Listen Up!

November 13th, 2009

Last post I was talking about how to gain 1000 hours of immersion in the English language.  Of course I want you to come and study with me, but most people can’t afford to spend 10 weeks with me.  So, here’s how to accelerate your learning with  immersion on your own.

Passive Listening

Here is a simple idea that really helps.  Just have someone speaking English in the background of your daily life.  Keep the television or radio tuned to an English-speaking channel while you go about what you would normally do.  Don’t try to focus on what you are listening to.  Just let the sounds of the language wash over you and inhabit your brain.

Every language has unique sounds which are unfamiliar to other languages.  Every language has its own rhythm and flow that is unique to itself.  By passively listening to a language being spoken in the background of your life, you are training your brain to recognize distinct sounds made in the pronunciation of words themselves, and also in the speaking of an entire language system.

It will enable you, when you are actively engaged in learning, to better pronounce sounds, and to better mimic the flow of English.  You won’t learn to speak English just by listening to it in the background, but, having made a practice of passively listening to English, you will learn English more quickly when you bring your attention to it.

Active Listening

This is listening in order to learn.  Understanding normally spoken English is at the heart of really learning to speak the language.  The greatest problem virtually all of our clients have is in understanding what is being spoken to them directly or indirectly. 

Real, spoken English does not at all resemble phony dialogues in language books, or practice sentences spoken by teachers in classrooms.  The way to learn to understand real, spoken English is to listen to real, spoken English.  And, to listen to it over and over and over again. 

Some Resources for Listening

We’ve found at the Institute that a great way to practice listening is to find something very engaging to listen to.  We like to download podcasts from the educational section of  YouTube,, and Ted,  We also love podcasts from NPR (National Public Radio). 

You can download literally millions of free podcasts through iTunes onto an iPod or MP3 player.  Then you can listen to your heart’s content.  You can search for something that is interesting to you from a collection on virtually any topic you find interesting.  If it is interesting to you, it will be far easier for you to pay attention to the podcast.

With our clients, we often begin with Steve Jobs Commencement Speech at Stanford University,  It is a very inspiring speech that is fairly easy to understand.  All of our business clients really enjoy listening to Jobs. 

How to Do It

What you want to do is listen to it over and over and over again, until you begin to understand 80 to 90 percent of what is being said.  You can listen all at once, or you can listen in little bite-sized pieces.  Listen on your way to work in the morning, listen when you are coming home, listen while you are exercising, but keep listening. 

Make sure you are listening to something you are interested in.  Listen to the same podcast for a week, or for two weeks, and then find another to take on.  You will be amazed at how quickly your understanding of real, spoken English will improve.

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