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Strategies to Become a Better Listener

  1. Distinguish separate words from a blur of sounds
    1. Increase one's exposure to the language. (i.e., Listen to voice segments in the target language via radio or internet).
    2. Have a friend say a sentence slowly and then quickly. Identify the number of words in the sentence. Separate more words with each time.
    3. Visualization. Listen and envision the pieces of words the language consists of, perhaps looking for the subject and verb.
  2. Fathom the Message without Seeing Each Word
    1. Listen for key words (Sometimes signaled by a stress/accent or by a pause)
    2. Practice "skim listening" by listening for key words and summarizing important points. Pay particular attention to key topics.
    3. Use probability, inference, or make an educated guess (deduce), given the following:
      1. Topic and your prior knowledge.
      2. Context.
      3. Speaker.
      4. Speaker's tone of voice and body language.
      5. Cues from prior spoken words or phrases.
    4. Foresee what the speaker will say. On the off chance that you know something about the subject, speculate depending on the context and the environment.
    5. Listen for words borrowed from English, such as "computer" and brand names like "Coca-Cola."
    6. Use both top-down and bottom-up listening strategies. Bottom-up processing includes taking things heard and assembling them to make meaning. For example, you hear the following statement: "Yesterday, an earthquake killed 273 people in Kobe." You infer that there was a quake yesterday in Kobe that killed 273 individuals. Since "yesterday" is an adverb, assign a past tense to the verb. In bottom-up listening, find clues by examining the actual words as completely as possible.

    Top-down processing is a comprehensive methodology by searching for meaningful clues beyond the particular words you year. For example, you overhear two people talking and the person says, "earthquake." But you also hear the word "Kobe." They are discussing the earthquake in Kobe based on your background knowledge of world events.

    1. The advantage of the top-down approach is staying actively involved; whereas the bottom-up approach modifies your interpretation based on the collected information.
    2. Practice identifying which style you use while watching a movie, attending class, or hearing a conversation. Focus on how you determine the meaning of the conversation.
  3. Comprehend the whole message
    1. Put yourself in a mindset to understand the target language. Only focus on the speaker's language.
    2. Accept some ambiguity and practice listening. Complete comprehension is unrealistic, so just get the main idea.
  4. Decipher fast speech
    1. Reduce unrealistic expectations. Before understanding fluent speech, language exposure is recommended.
    2. Try to remain in the conversation. Do not tune out even when the conversation is beyond comprehension.
    3. Ask questions. The best advice is to ask what you just heard when you do not understand.
      1. Ask for clarification
      2. Ask to repeat the statement
      3. Paraphrase for correction
    4. Resolve the Speaker's Intentions
      1. Tone of voice. Since tone can vary across cultures, guessing may be inaccurate (i.e., How will you distinguish an agitated or angry tone?). Ask the local population how to distinguish if a native speaker is using one tone or another.
      2. Be aware of nonverbal cues such as facial expressions, body language, and hand movements.
      3. Understand word stress. Word stress may often be more important to the meaning of the sentence than words that are not stressed. Word stress may signal key words to understand the speaker, especially in skim listening.
      4. Understand intonations (Pitch variation or the rising and falling of the speaker's voice). Emotion is also often expressed through one's intonation.
    5. Listen to a conversation between two people
      1. Eavesdrop. Eavesdropping is generally acceptable on a bus, waiting in line, on the subway or train. Get a global understanding of the message.
      2. Recognize speech types according to the speaker or setting.
        • Be exposed to a variety of speakers (i.e., age, status, relationship) and settings (i.e., at dinner) through cultural immersion.

Taken from "Strategies to Become a Better Listener" (p. 167-173) in Maximizing Study Abroad: A Student's Guide to Strategies for Language and Culture Learning and Use as cited in – Read the Article on How to Become a Better Listener


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