Have you ever felt that your listening practise isn’t working? Maybe you asked yourself, “Why should I do this?”
It’s time you looked at the reasons for doing listening practise. Then you can attack your practise with new energy.
You can easily say, ‘do listening practise to understand English’. But you also might respond, ‘but it doesn’t work’
Let’s take a look at the real reasons for doing listening practise. There are four main reasons why you have to do listening practise:
1) You don’t know the words
2) You don’t know the grammar
3) You can’t make out the sounds or sound combinations
4) You can’t remember enough to think about it
Now, the last two give direct reasons to do listening practise, but I want to talk about the words and grammar first.
If you don’t know enough words, what do you do? Get a word list of course. And read it. And read it. Read and cover. Read and cover. And you memorize the words. Does this work? Well, yes, for a written test. But not for a conversation.
In a conversation, you are more likely to miss the word you studied by reading. Or perhaps you will take a few extra seconds to remember it and the meaning, and then you are lost in the conversation. What do you do about this?
You have to learn the word by listening. Listen to the word. Listen to it in sentences. Listen to it in stories. Read the stories out loud. Shadow the stories. Do lots of listening.
What about grammar? Well, if you are like some of my students, when you hear some grammar patterns, you pause, get a distant look in your eyes, and then sometimes say ‘aha!’ And sometimes not. Can listening practise help here? Of course.
You have to learn the grammar pattern by listening. Listen to the grammar pattern. Listen to it in sentences. Listen to it in stories. Read the stories out loud. Shadow the stories. Do lots of listening.
But beyond Shadowing, you can also do listen and repeat practise. This helps you build chunks of English. And grammar comes in chunks. So build up your repertoire of grammar chunks, by listening and repeating sentences and stories with that grammar in it.
Let’s move on to the other two reasons that you cannot understand what you hear. The next reason is you cannot make out the sounds or sound combinations. You might not recognize ‘would you…’ because it is more like, ‘woudju…’ Learning these sound combination patterns takes practise.
The best practise is Shadowing. Especially Shadowing without thinking. When you do Shadowing, your main purpose is to master hearing the sounds. I often hear students tell me Shadowing is difficult. They say I speak too fast. I respond by saying that they are trying to think and understand. this is impossible if you are also trying to shadow what you hear.
My advice is simple. When you shadow, shadow. Don’t think about the meaning. That will come later, when you can hear all the sounds easily because you have built up a familiarity with them.
So just shadow. No thinking.
Shadowing also lets you accomplish a second goal; you are inputting the language into your head. With lots of input, and much repeptition, it becomes easier to learn the language. Some scientific studies suggest that much of grammar belongs in our operational memory. This means we are not conscious of it when we use this memory. How many of you can describe in minute detail, how to walk? You can’t describe it. but you do it. Grammar is the same. And you need to put lots of ‘experiences’ into your head so it can become automatic.
The last reason that you cannot understand what you hear is that it is reasonably complex or long and you simply cannot remember it. Relax. Listening practise can help with this too, if you practise regularly.
For the problem of not remembering, you need to practise listen-and-repeat. Just listen to a portion of a recording (or part of a sentence) and repeat it out loud. Do this again and again for longer and longer sentences. Repeat the same sentence until you can say it all easily. Then move on to the next sentence.
Listen and repeat practise helps you to remember what you hear because that is what you are doing: remembering. But you will start to remember more efficiently after a while. You will make larger ‘chunks’ of information. This is like a telephone number. You don’t remember each digit in the number separately. You remember groups of them, or ‘chunks’.
And building chunks also helps put more grammar into our operational memory. This makes you a faster listener. And it also makes you a better speaker. The chunks help you hear better, but they also work the other way round, and help you speak faster. You will begin to think in chunks.
So we are doing listening practise so we can understand what we hear in English. But we also become better at hearing sounds, and sound combinations. And we also become better at remembering what we hear.