It can be pretty hard to take notes when the teacher is speaking English in ‘light’ speed, watch a film without subtitle or even listen to a podcast. You may find yourself struggling for concentration or getting nervous because it’s ‘too fast’. It’s frustrating. You’ve been studying English for so long and you still have problems to understand it.
So, here are some tips to help you develop better listening skills:
- Be attentive but relaxed. It doesn’t matter whether you understand 100% of the material you’re listening to, the point is that you’re relaxed and trying to capture as much as you can. Don’t worry because you don’t understand a word or a phrase. You can always go back and listen to it again. Screen out the noise from the background and listen.
- Don’t translate in your head. Try to understand the material you’re listening to in English. It may be blurry or unclear, but believe me, this technique will improve your listening immensely. Besides, thinking in two languages at the same time will exhaust you! Remember that you’re not a translator but an English learner. So, relax and listen without translating.
- Try to understand the unknown words from the context. It is unacceptable to interrupt your listening and look for new vocabulary. It would ruin your concentration and you’d miss the point of the material you’re listening to. Even if you don’t understand all the words, try to understand them within the context.
- Listen to all kinds of English. Non-native English speakers make the largest part of the English speaking community. I bet you’ll find it easier to understand English speakers whose native language is the same or like yours.
- Learn the vocabulary for the material you’re listening to. For example, if you’re listening something about hotels, then you should learn the hotel vocabulary such as front desk, lobby bar, room service… Knowledge of the vocabulary will make your listening much easier.
- Listen without prejudice. Keep an open mind! Don’t judge on the material you are listening to or jump into conclusions. Don’t allow your thoughts to distract your listening.
- And finally, once you chose the material to listen to, make sure it’s interesting and can keep your attention. Don’t listen to boring news or reports. Watch an interesting film (without subtitles), a radio theatre, an audiobook (you may read in your native language before), a podcast…
If you are a foreign language learner, then you probably sometimes find yourself translating words and sentences from your native language to the language you’re studying or vice versa. As a matter of fact, it’s a natural thing to do though you would be better off if you stopped doing it as it could add to your fluency.
I could give you some tips on how to get rid of this habit.
First of all, you should use a monolingual dictionary. That way, you won’t learn what a word or a phrase means in your native language but learn it in the language you’re studying and won’t be tempted to translate it.
Second, try to read a book without a dictionary. I know it might be hard at first, and you won’t be able to understand the text you’re reading as if it was written in your native tongue. This practice will add to your fluency even more and will help you speak in a foreign language without hesitation. It doesn’t have to be a book. It can be a film with or without subtitles in the language you’re studying. While you’re reading or watching, try to memorize phrases as they can be ready sentences you can use instead of making them from scratch.
Third, try to adopt a habit of thinking in English. For instance, while you’re doing something in the kitchen or sitting in a bus, you can try to make sentences in English. You can tell yourself: “I’ll cook some potatoes and set the table” or “after I finish this, I’ll call Maria to come over.” Then you can try to explain situations that happened during the day or retell entire day in English in your head. Start from the beginning: “I woke up early today and I didn’t have time to have breakfast at home because I had to hurry in order not to be late for the meeting”, etc… You can do the same with the previous day and try to “think in English” about your future expectations. That’s how you’ll train your mind to get used to English phrases and begin using them more easily. I assure you that your translating habit will eventually disappear.
Finally, you can prepare yourself for future conversations by creating sentences in your head and memorizing them. Think about useful sentences you could use, such as: “Hey, what’s up? How you’ve been doing? Have you done your homework? I’m fine, thanks.” You can use these sentences automatically and naturally in your speech.
Adopting just one of these four habits will definitely shorten the time you need to process the information in your head and help you express yourself faster and more naturally.
The ideal way of studying a language hasn’t been found yet, but here are some advice on how you should study a language in order to get on fluency and build self-confidence. We all know that everyone learns differently but here are some methods you can use. If you’re diligent and persevere to them, I assure you the results won’t miss.
Vocabulary is the foundation of any language. It is well-known that we learn faster if we repeat words and expressions. We also need to be constant and study vocabulary over the whole week. It’s less boring if you learn the words and phrases in the context and use them as soon as possible in your speaking practice. That way you won’t forget them. Learn frequent vocabulary (everyday English) and/or vocabulary you need for your job or studies.
Grammar is the structure which keeps vocabulary in order. Some of you may feel that grammar is boring or difficult to understand and avoid learning it. You should start from easier stuff and try not to skip any essential lessons; eventually, you’ll be able to understand grammar rules which are more complex and do not exist in your native language. Print yourself a practice worksheet with a grammar unit and go through it. Check your answers and do it again in a day or two. In due course of time, you’ll notice that your speech is much more meaningful and complex and confident; moreover, you’ll struggle less to say things you have in mind.
You should try and read (adapted?) books written in English without using a dictionary. You may not understand everything as if you read it in your native language. However, this practice is important because it enables you to ‘shift your mind’ to another language even though you understand only 50 or 70 percent of the text. Practice this and you’ll realise that you speak with ease although you don’t understand where your sentences come from! Sooner than you expect, you’ll become bilingual. Wouldn’t that be great?
Every now and then watch films and TV series without subtitles. It will add to your ‘sense of language’ just like the reading practice. Moreover, you’ll become aware of the intonation and sentence stress, which is most probably different than in your native language. This practice will help you hear better and you’ll definitely stop complaining about actors speaking too fast.
It may sound unimportant but writing can add a great deal to your language skills. You can try to write an email, an essay or rewrite another text. It will definitely improve your spelling, especially if you write with a spelling checker.
Do you know a native speaker to talk to in English? Don’t worry about that; you can try talking to yourself in front of the mirror when nobody’s watching! Even better, you can talk to your friends, family, and colleagues. Try to complete your sentences and don’t worry about making mistakes. Remember that fluency comes where anxiety goes!