Are you having a hard time understanding conversations when you do listening exercises or when you speak to a native English speaker? Here are some tips to help you improve your listening skills.
1. Work on pronunciation.
It’s not the most obvious tip but if you think about it, it makes complete sense. If you imagine a word sounds a certain way in your head and then you hear it pronounced (correctly) in a completely different way, you won’t know what it is you’re hearing. You’ll imagine that you’ve heard a new word, something you don’t know yet. This is often why students listen to a track, feel they don’t understand anything, and then, when they read along, are discouraged because they know every single word in the listening. If you like linguistics, try learning the phonetic alphabet. Google Translate also has an audio clip for words which is useful.
*Watch out with English! There are many different accents which makes this tip a real challenge.
2. Understand the sense.
Unless you are upper-intermediate to proficient, chances are you will not be able to understand every single word in a conversation. So stop trying to. The important thing at lower levels is to do your best and get the sense of what’s being said. If you focus too much on one word or phrase you will miss everything that comes after it. Think of it like treading water: you have to keep moving or you will sink. Keep your brain moving forward even if you miss parts. Then take the pieces you have and make a guess. You’ll find your guesses get better and better and eventually you won’t have to guess anymore.
3. Know the names of popular places around you.
This may seem like an odd tip but if you are living in or visiting an English-speaking country it will help you tremendously. Sometimes you’ll feel completely overwhelmed in conversations because you imagine that speakers are saying word after word that you haven’t learned yet when really they’re talking about a grocery store, a nearby town, or a street name. The faster you know local restaurants, buildings, and area names the better. Again, be sure to check on pronunciation for these!