Improving your listening skills will help your ability to have a fun and effective conversation but it is especially important if you plan to undertake the challenge of a listening test like the TOEFL iBT listening test. The secret to improving your listening skills is active listening and comprehension.

Comprehension

Communication is the sharing of ideas between two people and this goes through three steps. The first is identifying the sounds into units that you understand. When you listen, you are hearing sounds and connecting these sounds with words that are already in your vocabulary. This means that if a word is not in your vocabulary, it is much harder to identify.

The second step is being able to catch the rhythm of the speech and, in English, the rhythm is created not only by the breaks in between words and parts of sentences but also by the stress that we put on words. This tells us which parts of the sentence are really important and which parts are just there to satisfy grammatical rules.

The breaks help us to create blocks of language that are easier to understand than a lot of individual words. When you do a jigsaw puzzle, it is easier to imagine where the pieces go if you focus on one area (a corner for example) rather than just finding the piece that goes next to this one.

The third part of comprehension is attaching the connotations and context to the words. When we hear a group of words we bring to our interpretation of those words our thoughts, opinions, feelings and culture. The same group of words can mean different things to different people.

Also we need to apply the words that we hear to the situation in order to completely understand it. The words “it’s your shot” have a completely different meaning if you are standing in front of a pool table than if you are standing in front of a gun.

How this helps with TOEFL iBT listening

If you are studying well already, this should all confirm what you are already doing. If you are listening to different accents and listening for new vocabulary when you practice, you are helping to build your comprehension.

If you listen and imitate the rhythm that people use when they speak including the breaks and the stresses, this will help you think in blocks rather than words.

If you understand that words can mean different things and that we need to understand the situation (and sometimes detect what that situation is when there are no visual clues), this will help you to avoid costly misunderstandings that lead to confusion.

Remember, in the TOEFL iBT listening test, you will be listening to identify the situation as well as get the meaning of the words and if you can do this in blocks, it will be much easier for you. For tips on listening sections for IELTS and TOEIC, click these links.

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