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Foreign Language Learning Essentials – Listening

Developing one’s listening skills is highly essential for effective foreign language learning. Indeed, one may spend one’s entire life being exposed to a foreign language and culture, but if one does not pay much attention to the same, one may never pick up relevant aspects of the language and / or culture. Listening to spoken discourses in a foreign language will perhaps not teach a learner much about the written aspects of the language; it will probably not teach the learner to read and write in the language. Yet it will contribute much to develop the learner’s oral skills – that is, speech and pronunciation.

Listen and Learn

All phonetic and phonological aspects of a language can be picked up through effective listening, which is in fact the very first step towards becoming proficient in any foreign language. Once a foreign language learner has grabbed a definite set of useful words in the language in question, s/he will only have to learn the system of lettering to start writing in the foreign language. On the other hand, if a learner starts off its foreign language learning process with learning the system of lettering, sentence construction and grammatical rules but fails to recognize the sound system of the language, s/he will not become efficient in either the oral or the written aspects of the foreign language. This is precisely why listening comprehension and dictation are widely used pedagogical techniques in language teaching. In fact, even sentence construction and other basic grammatical rules may be learnt by simply listening to oral discourses in the foreign language. However, the danger lies where colloquialism takes the upper hand in some languages, so that the spoken language deviates considerably from formal grammatical rules. Also, confusions may arise with regard to homophones, which are words having the same pronunciation but are written differently and also having different meanings. Whereas some languages contain very few or hardly any homophones, others like the English language itself abound in these types of words.

Effective Listening

As explained above, listening is a fundamental component in foreign language learning. The ability to listen effectively is as important a component in developing good communication skills as is speaking well. However, learning to listen effectively is perhaps the most challenging part of foreign language learning. While formal systems of learning foreign languages can teach learners to read, write and speak, listening cannot be taught. Yet we all spend a great deal of time engaged in the activity of listening. Some studies have shown that listening accounts for more than half of our communicative time. Listening is a psychological process by which we seek to comprehend and interpret aural stimuli. In order to become effective listeners, foreign language learners – or indeed all of us – should become conscious of the fact that listening is utterly different from hearing. Hearing is simply the act of receiving sounds or the physiological process of receiving sound waves. While our sense of hearing is always at work and we cannot always prevent ourselves from hearing sounds, we do not always succeed in interpreting the sounds that we receive. Listening is a conscious process which involves our intellectual capacities. Hence, so as to pick up any foreign language fast as well as effectively, and so as to make the most of our wide exposure to foreign languages in the present mass media dominated world, foreign language learners should learn to listen actively, intently, analytically, and with concentration and empathy.

A simple saying will best conclude this piece of writing. The reason why we have two ears and only one mouth is that we may listen the more and talk the less.