Listening strategies: how to listen better
by Claire Jaynes, DoS at Trebinshun House
You’ve heard of top-down and bottom up management but have you heard of these terms in language development?! We use them to talk about listening skills and you’re probably aware that becoming a better communicator involves focussing on your speaking and listening skills. Let’s look at these different techniques that we use in class on our intensive English courses – ones that you can also use at home.
Top-down strategies: before you listen, where possible take a few moments to tap into your background knowledge of the topic, the situation or context. We do this very naturally: before a meeting, you look at the agenda and in your second language, this helps you to predict some of the key words. What you are doing is activating a set of expectations that help you to interpret what is heard and anticipate what will come next. This can take the pressure of the context (whether it’s a meeting, video conference or a presentation). Top-down strategies include:
- listening for the main idea
- drawing inferences
Bottom-up strategies focuses on the language that is used so are text based. We focus on these in the classroom by asking you to work with the language in detail – the combination of sounds, words, and grammar that creates meaning. Analysing a TED talk could be an example which would highlight the following bottom-up strategies:
- listening for specific details
- recognizing cognates (words which have the same root in your language)
- recognizing word-order patterns
- analysing word linking in pronunciation
Clearly, we can’t employ all of these strategies all of the time so be strategic about developing your listening skills. You can use metacognitive strategies to plan, monitor and evaluate your listening. For example:
- (most obviously) decide which listening strategies will serve best in a particular situation.
- monitor your comprehension and the effectiveness of the selected strategies.
- evaluate if you’ve achieved your goal and which areas need further attention.
Identifying your weaker areas allows you to focus on developing that area – either by taking one of our intensive courses or by careful home study. Why not both?!