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In our Education Tips series, education experts in the United States offer advice on how you can improve your knowledge of American English. This week, Pascal Hamon, the Academic Director at the English Language Institute at Missouri State University, talks about how students can improve their listening skills.

English learners can improve their listening skills by transcribing spoken English.

That advice comes from Pascal Hamon, the Academic Director for the English Language Institute at Missouri State University.

Students often study listening comprehension in less than interesting, even boring ways, he adds. Transcription, however, provides a fun way to improve one’s listening skills.

Why is listening important?

At VOA Learning English, we often receive questions from English learners about how they can improve their listening skills.

Some learners want to build up general English skills, while others want to take exams that involve listening skills.

Take the TOEFL exam, for example. International students who want to attend an American college or university are often required to pass TOEFL, short for the Test of English as a Foreign Language.

This test has a listening section. It asks students to show their ability to understand short and long conversations in English. Those discussions are designed to test one’s understanding of common vocabulary, idiomatic expressions, and special grammatical constructions used in speech.

Whether you want to build general English skills or prepare for a test, being able to understand spoken English is a necessary skill. And you will not get better at this skill unless you practice!

Pascal Hamon says that listening exercises should force English learners to focus on turning the sounds that they hear into words. Then, learners must use their brains to turn these words into a message.

Many students try to learn listening skills by performing listening comprehension activities. Hamon believes that such exercises have value but do not force the student to decode individual sounds.

Worse, some English learners listen to television or radio programs in English, but do not actively try to study how native speakers say words and sentences.

Building listening skills does not have to be boring, says Hamon. There are fun, game-like activities that build listening skills.

One such activity, Hamon says, is to make transcriptions.

What is transcription?

Transcribing is the act of writing down the words that have been spoken.

English learners should start working with transcriptions by finding audio or video material that has a transcript with it, Hamon says.

Then, he adds, English learners can start practicing.

"They [English learners] listen to a segment as many times as they need, and they try to write what they hear – without subtitles, without ... Just focusing on what they hear. And then they can check with the actual transcript to see what they got right, what they did not get right, if there are areas where they thought they heard two words but there is actually only one, or they missed a verb ending or plural or something."

Students should not stop the transcription exercise there, however. Hamon says that students should always try to learn from their mistakes.

Students should think, Hamon adds, about what they could do better. By identifying problems, and repeating the exercise, English learners will improve their listening skills.

What can you do?

You can start practicing transcription on your own by following these steps:

-First, find audio that has a printed transcript, but do not look at the words. You should choose audio that is right for your level.

One way you could do this on our website is to open a story and start listening to the audio before reading the story. All of our stories have audio below the headline of the story.

-Second, listen to a short section of the audio many times. After you have listened many times, try to write down what you hear.

-Third, compare what you wrote against the story.

-Finally, think about, as Hamon suggested, where you had problems. Ask yourself the following questions: What do I need to improve? What words or sounds did I not hear?

Remember: when you transcribe something, you do not always have to choose a news story. You could choose a song or part of a movie that you like. Just be sure that you are able to find a transcript for it to check your work.

To get you started, let me give you something to transcribe. Listen to part of a song at the end of this story. The song is called “How Deep is the Ocean,” and the singer is American Billie Holiday.

Transcribe what you hear and write it in the Comments Section or on our Facebook page. Next week, we will give you the answer in the Comments Section of this story and on our Facebook page.

I'm John Russell.

Listen to the song from the 31 second mark until the 50 second mark.Then transcribe what you hear.

John Russell wrote this story for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section or on our Facebook page.


Words in This Story

transcribe – v. to make a written copy of (something)

transcription – n. the act or process of making a written, printed, or typed copy of words that have been spoken

comprehension – n. ability to understand

boring – adj. dull and uninteresting

focus – v. to direct your attention or effort at something specific

section – n. one of the parts that form something

decode – v. to change (secret messages, documents, etc.) from a set of letters, numbers, symbols, etc., you cannot understand into words you can understand

conversation – n. an informal talk involving two people or a small group of people

practice – v. to do something again and again in order to become better at it

check – v. to look at (something) carefully to find mistakes, problems, etc., or to make sure there is nothing wrong with it

Editor's note - Here is the answer to the transcription challenge:

How far would I travel
To be where you are?
How far is the journey
From here to a star?
And if I ever lost you
How much would I cry?

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