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Who’s listening?? by Andrew Swift Part 1.


Throughout the long, arduous, and oft-times turbulent journey of learning your target language, the time spent honing the four language skills (speaking, writing, reading, and listening) will, at times, seem endless. While some feel that they only need to focus on particular areas and many will improve certain skills at a faster rate, we must not neglect any of these to the extent that it is likely to hinder your language development as a whole. 

Sadly, this happens more than is desirable, albeit unintentionally, and will ultimately have a detrimental effect on your overall progress. It's a well-known fact among teachers that one of the biggest victims of this crime is the vital skill of listening.  

Let’s look at some reasons why it is important to practice listening, different skills within the skill itself, types of listening, barriers one may face, and importantly, how to improve.

Why is it so important?

Firstly, listening counts for almost half of our communication time, followed by speaking, reading, and writing, respectively. This considered, it is difficult to understand why students and teachers alike are prone to overlook its value.

Your active skills (speaking and writing) will improve more naturally with the development of listening and reading comprehension and without the necessary passive skills in your armoury, you won't have the correct ammunition to display your active skills confidently. You first need input before you can create output.

Skills within the skill

Listening for gist.

Comparable to scanning and skimming texts, we can apply this method to listening exercises to help us understand the general thematic meaning of what we are listening to. We do this by identifying the content words (verbs, nouns, adjectives, and adverbs). These words are more distinguishable as they are the stressed words in a sentence, thus standing out more than the function words (articles, prepositions, conjunctions, demonstratives, and so on). 

In short, listening for gist is a useful skill to help us identify the context of communication. 

Listening for detail

When you want to work out the particulars of speech, you must engage in listening for detail. Doing this helps us target specific information we need to know. We can identify target words related to what we are listening for, which will enable us to pinpoint when it appears in the conversation. 

Using this skill makes it possible for us to obtain the relevant content we need with more precision and accuracy.

Detecting signposts

Ever been walking on a hiking route? If so, you will appreciate the importance of signposts. If we didn't have them, we would end up getting lost and finding ourselves in a whole world of trouble. 

The same goes for signposting language. When the speaker’s content is about to go off course in some way and also when they want to clarify, analyse, support, give examples or summarize, they will indicate this by using a discourse marker of some kind. 

Knowing these and being able to identify them in speech is a useful tool to have in your kit to follow the content.

Other skills

Some other notable mentions are content prediction, and when something is too difficult to understand, deducing the meaning by interpreting any signs of non-verbal communication or using prior knowledge we might already have of the situation.


Andrew Swift, brit anyanyelvi mentor