Improve Your Foreign Language Listening Skills
Sep 1, 2010 Speaking/Listening 2910 Views
For most educated people, listening in the foreign language is the most challenging skill to master. We are visual learners, accustomed to learning by reading, but reading is useless for improving listening skills. Moreover, because we are not used to learning by hearing, we need all our concentration to master the sounds of the language. Follow these tips:
1. LISTEN WITHOUT READING Any course materials or foreign language programs come with CDs, DVDs, or some kind of audio component. Not only do you need to listen to native speakers (through daily conversation, music, movies, TV, etc), but you should be doing some targeted listening at a level just slightly above your own.
The key is to listen to a passage or conversation multiple times, without reading the script, despite whatever the course instructions say. Why? When you read and listen, you are mainly reading, because you are used to learning by reading. Moreover, people often read a word, for example, in Spanish, and unconsciously assign it the wrong pronunciation based on their native language, so are not really hearing how the words are actually being pronounced. Also, the sentence level pronunciation, intonation, word stress, emotional factors, are not present in the reading passage. You need all your attention focused on what you are hearing to really improve your listening comprehension - and pronunciation.
2. LISTEN AND REPEAT Again, do this without reading so that you are really focused on pronunciation and intonation. If it's too easy, do something harder, and if it's really impossible, get something a little easier. You want the passage just above your own level. If you have a course DVD which shows little skits and dialogs, these are ideal as you have all the non-verbal cues from the actors. Listen to a "chunk" of the sentence and increase the amount you can remember and repeat with each successive try.
After you've listened multiple times without reading, then you can check the script and re-listen. Don't worry if you don't get the whole thing.
3. LISTEN TO WHOLE LANGUAGE Whole Language is usually real sentences or phrases, rather than just individual words taken out of context. Maybe as a beginner you will want to listen to individual words just to get started. However, you should listen to dialogs, conversations and phrases as soon as possible. That is because pronunciation changes at the sentence level. Think about the following simple question in English, and how each individual word is pronounced:
WHERE / ARE / YOU / GOING?
Now say this question as you would normally say it in a conversation, and it sounds something like:
So you need to hear all the intonation, sentence level stress (which parts are emphasized, or louder), rhythm and word combining to really understand the language as it is spoken, and hear the pronunciation.
4. LISTEN TO REAL LANGUAGE Listen to music, TV programs, radio, whatever you can get a hold of. Don't worry if you feel like you are missing everything. Get a hold of some music lyrics and sing along. Music is like glue - for some reason the words and tunes really stick in your brain. I remember two French songs I learned in kindergarten, and I can still understand and sing them, yet I have never studied or spoken French.
If you start implementing the above steps, I am certain, as a language learner and teacher, that you will notice a vast improvement in your listening comprehension.