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Listening

When we listen to something, it often goes in one ear and out the other – as the popular English idiomatic expression goes, or it falls on deaf ears, but that shouldn’t happen if you want to improve your listening skills; you should be all ears.

Ears – ears are important; they are our auditory apparatus attuned to sound waves created by the vocal cords of others; our ears pick up sound waves; the ear transforms these waves into intelligible signals that our brains can understand. 

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Listening for communication is to understand the spoken word; as students need to understand what speech is; sentence intonation and stress that maybe focusing on specific information and interpreting the context and topic – stress, intonation, rhythm and the paralinguistic features such as intonation or volume loudness.  A familiar cry from us all when doing a listening exercise in a language class is ‘I don’t understand’.

Normally, in a teaching class where you are leaning the language, as opposed to exam orientation and familiarization, your teacher will play the recording at least twice maybe more using one or more activities; you may even have the transcript to help you.

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But why is listening a problem? Is it you? Is it the quality of the recording? Is it noise pollution from elsewhere in the school or from the traffic outside? Are the accents of the speakers strange or unintelligible? Is the recording not being played enough times? Are the speakers talking too fast?

A lot of the listening comprehension problems stem from unfamiliarity with a speaker’s accent; their speed of delivery, idiomatic language and perhaps most importantly from technical elements of pronunciation that the listeners, us the students, haven’t been acquainted with such as pronunciation, recognising contractions, understanding the reduction and blending of sentences at word or cluster level; the adding of extra sounds in rapid conversation between words and the many English words where we don’t pronounce all the syllables or sounds, for example chocolate where it is pronounced choc-late.

There are also may words that sound the same in rapid speech; words that sound almost the same ‘cab’ and ‘cap’, ‘sheep’ and ‘ship’. There is also the familiarity learners have with one particular type of accent; as learners, we have to be open to the fact that speakers of a particular language, be it English, Spanish or Chinese have various accents and speeds of delivery. If we become accustomed to just one accent, we will have difficulties understanding the range of accents spoken by ‘native’ English speakers from across the English-speaking world and more importantly those speakers of English whose first language isn’t English who outnumber native speakers.

Types of Listening

 So, what types of listening do we do? There are perhaps two types of listening we do not only as language learners but also in our mother tongue; firstly, there is the listening we do in class or a lecture theatre or on TED Talks;  the language here is high in information; we listen for the most part passively; we also watch TV in this way – passively, unless we are shouting at our football team or a politician, but on TV the spoken language is more dynamic with a range of styles formal informal, spontaneous, chatty and prepared.  The second type of listening we do isactive, possibly in a conversation, where we have to understand the subtle cues of politeness and turn taking in a conversation.  In this type of listening where we are participating, non-linguistic features like body language and facial expressions are used to get our meaning across. 

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When I learned Spanish, I spent two years just watching Spanish-language soap operas, mini series and movies; the actors had a variety of accents and came from many different countries.  As such my listening skills are now very good; it required dedication.

So, how do you improve your listening skills? Listen to as much radio, music and TV as possible; listen to as many accents as possible and learn how the language is pronounced.

By Chris Scott, March 2020

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Aprende inglés en cualquier momento y en cualquier lugar

Algunas de las mejores y más divertidas formas de practicar inglés también pueden ser completamente gratis. Todo lo que necesitas es un teléfono móvil y conexión a Internet, y tendrás acceso a una increíble selección de aplicaciones que pueden ayudarte a mejorar sin importar dónde estés. Estos son algunos de nuestros favoritas:

  1. Memrise –Esta aplicación fue diseñada por un Gran Maestro de la Memoria y un neurocientífico para ayudar a la gente a aprender idiomas de forma más eficiente y poder recordar mejor. Puedes elegir entre un conjunto de vocabulario, o puedes crear el tuyo propio.

www.memrise.com

  1. Quizlet – Esto también te ayudará a aprender vocabulario, pero con fichas. Puedes estudiar las palabras primero, y luego ponerte a prueba de diferentes maneras. Si tienes una lista de palabras que necesitas aprender para una clase o para un examen, entonces puedes entrar en la aplicación y aprenderlas en un abrir y cerrar de ojos

www.quizlet.com

  1. Wordreference – Todos usamos Google Translate para ayudarnos a entender nuevas palabras, pero esta aplicación de diccionario es mucho mejor. Incluye muchos idiomas diferentes, como francés, español, italiano, árabe y mucho más. También le ayudará a entender mejor la gramática de la palabra y te dará ejemplos de oraciones.

www.wordreference.com

  1. Macmillan Sounds – Esta es una gran aplicación para mejorar la pronunciación, ya que muestra todos los diferentes sonidos que usamos en inglés. Puede pulsar un sonido y luego repetirlo hasta que estés satisfecho con tu pronunciación.

http://www.macmillaneducationapps.com/soundspron/

¿Hay alguna otra aplicación que te guste? ¡Cuéntanos sobre ellas!

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FREE APPS TO LEARN ENGLISH

Some of the best and most enjoyable ways to practise your English are also completely free! All you need is a mobile phone and an internet connection, and you’ll have access to an amazing selection of apps that can help you to improve no matter where you are. Here are some of our favourites:

  1. Memrise – This app was designed by a Grand Master of Memory (Google it – it’s very impressive) and a neuroscientist to help people to learn languages more efficiently and to be able to remember more. You can choose from a set of vocabulary, or you can create your own!

www.memrise.com

  1. Quizlet – This also help you to learn vocabulary, but with flashcards. You can study the words first, and then test yourself in lots of different ways. If you have a list of words that you need to learn for class, or for an exam, then you can enter it into the app and learn in no time at all!

www.quizlet.com

  1. Wordreference – We all use Google Translate to help us understand new words, but this dictionary app is much better. It includes lots of different languages, like French, Spanish, Italian, Arabic and more! It also helps you to understand more about the grammar of the word and gives you example sentences.

www.wordreference.com

  1. Macmillan Sounds – This is a great app for pronunciation, as it shows you all the different sounds we use in English. You can press on a sound and then repeat it until you are happy with your pronunciation.

http://www.macmillaneducationapps.com/soundspron/

Are there any other apps that you like? Tell us about them!