Did you know that we spend about 45% of our time listening to language and only about 30% of the time speaking? This goes to show how important strong listening skills are – yet many language learners say that listening is the most challenging skill to master.
So what exactly can make listening effectively in a second language problematic?
There are a number of factors. Perhaps there is a lot of background noise, the topic is unfamiliar, people are speaking quickly, or in the case of a phone call, you cannot see the speaker and so can’t use body language or lip reading as extra clues. The good news is it is possible to prepare yourself for some listening situations, and for others, there are tips and tricks which learners can use to make their life easier.
This is something we do all the time when listening in our first language. When you listen, use visual clues, such as the images in a news report or the slides in a presentation, to help you predict the type of vocabulary you will hear. For example, if you see images of housing with “For Sale” signs outside, followed by a graph of prices, you might expect to hear vocabulary such as “increase”, “boom”, “collapse”, “buyer”, “home owner”, and so on. Being aware of the topic before you listen (for example when attending a meeting or presentation) or while you listen (to the news) allows you to do some of your listening work beforehand: if you have a mental list of vocabulary items that might come up, you can concentrate more easily on the details. To help your team with their prediction skills, make sure everyone knows the agenda items of a meeting beforehand; or when studying vocabulary yourself, try creating mind maps to group the new items with words and phrases used in a similar context. Remember too, that key vocabulary items – or content words – appear in a sequence that tells a story. For example, if you hear “London”, “storm”, “police”, “rescue” and “50 families” in that order, you can probably predict the storyline quite accurately.
Inferring means using details of a listening text which we do understand together with prior knowledge to get a complete picture. So, for example, in a phone conversation with an internet provider, you might ask if you can cancel your contract after 6 months. You notice that the customer service agent sounds apologetic, and uses words like “sorry”, “impossible” “minimum usage period” and “cancellation fee”. Even if you aren’t sure what “usage period” means, you can infer that it’s going to be very difficult – or expensive – to cancel the contract.
Listening for details
A final tip for learners is when you listen, decide what you are listening for: are you interested in a particular type of information (for example, prices or the names of people involved in a project)? Focus your listening on pinpointing only that information: extra details can be ignored, so don’t panic if you don’t understand (or don’t catch) every word.
Lastly, remember that when people speak, they repeat information – often. So if you don’t understand something the first time around, chances are your conversation partner will say the same thing again, using slightly different words. Try to relax, don’t worry about understanding every word and enjoy the listening journey
How Learnship language training solutions can help
Building your listening skills with Learnship Sprint Skills starts right from day one. Each digital pre-work assignment, authored in-house by expert content writers, introduces new vocabulary in context to familiarize you with the topic before you move on to carefully graded listening exercises guiding you through the stages of predicting content and inferring details. Every week an online classroom session allows you to refine those listening – and speaking – skills even more, as you practise communicating in realistic business scenarios in a supportive environment with a specialist trainer. Each five-week program covers a range of topics for Business English skills such as Presentations, Remote Project Management, or Business Negotiations, to name but three.