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University Language Centre

Listening in a foreign language

When you listen to broadcast material it can be quite difficult to understand, but you can train yourself to listen and through listening improve your language level.

Listening material is available on TVoverIP, audio CD or DVD. It is also available from the home pages of broadcasting companies.

For some recorded material, transcripts are available which should be used late in the process. Live TV is a good test of your skills and useful for a quick update on news or other information, but it is less appropriate for training your listening skills than recorded material which can be replayed.

At home, you could make your own recordings of radio programmes (eg news bulletins). The following activities can, however, be adapted to single viewing of live TV.

1. Choose the listening material well

Whether you are researching a particular topic or just listening out of general interest, scan the catalogue lists of materials well to choose what to listen to. 

2. Predict the content

Before you start playing the material, on the basis of catalogue entries, titles or TV listings, make a list of the topics or subject areas you expect to be covered. Make sure you know all these terms in the relevant language - use a dictionary if necessary.

3. Skim through the material

Listen to it through once (without pausing), ticking off the categories or specific items on your list as you hear that they are covered. At the end, from memory, add any extra areas covered which were not on your list, or any additional details you can remember from the first time. 

4. Scan the material in more depth

Different pieces of material serve different purposes. Decide what kind of information is being presented, and then select an appropriate worksheet from those shown below.

Listen again, scanning just for the information you require to complete your grid. Remember to summarise the points made.

5. Work on the language

Listen once again and list topic-specific words and phrases which can be useful when you are speaking or writing about a related topic. Note also ways in which speakers:

  • persuade
  • argue for
  • argue against
  • balance views
  • link points
  • cite evidence
  • ask questions
  • narrate.

Use the transcript where available and a dictionary as necessary. With your notes or the transcript in front of you, pause and repeat certain phrases to increase your spoken fluency and work on intonation. If you are using DVD material with subtitles, note some spoken phrases and the relevant subtitles to enable you to comment on the quality of the translation.

Related activity pages

Related worksheets