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Working on developing your listening skills

Hey there. We are back with another episode of the Art of Business English. This week we are wrapping up our 3-part mini-series into improving your listening skills. Today we are going to share with you some practical skills on how you, as an English language learner can improve your understanding of real native speakers. 

Let's start. 

Watch the episode here

Where does listening fit into the four skills? 

Where does listening fit in with the 4 skills?
Basically, we operate in a language environment in 4 ways. Input: reading/listening and output speaking/writing. Listening is an input skill. This helps you receive the language.
Listening through immersion?

There seem to be at least two common schools (no pun intended) on the subject of language acquisition. One suggests focusing efforts on developing your skills effectively one skill at a time. The other is that you should integrate skills together. I subscribe to the second. 

Without diving into details. My thinking, based on my experience is like this: If I was in a foreign country. I’d have to quickly assimilate the language to operate effectively. This usually means surrounding yourself with the language without much support from your native language.

This means I don’t have the luxury of focusing on a skill at a time. So, without overwhelming the student, the more we can surround them with English the more effective their learning will be. You will find “conclusive” evidence on either side of the argument I believe. 

So here’s the funny thing: whether I give you instruction to read a short piece of material and make notes of unfamiliar words, or recognise key pre-determined vocabulary or write a short email… you’re listening to instructions and probably receiving verbal feedback. i.e. listening.

This is a podcast proposing effective ways for learners to improve their listening skills. I have 3.

1) Movies/TV-shows.

This is a traditional and effective method. I’ve advocated watching video material with subtitles in the past. This would allow you to adopt the language through Reading AND listening. But here’s thing. We’re automatically lazy as a species. We’ll find the shortest route to get to a result. And this probably means watching the movie but reading the subtitles. It’s common sense. The problem is that you will watch the movie, understand it. But not hear it.

So here’s the advice. Watch it twice. Boring. But effective. Because this time you will have received the context of the video material. You may have read vocabulary you were not previously familiar with. Now you can focus on listening more effectively.

Now that we know some of the reasons why people may hide their feelings from their boss or work colleagues, let’s look at the next part of the episode.

2) Read and listen

Similar to the technique above but now we’re introducing a third element. Reading. Reading gives us opportunities to identify vocabulary, phrases, language and sentence structure. Good quality input in other words. Reading is one of the fastest ways to improve your English language, especially if you choose books that have been adapted into movies. When you watch a movie and read a book, you are able to understand the story and get to know the characters. You'll also enjoy every minute of study time, allowing you to focus on learning the language.

The point is to receive complete good quality input. With this context literally in mind, you will subconsciously be looking & listening out for the context you read and recognising pieces of English you read. So you will be more attentive and receptive.

3) Empathetic listening.

A third technique involves practical advice everyone should be using, including native business English speakers. It’s called. It's sometimes referred as active listening. Empathetic listening is more specific however. Properly applied, it includes a second skill: speaking. It's a technique whereby you repeat some of what you heard back to the person. It shows interest but also compels you to listen carefully. You want opportunities to process what you think the person said. You understand by repeating a form of what they communicated back to them. A business example:

Person A: I had to present the report but I wasn't ready and spent the whole morning preparing.
Person B: So you mean for this report, you spent the morning preparing instead of doing your regular work?

Empathy is not sympathy. Whereas sympathy is "feeling for someone," empathy is "feeling as someone."

Final thoughts

Listening is one of the most important communicative skills you can have. Try adopting some of my tips to improve your listening skills, it will make your life much easier and you will learn English a lot faster.

Drop us a comment below and let us know what you think. If you're a fan of the Art of Business English please think about giving us a 5-star rating on iTunes, we'd really appreciate it. 

Till next week. 

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Andrew is the CEO and founder of the Art of Business English. Besides teaching and coaching native Spanish speakers in Business English, he is also passionate about mountain biking, sailing and healthy living. When He is not working, Andrew loves to spend time with his family and friends.

Andrew Ambrosius

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