How to hone your foreign language listening skills
By angelaluke, Mar 4 2017 08:17PM
It is often said that developing foreign language listening skills is the hardest skill to master, yet it’s also one of the most important ones. What can we do to improve listening comprehension?
Well, it goes without saying that practice makes perfect. But if you’re not living in the country, how can you listen to authentic language? Actually, there are lots of ways and mixing up your sources of listening material will stop you getting bored.
With the Internet, it is very easy to search for radio stations in your country of choice. Whilst it’s true to say that radio presenters seem to talk particularly fast, radio programing follows a format. Therefore, start by listening on the hour, in order to hear the time, news headlines and maybe the weather. These sound bites are enough to get you started. The radio also makes great background noise and, the more you listen, the more your ear will get attuned. Here is a link to a marvellous site: radio garden - http://radio.garden/live/ You can spin the globe and listen to any live radio station in the world in real time – awesome!
Songs with lyrics
And if music is your thing, why not listen to foreign songs with lyrics. You can search on YouTube and if you’d like French lyrics, search for ‘chansons en français avec paroles’ and for Spanish, ‘canciones en español con letra’. You’ll find a huge choice and the lyrics on the videos help make the listening more accessible. The other day I was searching for songs in French and came across Sara’H who sings French covers of British and American artists. So, if you are a fan of Adele, you can hear ‘Hello’ in French. Knowing the song in the original language helps your comprehension enormously. Here is link to Sara’H’s YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/sarahageali
Podcasts are a great way to listen to relatively short bursts of French or Spanish and you can often get the transcript if you subscribe. There are many to choose from, but a French one I particularly like is called ‘One Thing in a French Day’ and the podcasts are produced three times a week. Here is a link: http://onethinginafrenchday.podbean.com/ For Spanish I like Audiria, with its transcripts and online exercises: http://audiria.com
Or maybe you prefer films?
Films are another entertaining way to improve listening skills, and give great insight into the country’s culture. Amazon has a fabulous collection of foreign films under the genre ‘International’ and if you are an Amazon Prime customer, the films are free to watch. It’s also worth checking what’s on in your local town. In Farnham, for example, Brasserie Blanc shows French films every Monday in their secret cinema upstairs and the Maltings also puts on foreign films. Don’t worry that the films are subtitled - the subtitles are there so that you can check how closely the English adheres to the original script!
Building your vocabulary is another important language task and quizlet.com here kills two birds with one stone. Quizlet’s flashcard and online activities are great. You can search for any topic or easily add your own set. However, what I like is the fact that the site has built-in audio so you can listen to the words on the flashcards in the foreign language. Why not give this a try! https://quizlet.com/
Hold conversations with people who speak the language you’re learning.
Ultimately, we learn a foreign language to be able to communicate with other people so conversation groups are a great way to practice listening and speaking. Anyone who attends our French or Spanish conversation groups will know this, but if you can’t find a group near you, why not look to chat online? There are many sites that will help you find an online chat partner but here’s one I like: https://www.conversationexchange.com/
So, what do you do to practise listening? And what might you try now you’ve read this? Please leave me a comment below as I’d love to hear what you do and, if you’ve liked this article, please share it on your favourite social media.
Merci et gracias, Angela
The radio is an excellent idea and so easy to download. I've downloaded "radio France info" which is very interesting to keep up to date with everything going on in the world (and in France) - highly recommandable !
Etienne, thanks for your comment. Try http://radio.garden/live/ It is fascinating!
Audible do a few French audio story books, some of which are aimed at A2 beginners and are great for aural training. They also have Rebecca in French, translated into beautiful French and read beautifully. Not a beginner book, obviously but a delight to listen to, even if I only understand 10%! Netflix is another source of French that I enjoy and one can choose to listen to French shows/films with English or French subtitles. YouTube is my current favourite resource - the Easy French channel videos are so fresh and fun abd short and it’s great to be exposed to street French.