Most Important Skills: Listening
English is a very special language: written text doesn’t match the sounds. Some people can read English and understand everything but they cannot understand anything when listening!
Listening to English is very different from reading English. If you study English from a textbook, you will not be able to understand when listening.
If you study English by listening to CDs and watching DVDs, then you will understand it.
North American accent (pronunciation) is different from British. Some people who studied British English, cannot understand Canadian English easily. It takes them time to adapt.
Canadian English and American (USA) English sound very similar. The only real difference is that Canadian pronunciation is more nasal (Canadians speak through their nose a little). To read more about North American pronunciation, click here.
The good news is that listening is a skill. That means you can practice it and improve it. You will need to make a plan and practice minimum 5 days a week. The only ‘true’ listening is the radio. To listen to Canadian English, go to www.cbc.ca/radio You can listen live online or download their podcasts. There are two listening techniques (exercise) that you can do while listening that is very effective. Click here to find out more. The ‘dot’ exercise can be done even if your listening is very bad. The ‘lip synching’ technique will help higher level students who want to improve their listening and speaking.
Listening to English is different than listening to any other language. To understand English, you need to learn to listen to keywords and ignore the small grammar words. Grammar words are pronounced fast in speech and they are not clear. You need to listen to loud, clear words only. If you try to listen to every word, you will get lost. In some languages, you can hear every word clearly but not in English! The secret to successful listening is to pay attention to keywords. Click here to learn more (“How to listen and understand“).
There are two types of listening: 1) listening to the radio or TV and 2) listening to a person in a conversation (face-to-face or on the phone).
When listening to a person, you can take control. You need to learn how to manage a conversation. All native speakers know how to do it. You can do it too. When you don’t understand, you need to ask to repeat and also ask questions. To read more about conversation management, click here.
Another important thing to remember is that listening is RECOGNIZING. You recognize the words you know and you recognize the information. You need to be familiar with the topic to understand it. There is one easy and effective way to do it: watch or read the news in your first language and, after that, watch and listen to the SAME NEWS in English. When you already know the topic, listening will be much easier. This is good practice. You can do the same practice with movies and cartoons: first in your language, then in English.
(Note on subtitles: Subtitles are reading. If you like using subtitles when studying, make sure you watch the same movie again without subtitles! Subtitles on TV is not a good idea if all you are doing is reading them.)
When listening to English, you are listening to two things: words and ‘music’ of English. ‘Music’ is not really music – it’s sounds, intonation, speed, stress, ups and downs in voice movement. That’s why it is good to practice listening to English even when you understand very little. The sound of English is different from the sound of your native language. Don’t worry about understanding – just listen to the sounds sometimes. Get used to how English sounds. Pay attention to the intonation in questions (voice goes up), pauses and interjections (words like “Ooops, Oh, Errrr, Wow, etc.)
Teenagers and children learn languages much faster because they love music. At a younger age, people are very sensitive to music and sounds. Children listen to the sounds of English and they try to repeat even when they don’t understand – they ‘sing’ English. If you want to learn English faster, listen to English sounds and repeat. Watch TV and repeat short sentences with the same ‘voice’ (same intonation) as you hear them – be a copycat, imitate closely – and you will have better pronunciation and grammar too!