Improving Your Listening Skills
We’ve all been there. Whether it’s a commercial on the radio or TV, or eavesdropping on the subway, our ears perk up when we hear someone speaking in our target language. Depending on your level, you may find it hard to understand what they’re saying. Here is a list of some tips and resources that can help you improve your listening skills.
1. Do a LOT of active listening.
One of the most useful exercises that one can do when practicing a new language is active listening. Search for an audio file, an audio book, a podcast, or a Youtube video (TED Talks are particularly useful) with a transcription. Listen to the audio file and follow along closely with the accompanied text. Try listening to the audio without the text first, and then go back and listen while following the text. Which words did you recognize? Which words did you have trouble recognizing?
Making strong connections between the sound of the word and how it is written will help you recognize it in the future. Listen to the word, read it, write it, and speak it. The “Easy Languages” series on Youtube covers multiple languages, and has subtitles in both your target language and English. Follow along while paying close attention to the words and the sounds that correspond to them. Rewind and listen multiple times if you have to!
2. Don’t let frustration get the best of you. Give your brain time to digest the sounds and the melody of the languages. Getting frustrated only sets up a “mental block” that will prevent you from making any progress. Take a deep breath, put your headphones in and enjoy the learning process.
3. Listen to something that interests you. You might feel more encouraged to actively listen to something that actually interests you. This is a great way for your brain to become accustomed to the sounds of certain topic-specific words that you might use or hear in the future. n your target language, search “videos about _____ with a transcription,” or “podcasts with transcription.” Search for a topic that interests you and start listening!
4. Listen to music. Listening to music is a great way learn new vocabulary. Although the words are being sung and not spoken, it is still a great way for your brain to internalize the sounds of the language, and to learn new vocabulary as well! Ask some native speakers to recommend you some songs. Search for the lyrics on Google and follow along!
5. Read lips. Whether you’re watching a show on Netflix, or speaking with someone face-to-face, reading will help both your listening skills and your pronunciation. Applying your knowledge of the way that sounds are made to the movements of the other person’s lips will help your brain distinguish the words that they’re saying. This will help you pick out words that you might not have recognized otherwise!
Don’t forget — exposure is key! Do as much active listening as possible, and supplement it with passive listening. Radios, podcasts, the news, music, and just chatting with native speakers can help. Good luck with your language learning journey, and feel free to share any other methods for improving listening skills.