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  • Think, Write, Breathe: 10 Tips to become a better listener of English

    by Muireann Prendergast

    You have a good vocabulary. You have good grammar. So why are you still daunted when you hear a native English speaker on the television, radio or in conversation? There is no doubt that listening to and understanding a native speaker can be an unsettling experience for students of English. Don’t worry. There are simple things you can do to feel more at ease in the situation. Here are 10 tips that can help make the listening experience not only productive but enjoyable.

    1. Ask us to slow down
    If you are in conversation with a native English speaker don’t be afraid to ask us to speak slower or to repeat ourselves if you didn’t catch what we said the first time around. We won’t be offended!

    2. Listen for keywords
    Remember that it’s not necessary to understand every word. The important thing is to pay attention to key words so that you can get the gist, or general idea, of what is being said. For example, if you can catch words like economy, England, crisis, in a news report you already have the basic idea of what is going on. Keywords might be repeated or said in a different voice. If it is possible, write then down if this will help you further.

    3. Pay attention to context
    Common sense is very useful when trying to understand another language. It is important to always bear in mind the context of what is being said. For example, in a news report about farming, if you are unsure, it is more likely that the word herd is being used in reference to a group cattle (cows) rather than the verb heard.

    4. Work constantly on your vocabulary
    Keeping a notebook or a folder on your computer with English vocabulary (and constantly updating this list) will be a big help when it comes to understanding native speakers when they speak.

    5. Turn off the subtitles
    You will pay better attention to what is being said if you turn off the subtitles in your native language when watching movies or series. Subtitles can be great to help us understand difficult vocabulary and even slang. However, it is important not to over-rely on them and to get used to watching television in English without them.

    6. Start easy
    Don’t be afraid to start with easy options such as songs that repeat the same words or programs that are aimed towards children. Once you feel comfortable with this level, you can then proceed to more complex English.

    7. Practice
    As the saying goes, practice makes perfect. The best way to improve your listening skills is to practice them regularly. Even finding videos on the internet, playing them a few times, pausing when necessary to consult a dictionary is a great idea to improve your comprehension and to make you feel more relaxed about understanding English spoken my native speakers.

    8. Put English on your iPod
    Why not download a novel on your iPod? You can improve your English while you run or take the train to work. If you are listening to something you enjoy you will learn a lot faster!

    9. Get you English speaking friends to speak to you in English
    If you are uneasy when hearing native English, a great way to overcome this is to practice with native English speaking friends. Most will be more than happy to speak to you in their own language and even explain difficult words should you have problems.

    10. Take it Easy!
    The worst thing you can do in a listening situation is become stressed. You might lose your focus and miss keywords that otherwise you would have heard. Take deep breaths if you find yourself becoming overwhelmed and remember to keep listening!