Updated: Jan 14
Of the four language skills – reading, writing, listening, and speaking - my view is that listening is the most important, for most students. Many students can make themselves understood when they speak, even at a basic level. But, if you can’t understand what someone is saying to you, that makes good communication difficult – or even impossible.
Once your English reaches a good level, working on your listening is even more important. Listening to native speakers is challenging. Some students feel that understanding a native speaker is impossible. It isn’t.
There are many reasons people find it hard to listen to native speakers. “They speak so fast.” But do they? According to a study by Pelligrino, Coupe, and Marco, this is not the case. In the study, they found that Japanese speakers speak at around 7.84 syllables per second. Spanish, at 7.82 syllables per second and French, at 7.18 syllables per second, are also much ‘faster languages. In fact, they found that English, at around 6.19 syllables per second, was a ‘slower’ language. So, what is the problem? Why does English people seem to speak so fast?
There are several reasons. Understanding the three main ‘keys’ to fluency is important. These are ‘rhythm’, ‘stress’, and ‘intonation’, and they are all inter-connected.
The more listening practice you get, the better you will begin to understand English when spoken by native speakers. If your English is at intermediate level (particularly good B1 and B2 on the Common European Framework of Reference), you should start to listen to authentic English to help this process of understanding native speakers.
Listening to native speakers is challenging, but – at your level – you must do it. But you need a plan. Just watching English television and listening to English radio will not be enough. You need a plan. And, in the second post of this series, we will give you a plan to try. It is a plan I have used with many of my students, and it has worked with most of them. Yes, you need to be disciplined and patient. But discipline and patience will bring results.