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Are you listening?

Listening. The most daunting of the 4 skills. For me, anyway. Let me explain.

First off, there's writing. Writing has something listening and speaking cannot offer: time. It allows you to stop and consider your wording, look up new words and correct your spelling. You can even research the best way to phrase something so that your text is natural and error free. Reading is similar. You can also stop, go back and reread, then mull it over, consider the potential meanings, even slowly analyse the grammar. When speaking you can prepare what you're going to say, look up more words, practise and repeat it to yourself. 

But listening, folks, is a totally different kettle of fish. You may or may not be able to hear the text again, and if you do, perhaps it won't be said in exactly the same way (when you ask someone to repeat themselves, for example). Plus, isn't it irritating when you can't quite catch a word or sentence and can't simply look it up because you haven't the faintest idea how to spell it?! It's hard to get good at listening and often feels as though you can't control your progress. Enter my new favourite learning tool: podcasts.

I don't have much time to dedicate to studying at present, which is where podcasts come in. While I'm busy cooking or getting somewhere by bus or on foot, a short podcast is playing in my ear. There are a few tricks to bear in mind to ensure it's a valuable lesson, though. Here are my tips:

  • Choose something short, maximum 30 minutes, though I find podcasts that are 10 or 15 minutes long to be best. For this to be an effective learning tool you'll want to listen to it a few times (hence it should be short!). 
  • Most podcasts come with a brief written introduction revealing the topic and the names and credentials of any guest speakers. Read it! It will activate your brain and set you up for listening, enabling you to understand more first time.
  • The topic should be interesting to you, otherwise you will completely zone out and focus on your cooking (which, admittedly, I should do more often; my cooking isn't the best). Don't waste time on a boring text. There's plenty more where that podcast came from!
  • In between listenings, look up some of the words that keep cropping up. Each time you hear the podcast you'll understand more. 
  • Don't be afraid to repeat words (out loud) and phrases that you hear. I like to repeat phrases that I understand, but don't use often, so I'm improving my speaking skills too.
  • Podcasts with one or two main speakers are best when listening is not your strong suit as you have less work to do in terms of getting used to voices and rhythms and less speakers means less interrupting is happening. There is nothing more distracting than trying to figure out who said what and keep track of each speaker's stance on the topic. What's more, people tend to repeat the same phrases and idioms. If you follow a particular series you'll start picking up some great natural language and fillers.
So there you have it. How to use podcasts as a useful study tool without lifting a pencil. Good luck!

Photo by Oleg Laptev on Unsplash

words from the text

daunting  -  scary / worrying
mull sth over  -  consider sth, think hard about sth
'a different kettle of fish'  -  idiomatic expression used to describe sth that is very different from sth else and which needs special consideration 
irritating  -  annoying, sth that bothers you
catch  -  understand (in this case; 'catch' has several meanings)
haven't the faintest idea  -  have no idea, don't know 
hence  -  therefore, so
set you up  -  prepare you
zone out  -  stop paying attention
cropping up  -  occurring (in this case it means the words that keep being used)
is not your strong suit  -  not sth you're good at, sth you are quite bad at
lessen  -  reduce
figure out  -  work out, understand
keep track of  -  remember
stance  -  opinion, attitude


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