100 Ways to Improve your TOEIC Listening
Nov 28, 2008 TOEFL/TOEIC/IELTS 11944 Views
As most people find TOEIC listening Part One an easy place to pick up points and it comes at the beginning of the exam and so can give you confidence for the rest of the test, it is well worth spending some time and effort thinking about how you can get the most out of it. Below are 100 ideas on how you can improve your score in the short and long term, most of which you can do on your own outside of class:
1. Concentrate on your pronunciation. More than sentences that you would not understand if you read them, most people have problems with sentences in the exam that they would understand if they could read them carefully but have trouble understanding quickly when listening to them from a native speaker speaking at natural speed. Working on your own pronunciation is the best way of making sure you recognize English words and sentences when you hear them in the TOEIC exam.
2. Buy an electronic dictionary that speaks. If you can get a dictionary that has different accents you can also use that to make sure you are familiar with American accents (most of the test) or British and Australian accents (some parts of the test that people who have only studied American English can find difficult).
3. Learn homonyms. Homonyms are words that have the same spelling and pronunciation but totally different meanings, and so have different entries in a dictionary. These are sometimes used in the exam to try and fool you into choosing the wrong answer in Listening Part One. You can find lists of homonyms on the internet, and learning the more common ones can also be a good way of learning similar words that you didn't know.
4. Learn homophones. Sometimes a question will try to fool you by using a word with the same pronunciation but a different meaning in that sentence to the thing you can see in the picture. By learning words that sound the same but have different spellings you can make sure you recognize each word in its context in the sentence. Learning words this way can also help you get the pronunciation exactly right.
5. Practice minimal pairs. A similar trick is to have a wrong sentence that has a word in it that has a similar but different pronunciation to something in the picture, e.g. "first" and "fast". Practising the pronunciation of these pairs of similar words will also help with your general listening comprehension and speaking.
6. Count the syllables. As learning the sounds of a language can take a long time and be difficult without a teacher and/ or special software, a good way to start improving your pronunciation and so listening comprehension is to count how many syllables (beats) there are in every word you learn. You can then check in your dictionary and try saying the word with that many beats. You can mark the number of syllables on each word by drawing a little circle above the vowel of each one.
7. Learn word stress. The next stage is to learn which of these syllables is pronounced longer and louder than the others. Again, you can try and guess this from reading or listening to the word and then check it in your dictionary. You can write this down by making the circle above the stressed syllable bigger than the others, or just underlining the stressed syllable. If you write words with the same number of syllables and the same stressed syllable down in a list, this can help you practice and learn them.
8. Learn the phonemic script. The final stage in learning the pronunciation of English words and therefore making sure you understand them when you hear them is writing the pronunciation of the whole word down. The only way of doing this accurately is to use the special "phonemic script" symbols (if you use the spelling of your own language to do it you will not be able to write down the difference between minimal pairs). As this can take some time to learn, you can start by just trying to write the one difficult sound of each word down and then check if you have used the correct symbol with your dictionary.
9. Practice short forms. As all the voices in the text are using natural speed and rhythm, you will very rarely hear full forms like "I am" or "I would have done", but rather short forms like "I'm" or "I would've done". Using these when you are speaking can improve your fluency and stop it seeming like you are overstressing what you are saying, but more importantly will make sure you can understand those forms when you hear a native speaker using them.
10. Learn connected speech/ how words connect together. Now you have learnt the short forms of grammatical verbs, in order to understand fast, natural speech you will need to look at how other words are changed when they are spoken next to other words. The easiest one to understand is how a consonant (b, c, d, f etc.) at the end of one word joins with a vowel (a, e, i, o etc.) at the beginning of another, e.g. the words "between us" when spoken at natural speed can sound like "betwee nus". You can practice this and see how it affects a TOEIC exam listening by marking the places on the tapescript where you think this happens with a loop between the words and then listen and read to check.
11. Learn and practice sentence stress. The next stage is to look at how the whole sentence sounds together. One of the easiest ways of doing that, which is also one of the best ways of practising it, is to mark on a sentence which words are pronounced the loudest and longest and to practice saying the sentences with that natural rhythm.
12. Learn weak forms of words. Now you know which words are pronounced loudly and clearly, try and listen to how the smaller grammar words between them are pronounced in fast natural speech. For example, when "at" is not stressed in a sentence (which is most of the time, as it is a grammar word that doesn't often give you much information), it sounds more like "ert". Weak forms like this are usually given in your dictionary, so make sure you look at all the pronunciation information when you learn a new word.
13. Record your own voice. Now you understand how and why sentences sound different to individual words in English and so are more difficult to understand, by practising producing sentences like a native speaker would say them you can make sure that you recognise the words you know when you hear them in the test. If you don't want to buy a digital voice recorder, you might find that you can use a mobile phone, MP3 player (e.g. iPod), cassette recorder or computer and microphone record yourself and listen back on. Obviously, the best sentences to practice with are real exam sentences.
14. Buy a pronunciation practice CD ROM. Some language learning CD ROMs come with headphones and a microphone and claim to be able to analyse your voice and tell you how well you are pronouncing in English. Although the scores such programmes give you are actually very unreliable, the process of saying the same word or expression over and over again to try and matching the wave pattern on the screen is good pronunciation practice.
15. Listen and read and repeat. As well as reading sentences from the tapescript with the rhythm and pronunciation you have written on it, you can try repeating the sentence and recording your voice just after hearing the exam version. If the thing you are playing the recording on and the thing you are recording your voice on are different (e.g. a CD player and digital voice recorder), you should be able to record the exam version and your voice one after the other and try and listen for differences when you play it back.
16. Shadow reading. A variation on the activity above that is really good for speaking and understanding at natural speed and with natural rhythm is actually trying to speak at the same time as the tape, saying each stressed syllable at exactly the same time as the voice on the tape. Before you start speaking, you will need to listen a few times and try and remember where the stressed syllables are or write them onto the tapescript.
17. Listen and repeat. A step up in difficulty is to listen over and over to one sentence and try to repeat the whole thing without looking at the tapescript. When your idea of what the whole sentence is isn't changing, you can check with the tapescript and then listen a few more times with your book closed.
18. Listen and write and repeat. This is similar to the activity above but possibly a little easier as you try to write the whole sentence down as you listen to it a few times, like a dictation. When you have checked your answers, you can then do some speaking practice with it.
19. Build up the correctly pronounced sentence from the end. Although it may seem strange, rather than starting at the beginning when you try to pronounce a sentence with natural sounds, rhythm and speed, it is actually easier if you start from the end. For example, for the sentence "The man is stepping onto the bus", it is easiest to pronounce it by saying "bus", and then "the bus", and then "onto the bus", until you have built up the whole sentence.
20. Make sentences about everything you are doing in English throughout your day. As most sentences in TOEIC Listening Part One are descriptions of things people are doing, by trying to make English sentences in your head describing what you are doing ("I am sitting on a bus", "I am opening up my laptop") and what people around you are doing ("The man wearing a hat is carrying a package"), you can practice this language any time you are out and about in the street. If you are in a café or sitting on a bus, you can also write those sentences down.
21. Label the picture. Apart from being caught out by the pronunciation, the biggest problem students have with the TOEIC Listening exam is with words they don't know. You can reduce this problem by looking at the photos in a TOEIC Listening practice exam and labelling all the things you can see in the picture (e.g. lift, button, lift door, briefcase). After trying on your own, use a dictionary to check your answers and find more words. If you don't have any exam pictures to do this with, you can try the same thing with pictures from a picture dictionary.
22. Brainstorm more words. As the pictures you see in the exam will not be exactly the same but the situations will be similar, after writing the things you can see try to brainstorm other words connected to that situation, e.g. for a street scene you could add "cycle courier" and "bus shelter".
23. Brainstorm collocations. Once you have a list of words for a particular situation, try to think of verbs for each object, e.g. for "bus timetable" the verbs could be "look at", "read", "check with", "find", "copy" etc. Knowing these combinations of words will help you understand the exam sentences much quicker than if you just learn single words.
24. Brainstorm possible exam sentences for each situation. The next stage is to write out whole sentences for each of the verb + noun collocations you have written, practising saying each one with natural rhythm and linking.
25. Learn the vocabulary of travel. One common situation shown in pictures in the exam is places connected to transport, e.g. at a taxi rank or in the airport. As well as brainstorming the vocabulary, you can try reading the English notices on public transport in your city, and listen to the announcements. Buying a phrase book (a kind of short language course and dictionary for travellers) can also help with TOEIC Listening Parts One and Two.
26. Learn the vocabulary of offices. If you have an office at home, one way of learning the names of the objects you can see is to label the real objects in your office with post it notes with the names written on. If this could be embarrassing, try sketching your office and labelling the drawing instead.
27. Learn the vocabulary of restaurants. One newer way of practising this vocabulary is to visit restaurants in a virtual world like Second Life. This is also useful for TOEIC Listening Part Two.
28. Learn the vocabulary of things you see in the street. Like the vocabulary of travel, buying a phrase book with CD can be good practice for the types of shops etc. that you would see in an American main street.
29. Draw a picture of each option before looking. One fun way to practice the skill of picturing what you hear that can help TOEIC Listening Part One is to listen to one exam question and try to make a sketch of each option you hear, e.g. drawing "The man looks happy", "The man is giving a package to the woman", "The man is holding open his trench coat" etc. You can then look at the exam picture and see which of your pictures it is most similar to in order to find the correct answer.
30. Imagine each picture before looking. This is the same as the activity above, but just picturing what you hear instead of drawing it.
31. Try to write down each sentence as a dictation. Although you don't need to understand every word of a question in the exam, trying once or twice to write every word of an exam question down can help you analyze which words, sounds and pronunciation changes of fast speech you have most trouble understanding and so need to practice most. If you type the sentence into your mobile phone or laptop as you listen, you can also then use the corrected version for revision over the following days and weeks.
32. Write down just the most important words. As you don't need to understand every word, you can also do a listening and writing exercise that is more similar to what you have to do in the exam. The first time you listen, just write down one word for each sentence that is probably the most important to get the correct answer. This is probably a noun or a verb, although it could also be an adjective or some other part of speech. You can then listen again and add one more word to each sentence etc, until you are ready to check which the correct answer is and if you wrote down the correct words with the tapescript of the listening.
33. Write lots of sentences describing the picture. Before you listen, write at least 15 sentences describing things in the picture and then listen to see if any of the exam sentences are similar to one of the sentences you wrote.
34. Watch wildlife documentaries. It is quite rare in normal life to hear someone describing something you can see, as happens in TOEIC Listening Part One. One common place you do hear this kind of language is wildlife documentaries, many of which were made by the BBC and/ or the Discovery Channel and so will have English language sound on the DVD, e.g. Planet Earth or The Secret Life of Plants.
35. Watch science documentaries. Other kinds of science and engineering documentaries are similar, and have possibly more suitable vocabulary than programmes about plants and animals.
36. Watch sports. Another common situation in your everyday life in which you might hear someone describing something you can see is when watching sports. If you watch a sport from an English speaking or other foreign country, on satellite and cable TV nowadays you can often change the language of the commentary to make it English.
37. Listen to sports commentary. If you can understand TV sports commentary, the next stage is to listen to a radio or podcast version and see if you can understand without pictures.
38. Watch breaking news. Although news TV like CNN is a lot more difficult than TOEIC Listening Part One, if there is breaking news like parades and other ceremonies, car chases, hostage stand off crises etc, this language is similar to what you will hear when photos are described in the news. You can also often find these clips on Youtube, especially ones connected to famous people like O.J. Simpson.
39. Listen to audio commentary on DVDs. Again, films and TV series have very different language to TOEIC Listening Part One. However, if you listen to the optional audio commentary where the director describes how he made the film that way and why, this is more similar to the exam.
40. Make your own home videos with audio commentary in English. If you have a video camera, this is probably the audio visual thing that is most similar to TOEIC Listening Part One.
41. Act out the exam sentences. If you don't have any technology, you can still practice the exam language in a more active way that will help you remember it by listening to the exam sentences without looking at the picture and try acting out what is described.
42. Keep an audio diary. Speaking is the most similar skill to listening, but finding something you can talk about everyday without finding a teacher is quite difficult. If you record yourself talking about what you did during the day, that is similar to the description of actions in the Listening Part One and will be easy to remember because it is personal to you.
43. Buy a photography book. Although the detail explained in such books is usually much more than the simple description you hear in the TOEIC Listening part one, it is still a nice way of reading something easier in English. If you know that you are the kind of person who will buy a book and forget about it, try buying it in the form of a calendar or diary with different photos every week or day instead, e.g. "365 Days from the Air".
44. Label your photo album in English. One step up from the idea above is to put one line descriptions with each of your own photos, either as stickers in your photo albums or as one line descriptions with online photo albums like Flickr.
45. Play Pictionary with your one to one teacher or study partner. This is a game where you draw something and the person you are playing with tries to guess what it is as quickly as possible. You can do this with exam sentences (read from the tapescript) and pictures or with your own ideas.
46. Play a miming game with your private teacher or study partner. This is like Pictionary, but acting out the sentence from the exam tapescript, the photo, or your own ideas.
47. Write exam tasks for each other. If you do this with an exam picture, when you do the exam task it should be easier than if you come at it cold.
48. Go over and over, longer and longer. Do the first task. After checking your answer and maybe reading the tapescript, listen to the first task again to make sure you now understand everything and then go straight into the second question. Check this one, go back to the beginning of the tape and do those two questions again before you go onto the third question etc.
49. Learn the correct exam sentences off by heart. As the sentences in this part of the exam are always quite similar, learning a few sentences so you can repeat them days or weeks later with the correct natural pronunciation can be a good way of preparing yourself to hear other exam tasks.
50. Carry around the exam picture to test yourself with. Once you have learnt the correct exam sentences, you can test yourself on them by looking at the exam photo several times a day and seeing if you can remember the sentence that was used to describe it in the exam. If you don't want to carry paper around, you can take a photo of the exam picture and store it in your mobile phone, MP3 player, PSP etc.
51. Listen again, try to picture the photo, and look to check. If you have an MP3 player (iPod etc.), you can do a version of this where you listen to sentences again, try to remember the photo that went with it, and then look at the exam photo you are carrying in your pocket, in your notebook, or as an electronic version on your mobile phone or MP3 player.
52. Use your electronic dictionary in the street. Keep your electronic dictionary with you and look up words of things you are doing that you don't know the words for. You will then be able to use the list of most recently looked up words when you get home and write them down. Many mobile phones also have electronic dictionaries in them you can do the same things with.
53. Learn the most common verbs. As well as being in every English sentence, verbs are also often the part of the Listening Part One sentence that changes the meaning the most. Finding the most common verbs in English from the special marks in your dictionary or from the internet and learning them and their pronunciation can be a great help.
54. Start slow. If you can play recordings faster and slower with your cassette recorder or computer music player software, when you are practising repeating the sentences start really slow and then speed up to natural speed.
55. Start fast. To make the natural speed of the exam seem easier, you could try starting with the recording even faster than normal speed and play it again and again while bringing the speed down until you think you can understand or guess the correct answer. If the speed you have understood it at is the same as the real speed or even faster, you have done very well.
56. Try it with background noise. Another thing that can make listening more challenging and so make the real listening seem more manageable is doing it with headphones on somewhere a little noisy like on a train. When you do the same exam task somewhere quiet later on, you will find it is much easier. This is also good practice for the exam, where the silence and sound quality might not be what you are used to.
57. Play around with your graphic equalizer. The exam sound system might also not be set up with a perfect balance of high and low sounds, so it is worth trying a few exam questions with the amount of bass etc. changed to see how that affects your ability to understand.
58. Try it somewhere busy. Another distracting thing can be people moving around, which could also be a factor in the exam more than where you practice at home.
59. Try to identify the accent. A good way of listening very carefully for how fast, natural speech of a native speaker really sounds is to try and see if you can identify if each sentence is said by a British speaker, an American or Canadian speaker, or an Australian speaker. After you think you know, you can check with your teacher, find an example of each accent on the internet to compare it to, or sometimes it will be written in your exam practice book.
60. Repeat with an accent. After you can identify different accents, trying to copy them is another good way of developing your understanding of native speakers at natural speed.
61. Read it out first, then listen and check. When you have practiced copying native speakers, try taking an exam sentence you have never heard before and pronounce it with the speed, linking between words, rhythm and intonation (pitch) of a native speaker, then listen and check how similar you were to the exam recording.
62. Mark the sentence stress and listen and check. To make the task above easier, you could try guessing which words are pronounced strongest (usually "vocabulary words" that give the most information about the thing being talked about), mark them on the tapescript, and then listen and check.
63. Listen and mark the sentence stress. The activity above is just as useful with an exam task you have just completed in the usual way, to make sure you can pick out the most important information next time you listen.
64. Mark the links and listen and check. Another way of analysing how the language will sound when spoken by a native speaker in the TOEIC is to mark on the tapescript where you think the pronunciation of two words will run together like one word, and then listen and check.
65. Listen and mark the links. Again, the idea above can also usefully be done after finishing a practice exam task.
66. Mark the extra linking sounds and check. A more difficult effect of words being spoken quickly next to each other is extra sounds being added to make your mouth move smoothly from one sound to the other, for example the extra /w/ sound when you say "so open" quickly so it sounds like "sowopen". Learning which vowel sounds together add which sounds and marking them on the tapescript before you listen will help you with this.
67. Listen and mark the extra linking sounds. Again, this is a good way of making sure a practice listening test is something you learn from and so understand better next time by listening carefully for these sounds the second or third time you listen to a TOEIC Listening Part One question.
68. Check the tapescripts for words that often come up. When you have done a few exam tasks, listen again to them (if possible) and read the tapescripts, checking whether any words are used in more than one of the questions. This can not only help decide what are important things to remember the meaning and pronunciation of, but is also a good reason for reading through the tapescript one more time and therefore reminding yourself of other thing like common grammatical forms.
69. Describe your own photos to someone in English. You can also make this into a game by describing one of a page of photos and seeing if the person who is listening can guess which one it is.
70. Play the Magazine Search game with your study group. Each person has a copy of a magazine (either the same as each other or different is okay). One person chooses one picture from anywhere in the magazine and says one sentence about it, e.g. "The woman isn't looking happy". The other people race to be the first person to find a picture that matches that description in their own magazines.
71. Do a picture jigsaw with your study group. Cut up a TOEIC Listening Part One or other photo into several strips. Mix them up and give one strip to each person. Without showing your pieces of paper to each other you have to describe them and decide together which order they go in. Put them down on the table in the order you decided and see if you were correct.
72. Do a Picture Dictation with your study partner or study group. Your partner(s) must try to draw the picture you are describing. When you are happy with their drawing, show them the original photo and discuss the differences together. If you can do it with a TOEIC Listening Part One photo, this is a good warm up before you do the exam task for that photo.
73. Do a Blind Picture Dictation with your study partner or study group. This is the same as the idea above, but you can't look at your partner's picture as they are drawing it, so they have to ask you questions to check if they understand what you mean.
74. Go on an English language guided tour. As well as tours for foreign tourists in your town like bus tours or tours of historical buildings, some factory tours might also have English language tour guides. Because the guide will spend some time describing what you can see, some of the language will be similar to what you will hear at the beginning TOEIC listening paper. If you find the tour difficult to understand, reading a guidebook first in English or even just in your own language could help.
75. Listen to a museum audio guide. If you can't find a tour in English or are too embarrassed to ask to go on the English language tour as you are obviously not a tourist, you could try just hiring an MP3 player in your local museum that explains the exhibits as you go round. If you can find one for a photography museum, that might be the most similar language TOEIC listening part one. Some local councils also offer a similar service now on your mobile phone as you are walking around the historic parts of town.
76. Give someone a tour of your workplace in English. If you don't have this opportunity, you can just write down what you would say if you had to give a tour and then practice with and without your script. Make sure you write down what people you can see (your colleagues) are doing, as this is the most similar language to what you will hear in the TOEIC Listening Part One.
77. Write out a whole exam sentence in phonemics without gaps. Once you have learnt phonemics really well or with the help of a dictionary, try to write out a whole TOEIC Listening Part One sentence in phonemics. Don't put any gaps between the words, because when we are speaking two or more words often run together like single words. Test yourself over the next few days and weeks on whether you can still understand the sentence, then read it out loud and mark the same sentence stress as was used in the original listening on your phonemics.
78. Try to remember the sentence from just the stress patterns. Similar to the idea above, but this time only draw a line of small and big circles to represent the rhythm of the sentence in Listening Part One and then test yourself over the following days and weeks to see if you can remember the sentence and pronounce it correctly.
79. Change the incorrect options to make them correct. A good way of remembering the grammar and type of sentence used in this part of the exam is to take the three options that are incorrect and see if you can make them really match the picture while changing as few words as possible. This is also a good way of understanding and remembering the tricks that examiners use to fool you.
80. Change the correct option to make it incorrect. Another way of practising the same things as above is to see if you can change the correct option into something that is incorrect for the picture just by changing one word, the tense of one verb, one letter, one sound etc. If you are studying with other people, you can then read the unchanged correct option and your changed wrong one to them and see if they can decide which one describes the photo.
81. Stop the exam sentence half way through. The second or third time you listen to a TOEIC Listening Photos question, pause the tape or CD and try to remember how the sentence ends. Test yourself again later, but stopping the recording at earlier and earlier parts of the sentence, eventually just listening to one word before you try to say the whole thing.
82. Reduce the number of times you listen. Although you will never hear anything twice in the exam, listening just once the first time you try an exam task can be such a shock that you won't learn anything from it. In order not to go the other way and get too used to hearing everything repeated and therefore trying to understand every word, listen to the first question 3 times before you answer, listen to the second question twice, listen to the third question just once but stop to check your answer, then listen to the rest of TOEIC Listening Part One section without stopping.
83. Underline the words that gave you the answer. To practice picking out only the important words in the TOEIC listening, after you have finished a question check your answers and underline the minimum number of words with which you could understand that one of the options was the correct choice. This is usually possible with between two and four words. Practising this can help you not be distracted by words that are not necessary to answer the question. You will also notice that these are almost always stressed words in the sentence.
84. Underline the trick words/ the words that show you that option is wrong. When you have spotted how you could easily choose the correct answer, do the same with the other 3 options, underlining the few words you would need to understand to see that each of those sentences is wrong. Sometimes this is possible with as few as one word. Doing this can help you see what tricks are in the TOEIC questions.
85. Tap out the rhythm of the sentence as you listen. Before you try to repeat a line to practice English rhythm, try listening to the sentence and just making the beats with the beat of the sentence. You can then try repeating whilst beating out the same beat, and then without the help of your pen.
86. Mark all the schwas in a sentence. The most used sound in the English language is called "schwa". It is the "er" sound like at the end of words like "computer", and is pronounced while your mouth is completely relaxed, like the sound made by someone who is too shocked to speak. Listening for this sound on an exam recording and marking it on the tapescript can be very useful as it is in most of the words that change pronunciation depending on whether you stress them or not (like "can" and "for") but is easy to miss because it is never stressed and so is always pronounced quickly and quietly. You can also get some idea of where the word stress and sentence stress is by doing this, as schwa is never stressed and so the main beats of the sentence must be elsewhere.
87. Trust your instincts. Researchers have shown that if someone writes an answer to a multiple choice question in a test and then changes their mind at the last minute, they are more likely to change the answer from a correct answer to a wrong one than from a wrong one to a right one. If you are not sure why you think your first idea was wrong, don't change it.
88. Listen to English in a relaxed way before you go into the test. As this is the very first part of the test, being awake, in English mode and ready to go from the very first moment can have an impact on your score in the first few questions. Doing actual English study on the morning of a test is a very bad idea as it will tire you out and mean that you won't be able to concentrate by the end of the test. However, listening to some English music or radio with an English DJ is a nice way of getting your mind into "English mode" and ready to hear native speaker voices with natural speed and rhythm.
89. Speak English before you go into the test. Again, be very careful not to tire yourself out, but a little friendly chitchat in English with one of the other test takers can help get your brain ready to listen to English.
90. Learn famous lines from films. All the sentences in the TOEIC Listening Part One section are a single sentence, which is quite rare in normal communication or in the media. One way of learning natural rhythm and speed in such sentences is to learn famous lines from the movies and practice saying them exactly as the actor does. Another advantage of this is that native speakers will often use such famous quotes in social conversations (although obviously not in the test for copyright reasons), and it can help your social skills if you can recognize some of the more famous ones by people like Robert De Niro.
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