To some, the answer to this question might appear to be quite obvious…but is it? While many might immediately declare that listening is an essential skill of potentially infinite importance in English, there could also be nay-sayers who say that while it is quite important, it always plays second fiddle to speaking in the skill hierarchy.
Listening is crucial for English learners. It is the basis for communication, enhances understanding of vocabulary and grammar, improves pronunciation, and is vital for language proficiency tests. Like all language skills it must be paired with other English skills to develop your language abilities fully.
You could try to argue that speaking comes first, but in reality it’s more of a “chicken and egg” question. Which comes first? Isn’t it fair to say that the entire reason we know what to say and how to say it is that we have listened properly to what was said to us by someone else? In this article, we’re exploring the importance of listening as an English skill.
Put simply, your English skills of any other sort will struggle to function if you don’t have good English listening skills, and in particular your speaking skills. Reading and writing don’t always go hand in hand with listening, but sometimes in a testing situation such as the TOEFL, you might be asked to combine listening and writing skills in one exercise.
More fundamentally, however, listening matters simply because it is the very foundation of good communication in any language, including English.
In an essay written for PalArch’s Journal of Archaeology of Egypt, Nematov Mamasharifovich wrote:
“Listening is key to all effective communication. Without the ability to listen effectively, messages are easily misunderstood. As a result, communication breaks down and the sender of the message can easily become frustrated or irritated.”nematov Mamasharifovich
In other words, when thinking about the importance of listening as an English skill, one should consider how important maintaining peace and equilibrium between individuals is. Those who don’t listen inevitably draw out the frustration and ire of those around them, no matter how close their relationship or how long they’ve known each other.
To communicate effectively, continue progressing in English, and even to better make friends in the future, English listening is absolutely essential.
Some people describe listening as the “primary skill” of English, as well as other languages, because it is most often the first skill we employ when engaging in conversation with people in our daily lives. If someone talks to you, you must first listen and understand, and then quickly process that information to formulate your response.
It could be a waiter in a restaurant asking if you’re ready to order, or your university professor asking for your response to a complex question…the order of events is the same.
When it comes to effective communication now, we tend to use the term “active listening” which refers to not simply absorbing the sounds of others speaking, but actively demonstrating that we are both paying attention to and noting what others are saying through actions like note-taking, nodding, asking clarifying questions, and more.
We are increasingly placing greater and greater value on these skills in our society, making it more important than ever for us to tune up our English listening skills whenever we can. If anything, such abilities are even more important when dealing in a second language.
Listening is also a key channel through which we master learned vocabulary and grammar knowledge. Arguably, using them ourselves through speaking and writing is the most effective way to retain this knowledge, but hearing and understanding words and phrases from others is also very powerful and important.
Let’s say there are some idioms that you’ve recently learned in English, and you then see them, perhaps entirely by chance, in a TV series you are watching on Netflix, then that moment of recognition can be a huge confidence booster.
Beyond this, listening to how others apply vocabulary and grammar that you’ve only learned so far from textbooks or class videos is invaluable experience. You can start to get a sense of what situations certain words and phrases are used (and more importantly when they are not used). You can also see how grammatical structures are altered according to who is speaking, and what timeframe they are talking about…the list goes on.
Following on from listening being critical for making progress in vocabulary and grammar, it is also a key tool in improving pronunciation. Learning how to pronounce individual words in English is made easier when using tools like the IPA, as well as audio demonstrations of word pronunciation through various software platforms.
Listening helps you expand on this, however, by hearing others using these words and phrases in a more natural context, which in turn allows you to see how each word’s pronunciation fits into the broader sentence.
Awareness of this allows you to work on achieving a more natural cadence when speaking in English, with intonation that is more familiar to native speakers. You can’t do this simply by memorizing words. It is achieved through actively listening and noting how native speakers structure the sounds of their sentences.
Finally, for those seeking strong scores in tests such as IELTS and TOEFL in order to study abroad, listening is an inescapable fact of life. Both IELTS and TOEFL include listening components, some of which ask you to listen for particular details, while other tasks ask you to listen for broader meaning.
Tasks include (but are not limited to) listening to people making inquiries over the phone, people giving instructions, describing maps and layouts, giving lectures, sharing their opinions, and much more. There’s simply no getting away from it.
We have articles on all the four main English language skills here on the site, you can check them out anytime.
- How important is Writing as an English language skill
- How important is Reading as an English language skill
- How important is listening as an English language skill
- How important is Speaking as an English language skill
- Balancing reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening English language skills.
Listening In English: Tips and Advice
The Role of Technology in Listening Skills
In an age of digital learning, technology offers a wealth of resources to improve English listening skills.
Language learning apps, such as Duolingo and Babbel, provide interactive lessons and exercises that cater to individual proficiency levels. Moreover, podcasts covering a range of interests are widely accessible and often free, offering real-life listening practice.
Language exchange platforms enable communication with native English speakers, providing invaluable real-time listening experience. These tech tools not only allow learners to hear various accents but also help them understand English in different contexts, making technology a potent ally in developing listening skills.
Similarly Facebook and other social media platforms and groups like our own help non native speakers come together with native English speakers to exchange ideas, discuss skills and strategies and exchange resources – including our own of course.
Strategies to Improve Listening Skills
Improving English listening skills is a continuous process. Some of the following may be of use to help you practice and improve your listening skills.
- Watching English films or TV series exposes learners to various accents and speaking styles, enhancing comprehension.
- Listening to English radio broadcasts or podcasts aids in tuning the ear to different speech patterns.
- Language exchange, where learners converse with native English speakers, is another effective strategy.
These methods, coupled with regular practice, contribute significantly to the enhancement of listening skills, leading to a more comprehensive grasp of the English language.
Barriers to Effective Listening and Overcoming Them
Several barriers can hinder effective listening, including distractions, lack of focus, or difficulties understanding different accents.
To overcome these, learners need to create a conducive learning environment, free from distractions. Training the mind to focus, perhaps through mindfulness practices, can enhance concentration.
Exposure to various English accents through films, music, or podcasts as we mention above, can help overcome accent-related comprehension issues.
Each learner’s path is unique, and adopting a personalized approach to overcoming these barriers can significantly enhance listening effectiveness.
Active Listening Exercises
Active listening involves fully engaging with the speaker and the content. Exercises that promote active listening, such as shadowing (mimicking a speaker in real-time), transcription exercises, and summarizing spoken content, can significantly improve English listening skills. They can also be tailored for individual skill levels and learner diversity.
Teachers and parents can incorporate these exercises into language learning routines, encouraging learners to actively engage with the language rather than passively consuming content.
Over time, these exercises will lead to better comprehension, improved pronunciation, and greater confidence in English language use something we all aim for!
It’s easy to understand how and why listening is such an important skill in English, but it’s also true that listening alone will not serve a learner well. It is understood that, on average, someone listening to a 10-minute presentation will only retain about 50 percent of what they’ve heard.
That number drops to a less pleasing 25 percent after another 48 hours following the end of that presentation. Given the inefficiency of our listening skills, we must bolster them with others: speaking, reading, and writing.
As a foundational and primary skill in English, the importance of listening can never be denied, but it only truly serves us well when built upon by other skills and practice.
Listening is an indispensable skill in English learning, In short, listening is a vital part of learning English. It helps us communicate more effectively, understand new words and rules, and improve comprehension.
It also prepares us for language tests. Using technology and active listening exercises can improver our listening skills even further and it’s crucial for both teachers and parents to remind learners about the importance of these practices.