English Fluency For Advanced English Speaker (2015)
Chapter 5: Improve Your Listening, Your Fluency Will Follow
It’s nearly impossible to talk about enhancing your fluency in English without talking about the act of listening. The two are intertwined. The only way to truly speak the language like a native is to listen to those who already speak it well.
While you may believe you’ve been “listening” all this time, perhaps it’s time to dig into what’s involved in the listening process – especially the more advanced listening skills that every language student needs. It’s actually not extremely difficult to develop these skills. If you simply keep your mind on the conversation at hand, then you’re already far along in improving your active listening skills.
There are many reasons to develop such skills, even beyond that of learning a language. Listening is actually a fundamental method of learning knowledge of any type. Think about it, when you were in school you needed to learn how to listen to your instructor or your professor. If you didn’t actively listen, you may have found yourself struggling in class.
Active listening in a classroom setting means not only understanding what your teacher is saying, but even taking notes on the topic, in order to take a test at a later date.
Once you progress into the business world, you’ll discover the ability to listen actively will help you understand customers, clients and colleagues alike.
It should come as no surprise then that active listening is an important aspect in learning how to speak the language. It’s how you’ll learn what syllables to emphasize in certain words, how to structure sentences and how to make plural nouns out of single nouns. And that’s just for starters.
As you go along, you’ll soon be recognizing idioms and colloquialisms. And before you know it, you’ll be not only understanding them, but using them yourself.
Tips for Enhancing your Active Listening Skills
- Face the speaker, make eye contact and watch him speak
This is excellent advice for anyone engaged in a conversation. It’s especially important for those involved in business. In fact, you may already have developed this habit if you’ve conducted any type of business in your native language. But this advice is critical to an individual learning the language.
What do you gain by listening this way? Watching him speak will help you see how he forms words with his mouth so you can do the same when you use those words.
- Pay attention to what the person is saying, but stay relaxed.
Perhaps this is the hardest advice of all when it comes to attentive listening and learning the English language. After all, you’re going to be nervous, just making sure you understand what he’s saying. It’s difficult to stay relaxed, but if you can do just that, you’ll actually increase your power of learning.
- Mentally screen out all distractions
Background noises and movements of those around you are considered distractions. Once you begin to focus on what the English-speaking individual is saying, you’ll probably find this comes naturally to you.
If you do find your mind wandering, simply bring it back to the present moment and the speaker. Don’t waste any time or energy belittling yourself for your slip up.
- Listen to the words being said and visualize what the speaker is saying
This is an effective way of immersing yourself in the language. It allows your mind to create relate words and images and will help you with your ability to actually think in English. Not only that, but you’ll also discover that when you do that, you’ll retain the information longer.
After all, what good is learning the language if you don’t retain what you’re learning?
- Summarize what the other person has said
In many ways, this is the ultimate test of how well you understand the spoken word. But more than that, by paraphrasing and summarizing what you believe you’ve just heard, you’re actually using all your skills in speaking. Speaking on your feet challenges you to think in English, something you need to learn in order to speak the language better.
Beyond Active Listening
But if that’s as far as you’ve taken your listening skills, then you’re actually cheating yourself. You’re holding yourself back from quicker, easier fluency in the English language. That’s because there’s a skill beyond active listening and it’s called extensive listening. If you’ve never heard it, then it’s time you not only learn what it is, but how to use it to your advantage.
Extensive listening is an amazing tool you can use in practicing your skills at listening to others speak the English language. Basically it involves taking a topic and listening to it presented in a myriad of different forms – recordings, videos and interviews, both live and recorded.
If you had to make one change or add one thing to your learning program, including extensive listening would be the item. It’s easy enough to start.
Choose a topic that interests you. If you read the last chapter and have a favorite subject matter you’re already talking with your language partner with, it could be that. The alternative is to select a different topic. Consider though how you can expand your language skills if you used the same topic for each exercise.
Whatever topic it is, two things will help you excel at this challenge. The first is to make sure that it’s a subject you’ll be able to find a good deal of material on. Second, try to make it a topic you’re already have at least a passing knowledge on. This will definitely facilitate your learning.
Once you’ve chosen your topic, then begin to research it. You’ll be searching for resources that require you to listen. That means reading articles at this point, at least, is not a priority. Think YouTube videos, podcasts, television documentaries and even radio talk shows.
When you listen, especially at first, listen to comprehend the main ideas. At this point, don’t worry about many of the details. If you can understand and repeat the important points of the topic, you’re doing great.
Choose sources, by the way, that emphasize the basic information. If you delve too far into the topic, you may discover that you become frustrated, especially if it involves the learning of a specialized vocabulary. Of course, the more advanced you are when you start this exercise the more you can dig into the topic.
You may find yourself discarding one topic and choosing another. The initial subject may be beyond your language skills at the moment, or you may find the subject matter to easy depending where you are in your learning.
Keep in mind during this challenge, that extensive listening is probably the most difficult thing for a language student to do so be prepared to dedicate yourself to this technique.
Not sure what topic to select for this exercise? Below are several general selections. You can begin exploring these to see if anything interests you. In the process, though, it’s very likely you’ll discover even more interesting topics you’d like to pursue:
- News stories and biographical information on political leaders and international sports stars.
- Reviews given in English of movies or television programs you’ve watched in your language.
Thanks to the internet and the myriad of cable networks that the average person is exposed to today, this is an easy topic to research. From here, you may discover an interest in one of the actors or actresses and expand your horizons.
If you’re not quite sure where to look for listening material, try a few of these more popular web sites:
- Spotlight English
- Voice of America
Regardless of the listening technique you use in your English conversations, the point is to be involved in the present moment. It’s difficult to advance your ability to speak English when you’re thinking of your grocery list while the other person is speaking. Of course, this is excellent advice for everyone in a conversation whether he’s learning the language or speaking his native tongue.
If you’ve been doing this and still frustrated in what you perceive as a lack of progress, then you’ll be interested in learning the incredible breakthrough technique in the following chapter. It’s called shadowing and in a moment you’ll learn why.