How To Improve Your Listening Skills
This post is a transcript of a video on my YouTube channel.
Studying English? Here’s the transcript as a lesson to study on LingQ.
I consider input, listening and reading to be the keys to learning a language. You have to get the language into you. It has to come from outside. You have to get your brain used to a new language. This is best achieved through listening and reading.
Reading helps you acquire more words, but listening gets your brain used to the language. And of course listening comprehension is a tremendously important skill because if you’re speaking to someone, and we all want to speak in the language, if you can’t understand what the other person is saying, then it’s very uncomfortable and you can’t have a very meaningful conversation.
So how do you use listening to get better in the language and what are the tips to get better at listening? First of all, it depends on each person, but I can not sit down and just listen. If I were to sit, and I’ve tried it, so I have whatever lesson I’m listening to and I sit down in a comfortable chair and I say, I’m going to spend half an hour listening to this podcast or whatever it might be. I’m incapable of doing that. My mind wanders. So if I have dedicated study time, then I’m going to read, or I’m going to work on my iPad with LingQ.
So where does the listening come in? Listening has the tremendous advantage that we can do it wherever we are. I have my AirPods and I recently bought a new kind of AirPod that sits outside the ear and they work really well. I went jogging yesterday and I could hear very well and I don’t have these things actually plugged into my ear, but I can listen. First thing in the morning I get up, I have a little seven minute exercise routine, I listen, I make breakfast. I listen. If I exercise during the day, I listen. If I’m in the car, I listen.
So you’ve got all this time to listen. Then people say, well, when you’re listening, do you always focus? It is impossible to one hundred percent focus while listening. Like so much in language learning, you have to accept imperfection. So when you speak, you’re going to make mistakes. When you listen, there’s going to be lots of areas you don’t understand. There are also going to be moments when you are not focused on what you’re listening to. You lose track you, your mind wanders off somewhere else. That’s fine. As long as you come back. And so I’d say for a period of 30 minutes that I’m in the car, listening to something, maybe I’m only focused on what I’m listening to half that time, or I don’t know what the number is because I don’t worry about it, but I know it’s not a hundred percent of the time. But for whatever percentage of the time I am listening, I am exposing my brain to the language and I am getting used to the language.
One of the things that’s very important is you cannot continue to listen to your target language and not understand anything or only understand five percent. That is very inefficient in my experience. So if I listen to something, obviously at the early stages in a language, I don’t understand anything, but then I will read it. I will look up the words. I’ll review them. Read it again, then I listen and I still don’t understand, even though I understood kind of when I was reading and looking at words, when I go to listen, I don’t understand, but that doesn’t bother me. I know that from personal experience that in time, what initially is just noise for me by a process of reading and listening and going back and reading again and looking at words again and listening again, eventually more and more of this becomes comprehensible.
Don’t listen to the same lesson over and over and over again at one sitting. In other words, the brain requires repetition and novelty. So you can listen to an item a few times, then move on to the next item. Even if you don’t fully understand the first. So you have lesson one and you listen and you listen and you read it, then you listen again and you understand 20, 30% move on to the next one. Don’t try to master any particular lesson or content item. It’s all exposure. It’s all helping the brain get used to the language. Remember, you need repetition and novelty after awhile. If you’re listening to the same thing over and over again, the brain is picking up less and less. You have to move to the next lesson and to the next lesson.
So keep pushing yourself forward, maintain that balance between repetition and novelty. And there’s all kinds of research into how the brain learns that blocked learning that third, fourth, fifth time we read something or we listen to something we are in fact learning less and less. So you have to keep moving forward. So don’t worry about losing focus. Don’t worry about what you don’t understand, keep challenging or rewarding your brain with new material, but do have enough repetition so that you start to notice certain things that you didn’t notice the first time.
I can listen to a mini story that I’ve listened to 30, 40 times, So I know the mini story, and yet I will suddenly notice a structure, a verb pattern, verb form that I hadn’t really noticed before, even though I knew the rule vaguely. The 31st time that I listen to it, I notice it in a different way. So give yourself a chance to notice things when you go back for that additional pass through the same material. So you’re maintaining that repetition and novelty, but when you’re in your repetition activity, allow yourself to notice certain things. You don’t have to notice everything. You can lose focus, but there will be times when you notice certain things in there that will help you in your gradual acquisition of the language.
Remember that listening comprehension here is the goal. It’s not going to be perfect, but it will gradually improve and the better your listening comprehension, the better your ability to have conversations. But again, give yourself variety between repetition and repetitious material and new challenging material combined reading with listening. Try to focus in on certain aspects of pronunciation that you maybe didn’t notice. Be aware that some of the things that you didn’t notice on the first time listening or the second or the fifth or the 10th time, you may notice that 20th time you listen. So the process of acquisition of a language is gradual. If you listen and you don’t understand, don’t get frustrated. If you listen and read and listen and read and still don’t understand, don’t get frustrated, that’s normal. In my own case, I prefer to be listening and doing something else, cleaning up the garage, whatever it might. Listening, fading out, focusing in again, that works better for me than trying to sit down and say, okay, for the next half hour, I’m going to listen to this.
The exception to that of course, is if you’re watching a movie, which is a form of listening, but you’re watching and listening at the same time. It’s rewarding because it’s fun to watch a movie and you can see the people, you can almost feel as if you’re participating with this family. That’s why series on Netflix are so great. If it’s the same group of people interacting all the time in this series you feel you’re a part of them, and you’re getting that sense of being in that cultural sphere. All of that is good, but I consider videos, movies, TV series, that’s more of a reward. That’s fun. You have to develop the ability to be able to listen without seeing what’s going on initially with repetitious material like the mini stories and eventually audio books where just hearing the words conjures up meaning for you so that you’re automatically converting words in the target language into meaning.
And so, as you build up to that level of listening comprehension, you are preparing yourself to become fluent in the language. So that’s my advice. Treat listening and listening comprehension not only as a primary goal in a language but as an important way of helping your brain become accustomed to the language.