LEARNER TRAINING

FOCUS ON SOUNDS

This is an interesting task and one which I don’t think learners do often enough. When we’re listening, we are so programmed to focus on what the speaker means, that we often overlook the sounds used to produce this meaning.

The Basics:

  1. Choose an audio text that you have listened to a couple of times and understand. It’s a good idea to choose one where you have a transcript available. You only need a short section - 30-60 seconds is ideal, but you might choose an even shorter section.

  2. Listen again and, this time, focus on the sounds, rather than the words. Close your eyes and picture the speaker’s mouth - what shape is it? What movement is he or she making? Listen 3 or 4 times.

  3. Now look at the transcript and read and listen at the same time, still focussing on the sounds. Does the speaker pause between words? Link some sounds together? Say words quickly or slowly?

This can be a useful task for pronunciation as well as listening - all learners are aware that the way a language is spoken can be quite different from how it is written and familiarising yourself with spoken English is very important.
It’s worth noting here that you don’t have to listen to native speakers. Strong English speakers should be able to understand a wide variety of accents so it’s worth getting used to how different people speak. Also, there might be particular accents which are more relevant for you: if you work with lots of people in Japan, you might prioritise listening to Japanese speakers of English or if you live in Ireland, you might choose to focus on Irish accents. 
There are no better or worse accents - choices should be based solely on what is most useful for you at this moment. If in doubt, I’d recommend a variety.

Adaptations:

  1. Write your observations. If you have a written copy of the transcript, use a pencil to mark areas where the words are connected, letters which ‘disappear’, or words which are spoken particularly clearly, etc.

  2. Practise your speaking. Try copying the speaker’s rhythm and their ways of connecting words. Record yourself and compare it with the original speaker. 

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