Our 4th suggestion about how to improve English listening skills is to speed up your English understanding.(See our posts about this topic here) Whenever you try to listen to CNN News or English documentaries, you may feel the speed at which native English speakers speak is very fast and it is difficult to comprehend everything they are saying. You might not recognize this when you watch English movies or dramas because the people in them usually use shorter sentences.
The problem of the rapid-speaking situation is caused by the fact that your brain experiences trouble taking in all the words that your ears hear. Just like for the case of computers, when a computer downloads a large document from the internet, buffering is required in order to gradually absorb and analyze the information.
The speed of spoken English, even for yourself when you practice, is dependent on the person speaking as well as the situation. If you try to practice an English article from CNN again and again, and you know the article completely, you can understand it a lot better because you already know what is coming next while the article is progressing. This situation will become common in your English understanding as you are getting familiar with English expressions and sentences. Practice is the way to advance your English listening ability rapidly.
One of our answers to how to improve your English listening skills is grammar.
If you try to read English newspapers, you may encounter sentences you cannot understand though you know all the words in the sentences. This is mostly due to needing to learn more about English grammar.
Try to understand the following:
“It should be emphasized that the intrinsic subjective nature of pain and recognized difficulties in pain evaluation and measurement do not render the pain experience any less physically and psycho-emotionally significant and disabling.”
This is the quotation of an expert from a medical magazine. It is natural that it will be difficult to understand this sentence on listening to it, if you also do not understand what it means when you read it. Once you know the words, the next step is being able to understand the grammar.
Grammar Gorillas look big mountains. but it’s not that big if you ever try.
Based on our extensive research at LEC, we have concluded that it is very important to expand your English vocabulary about the issue of how to improve your English listening skills. You may understand this by reading our previous post about how our brain understands English. Knowing vocabulary only, however, is not enough to understand English by listening.
If you try to listen to Hollywood movies, documentaries or TV dramas without subtitles, and then discover later when you read the script that the sentences you did not understand were actually just easy expressions, you may learn quickly that English native speakers enunciate (sound-out) their words differently for different situations.
American people usually pronounce [innər|nӕʃnəl] rather than [int ər|nӕʃnəl] for “international”. “should have been” is ‘ʃurəbin]. Of course, people from UK or Australia may pronounce the same words in different ways. Also, a person’s English may sound a bit different when they are talking with friends, as opposed to talking with co-workers at the office. The rule that you need to learn phonetics applies for the case of any type of English.
Learning English phonetic rules is not difficult. You can learn this rather quickly, perhaps over a few days, by reading a book on English phonetics. Once you learn about this, your listening skills advance rapidly.
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We talked about the importance of reading to improve your English listening skills. (See our posts about why reading is important to improve English speaking)
Now, we suggest that the next step is to learn some general rules of thumb about how to improve your English listening skills.
To understand English by listening means that you can imitate or dictate the words that you heard. If you see the script of the movie <Batman Begins>, you will encounter this expression: “He poignantly imitated the reactions of other people.” To understand this sentence, you must know every word in this sentence. Do you know the word, ‘poignantly’? You will likely not understand the Batman sentence completely if you do not know the word. (Poignantly means to do something with strong feeling).
You may know the word, “crane”, meaning a machine which lifts heavy materials. But “crane” also refers to stork-like birds with long necks. If a person knowing only the first meaning of “crane” faces a sentence using the word “crane”, meaning a type of bird, he may feel embarrassed: how can a “crane” have wings, let alone be able to fly!
What about “toucan”, a word which some elementary students in the USA are familiar with. It may seem like a relatively simple word, but not an easy word for people learning English as a second language. “Toucan” is a bird with big bills living in jungles of Latin American countries.
All examples in this post will probably make clear why it is useful to improve your English vocabulary in order to improve your listening skills. If you do not know the meaning of what you heard, or alternative meanings of a word, you may experience difficulty with understanding and comprehension.
Next time, we are going to study the importance of phonetic rules of English.
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