by Marc Anderson

One Sure Way to Increase Your English Listening Skills by Learning English Online

listening to music and relaxing

So when you are listening to somebody, completely, attentively, then you are listening not only to the words, but also to the feeling of what is being conveyed, to the whole of it, not part of it. 

Jiddu Krishnamurti – Indian speaker and writer

 Have you tried to learn English online? You know the kind of ESL instruction with a trained teacher who individualizes English lessons to meet your skill level and needs? This method is one sure way to increase your ability to listen. And one sure way to improve your English.

Educational researchers have found that outside the classroom or in learn English online programs, listening is used twice as much as speaking, and speaking is used twice as much as reading and writing. So how much more is listening used in the daily life of an ESL student? Well, that would mean that listening is used twice as much as speaking. And listening is used four times as much as reading and writing. These statistics suggest that listening is a very critical skill. How so?

Listening is an important skill for communication whether it is at home, school (face-to-face classroom experiences or in learn English online programs), the workplace, or out in the community. Listening comprehension is necessary for relationships with your parents, siblings, other relatives and friends, and with your classmates and teachers. Listening takes place among your fellow employees and with your supervisors. The act of listening occurs throughout your daily life and no matter where you go in the community. Listening is a crucial part of ESL learning and helps us in our day-to-day living. It is no wonder that listening is used twice as much as speaking. And listening is used four times as much as reading and writing.

What are the factors that affect the ability to listen?

First off, there is the listener.

Have you ever “tuned out” topics that just don’t interest you, or likewise you “turned off” or avoided a speaker who you just didn’t enjoy being around so much? You probably will agree that if you are interested in what is being said and if you have an interest in the person who is speaking, you are more apt to be a better listener. Is that what you think, too?

Even so, it it is important to cultivate listening skills so you can listen in situations where you might not normally want to listen. There will be times when you really need to listen to something that is not that enjoyable… like a school lecture on a topic that you don’t even like or at a meeting where your thoughts want to be elsewhere or maybe even listening to someone giving you orders to do something or reprimanding you. In these cases, most of us would rather avoid the situation and not even listen to what is being said. I have some tips for you to try to change this.

  • You might try to repeat the words and phrases in your head from the speaker. This will help increase your comprehension of what is being said, in addition to help with focus and attending.
  • You can look at the person who is speaking and return body signals to show you are genuinely listening (i.e. smile, nod, exchange eye contact, etc.) This usually refers to a person you have face-to-face contact with but it can also be when you learn English online with an instructor. Although you can see the instructor, and they don’t have access to seeing you, you can still respond as if they were physically in front of you all along.
  • If you are more engaged with the speaker, you are more able to listen to what is being said, too. You can also ask for something to be clarified or repeated, and you can ask a question so the speaker to elaborate on any specific concerns.
  • Sometimes it helps to remind yourself about the importance of listening. Give yourself a pep talk inside your head so you will be a better listener. You can also think of the time(s) you had an attentive listener(s) when you were speaking.  How did that make you feel? I bet that made you feel valued.  Was there ever a time when people were not listening to you and they were distracted and inattentive?  How did that make you feel? I bet it did not feel so great.

Friends visiting in a coffee shop

Next there is the speaker. When speaking, it is important to speak at a rate that is not too fast or slow. If it is difficult to listen to you speak, then you will lose your listeners. What about the volume of your speech?  Can everyone hear you?  Are you aware of how you might hesitate with corrections and rephrasing, or even by going off on a related story and not sticking to the original point? These speaking behaviors may make it difficult for the listener to attend to what you are saying, as well. I have a tip for you to try to help.

  • You could try taping yourself talking about a specific subject, giving a talk on something or answering a question. Then play back the tape and analyze your speaking. How does the rate of your speech sound?  Is it loud enough? Are you a fluent speaker who continues speaking without lots of repetition or hesitation? Do you stick to the topic? Is your voice loud enough? Do you vary your voice so it is not the same tone? Do you show enthusiasm and expression in your speaking?
  • You can spend time observing how others talk. Which talk show host do you like to listen to on television?  What is it about his/her voice that attracts you to listen?  What actor or actresses do you enjoy in movies? Again, why do you enjoy listening to them and watching their movies? Who do you enjoy talking with and why? Again, is it something about how they interact with you… how they engage in conversation and how they listen to you?

woman with megaphone

Now for the content of what is being said. You must choose your words and expressions carefully. If you use vocabulary that your audience does not understand or even worse – vocabulary that you may not understand and possibly use incorrectly – your audience is more apt to not listen as much to what you are saying. Do you use figures of speech, idioms, and slang correctly? Do you know how to pronounce your words, especially the more difficult ones? Does the listener need some background information to understand what you are saying?  All of these aspects will help you with making the content more easily understood for your audience. In casual conversation and with those you know, it is probably easier to speak fluently and to listen to what others have to say. What can you do to practice?

  • You might want to try role-playing using dialogue for different scenarios. You could link these situations to real-life examples that pertain to you like a job interview or a presentation at school or work. The other person could help you by offering questions along the way for you to answer and clarify.
  • If you are studying English online, you can ask the teacher to target listening comprehension skills and develop some exercises to help in that area. To learn English online is great at that. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and point out areas that you want to improve.  There are often additional ways to improve English listening with chat rooms and group discussions.  You might want to try some of these ways, too.

Use visuals for more understanding. Sometimes if you have a visual to show along with what you are saying, the listener(s) increase their comprehension of what you are saying and they also may become more interested in what you have to say.

  • Perhaps a picture or a photo might enhance what you are saying.
  • Try a video or power point presentation. 
  • You might be able to demonstrate something or show a diagram.
  • Even something as simple as body language and gestures may help the audience to understand your message.

Again, all of these supportive elements will increase listening comprehension and in the end encourage the listener to be more attentive. Listening is an active process. Listening is an active process of selecting and interpreting information from auditory and visual clues. It is a natural process that occurs when there is a verbal or auditory stimulus. The listener is not always aware of the components of listening. And what happens does not necessarily occur in any order. A listener may not do all of these behaviors or they may do several of them at once, or repeat some of them as they actively listen. What types of behaviors does the listener do?

  • Determines a reason for listening
  • Takes in and stores the words or meaning in short-term memory
  • Categorizes the information as to the type of speech and its function (persuade, inform, entertain, etc.)
  • Makes predictions and draws conclusions along the way
  • Recalls or applies connections of background information so the new material makes more sense
  • Interprets meaning of what is being heard
  • If it is unclear, asks questions until the material is understood
  • Stores parts of the material in long-term memory and may delete some of the information that was previously stored in short-term memory

How can listening help the adult ESL learner improve his/her English? Research in ESL learning suggests that students benefit from a silent or pre-speaking period, especially for the beginning and advanced beginning ESL student of any age. This time period can be devoted to gaining vocabulary and building comprehension.

  • You might choose to act out a series of commands while the teacher or native speaker gives commands, or you might point to certain words or pictures as the teacher or native speaker tells you the vocabulary word(s), etc.
  • Another suggestion is to listen to a taped conversation or lecture several times before someone asks you questions about it. That is one technique that will help you develop your listening skills.
  • It is also suggested that you listen for main idea and details opposed to just summarizing your listening and/or answering strictly yes and no questions.
  • Other suggestions include to listen to a 10-15 minute YouTube video, tape, news show, etc. each day and to record in a journal what you heard. Write down the main idea of what you heard and list some supporting details.

Is it important for you to continue to devote time each day to being silent so you can just listen. Good listening practice will bring you one step closer to becoming a fluent ESL speaker. Responses in listening ESL teachers have identified nine responses that can be observed in listening activities to check for listening comprehension. The next time you have a conversation in English or you attend a lecture or a meeting, take a few minutes to see which responses you demonstrate. Possible responses include:

  • Doing:  the listener responds by doing something he/she is asked to do
  • Choosing:  the listener selects form a group of materials: texts, objects, actions or pictures
  • Transferring: the listener transforms the message into something else like filling in a chart or drawing a map
  • Condensing:  the listener makes an outline or graphic organizer of the information
  • Extending: the listener solves a problem from what is given, continues the story, etc.
  • Duplicating:  the listener translates or repeats the message
  • Modeling:  the listener performs a similar task as shown to them
  • Conversing: the listener has a face-to-face conversation with one or more individuals
  • Answering:  the listener is asked questions and answers them

You can practice any of these responses to sharpen your listening skills. The more practice in all areas of listening, the better your skills will be. This will transfer to your other English language areas of speaking, reading and writing. Listening is a fundamental skill that does impact other literacy skills. Plus listening is a true art in itself. Everyone loves a good listener. In conclusion Hopefully this article has offered you some information to better understand what listening is all about. Listening is a key component to language learning and a necessary skill in communication. It is valuable to integrate some ESL listening activities in your everyday living so you can build on these skills to enhance your overall English fluency. After all, listening is used twice as much as speaking. And listening is used four times as much as reading and writing. So have you tried to learn English online?

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Contact me to learn more about our online English learning programs. If you have more time look around and read a few blog posts on English language learning from our site, and register for a free book and newsletter by using the email box below. Write to me using the comments section below. I am ready to listen to what you have to say and to help you move forward in your English language studies. It just might be that time now where you go from average to serious English language leaner.

About the author:

Marc Anderson is the co-founder and CEO of TalktoCanada. Since founding the company in 2006, he has grown it to over 25 staff with operations in 50 countries. Marc spends his time outside of TalktoCanada travelling, playing with his son and working on new business projects.