Practice Listening Skills in English with Micro Dictations
When you listen to native English speakers, do you understand everything, or just enough to survive?
Most students find listening extremely difficult. Native speakers talk very quickly, connect words together, speak in a wide range of accents, and use lots of difficult language like phrasal verbs and idioms. All of this can make understanding them difficult and stressful!
Most students get very good at what I call ‘survival listening’ – understanding just enough to survive. Maybe they only understand 20-30% of what they hear, but that is usually enough to get the message, especially if they understand the context.
For example, imagine one of your colleagues says to you on Monday morning:
“Blip blap blop blep weekend?”
You only understand one thing (the word ‘weekend’), but because it is Monday morning you can make a good guess that your friendly colleague wants to hear about your weekend! You’ve survived.
This kind of listening is a very useful skill, but it is also really important for students to get better at a different kind of listening – decoding the stream of speech into individual words and phrases which you then use to understand what is being said.
Using the previous example, you would understand that your colleague said:
“What did you do at the weekend?”
Being able to correctly identify individual words and phrases means that you don’t need to make so many guesses. You are no longer just surviving, you’re understanding!
So, how do you get better at this kind of listening? The key is intensive listening.
Listen very closely to this short sentence:
Try to understand and write down every word that you hear. Listen as many times as you need to (seriously – listen 100 times if you have to!) and then check your answer at the bottom of this post.
Try to think about your mistakes. Why did you miss or misunderstand a word? Did the speaker pronounce it strangely? Was it connected to other words?
I think of this kind of listening practice as like sending your ears to the gym. It’s not easy, but it will make you a much stronger listener over time.
With regular practice, you will get better at automatically recognising individual sounds and phrases. You won’t need to worry so much about making guesses, so you will have more brain power available to plan what you’re going to say.
To do intensive listening, all you need is some audio with subtitles or a transcript. Ted Talks is a good start. My own site, MicroEnglish, provides lots of English listening exercises which are specifically designed to give students regular intensive listening practice. It has a large and growing archive of interactive dictations to give you practice understanding rapid conversational English in lots of different accents.
Do a little bit of intensive listening practice every day and you’ll quickly become a stronger and more confident listener in English. Good luck!
Try the interactive activity based on this phrasal verb by clicking here.
Answer to micro-dictation: I have to drop the children off at school at 9, so I’ll be with you at about 9.30.