I remember back at school when in was in French class and we used to do listening. I seem to remember that so long as you got the gist (the main idea) that was seen as good. OK, you maybe had to identify some details, but it was nothing too challenging.
Then, not so long ago, I was exposed to another type of listening when I heard a friend practising for a TOEIC test. She was pausing the audio after every sentence and trying to repeat what she had just heard. That meant she was trying to identify every word that was spoken. Now that’s challenging! But isn’t that the ultimate goal when studying another language? Don’t you want to be able to understand everything that you hear? Of course, when you start learning you will lack vocabulary and even the sounds of the language will make everything sound like it is all strung together rather than separate words connected in grammatical phrases. But as you learn those different sounds and patterns and more vocabulary, you are able to gradually pick out words you recognise, and once you become familiar with all the sounds available in a language (in English there are 44) you are more able to be able to repeat those sounds accurately. When I hear Japanese, for example, I can quite accurately repeat what I have heard. This doesn’t mean I understand what I’m saying if I don’t know the vocabulary, but because I am familiar with the sounds, at least I can reproduce them. So, how about trying it for yourself in English?
At NELS we call this method ‘Repeat ‘n’ Speak’, and we believe it really helps improve your listening ability. You should have the written audio script available to check what you have listened to. This is what you should do:
1. Listen to the whole audio to get the general idea of the topic. You can note down key words, and you could also write a brief summary of what is being talked about.
2. Listen again, but pause the audio after each sentence or phrase. This is good practice in itself to learn where the sentences and phrases end. Once you pause, say ALOUD what you think you have heard. It’s very important that you make yourself say the word aloud. If you’re not confident that what you have said is correct, repeat again…and again if necessary. If a whole sentence is too long, then pause more frequently.
3. Only after you have tried AT LEAST ONCE to ‘Repeat ‘n’ Speak’ should you look at the audio. Then you can check what you have actually heard.
4. Then listen again to the same part and follow along with the audio script. You can also try and speak at the same speed as the audio. You can do this part at the end if the recording is quite long and you are getting the ‘Repeat ‘n’ Speak’ correct.
You should try to build up to being able to accurately repeat whole sentences. It isn’t an easy thing to do in English, as the way a word is spoken in a phrase can sound different from when it is said alone. Take ‘for’ for example: By itself, or when stressed, we say ‘/fɔː(r)/ (no /r/ in British English pronunciation), but unstressed in a phrase the pronunciation becomes /fə(r)/ (again no /r/ in British English pronunciation). For a key to the pronunciation, look here.
If you can learn these differences – to recognise them and to ultimately be able to use them, then you are well on your way to becoming not just an excellent listener, but also a super speaker too! And yes, listening and speaking are closely related which is why to improve your listening you must not only listen, but speak too!
If you’re stuck for where to find listening material with audio scripts, try http://www.elllo.org for conversations with authentic language.
And finally, a question for you: What does the ‘n’ stand for in ‘Repeat ‘n’ Speak’, and why is it written like that?