Saturday, July 2, 2011

How to Improve Your Listening Skills

Listening is the most difficult language skill to learn. When we read something, we can go back and read it again, and use a dictionary for difficult vocabulary. When we speak, we control the speed, grammar and vocabulary of the message. But, when we listen, the speaker chooses the message and usually we only have one chance to understand the meaning.

Unfortunately, listening is also the most important language skill to learn. Without listening there is no communication. We receive much more information through listening than we do through reading.

So, what can you do to improve your listening? As with every other skill, it comes down practice, practice, practice!

  1. Try to have English in the background all the time when you are at home. This can be a TV news channel or talk radio. You don’t have to listen to it, but it will help you get a feeling for the rhythm of the language.
  2. The internet is a great source of listening material. You can download podcasts or watch Youtube videos. If you listen to things you really enjoy, you are more likely to understand them.
  3. Find lyrics on the internet to English songs that you like. Then read them as you listen to the songs.
  4. English movies are also an excellent way to improve your listening skills. First, watch them without subtitles and a second time with the subtitles on.
  5. Borrow audio books from the library. You can listen while reading along. If you have time, you can even take notes while listening. Then, compare the passage in the book with your notes.

More Listening Tips
  • When listening to people, focus on what they are saying, and avoid distractions. Using body language to show that you are listening can help you to pay attention. Repeating words in your mind is a good way to stay focused too.
  • Try not to translate English speech into your language. This will distract you from the speaker and you will miss much of the message.
  • With longer speeches, listen for the main idea and don’t get stuck on the details. Listen for key words to help you understand the general idea.
  • “Listen” to people’s body language as well as their words. Over 80% of communication is nonverbal.
  • Occasionally, ask questions or summarize what the speaker says. You can ask “What do you mean by...?” or say “So you mean....”
  • Reading can also help you improve your listening. Pick up one of the free newspapers everyday and read articles that interest you. By increasing your knowledge of current events and your vocabulary, it will become easier to understand what people are talking about.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Public Speaking

"There are two types of speakers: those that are nervous and those that are liars."—Mark Twain

According to the book of lists, the fear of speaking in public is #1—the fear of dying is only #7! Yet, in every English class, students are forced to stand up in front of their peers and make a presentation. What can you do to control those fears?

First, you need to know what you are talking about. If you don’t really understand what you are saying, you will be more nervous. Be prepared not only for your speech, but to answer questions about it. Also, use language that you normally use so that you won’t forget what to say.

If it’s available, use a projector with PowerPoint slides of your main ideas and visuals to support them. This can help you to get your message across, because the audience can see your points as you explain them. It also helps you to remember what your points are. Don’t write out your whole speech though; then nobody will need to listen to you. And don’t try to hide by speaking to your screen instead of your audience!

Practicing your speech is very important. Rehearse it out loud over and over again. If it’s a timed presentation, practice with a timer. If possible, try to practice in the actual location where you are going to speak and with any equipment you plan to use.

It’s a good idea not to rehearse on the day of your presentation, however. Try to do something else to help you relax instead. You can ease your stress by doing some stretching and some breathing exercises. Imagine yourself standing in front of your audience and speaking loudly, clearly and confidently.

When it’s time to speak, begin by addressing the audience and making eye contact with them. Remember that they are on your side—they want you to do well, too. They are hoping to hear something informative and interesting.

You will be nervous, but usually the audience can’t see that. They also don’t know what you are planning to say, so don’t apologize if your nervousness causes you to miss something—you’ll only be calling attention to it. Just go back and say what you had planned to say and move on. Nobody will know you made a mistake.

The more you speak in public, the more experienced you will become at controlling the butterflies in your stomach. Although the nervousness will never disappear completely, you will become a more confident speaker over time.