Student or not, listening is a skill we could all use. It’s also often one of the more difficult skills for people to master. I find that dividing listening into separate sections helps make things easier to understand. I split listening into two groups – ‘face to face’ listening and ‘remote’ listening (listening to someone when you can’t see their face, e.g. on the telephone).
Face to Face Listening
This is the best kind of listening. Even if you don’t quite understand what someone is saying, you can guess, more or less, what they mean by looking at their body language and facial expressions. However, you can help yourself to understand by following these tips.
If you know what the conversation is going to be about, then you will have an idea of the kind of words and phrases you’ll hear. Make sure you regularly review and update the vocabulary of your industry (if it’s a work conversation) or your social life (hobbies, interests etc).
Ask questions to make sure you’ve understood
Clarifying helps you to know that you’ve listened correctly. Ask a question and then summarise or paraphrase what the other person has said. Use statements like – ‘so, what you mean is….’, ‘if I’ve understood correctly…..’, ‘what you’re saying is…..’ and so on.
It’s really important to focus on what the other person is saying. I think we’ve all had conversations where, instead of really listening to the other person, we’re thinking about what we are going to say next. Don’t worry too much about what to say, if you’re listening attentively, a question or comment will naturally appear. It doesn’t matter if you make a grammar mistake or get the word order wrong. The important thing is that you listened correctly and understood.
Trying to understand what someone says when you can’t see their face is more of a challenge. The best way to get used to listening to someone on the telephone is to:
Listen to the radio
I know I’ve said it before, and I shall say it again. There’s nothing like listening to a good talk radio station to get used to ‘real time’ conversation. In my opinion, Radio 4 is one of the best to listen to.
Get used to different accents
The UK has a wide variety of accents and understanding them can be tricky. One Radio 4 programme, The Listening Project, features people from all over the country, so you can hear many different accents.
Listening Activity for Beginners / Low Intermediate
If you’re a beginner, listening might be difficult for you, so to help we’ve put together this little activity. First, download the listening worksheet, and transcript. Then, listen to the conversation and answer the questions on the worksheet. Finally check the answer sheet to see how you did.
If you’d like to learn more about listening skills, or if you’d like more listening activities for different levels, let us know.
In the meantime, happy listening!