Have you ever had this experience where you try to have a conversation in English, but you failed because you couldn’t understand a word that came out of the person’s mouth?
I know that feeling. it’s so frustrating. I almost quit studying English because of that, but as you can tell, I speak English. I know it’s not perfect, but I am at the level where I can communicate with people without any problems. I’m not trying to brag, but I watch movies and TV shows without subtitles and I understand 95% of them.
So I want to tell you how I got to the level where I am now after almost quitting studying English. I will share with you, I think, the best method of improving your listening near the end of this post, so let’s get right into it.
The reason why I almost quit studying English
Let me tell you a little bit about why I almost quit studying English. So I have been learning English since I was five. I had been to English school until I was 15 years old. That’s 10 years of learning English.
When I was in grade 8, I had the opportunity of staying in Australia for two weeks to learn and study the culture there. Like I said, I had been studying English for 10 years at the time, so I was confident that I could communicate with people in Australia with no problems, but I could not understand a word nor keep one conversation going.
I was staying with a host family there and the parents would talk to me, but I had to ask them to repeat or to talk more slowly so that I could understand.
I also had an opportunity to spend a day with the local student. I was paired with this male student, the same age as me, so I guess we would have common interests, but because of my poor English, I needed him to talk slowly and that bothered him I guess. In the end, he felt awkward talking to me, at least that’s how I felt. That was not his fault. I made him feel like that.
That was the most frustrating moment in my life and that’s when I thought that I could not speak English anymore. That’s how I almost gave up on studying English.
But after the stay, when I came back to Japan, those negative thoughts gradually turned into motivation for me to keep studying English. I wanted to communicate with more people in the world. That was the initial reason why I started and kept learning English.
Luckily, at the time, my grandpa who passed away almost 10 years ago, told me that I could study abroad even if you are a high school student. I always wanted to study abroad during university, but when he told me I could do that in high school, I was so surprised and excited! I immediately talked with my parents if I could study abroad after graduating from middle school.
At first, my dad said NO, but my mom helped me persuade my dad, thanks mom for that. And I did go to high school in Canada for three years. I learned so many things in Canada.
Speaking vs Listening
One of the things I learned from my experience in Australia and Canada is listening is more important than speaking when it comes to conversation. People who are learning English, tend to focus on their speaking more than other skills, but I recommend training your listening first! Here’s why.
“You cannot respond if you don’t understand what the person is saying.”
In other words, If you understand just a little bit, you can still respond with a word or even some gestures, but you cannot do that if you don’t understand it at all. That’s why listening is much more important. So how do you train your listening? That’s a good question because that’s what I was going to tell you next!
The method of improving your listening
I think the best method of training for improving your listening is shadowing. In case you don’t know what shadowing is, shadowing is basically copying and mimicking native speakers. It is much more difficult than it sounds.
First, you need some kind of English audio.
I recommend using VOA or TED talks. They have a variety of videos to pick from, so you should choose one based on your interests. When picking a video for yourself, you need to be careful with the speed of the video. You don’t want to choose one that’s too fast or too slow. You want to pick the speed that’s a little bit hard to follow up. “Just a little hard is key.”
Before starting shadowing, I usually read it first to understand the context. If I don’t understand certain words or phrases, I look them up and take note of them, so that I can add them to the Anki app.
If the video is more than 5 mins, the script can be very long, so I divide it into short blocks. Each block can be from 30 seconds to 1 min and a half. You don’t have to look up every word or phrase at once. You can look them up as you go. That’s up to you.
Once you fully understand the context, I start reading it aloud without the audio first. You can take as much time as you want here. I try to understand the context more while reading it aloud. Once you get the hang of reading it, I start to play the audio and try to follow the speed as I speak. You don’t have to do the full mins of the video at once, you can choose one or two blocks at a time, which is much easier and fun.
It is ideal to repeat this more 30 times. I know it’s a lot, but I guarantee that your listening will improve dramatically. If you find yourself not being able to follow the speed, you might want to slow it down. On the other hand, if you find it too easy, then you might want to speed up the audio or change the video to a faster speaker.
If do you know shadowing, you may be thinking, shadowing is for practicing your speaking. That’s not wrong, but it is targeted at improving your listening. I came across this statement when I was in university, it says,
“if you can pronounce it, then you can hear it as well.”
What this means is that, for example, if you can’t pronounce the word dog, then when you hear the word dog, you wouldn’t know what it means, but if you do know how to pronounce the word, then you know the pronunciation of the word dog, so you can hear it and understand it too.
So I thought to myself, to be able to listen and understand English, I needed to improve my pronunciation. You can do that with shadowing. I recommend doing shadowing every day because when I did that, that was when I felt my English improved the most.
Thank you for reading this article. I hope it was helpful to you.