Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Saturday, May 20, 2006

The Vital Importance of Listening

by AJ

In many traditional language courses, listening is neglected. Great emphasis is put on memorizing grammar rules. A great deal of reading is done.

In communicative classes, speech is also emphasized. But for some strange reason, listening is rarely stressed.

And yet, in my opinion, listening is the most VITAL part of learning a new language. Listening is how babies initially learn their native language. Listening is where speaking ability comes from. Listening is (mostly) how you rewire your brain for the new language.

Yes, we all want to speak. But speaking is an outgrowth of input-- reading and listening.

Therefore, I always advise my students to LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN as much as they can outside of class. I encourage them to download podcasts from ESL pod (and others). I encourage them to buy a DVD of a TV show they like... and watch the episodes again and again and again.

Happily, this is not just a case of "do as I say and not as I do". In fact, listening takes up the bulk of my Spanish study efforts. I also read a fair amount... but listening is by far the activity that I spend the most time on.

Up until recently, I have not been nearly consistent or intense enough with my efforts. However, over the last two weeks Ive increased the time I spend listening to Spanish.. and Ive suddenly noticed a big jump in comprehension! Im understanding far more of the content... the recordings no longer sound like a long stream of gibberish.

I should note that when I say "listening" I mean repetitive listening. You need to listen to the same content many times. The first time you listen to something, you may not understand much. But if you read the same content and find the meaning of unknown words... then listen to that content multiple times everyday.. you will find that you rapidly begin to understand it.

Once that happens, something else magical happens. A few of the words and phrases begin to stick in your brain... with no effort. This has just begun to happen with me. Im walking along and suddenly a Spanish phrase from "Las Puertas Retorcidas" pops in my head:

"Te lo suplico", "ayudame", "dame tu mano", "me pongo de pie", etc...

Steve Kaufman of The Linguist has this to say about Listening:

"All forms of listening will help you improve your listening ability. However, it is best to listen to the same content many times. This way the new words and phrases will become a part of you. If you are also studying new words and phrases in our system, you will start to notice them while listening. Soon you will be able to use them. They will become a part of you.

If you do a little bit at a time, you will be surprised how quickly it adds up to an hour. Remember that the time spent listening replaces time in a classroom. You have more freedom if you take your listening with you. This is more useful than a lot of classroom study. Listen often to content that you basically understand. Read the texts from time to time. Also make sure that you review the words and phrases that you have saved. Then listen again."

Good advice.

San Francisco, CA