Academic listening

One of my overseas students recently told me that he understood only about half of what he heard in his lectures! I think it is probably unusual to understand only half but I think it does show many of the difficulties that overseas students face. The important thing that overseas students need to realise is that whatever course you are doing at university, you are still English language learners, and you still need to do extra work on your English. But do remember that your lecturers and university staff want to help you! If you are finding it difficult to follow lectures there are a few things you can do to help yourself:

1. Form a study group. This means finding other students like yourself who want to go over what the lecturer said. After the lecture arrange to sit down somewhere (like the Students Union, or a cafe) and tell each other what you understood in the lecture. Swap your ideas on the content of the lecture. Ask the other group members about things you didn’t understand.

2. Ask university staff for help. In my experience good students do this all the time, and the students who are less confident and with weaker English skills are worried about doing this, and don’t do it! So the good students get the help and get better, whilst the weaker students fall further behind. You can make an appointment with your tutor who will probably be happy to spend 15 minutes explaining some things. If you cannot do this with your content tutor then you may be able to do this in the English Language Centre – most universities offer a language support service where you can sign up for a tutorial. Ask your lecturer if he or she can supply powerpoint slides so that you can go over the slides afterwards, or even before the lecture. Your lecturers may be very busy but they will not mind you e mailing them with this request – they will be impressed with your motivation.

3. You should do some extra listening practice! What you need is some long stretches of speech to listen to, with a tapescript that you can look at when you don’t understand the speaker. So I’m going to give you a link to a BBC site which has lots of lectures with the tapescripts too. This link is to a list of lectures called The Reith Lectures. Every year the BBC gets a well-known person to give a series of lectures. At this site you can listen to and read lectures going back several years. In the lastest series of lectures the speaker talks about globalisation, and the need for the world to pull together to face the challenges of population growth and environmental difficulties. This link I’m giving you is to lecture 1 in this series of lectures. You will see the transcript right in front of you and you just need to simply hit the audio button to listen to the lecture. The lecture is LONG. That’s OK. You don’t need to listen to it all. Listen for a couple of minutes without looking at the transcript, and then look at the transcript. Play those parts you found difficult again, whilst looking at the transcript. Then listen again without the transcript. You should find your ability to distinguish individual words increasing. When you’ve had enough, stop. Come back for a few minutes another day. If you find the lecture content so interesting that you just carry on listening, then that is excellent language practice. Here’s the link.

Some students will find this ‘heavy going’. That’s OK too and I’ll be presenting some lighter listening in future posts.