Skip to main content

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


Popular posts from this blog

How do you cook it?

It was some kind of radish. I knew one type of radish prior to that day. The radish I knew was a small, round or cylindrical, red vegetable cultivated by newbie gardeners everywhere because it's so easy to grow (apparently). This was not that kind of radish. This one was huge. Giant! I had no idea what I was going to do with it.  So, naturally, I bought it. But I was sure to get some how-to-use instructions first. No need to cook it at all it turns out (despite its ginormous size). Great with salads, I was told. And it was, but it lasted for weeks and there's only so many salads a person can eat. I do this often, I must point out. The buying unfamiliar veggies bit, though the salads bit, too, if I'm honest. It's one of the great things of moving country - finding 'weird' fruit and vegetables you haven't seen before. Weird really isn't the right word. There's nothing strange about them; I had simply never crossed paths with them during my (obviously s

A case for cartoons

"Willst du die suchen gehen, Leo?" I called out to the kitchen walls. Two seconds later a disembodied voice from the tablet echoed my question. "I'm getting good at this," I thought with a smug smile. While I was up to my elbows in greasy suds , my 15-month-old sat enjoying his cartoon at the kitchen table. Having seen, or at least heard, each episode three times, I wasn't surprised I could anticipate the next line. This screen time is completely justifiable , by the way. I play the German version, so, thanks to Covid-19, it is currently one of the only sources of German my son is exposed to regularly. Also it, you know, provides some much needed quiet time.  But there's more to cartoons than meets the eye . They've turned out to be a helpful little study aid for me . In fact, I believe cartoons aimed at very small children can be great learning tools for adult learners. Here's why: the sentences are short and uncomplicated, the meaning is gener

Damned if you do

I rang the bell and waited. Nothing. I was reminded of a similar situation about 2 years back when I'd arrived at an office and rung a small black bell which was connected to the company logo with a giant arrow. I rang it twice and eventually a woman appeared and told me there was no need to ring the bell, I should have just walked straight in ('someone should do something about that giant arrow then,' I remembered thinking at the time).  So here I was again. Waiting in front of another small black doorbell. 'Once bitten, twice shy', I thought to myself and I pushed the door open. Another door stood in front of me and a man was exiting. He held the door and I thanked him and walked in. It was a small office, barely enough room to swing a cat with two chairs in front of me and two more to my right beside a hatstand. On a table to the left stood the ubiquitous bottle of disinfectant. Covid. A woman appeared in front of me and I knew she worked there that way that you