5 practical techniques to improve your listening skills

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We listen more than write, read or talk

We spend 70 to 80 per cent of our day communicating. We use nine per cent of this time writing, 16 per cent reading, 30 per cent speaking and 45 per cent listening.

It can be hard to understand Canadian English

The Canadian accent is not hard to understand. But Canadians speak so fast. Newcomers may not be able to catch up. It gets harder when they use Canadian idioms and Canadianisms (like hoser, double-double, etc. See Community Resources below for more Canadianisms).

Techniques to improve your listening skills:

  1. Sentence stress

    Don’t focus on each word a person says. Notice words that are said louder and longer. You will understand faster. Remove words like “like”, “I mean” or “you know”. They don’t add meaning to the sentence. For example: “Do you want to go, and like, get a cup of coffee with me sometime?” The words “get” and “coffee” will be stressed. You can guess that the person wants to have coffee with you.

  2. Listen for context

    There are times when you don’t know the meaning of a word. Guess the meaning by focusing on the words near it. For example: “I think I’ll get a double-double and a donut at Tim’s.” What is double-double? Guess what it means by looking at the words “donut” and “Tim’s”. What do you buy at Tim’s? What goes well with a donut? Answer: coffee. Notice the intonation. A person asking a question will sound different from someone saying a fact.

  3. Listen to Canadian songs and radio/watch Canadian TV and movies

    Listen to the songs and the conversation on FM radio stations. Watch Canadian television shows regularly. Songs, shows and movies will help get you used to how Canadian English sounds. Turn the closed captions on and read the dialogue. Connect the words to the sound.

  4. Use audiobooks or podcasts

    Listen to audiobooks and podcasts. Your listening skills will become sharper because there are no images. It will also boost your vocabulary and grammar.

  5. Relax

    Stay calm when you want to listen well. Stress can make it harder to listen. Don’t worry if you didn’t understand the first time. People usually repeat what they say.

Get out there and listen:

Be exposed to Canadian conversations. Listen to your neighbours, attend lectures and go to parties. Listen actively at work. Notice how people sound. Say “sorry, I didn’t catch what you said,” when you don’t understand. That’s ok. Just keep on listening.
Sources: Listening: Our most used communication skill, Dick Lee and Delmar Hatesohl, MU Extension and Strategies to improve English listening skills, Kenneth Beare, Thought Co. Accessed October 30, 2018.

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Community Resources

Learn more Canadianisms. Read Can you Can-speak? Can you Can-speak 2 and Can you Can-speak 3.

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