Listening is the Key to Fluency
Yes, I really believe that listening is the key to fluency. I understand that most people believe that speaking is the key to fluency, but I disagree.
In my coaching, I emphasize the importance of mastering four skills: confidence skills, listening skills, communication skills and vocabulary skills. They are all important, but great listening skills are the key.
Think about listening as a skill. It really is a skill. A skill is something that you can work on and improve. To effectively practice listening, there is one crucial step to do first:
Turn off all the distractions
Turn off the tv, the podcast, the radio, the music, the kids….turn it all off. Focus on improving your listening skills.
Now, there is normal listening, and then there is genuine listening.
Normal listening is when we really aren’t focused, and we are not really listening – just like the quote from Ernest Hemingway at the beginning of this article.
But genuine listening is different! You are focused. Additionally, you are actively and genuinely listening for specific things. Finally, you are really improving your listening skills.
If you want to improve your listening skills, you must genuinely listen with focus.
After you have turned off all the distractions, let’s look at four keys of how you can become fluent by genuinely listening.
Here’s a short clip from William Ury’s, The Power of Listening TedX talk that discussing the importance of listening.
Now, let’s take a look at the four keys to becoming fluent by listening…
Listening for Vocabulary
Studies suggest that we can hear more than 20,000 words in an average day in any language.
That’s a lot of words!!
And it is intimidating to think about when trying to improve in another language.
But it is also an excellent opportunity to focus on listening to improve our vocabulary. Think about it – over 20,000 words a day. That’s a great opportunity.
If you look at how you usually listen in English, you have always listened in order to try to get some information. You don’t really understand everything, but you are working hard to get a general idea of what is being said.
You miss a lot of things. A lot of detail. You miss a lot of words.
Now, you’ve got an exceptional opportunity to really increase your listening skills. You can practice – and practice with a purpose.
When you are practicing, you can focus on how other people use the words to make their communication more effective.
The first step is that you will become aware of many new words, terms and phrases.
After you are aware of these words, you will then learn the definition of the words. Take the time to understand it, especially in the context it was used.
The same word can be used as a noun, verb, adverb, adjective, and it can also be part of an idiom, a phrasal verb, or a collocation.
In fact, here is a link to an article in Reader’s Digest that discusses how the simple three-letter word “run” can be used in 645 different ways. Yes…645 different ways!!!
When you are genuinely listening and curious about the words, you will really begin to improve your vocabulary.
And because more than 64% of words in the English language have more than one meaning, it is essential to focus on how words are being used and the specific definition within that context. As an example here is an interesting article about how many people believe that English is Impossible!!
I highly recommend the Cambridge Dictionary for many reasons. One of the biggest reasons is that it has all of the information that an ordinary dictionary has. PLUS, it has many examples using words, terms, and phrases. It also has an American version and, most notably for you, a…
Business English version
The Business English version is so important because this is exactly what you are looking to improve with your vocabulary. The business use can be so different from the normal use of many words.
Some special phrases and terms are commonly used in business but not in day-to-day English. The Cambridge Dictionary has these important definitions.
The ultimate benefit is that the Cambridge Dictionary includes many example sentences about how you use the words. This is critically important in learning vocabulary skills.
You might ask, where can you find great material to use for your listening practice? We’ve got the answer for you right here!
Practice your listening skills to improve your vocabulary. You will find you really will begin to love new words, and you will understand so much more with excellent listening skills.
After you become comfortable with these words, you will naturally use these words when you are speaking.
To make this point, this article provides many great speaking tips and strategies to combine with these vital listening skills.
As you begin to understand the relationship between listening skills and speaking skills, you will find that…
Listening is the Key to Fluency
Listen for Structure
What do I mean by “listen for structure”?? We refer to structure as grammar and sentence structure.
Be passionately curious in your listening.
You can really improve your English skills by listening for structure in two primary areas: 1) grammar and 2) sentence structure.
When you listen to somebody, you might ask yourself if you would ever create a sentence the way the speaker created the sentence.
To make a point, when you learn English, you learn to create very simple sentences. When you speak, you continue to use very simple sentences. After that, you become comfortable with these simple sentences.
It is interesting when you begin to practice listening for structure because you will quickly learn that native speakers and good communicators will use various different types of sentence structures.
Having a variety of sentence structures is important because it is interesting for others to listen to you. You don’t need to have fancy words or sophisticated sentence structures, but having a little variety in your sentences is much easier for your listener.
Remember that communication is not about you. It is about your listener and how you can best serve your listener with what they need, what they want, and communicate in a way they can understand.
So, really listen to how other speakers and presenters use different types of sentences in their communication.
Learning grammar the traditional way through boring workbooks and exercises is not an effective way to improve your grammar. Additionally, it is a horrible experience.
Everyone hates it!!!
There is a better way. Following the video above gives you the tools to find great content to listen to.
From this great content, you can listen to how high-level business people communicate effectively. You can listen to how they use grammar. Really listen and focus on it.
By using this interesting material, you can listen to how great grammar is used.
To summarize, by listening for structure, you can really learn how sentence structure and grammar are used.
When you focus on these two skills, you can use these new skills to speak effectively. You will find your speaking becomes much more fluent with your improved sentence structure and grammar.
Listening is the Key to Fluency.
Listening for Speaking Skills
A great speaker will use many different speaking skills to communicate effectively, including these:
- Speed of speaking
- The Use of Filler Words
- The Ability to Pause When Speaking
- How to use tone and intonation to speak at a higher level
To be fluent is so much more than using good words and good grammar.
In business, you need to communicate your message clearly and effectively from you to the other person. This is what is most important.
The speed at which someone talks, their use of filler words, their ability to use a pause, and how they change their voice when speaking are all very important skills. You can first learn these abilities by being a great listener.
Let’s look at each of these…
Let’s look at each of these…
Speed of Speaking
When you take a closer look at almost every great speaker and presenter, they do not speak fast.
As you notice, when someone is speaking fast in your native language, I think you will agree that it is much more difficult to understand.
If you listen to someone speak a different language fast, it is about 10X more difficult to understand them. Speed does not help your listener understand.
Really listen to how fast, or how slow, great communicators speak. The slower you speak, the easier it is to understand!
I think you will agree that ALL non-native speakers are much easier to understand when they speak slower!
The Use of Filler Words
The most commonly used filler words by non-native English speakers are “Ummm” and “Ahhhhh”, but I’ve also heard a lot of “you know” and “like.”
I find that my new clients use “ummm” and “ahhhh” often when they think of another word to say and are not comfortable filling that space with a pause.
There are many other reasons that speakers of any language use many fillers. It is difficult to avoid using fillers in all languages.
Here is an article from Forbes Magazine giving some helpful tips on how to avoid over-using filler words.
Using filler words is a big problem for non-native speakers, as your listener will have great difficulty focusing on your message when you are busy “ummmm-ing” and “ahhhhhh-ing.”
It is really distracting to listen to a speaker over-use filler words. While you are practicing your listening, you will find examples of many people over-using filler words. You will realize how difficult it is to concentrate on the speaker’s message.
As you practice your listening and hear filler words, you will quickly realize how you can improve your fluency by reducing your use of filler words.
As mentioned earlier, many non-native speakers use filler words of “ummmm” and “ahhhhh” because they are trying to think of a good vocabulary word at the time.
This becomes a habit. And it is a bad habit.
Think about it. You are trying so hard to use a better word. But, you are destroying your communication because you are making your listener work SO hard listening to all of your “ummmmm’s” and “ahhhh’s.”
It is so distracting, and even if you found the most perfect word, your listener is now gone…and maybe thinking about their “to-do list” or what they are going to eat for dinner later.
You made your listener work too hard!!
Learn to replace your over-used filler words with pauses. Yes, empty seconds of no sound. The sound of a pause is so much better than an “ummmmmmmmmmm.”
So, listen to great communicators. You won’t hear them over-use filler words. They are very easy to listen to. They do not make you work hard.
After you are listening for filler words, and understanding how important it is to use fewer filler words, you can start practicing your own speaking with less filler words. You will create new habits and replace your “ummmm’s” and “ahhhhh’s” with pauses.
Your fluency will benefit because you learned to listen to how distracting filler words can be.
Reducing your filler words will be a giant step toward your fluency.
Tone & Intonation
As you continue to increase your listening skills, you will focus on the tone and intonation of the speakers you are listening to.
Do you enjoy listening to a speaker that sounds like a robot?
Are you engaged and listening closely to every word?
Or, are you bored out of your mind… and waiting for this robot to finish speaking so you can go do something much more interesting – like going to the dentist…smiling.
Listen to how interesting good speakers can be. Additionally, listen to how they can use tone and intonation to emphasize their messages.
And finally, listen to how they speak so that their audience is very interested and engaged in the topic. It makes a huge difference.
Again, transfer the skills you have learned from your new learning ability to your new speaking skills!
Do you see how your fluency will benefit so much because you are genuinely listening for the words that someone is using and how they are saying the words to communicate their message?
Listening is the Key to Fluency!
Genuinely Listen for Full Understanding
If you can practice your listening to understand everything that the speaker is saying, this will be one of the greatest benefits to your fluency.
All of the tips and strategies presented in this article will take time and patience, but this one will really take time.
Do not be in a hurry to understand everything in a long article, podcast, or video.
Take your time. Do this slowly. Enjoy the process.
You are practicing how to improve your listening skills. It can take years. So, one step at a time. Be nice to yourself and enjoy the process.
Genuinely listening for complete understanding includes so many different aspects of this article. You will need to primarily combine an understanding of the vocabulary and the structure. And it’s not easy.
But, in time, with great practice habits, you will be shocked at how your listening for a full understanding will be improved.
Also, you’ll be so surprised how your fluency will benefit from your new, advanced listening skills.
Listening is the Key to Fluency!!
Start Improving Your Listening Skills Today!
Most people I begin working with do not believe this when I say it to them initially.
I know they don’t believe it.
Also, I can see it in their expression.
And, I can especially hear it in their response.
Why do I know this?
Because I am genuinely listening to them!
Start today. Genuinely listen and really begin to understand how the English language can be used to communicate effectively.
Transfer the new great listening skills you have to your speaking.
You will notice your enhanced speaking ability becomes more fluent each week.
Genuine Listening is the Key to Fluency!!
Additional articles and videos related to Listening is the Key to Fluency:
How To Improve Your Executive Business English in 12 Steps
How to Be the Same Highly Effective Leader in English That You are in You Native Language [free ebook]