Overcoming The Fear of Listening

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By Mayra Yaranga

Listening comprehension in a foreign language always represents a challenge. Many of us panic at the sole thought of a recording being played and questions having to be answered; and it is easy to understand why: we are afraid of failure because speech can be difficult to understand. So, what can we do to overcome this fear and develop this skill?

First of all, let’s deal with classroom listening. This is not listening for pleasure: it has a purpose and we have to be ready for it. What does this involve?

  1. Anticipating possible content. This will help you activate the vocabulary and real-world knowledge you already have.
  2. Thinking about the genre: casual conversations, lectures and interviews involve many different features, like the level of formality and the speed of delivery.
  3. Thinking about what we have to do: catch specific words, understand sections of the recording, etc. This is why you need to understand the instructions for the task given.

By doing all this in the seconds before a listening task, we will be more alert and we will listen for confirming our assumptions about the recording.

The bigger challenge, however, comes when we leave the classroom. It is not common for teachers to give listening homework; instead, they usually suggest watching films and videos, listening to podcasts and such. However, I would say that the key point is to make foreign language listening a habit in our lives. How?

  1. At least when you are still at lower levels, do not try very long podcasts or videos: you could become frustrated when you realise that you can easily get lost.
  2. Go on social media and watch short meaningful videos. Sometimes, a two-minute video or an Instagram or Facebook story can be as challenging as a long documentary. And most importantly: this can easily become a very healthy habit for your language learning!
  3. If you watch videos on platforms like YouTube, it is a good idea to read the comments. Sometimes they give you very interesting insight into the content and even specific words or phrases. They will stimulate your curiosity.

The above suggestions can help you have a better experience when listening outside the classroom. If you try them often enough, spoken English will become more and more natural to you, and this could help you do better at classroom and real-life listening.

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