Developing your listening skills is a form of self-improvement that will serve you in all areas of your life. There are many different types of listening and the definition of ‘effective listening’ will vary dependent on the party being asked. While practice makes perfect, there are a few tips to improve your listening skills in English that will help you improve.
How will improving my listening skills help with learning a new language?
Enhancing your listening skills will help you on your English language learning journey because you will end up spending more time engaging closely with what people are saying and in return, you will pick up more about the English language. Along with expanding your vocabulary, you will pick up mannerisms and intonations that may be specific to English culture. By learning how to be a good listener, you will become more attentive to different ways a speaker expresses themselves and more comfortable mirroring certain cultural communication trends.
Communication is important to everyone, your course mates, your friends, your co-workers and strangers you engage with in the street. Mastering the art of listening well will serve you in every area of your life, including professional, academic, social and personal.
Tips on how to improve your listening skills
- Don’t interrupt
This is the number one rule when it comes to being a good listener. Make sure to let the person you’re talking to finish speaking and don’t interrupt them or try to finish their sentence for them. This is very common but could be considered rude, even if it is done with the best intention e.g. wanting to show the other person that you understand or can relate to what they are saying.
- Pause before responding
Often, people simply wait for their turn to respond rather than genuinely trying to listen to what the other person is saying. To avoid this, take a few moments to pause and reflect on what the other person is saying before responding. This would also be a good time to ask for clarification and make sure you understand what the other person is trying to communicate.
- Consider eye contact
Eye contact can be a tricky thing to improve as it can seem forced if it’s not happening naturally. However, holding the right amount of eye contact shows that you are listening to the other person, and it also demonstrates confidence. If your gaze is moving around the room, or you are checking your phone while the other person is talking, they will get the impression you are not interested. The amount of eye contact that is required differs depending on what the other person is comfortable with so its important to try and understand the needs of the person you are talking to.
- Be alert, but not intense
This goes hand in hand with eye contact and can be a difficult balance to strike. Some general things to keep in mind about ‘being alert’ are:
- Turn to face your conversation partner
- Remove or don’t pay attention to books, phones or other distracting items
- Ask questions if you don’t understand or follow what someone is saying
- Pay attention to nonverbal signs, such as body language and tone
As well as checking to make sure your own body language demonstrates you are listening, be conscious of your speaker’s body language. Keeping an open posture and a non-aggressive stance will give off an inviting feeling to the person you are with. You can tell a lot about how someone is feeling based on their body language, if the person you’re talking to is backing away you might be in their space a little too much, and if they are using a lot of hand gestures you can tell they are excited about what they are talking about.
- Empathise with the speaker
Being a good listener means paying attention to what the other person is saying and if they are talking about something distressing or emotional, you want to make sure you are empathising with them. You can usually tell how someone feels about a topic or experience from reading their body language as well as listening to their words.
- Reflect and clarify
This can be an especially useful tool if you’re new to the language. You can paraphrase what you think the other person is saying using responses like: “What I’m hearing is…” or “Let me see if I’m following you…” then repeating or rewording what you’ve heard. This is a good way to give the other person space to correct you if you’re not understanding and will ensure the conversation continues in a way you understand.
- Ask questions
Although you shouldn’t interrupt the speaker, asking questions is a great way to show you are listening while finding out more about the speaker and what they are saying. If you have a comment you’d like to make, try reframing it as a question e.g. if you think ‘I’ve experienced the same thing’ you could instead ask the speaker ‘Do you think this is something common or is your experience unique?’ or something along those lines.
- Keep an open mind
Listen without making judgements or automatically critiquing what the other person is saying. Although you can of course vocalise if someone is saying something problematic or you disagree, its important to find a balance where you also allow some space for ideas that differ from your own.
Facial expressions convey a lot, and while you might at first be overwhelmed with all the elements of trying to be a ‘good listener’ this one should come naturally! Smiling shows your speaker that your interested or entertained by what they are saying and encourages them to keep going.
Ready to amp up your listening skills?
Active listening is a skill that you can work on for the rest of your life. There is no perfect way to listen because everyone desires different things when it comes to having conversations. But, if you implement the above tips, you will have improved your listening skills.
Keep in mind that the goal of conversation is not merely to talk at one another but to truly understand and connect with one another. By pausing, reflecting and making sure to really hear what the other person is saying, you can be sure to achieve this.