Listening and speaking skills
Listening and speaking skills are vital language skills to develop when learning English. By having strong listening skills you will be able to understand everything that is happening around you.
By having good speaking skills you will be able to say everything you want without any problem, opening up the world of communication both professionally and socially.
English listening skills
Listening skills are passive skills, that is, they are used to understand another other person’s production of language (their speech).
Native English speakers can seem to talk very quickly to a non-native English person. The spaces between words are not visible like they are in written text, so the sounds jumble up together to form one long incoherent sentence.
It takes a while of patient listening practice before a non-native English speaker can discern between different sounds which make up individual words. This helps the non-native speaker to hear where one word ends and another begins.
Listening skills in action
Listening is a vital skill to develop for university students as they need to use listening skills in lectures in order to understand the discussion and take notes.
In order to develop good listening skills it is important to help tune your ear into the sounds of the English language. This helps you to pick out individual words and sentences more easily.
Listening regularly to English radio and watching English TV can really help to get used to the sounds of English so that you are more able to focus and understand English speakers in your own life, whether in a lecture or in a shop.
Even if you do not understand everything you hear on the radio or TV, the simple act of listening to the sounds of English helps to tune your ear into the rhythms of the language.
This will make producing the sounds yourself that much easier once you are able to create your own sentences. This is why listening and speaking skills are so strongly linked in language learning.
English speaking skills
English speaking skills are often the hardest to develop out of all the language skills. This is often simply because learners do not always have much opportunity to speak English unless they are already living in an English-speaking country.
Speaking a new language can be especially difficult if the sounds in the English language are not the same as in your native language.
Some languages never use certain sounds that are regularly found in English, such as the ‘r’ sound, the ‘v’ sound or the ‘th’ sound.
Difficult sounds in English
It is possible to speak English without enunciating these more difficult sounds as you can use ‘cheats’ to avoid them.
For example, some non-native speakers use the ‘s’ sound instead of the ‘th’ sound, or the ‘w’ sound instead of the ‘r’ sound. But in avoiding these sounds, some native speakers might find it hard to understand you perfectly. This will be frustrating for you when you are trying to communicate.
It really makes sense to try to master all of the sounds of the English language in order to be fully understood by natives. Normally, this will simply mean lots of practice in order to train your mouth and tongue to make these new shapes more smoothly.
One way of practising the more difficult sounds of the English language is to try some English tongue twisters.
Tongue twisters are short rhymes or phrases that are supposed to difficult to pronounce for native speakers. If you can get your tongue around these fun exercises you will certainly be able to formulate regular sentences easily in the future!
Our Language Guide contains a pronunciation (phonology) section which explains methods of overcoming pronunciation difficulties with English, including advice on rhythm, syllables, stress and intonation.
Read more about using English listening and speaking skills in our Language Guide.
What do you find most difficult about speaking or listening to English?
Do you have any advice for listening or speaking practice?
Let us know your thoughts in the comments box.