Listening Skill: Problems and Solutions

The final exam is coming closer and closer. All students are very busy and stressed preparing for the test. However, out of the four English skill tests, listening is largely agreed to be the most difficult one on which to achieve a good score. “Listening is my worst skill. How can I get 7 on listening?” Phương Linh, a K38 student, worriedly said.

All students want to be better English listeners and they have worked on it and quite a few people know how to boost their listening skill. So why is it so difficult? Let’s discuss the reasons and the solutions to the problem with Mrs. Petit, an English teacher at SFL, and some students.

“Normally, as babies learn their native language, listening is the first language skill acquired. However, for students, it is sometimes the last skill learned. Usually, students will get lower marks in listening than in speaking, reading, or writing. This is because they cannot control what language will come at them.  However, in a writing or speaking prompt, students can choose to use vocabulary they know,” explained Mrs. Petit.

When asked about translating, the students interviewed agreed that they cannot catch up with foreigner’s speaking speed because they are in the habit of translating what foreigners are saying into Vietnamese. So when your brain is focusing on translating, you do not have enough time to both translate and listen to the next words and sentences.

Mrs. Petit suggested, “students need to become a bit like babies. Think about how babies listen. They hear language at a natural pace.  We don’t slow down when we speak to babies. We speak to babies about routines that they hear again and again. So students learning English need language at a natural pace, about topics with which they are familiar, and lots of repetition.”

Repetition is important in listening and only when we listen a lot, can we be familiar with the pronunciation of the new words we have learnt. But “where can students find good things to listen to?”

“Usually students working alone should focus on meaning-focused listening. That is usually the most interesting. Eventually, students will want to listen to language to focus more on the  sounds and rhythms of the language. The best listening exercises are pieces of language that students want to hear again and again. Songs about familiar topics are always great. Earworms (songs that you can’t get out of your head) are even better. Finally, it is best if the student can try to summarize or do some kind of speaking or writing about what they have understood. These post listening activities help a student really comprehend what they have heard,” she said.

From a student perspective, Kim Loan, a K38 student shared the methods that have worked best for her. Her favorite methods are watching TED Talks, films without subtitles, musical comedy and listening to opera. In her opinion, it is very useful to watch TED Talks, a media organization which posts short, powerful talks online for free distribution. By watching it, she can not only improve her listening but also learn lots of new ideas which are helpful and inspiring.

Besides those suggestions, the solution that is widely considered to be the most important is constantly practicing and having a study schedule. Constant work helps learners to gradually improve every day. You should make a schedule to avoid leaving studying to the last minute when you cannot boost your listening immediately to have a good mark. For example, you can commit to practice listening at least two weeks before taking an exam. Moreover, creating a study schedule can also help you to avoid being distracted by other activities such as playing video games and chatting with friends

In conclusion, you should constantly practice and choose subjects that interest you so that it becomes a fun thing to learn rather than a chore. I hope you can find your own listening practice method and good luck on your exam!

By Nguyet Thieu


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