It doesn’t matter what language you’re trying to learn; its essential divisions are the same --- speaking, reading, writing and listening! Today we’re going talk about listening, since it’s often a bit of an outsider in learners’ minds. You need additional audio materials, and you can’t do it while listening to background music or when you’re anywhere a bit noisy. To some it just seems more detached, and therefore gets overlooked.

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If you think like this about listening skills, we can’t emphasize enough how wrong you are! Let’s get into it right now. Here are the 3 main reasons why listening matters.

💬 Why Listening Matters – 3 Reasons

Reason 1: It helps you overcome the “Goldfish Effect”
Research has demonstrated that, unfortunately for aspiring polyglots, our short-term memory is even more defective than usual when we are dealing with a foreign language. It’s not 100 percent clear as to why, but the best guess is that because our short-term memory deals with our native language by organizing words in segments, the same isn’t true for foreign languages. Sentence segmentation differs between different languages and when we are unfamiliar with that language, our brain can only store the input in terms of single words. That’s why we forget so much of what we hear in a foreign language.

Practicing your listening (especially with native speakers) can help you to overcome this because it helps you understand how words go together naturally. Over time, your brain also gets used to the segmentation and it will help you to retain what you learn more effectively.

Reason 2: It connects beautifully to your speaking work
Listening is not just about trying to understand what others are saying, but paying attention to how they are saying it. Besides picking up proper sentence segmentation as we mention above, you can also learn to imitate the speed, cadence and style of native speakers.

In Chinese, for instance, by listening to how natives speak on the phone, you will know that they rarely end their conversations with a firm “goodbye,” but rather through a series of short grunt-like noises that convey acknowledgment. Three or four of those and you are finishing your calls like a native. Believe us, the native speakers will notice when you pick that up.

Reason 3: It sharpens up your mind
The immediacy of listening demands that you process and respond to language stimulus much faster than when you do reading or writing practice. Listening confronts you with information and you either sink or swim. It’s an extreme approach, but when we apply ourselves, we can climb the steep learning curve. Over time you tune your mind to the words, and you will find yourself picking up more and more at the first hearing, and also being able to handle an increasingly quick speaking pace.

Ideas for improving your listening skills
Below we’ve added a few ideas for you to start beefing up your listening skills and getting all the benefits that we mentioned above.

  • Practice with native speakers – We know it can be scary, but it’s the best way to get the authentic listening experience. The pronunciation is right, as well as cadence, style etc. There’s no substitute.
  • Try listening to materials without looking at transcripts or other prompts – Practice with the raw material as much as possible. The more challenging you make it for yourself, the more you will learn.
  • Become an “active” listener – Many learners think of listening as a passive skill, but it’s not. Become an active listener by setting targets before you listen, making eye contact with your interlocutor if you’re speaking, take notes as you listen to audio material, focus your attention on the words, paraphrase the meaning of what you heard --- the list goes on.
  • Start by focusing on getting the big picture, and worry about the details later.
  • Create variety in your listening medium --- start at your desk with headphones on; try listening in bed before sleep; play materials in the car, bus or while you’re on the subway; listen to materials while you’re cooking or doing chores.

Talk with us here at LanguageConvo about setting up practice sessions with native speakers of your target language. It’s still the best way to enjoy all the above learning benefits 😊

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