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Listening! The Biggest Challenge For All Language Learners

Listening is a skill that is far from easy for many new language learners no matter what language it is. In a language class you may have heard the instructor say "listen" many times as he/she repeats what they want you to hear and understand. In that moment you probably said to yourself, "but I am listening. I just don't understand".

For this reason, one of the biggest challenges for language learners is improving their listening skills. The reason for this problem is the fact that understanding new content can be very difficult especially when sounds, words, and expressions are unfamiliar to you. Research shows there are many characteristics of spoken language which affect listening comprehension. Some of these characteristics include: slang, idioms, and reduced forms of words. Take English as an example. The verb structure going to appears as two distinct words in written form, but in spoken form it is reduced and sounds like gonna. As a new listener to the language, it makes it difficult and frustrating to recognize that this structure (gonna) is simply going to.

So how can you overcome this challenge?

Here are my 3 tips for improving your listening skills in ENGLISH:

1) Listen, Listen, Listen. I know this may seem pretty obvious, but the best way to improve upon a skill is to repeat over and over and over again. Try to use your free time to listen to things in English in different ways and from many different sources. When you drive to work or class, listen to music, the news, or a podcast that interest you in English. When you're shopping, pay attention to the conversations around you and try to pick out vocabulary you understand. The key is to practice as much as you can outside of the classroom, tutoring sessions, or online learning program. "Practice makes perfect" is what they say. But in this case, practice makes you a BETTER listener.

2) Guess the meaning from context. In the classroom I always encourage my students to guess the meaning of vocabulary and listening content through context. Let your google translator be your last resort. This technique will help you to recognize, learn, and retain new vocabulary. When things are connected to a meaning or context, it aids in your brains ability to process and store that information so the next time you hear it, it won't seem so unfamiliar.

3) Stay committed and dedicated. I encourage you to set a weekly goal or activity which allows you to get the practice you need and keep track of it. Create a weekly or monthly listening log (something like a writing journal, but for your ears) to track your progress. You are more likely to stay committed and dedicated if you see how you are improving.

This week I have a mini English listening dictation exercise. Consider this your first activity for your listening log!

Go to the FREE Resource page for this week's practice activity. (FREE resource page is not available for mobile devices at this time. Be sure to use a computer or a tablet to access this week's listening activity.)

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