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Improve Your English Listening Skills and Understanding with This Tip

I have been teaching adult English learners for over 10 years and during this time I've discovered a simple rule that significantly determines whether a student is successful at listening and understanding what someone says to them or isn't successful.

The main factor to improving your English listening and understanding is making the effort to repeat what you understand from listening to someone in order to check and confirm that you understood correctly.

This may seem like a simple step but it's very common for people to not do this and instead make an assumption that they understand or even worse, just guess the meaning of what someone said.

If you can get comfortable with a few phrases to say to someone to check what you've heard after they have said something to you, you will find that you are much better able to get correct information and have successful conversations.

The reason is simple: if you repeat what you've heard, one of two things will happen:

  1. You will find out that you heard and understood correctly and know that you have the right information, or....

  2. You will find out that you're wrong or missing information and get a second chance to understand the message correctly.

In case #1 above, it's easy - you've succeeded and now you can relax. However, in case #2, it's a little more difficult, but here's the good news: a two-way conversation will make it much easier and faster for you and the other person to get the message straight rather than just waiting and listening until the person finishes and then asking them to repeat everything. If you do this, there is a big risk that even after they've repeated it, you still won't understand and now you are testing the other person's patience.



So, how can you use your speaking to improve the chance of successful and listening? Consider using the phrases below to paraphrase what someone tells you in order to find out if you understood correctly.

  1. "If I understood correctly, I can order it online and then pick it up at the store?"

  2. "So, you're saying the flight stops in Berlin before arriving in Paris?"

  3. "Do you mean the store will be closed on New Years Day?"

  4. "Correct me if I'm wrong but from what I understand, you want me to finish it by this Friday. Is that right?"

  5. "Let me check that I got everything. You want the colors on the invitation changed from red to blue and you want the font to be a bigger size?

Using the expressions above are the best way to improve your understanding because now you are giving the speaker a chance to tell you what you understood correctly and any information you misunderstood or missed completely. For example, the speaker might say something like the following:

  1. Yes, exactly.

  2. That's right.

  3. No, it will be open but only until 2pm.

  4. No, by next Friday, not this Friday.

  5. Yes but don't forget that we also want the image moved from the left side to the right side, too.

If you experience the worst case scenario and don't understand the message at all, it's important that you communicate this too so that the speaker knows you are having trouble understanding. If you just say: "pardon" or "sorry?" they will probably just say exactly the same thing again and you'll continue having trouble understanding. If you experience this situation, try saying the following phrases:

  1. I'm sorry but I'm having trouble understanding. It's a little complicated for me.

  2. I'm afraid I couldn't understand what you said. Can you explain it again?

  3. Do you mind repeating that? I couldn't quite get it.

If you're understanding is related to your English ability, I think that it's important for you to say that. Usually when you apologize for not having good enough English, the speaker will show more patience with you and try to work with you to help you understand. If you don't say anything about your English ability and just ask them to repeat what they said, they might become annoyed because they don't realize that the problem is you're English and they may incorrectly think you are just not paying attention.

Finally, it's always better to say something that you heard back to the speaker so they know what you did hear. For example, if I say to you: "you can take the bus there but it takes about an hour while if you take the subway it will be faster but it's a little more expensive", you can say something back to me like:

  • Do you mind repeating that? Sorry but my English isn't great. I think you said one of them is faster but one of them is more expensive?

  • I'm afraid I couldn't understand what you said. Unfortunately I have some trouble with listening in English sometimes. Did you say something about the bus and the subway?"

If you say the examples above to me, I can work more successfully with you to help you understand the rest. I can say: "Yes, the subway is faster but more expensive" or "yes I said the bus is cheaper but it takes longer, and the subway is faster but it's more expensive."


Practice

Use the words below to complete the phrases 1 - 8:

saying / mind / afraid / correct / understand / check / trouble understanding / mean

  1. If I ____________ correctly....

  2. ______ me if I'm wrong, but from what I understand...

  3. Let me ______ that I got everything....

  4. So, you're _________....?

  5. Do you ________....?

  6. I'm sorry but I'm having ________

  7. Do you _________ repeating that?

  8. I'm _______ I couldn't understand what you said.

Think about what you would say if you wanted to confirm the information given to you below. Number one is done as an example for you:

  1. You can have one 15-minute break in the morning and another 15-break in the afternoon. Your lunch is 30 minutes. = "So are you saying, I get two 15-minute breaks and one 30-minute lunch?"

  2. The bus leaves every 30 minutes on weekdays but only leaves once every hour on the weekend.

  3. All of the external doors need to be locked but the internal doors can remain unlocked.

  4. You get a 15% discount on any orders under $50 and a 25% discount on any orders over $100.

  5. You must get a score of 70% on the exam in order to pass the course and you need to have at least 80% attendance for all classes.

Now, think about what you would say in the five situations above if you didn't understand what the person said to you.

Answers

  1. If I understand correctly....

  2. Correct me if I'm wrong, but from what I understand

  3. Let me check that I got everything....

  4. So, you're saying....?

  5. Do you mean....?

  6. I'm sorry but I'm having trouble understanding.

  7. Do you mind repeating that?

  8. I'm afraid I couldn't understand what you said.

Possible Answers (note that you don't have to say exactly what the person said to you and in many cases, you can shorten it to the real key points):

  1. So are you saying, I get two 15-minute breaks and one 30-minute lunch?

  2. Let me check that I got everything. The bus leaves every 30 minutes on weekdays and once every hour on the weekend. Is that right?

  3. If I understand correctly, the external doors have to be locked but not the internal doors.

  4. Correct me if I'm wrong but from what I understand, I get a 15% discount on orders under $50 and 25% on orders under $100. Is that right?

  5. Do you mean I need 70% on the exam and at least 80% attendance to pass?

Now, think about what you would say in the five situations above if you didn't understand what the person said to you.

  1. Sorry, my English isn't very good. Do you mind repeating that?

  2. I'm afraid I couldn't understand the point about the weekend.

  3. I'm sorry but I'm having trouble understanding. I have a little trouble with English. I know you said something about the internal doors and the external doors.

  4. I'm afraid I couldn't understand that. Did you say something about a discount for $50 and $100?

  5. I'm sorry but I'm having trouble understanding. What was 70% and what was 80% about?




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