we understand! Speaking English opens a whole new world – you can communicate effectively in a class, business meeting, or even at a restaurant.
Yes, speaking English can have an incredible impact. However, to really be an effective communicator in the English language you must be able to speak, spell, write, read, and listen to English. In this article today we’re focusing on developing English listening skills. If you can speak English but cannot comprehend what others are saying, you’re missing a key piece of communication!
Why is Listening so Hard?
One of the biggest challenges to learning English can simply be listening in English! It’s easy enough to learn basic English phrases like “hello,” “how are you,” and “goodbye.” (Or even more important phrases, like “which way to the restroom?”)
Listening to English is difficult because it is not standardized. Every person, show, song, sound can be different. Some people mumble, others speak very quickly.
You’re not alone! Many students struggle to listen in English for several reasons:
- The speaker talks too fast or too slow, or may even mumble
- Background noise interferes with the ability to hear well
- The student has a limited vocabulary or lack of familiarity with the language
Remember, listening is much more than simply hearing. True listening is an active part of conversation; it is hearing to understand. You not only receive the words when you’re listening, but you’re also able to process and assign meaning. The most important thing to know is that if you struggle listening to others in English, do not panic. Often students get so caught up in the fact that they cannot keep up, they freeze out of fear and just disengage in the conversation!
Take your time and your listening skills will develop as you put in the work.
Tips for Developing your Listening Skills in English
As with many things, practice is going to help you become a better listener. It can be intimidating to put yourself into uncomfortable situations, but the more you practice the better you will become. Here are our tips for developing listening skills.
1. Turn Off the Translation
Fluent speakers of a second language are not attempting to translate everything they hear word for word. This may be an effective strategy when you’re first starting out in a new language but try to move on from translation. This also goes for having subtitles on for movies or even an electronic translation method. It’s so tempting as an English student to want to always have the text in front of you. After all, if you’ve done very well in reading the English language you may want to see it. Developing your listening skills means you must get rid of the translations. Resist the urge to use translation!
2. Look for Clues
If you’re going to watch a show or a video, try to pay attention to clues to set the stage for what you’re about to hear. What is the title? In the opening scene, what is the setting (are they in a classroom, a restaurant, an office?) Part of listening well is paying attention to context to help you predict what the conversation will be about. Now, this works for a video but also works in real life scenarios. Even the tone of voice can help provide clues as to what’s going on in conversation. Do your best to predict what’s going to happen in as many situations as you can.
3. Take What You Can Get
You might not be able to catch every single word, but you CAN grasp one or two words. Use these as signs to help you understand what concepts or subjects are in the conversation. Even just one or two words can help provide a lot of context for you.
4. Practice with Games
If you have a group of people all learning English, try playing Simon Says or the Telephone game to practice what you’re hearing from others! If you’re alone, try watching some YouTube videos and using these tips to understand what is happening in a short scene without using subtitles. Try listening to a recorded lecture, podcast, or Ted Talk, even for just a few minutes a day to develop your listening skills further!
You CAN learn to speak English and communicate with confidence. These tips will help!
What helps you the most with listening as you’re learning a second language? We would love to hear from you!