Listening is difficult for most learners. The first thing I hear from students who have traveled abroad is, “Americans talk so much faster than you do”. As teachers, we tend to talk a bit slower, with more enunciation and emphasis on intonation. But are we doing students a disservice with this habit? I know after teaching in Brazil for over 10 years, I speak much slower, so much so that when I call back to the states, people ask if I’m ok or worse, dying as they notice my rate of speed while talking is dramatically less rapid than before I left.
Since building the Facebook group “English Students worldwide”, every day I receive a text or email from learners asking for help with their fluency. I am surprised to find that most haven’t even considered this simple solution to increasing listening speed. So “listen” up.
Surely, you as students should be doing more outside of class to improve. We have written in the past about how to use TV to improve. We have written about the need for practice on your own. We have posted about the need for conversation classes and the need for community in learning, as well as suggested apps to help you. Here is an old, but effective approach to not only improving your listening skills, but targeting specific vocabulary for yourself. Podcasts and audio streams.
Podcasts and audio streams are far from new, but the best thing about them are the sheer numbers that exist on almost every subject. Choosing a subject that has meaning to you, whether a hobby, your job, your degree in school etc., and using them as an exercise, will help increase your listening speed, comprehension rate, vocabulary, contextual deduction and my even teach you something new about the subject. Best of all, they are free.
Podcasts and audio streams are easy to listen to on the web, downloadable, portable and available to use anywhere and you can rewind and use them as often as you need.
There are thousands of sites to get great podcasts. Go to google and search “subject name podcasts”. I have listed the top 20 sites that I have been using or recommending to my students here.
NPR (National Public Radio) has been on the radio back home and I’ve been listening since the invention of the radio. You can’t beat success. Fun, informative and diverse, it has a wealth of subject matter available from around the world. This is a “must hear” for me.
The BBC is an excellent source for news and information from around the world. Great too if you need to brush up on understanding a British accent. CNN international and Voice of America are alternatives.
If you’re into cars, this is the show for you. I would listen to these Boston guys every Sunday for car info, but mostly for the way they make me feel at home. You never know what they will talk about. Just to give you an idea that there is a source for everything and anything.
So, get out the headphones, get your iPod or smartphone or laptop and start improving your listening skills. You’ll find your writing and speaking will thank you for it too.
Rob Howard is the owner of Online Language Center. He is a teacher, tutor, trainer, material designer and author for English as a foreign language. He is also a consultant and has been a frequent speaker internationally regarding online retention as well as using technology in and out of the classroom. Originally from Boston, Massachusetts in the U.S., he is currently residing in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.