Why Study Listening

There are two main reasons to study listening comprehension:

  • To learn how to listen better — learning to listen
  • To improve general language skills — listening to learn

Learning to Listen

Listening requires a set of important language skills, which cannot be learned in any other way. For example:

  • Knowledge of the basic sound system
  • Knowledge of how the sound system changes in rapid speech
  • Knowledge of the dialect and personal variation in speech patterns
  • Knowledge of how intonation and tone of voice carry important meaning
  • Knowledge of colloquial language use: some vocabulary and grammar is only used in speech
  • Knowledge of how spontaneous speech production affects language

If language learners don’t learn these important skills through listening practice, they will never learn them.

There is one more crucial skill. People speak very quickly, averaging about 3 words per second. It is very difficult, almost impossible to learn this through speaking, reading or writing. Listening forces language learners to process language quickly and automatically. This is a crucial skill.

Listening to Learn   

Listening is also the best way to improve general language skills. Here are the main reasons:

  • Listening First: many researchers have claimed that the fastest and most efficient way to learn a language is through listening first. Start with the easiest passages at A2 level.
  • Content-Based Learning: many researchers claim that a focus on comprehension of the content, rather than study of the language, is the best way to improve general language skills. By listening and understanding what the speaker is saying, you are doing that.
  • Extensive Comprehension: many researchers have claimed that extensive comprehension is the best way to learn a language. It works with reading and it works even better with listening. Listen to lots of interesting passages.
  • Comprehensible Input: many researchers have claimed that the best way to learn new language is to comprehend something just a little bit above your current level (at i + 1). This means you should choose something a little bit challenging, and then listen and try to understand.

There is considerable evidence that extensive listening practice leads to effective language learning.

Some Ways Make It Work Better

  • Second Language Acquisition Theory: while there is no general theory that is widely accepted, there is wide agreement that it is the urge to communicate that drives language acquisition. When learners are listening and trying to understand what speakers are saying they are communicating. If learners feel that the speakers are communicating with them, they will learn better.
  • Affective Involvement: research shows that we all learn better when we are having a positive experience. So learners should choose passages that interests them, and they should enjoy listening to what the speaker says.
  • Implicit vs Explicit Learning Systems: most of our first language is learned implicitly; we were not aware of learning. Much second language learning also needs to be implicit. When learners are just listening, they are allowing implicit learning to take place naturally.
  • The Size of the Task: Learning a second language is a massive task, and it takes a long time to reach high levels of ability. There is no short cut! Learners should just keep listening, and allow nature to take its course. All experts agree that large amounts of listening practice are very beneficial at all levels of ability.

Just keep listening a lot!