Use MicroEnglish to sharpen your listening skills

This is a guest post from my friend Chris. He runs a website called MicroEnglish. It helps English students to develop their listening skills.

Understanding native speakers is one of the biggest challenges you will face as a learner of English.

Native speakers talk quickly, pronounce words in unexpected ways, connect words together, and use lots of idiomatic words and phrases which are difficult to understand.

Most students really want to improve their English listening skills, and spend a lot of time listening to podcasts or the radio, watching TV series and films, and listening to music in English. All of these activities are great, and it is definitely a good idea to expose yourself to as much spoken English as possible.

However, this kind of listening practice only really helps you with what I call ‘survival listening’ – understanding just enough (maybe even just 25%) of what someone is saying to get the overall meaning.

Survival listening is a very useful skill, and many students get very good at it. However, it is also very important to improve your ability to recognise the individual words and phrases that a native speaker uses.

So how can you get better at this? The key is intensive listening practice. Instead of listening to long pieces of spoken English (like a podcast or a TV program) and understanding enough to survive, focus on a very small piece of spoken English and try to understand everything. Listen over and over again until you think you have identified each individual word that you have heard.

When you have finished, compare your answer with the subtitles or the transcript, and see if you made any mistakes. If you did, think about why. Was a word pronounced in an unexpected way? Were the words linked together? Did the speaker use a word or phrase you don’t know? Thinking like this will help you to understand the problems you have with listening, and to learn from your mistakes.

Here’s a quick micro-dictation to try this activity with. Listen as many times as you need to, write down what you hear, and then check your answer at the bottom of the page.

A quick micro-dictation activity from MicroEnglish.

Intensive listening is hard, but it is very good for you. I like to think of intensive listening as like taking your ears to the gym – doing it regularly will make you a much stronger listener. When you are listening to a native speaker, watching a film or listening to the radio, you will find that you can naturally recognize more of what you hear. You won’t just be surviving – you will be understanding. Good luck!

Chris Bargery is the founder of MicroEnglish. He has taught English for 10 years, and has worked in Buenos Aires, Bogota and Oxford. He is originally from Devon in the South West of the UK and enjoys camping, running and cooking.

Answer to micro-dictation: “I waited at the cinema for an hour, but my friend didn’t turn up. I suppose they must have forgotten.”