First off, it’s exhausting! Until you are an advanced student – and sometimes not even then – the effort to listen can be very tiring. You have to concentrate very hard. After awhile, it becomes easy to shut off your mind. And this is not useful…or polite to the person who’s talking.
Fear not! You can train yourself to listen more productively. You can learn to focus.
Like most skills, practice makes perfect. And you can think of listening as a set of skills that you can practise. Below are some of the listening sub-skills you often see in English course books – particularly if you study academic English:
Each of these skills involves a different kind of listening, and they all require focus; therefore, you need to make some decisions before you listen.
Before You Listen: Preparation
Whether you’re listening to a news report, a lecture, or someone giving you directions, you should ask yourself: WHY am I listening? WHAT am I listening for?
Once you’ve got a reason to listen, it becomes easier to ignore the bits you don’t need. That’s right! You DON’T need to understand everything. Particularly when you’re taking tests, such as the IELTS, it’s amazing how much you hear that you don’t really need to listen to:
- If you’re listening to a lecture on politics, you probably don’t need to pay attention to the speaker telling you about his difficult journey through traffic
- If you are listening to someone give you a recipe for pizza, you probably don’t need to remember that the word pizza comes from the Italian language
- If you’re asked to guess what will happen next in a shoe shop, you know it will probably involve shoes and money.
You get the picture. Knowing why you’re listening helps you decide what details you need to listen for, and it helps you predict what you will hear.
Admittedly, this is a bit more difficult when you’re asked questions about inference or speaker’s attitude – these questions require you to understand context. You might need some general knowledge or cultural awareness to understand the whole situation.
But the point is that you need to make choices about why you’re listening and what you’re listening for.
You need to make choices about why you’re listening and what you’re listening for.
There you have it: Prepare. Focus. Remember why you’re listening. And you can ignore the pizza.
What Do You Think?
Does it help you to think of listening as a set of sub-skills? Have you ever practised any of these sub-skills? Do you have any questions or advice you’d like to add? Let us know in the comments section below!