In the last few weeks, this blog has been giving tips and ideas to help you improve your English vocabulary. This week we move on to one of the four skills – listening. (The other three skills are speaking, writing and reading. We will take a look at all of these skills in future blogs.)
Why do we listen?
There are different types of listening: people listen both intensively and extensively. Extensive listening (or gist listening) means understanding the main idea of what you have heard without worrying that you have understood every single word. Everyone does this a lot every day, even when they are not studying a language. There need not be a particular reason for listening.
When listening for specific information and details, for example an airport announcement or to the sports scores on the radio news, this is intensive listening. This type of listening is often found in exams, where it is important to understand precise information or words in the listening text.
Improving your listening can help you to improve your speaking skills, consolidate your vocabulary; and know how to interact appropriately in a variety of different settings.
How can we improve our listening skills?
While you are in Ireland or another English-speaking country, there are many opportunities to improve your extensive listening skills by interacting with the native speakers around you in your day-to-day interactions. Every time you go into a shop or board a bus you can hear spoken English – even if you’re not directly participating in a conversation but just listening. For example, listening to the announcements in a station or listening to the news or radio, will help to keep your ears “tuned in” to the English language and its rhythm.
When you leave Ireland or are in a country where English is not spoken very much, you need to be a little more proactive in finding opportunities to keep your listening skills in practice. How can you continue listening to English when you’re no longer at a language school or are in a different country?
For extensive listening practice, you can listen to the news online from many different English-language sources. www.rte.ie has a “watch and listen” section so you can listen to news stories as well as read them (and keep up with what’s happening in Ireland!). RTE also has the RTE Player which allows you to watch programmes broadcast in Ireland.
If you like to listen and read along, http://www.manythings.org/listen/ has a huge range of articles and stories which are in American English, along with a lot of other games and activities to help your English.
Of course, continuing to watch English-medium films and TV programmes (with English subtitles if you want) also helps you to practise your extensive listening skills. These are easily available both online or on DVD etc.
This week, why don’t you think of as many ways as you can to improve your extensive listening? Keep a diary of opportunities to listen to English being spoken around you, and make a note of anything interesting you hear! Leave a comment and share your ideas with other learners.
Next week we’ll look at intensive listening and some sites where you can practise intensive listening skills.