Spotlight on Language Skills: Listening

Foreign language hacking ideas to raise your listening game

We’re constantly listening and processing speech in our first language without giving it much thought, so to reach the same level of ease in another language takes some practice! Listening is a receptive skill and there are two main types of listening activities; extensive and intensive.

Intensive listening focuses more on the form of the language such as grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary and is often for shorter bursts of time. Extensive is when you might listen for longer and not need to understand 100% of what is being said because the focus is on overall understanding.

Whether you’re learning for academic purposes or simply for fun, it’s also important to mix up your listening practice to give you exposure to varied language and keep things fresh. So, when selecting listening sources, ask yourself if you’re getting a range of the following:

  • Intensive listening activities – shorter pieces to focus on form
  • Extensive listening activities – longer pieces to focus on overall meaning
  • Formal speech in contexts and conversations such as work, law or professional presentations
  • Informal speech in contexts and conversations such as family or friendship based interactions

Below are some sources that I use to keep my listening skills up in French and Russian and to keep things varied:

Alarm clock radios – waking up to a Russian radio chat show while I lived in Russia was a great way to start the day and get the cogs turning in Russian.

Background radio when getting ready in the morning – most of us will have around 30 minutes to an hour getting ready as part of our daily routine – try putting the radio on in the background to soak up the language while you’re getting dressed.

Podcasts on the move – how about using your commute or travel time to listen to a podcast in the language you’re learning? I use SBS radio for a range of podcasts in Russian and French because they cover a range of topics such as culture, politics and economics. Find SBS podcasts in 20 languages.

Dictations – I’ll be honest, I hated these traditional exercises or ‘dictées’ in French at school, but now I’m learning independently, I find them a great way to practise listening and spelling skills and also check in on grammar points as well. They help me to scrutinise what I’m hearing to make sure I focus on accuracy as well as listening fluency.

Watching hobby-related videos – I find this is a great way to learn vocabulary for hobbies by watching ‘how to’ videos in the language you’re learning. I often watch French cooking videos on Facebook, Instagram or YouTube to pick up jargon and vocabulary for things that interest me.

Watch a film – it’s a fun and relaxed way to discover new vocabulary and hear the language being spoken by a diverse range of speakers. I like to watch award-winning films or films showcasing the country where the language is spoken. There are regional independent cinemas and for our UK-based readers, regular film festivals in London. The French Insititute regularly screens French films in the Cine Lumière in French and there is a Russian film festival once a year in London as well.

Watch a TV series on Netflix – I’ve enjoyed discovering foreign language programmes on Netflix and have recently binged on two drama-detective style series ‘Le Chalet’ in French and ‘Метод’ in Russian. I usually watch with subtitles on in the language, but you can often select subtitles in English to make it easier to follow the dialogue. I try to watch with a notepad to capture any interesting phrases and will often rewind to catch pronunciation or new vocabulary. It can be fun to discover new actors, genres and informal vocabulary in different settings that you wouldn’t come across in everyday life.

Audible audio books – these can be great when traveling for longer journeys and serve as a great way to practice some extensive listening. Discover the Audible range of foreign language books online.

Listening to music and learning the lyrics – whatever your level, there will be songs out there to enjoy as part of your listening practice! Whether it’s children’s songs or more complex rapping or fast-paced pop, find something fun that you like to listen to as part of your extensive listening practice.

We hope you found these suggestions useful – let us know how you got on trying them out in the Lingua Centra Language Lovers Facebook Group!