Photo courtesy of Philippe Put (Flickr) www.ineedair.org
So Easy A Baby Could Do It!
As babies, we’re bombarded with sounds that our brains begin to codify almost straightaway. It’s a skill that is in-built and helps us to adapt to real life situations and understand our environment. So, as adults we should approach listening comprehension in the same way, by relating it to real-life experiences.
It’s all about context
Babies associate familiar people ‒ such as parents or siblings ‒ with typical situations (e.g. feeding time, bath time, naptime, etc.) and the sound chunks that are frequently produced on these occasions. Listening to repeated utterances of these chunks makes it easier for them to understand the gist of what is being said.
Let’s now take this theory and apply it to language tests.
Consider the IELTS Listening test, which is divided into four parts: the first two focus on informal contexts, whereas the last two are set in more formal situations. Just being familiar with the context can help you predict the sort of language that will be used, which subsequently helps you identify answers.
Filling in the gaps
In some language tests, the context of a conversation becomes clear as soon as the instructions are given. In IELTS, for instance, we hear the voiceover set the context at the beginning of each part; for example: “Section 1. You will hear a conversation between a university student and the shop assistant at a book store. First, you have some time to look at questions 1 to 4.”
Take a few seconds and think about your own experiences of buying books: What questions did you have? What information did the seller provide? Then, look at the questions and think of the sort of language you are likely to hear when the speakers reveal the required information ‒ i.e. how to get details such as the title of a book, its author’s name, the publisher’s name, its cost, etc.
Here are some ways in which such information can generally be sought:
|· What’s it called?
· What’s the title?
· We have an international bestseller called …….
|· Who’s it by?
· Who wrote it?
· Who’s the writer?
· Do you mean the one by Prof. Derek ……..? Oh yes, that’s the one!
|· Who’s the publisher?
· Who’s it published by?
|· How much is it?
· Is it expensive? Not really, it’s only $ ……
· Is it cheap?
· What’s the price?
Sometimes, anticipating the language for a specific context prepares you to spot answers in conversations.
So the next time you attempt a listening exercise, do what babies do – use situations you know to your advantage.
P.S. We’re going to be posting every week on a Thursday. So, come back for more English language tips, experiences and insight into studying abroad.