Conversations – the forgotten listening activity
In today’s article, she gives some reasons why and tips for improving your listening through conversations. As this website is all about getting your listening conversation ready, I was more than happy to welcome her to the blog. Take it away Kirsty.
1. Often, listening is the skill that people neglect the most. Maybe they do activities that involve listening, but if you’re for example watching a film, even more so if you put the subtitles on, you’re not relying entirely on your ears. Even if you don’t have the subtitles on, you get information from the action on the screen that helps you to understand what’s going on. You don’t have this information when you need to make a phone call or listen to colleagues in a meeting.
2. If you’ve only done listening exercises at school, or listened to materials that were created for language learners, you won’t be used to people speaking at a normal rate. It then comes as a surprise when you hear something on the radio, or a group of native speakers chatting away in English, and some learners feel like giving up because the speech is too fast. It’s not a reason to give up though – it just takes some practice until you feel comfortable listening to English at that speed.
3. Sometimes people try to listen to the wrong things. If you only understand one word in ten, you’d benefit more from finding something a bit easier. If you’re listening to something with lots of jokes or fast-moving dialogue, even if you understand the words, the meaning might be lost on you because you don’t understand the references.
I often give my students advice about how to find good listening materials, but I think there is one type of listening that we often forget. You can improve your listening skills by having conversations with people.
When I was learning German and Turkish, I tended to go for listening activities that I could do on my own, because to be honest, speaking was more of a chore for me than listening. I could happily curl up and listen to a good audiobook, whereas having to chat to someone would stress me out.
However, not all learners think like this, and many learners don’t enjoy the prospect of having to do a listening activity on their own. Ok, they could invite friends round for an English film night, but generally people think of listening activities as things that they need to do on their own. This is fine for people who enjoy working alone, but a massive turn-off for people who get their energy and motivation from working and interacting with others.
If this is you, don’t forget that you can also practice your listening skills whilst talking to your English-speaking friends, teacher, or language partners.
Here are some ways in which developing your listening skills through conversations can help you.
1. There’s just one voice at a time, so you don’t have to worry about people talking over each other or interrupting as they often do in films.
2. If you didn’t quite catch something, you can clarify it with the other person before the conversation moves on. You’re an active part of the conversation, so you can get more information when you need it, which is something you can’t do with live or recorded speech on TV or the internet.
3. You’ll learn new vocabulary, and possibly several ways of saying the same thing if you ask the other person to clarify what they mean.
4. You’ll hear how a speaker speaks spontaneously, which is different from the planned and clearly structured speech in a film script or news broadcast. You will hear how they put their sentences together, and learn what they do if they aren’t sure, lose their train of thought or need some time to think.
5. You can arrange it so that you speak with people who have a range of different accents. Things are improving in this respect, but this has been a problem with some materials for learners, even though it’s a vital part of understanding a range of speakers. If you go to London, for example, you will meet speakers from all around the world, and different parts of the UK, so it’s important to work on this skill.
6. If you’re having fun or talking about something that naturally interests you, it won’t feel so much like a language exercise because you’re having a good time. This will help you to relax, and if you’re relaxed, you’re more likely to learn.
7. As you grow in confidence, you can get involved with conversations with more people, which trains your ability to follow a conversation with a number of participants.
8. This is a great way to develop both your listening and your speaking skills at the same time. Two for the price of one!
9. If you’re someone that loses interest or motivation when working on your own, you have a conversation partner to keep you interested.
10. You’ll learn what terms and phrases people actually use in real conversations. Some of the materials for learners that I’ve seen are really out of date, and you won’t have this problem if you’re talking to real people.
So, if you love talking to people, remember that doing this is also a great way to improve your listening skills. In fact, listening is an essential part of a conversation, because you need to be able to listen to the other person if you’re going to ask meaningful follow-up questions, discuss something effectively or explain your point of view.
Can you think of someone with whom you can have a conversation in English today?
More about Kirsty
Kirsty teaches English at https://englishwithkirsty.com where you will also be able to find her blog and podcast. Kirsty focusses specifically on Business English, and you will also find further details of her ebook, “feel confident using your business English”, and a number of free resources on her site.