A short, handy guide to the skills students need to practice to become better listeners.

Listening in a foreign language is a complex process. Students have to be able to understand the main idea of what is said, as well as specific details. They may need to check any predictions they have made, and understand the speaker’s meaning, emotions and opinions. They may have to infer relationships between speakers, or identify the context in which the speakers are operating. Students may well have to use several of these skills in the course of a single listening activity.

Here are some of the main skills involved in listening, together with a brief description of what each skill involves. 

Listening for the main idea – Students listen to identify the overall ideas expressed in the whole recording.

Listening for details – Students listen for groups of words and phrases at sentence level.

Listening for specific information – Students listen for particular information at word level.

Predicting – Students try to guess key information in the recording before listening.

Inferring meaning – Students listen to identify the difference between what the speaker says and what they actually mean.

Identifying emotion – Students listen to identify the mood of certain speakers.

Listening for opinions – Students listen to identify the attitude of certain speakers.

Inferring relationships – Students listen to identify who the people are in the recording and what the relationship is between them.

Recognizing context – Students listen to aural and contextual clues to identify where the conversation takes place, who is speaking, etc.