Study help

Learn to listen effectively

Listening plays a huge part in learning any language as it is the ability to accurately receive and interpret messages in the communication process. In an academic context students need good listening skills to interpret what people are saying in various academic situations. For example, lectures, presentations, seminars, tutorials, group projects and discussions as well as informal social interactions. It's important to use some strategies to cope with the listening tasks and develop your listening skills in English.

  • Take time before you listen to the text to read the questions. Always read the questions carefully. If there are options, read all the options carefully.
  • In most listening tasks you hear the text more than once. The first time you should listen for general understanding and the second time for more specific information. So, don't worry if you don't hear all the answers the first time. Keep calm and listen for the answers the second time.
  • If you don't hear an answer, don't panic. Sometimes key information is repeated later in the recording.
  • If the questions or options have numbers, dates or key words, say them to yourself. This will help you think about the way they sound.

It is also important to remember that while you listen, all your attention should be on listening, not working out what to do. If the listening task is about a topic that you know something about, you can use this information to help you. Look at the questions. What do you know about the topic? Anything you know about the topic, even in your own language, will help you. What vocabulary do you know about the topic? Predict which words might be in the listening.

While you are listening to the text you won't understand every word, and you don't need to. But it is important to know which words you need to understand so that you can complete the tasks. In general, listen for the important, key words. Even native speakers don't listen to every word!

  • Don't think about the word for too long. Continue listening to the rest of the text.
  • It's important to continue listening to the rest of the text so that you don't miss any more important information.
  • Sometimes key words or ideas are repeated later in the audio, so listen out for the word or idea again.
  • Sometimes you might hear a word you know, but you don't recognise the pronunciation. Use the context to help you work out the word and remember that when people speak quickly they often use weak sounds, or drop sounds from a word.
  • Don't stop listening! If you don't understand part of the listening, don't panic! Continue listening to the next part. This is a very important skill when listening. Learn to move on and continue listening!

It is a good idea to be familiar with the types of listening tasks and how to tackle them.

True or false

  • Before you listen predict if the sentence is true or false. Listen to confirm.
  • Think of the key words or information in the sentence.

Multiple choice answers

Multiple choice can be tricky, as there are often two possible answers that are quite similar.

  • Read all the options carefully before you listen and identify key words.
  • If the options have numbers or dates, say them to yourself to think about the way they sound before you listen.
  • Use your common sense to eliminate any options that are not possible.
  • If the A, B, C options are confusing, think about how you would answer the question in your own words. Then look again at the options. Which option is similar to your idea?
  • Listen for key information to confirm your answers. Key information is usually stressed.
  • Sometimes the speakers talk about all the options. Listen to all the audio before choosing the correct option. Don't choose the first option you hear.
  • Read the options again after you listen. Eliminate options you are certain are wrong.

Open answer questions can be difficult, but these tips will help you:

  • Read the questions and think of the important information you need to listen for.
  • Write the numbers for the questions before you listen. Write notes next to the right number as you listen.
  • Just write down key words. Don't try and write complete, perfect sentences while you listen.
  • Write the key words quickly, even if they are incomplete.
  • Write abbreviations, not complete words, e.g. info (not information), etc.
  • Don't worry about spelling while you listen. You can correct spelling later.
  • Listening time is to concentrate on what you can hear, not on your writing.

Complete the notes

Sometimes you may be asked to complete a set of notes in a listening task. This is a type of gap-fill.

  • Look at the notes before you listen. What information is missing? A noun? A verb? A number? A date? A name?
  • Predict what information you need and listen to confirm.
  • Just write down key words while you listen, not all words.
  • Just write notes while you listen, not complete, perfect sentences.
  • Write the key words quickly.
  • Write abbreviations, not complete words, e.g. info (not information), etc.
  • Don't worry about spelling while you listen. You can correct spelling later.