Do You Listen To English?

Before you say anything, I am sorry.

Yes, I know I’ve said it before, but this time I mean it.

I know I have been silent for a few months, and that the last time I was this quiet I apologised and swore it would never happen again. Only it did happen again and here I am, saying sorry and promising not to forget about writing this blog for months on end, again.

I have a good excuse. But then I always have a good excuse. But this time, it really is a very good excuse.

You see, I have been very busy. Yes, I know you are also very busy. Everyone is very busy, especially if you are involved in education.

My own particular story revolves around listening. You see, about 6 months ago a student came to me with a story. See if this story resonates with you.

A True Story

He told me that he had just got back from a trip to Florida and he was, in general, very happy with how his English had progressed. He had been able to have conversations with people in a wide variety of locations and about a wide variety of things. He had been understood. And he had understood most of what people were saying to him. But only most. He had missed out on a lot of the detail. He had understood the gist, but not the specifics. Now that he was back in Brazil he wanted to focus on improving his listening skills so that he could listen “catch more information” next time.

And so, over the last few months, we have been on a journey trying to improve his listening skills. This has taken us to many different places, not all of which were immediately obviously related to listening.

And it is this journey that I would like to share with you over the next few months. We’ll look at why listening can be a challenge, what we do when we listen and the processes involved. We’ll also examine some of the micro-listening skills and then some of the responses we can expect our students to need to perform, as well as the different types of listening they will do out there in the real world. Finally, we’ll look at what we as teachers can do to adapt or write our own activities that will improve listening skills as well as how to give our students some ideas for themselves.

I know this will happen and that I won’t ignore you this time, because I have already written them. You see, I was thinking about you all along.

But before we do all of that, I’d like you to perform a small task of your own.

This isn’t homework, I swear

Listen to a conversation in your own language.

It could be a meeting at work, or a family get-together around the dinner table. You might be with friends having a beer, or listening to strangers talking on the train. It might be two people or a group.

When you are paying attention, try to notice how many times somebody fails to understand another speaker. They might explicitly have to ask for something to be repeated, or they might show they have misunderstood by giving a strange response, or they might just totally ignore what has been said altogether. Pay close attention and count how many times there is a failure to communicate, I am sure you’ll be surprised how many misunderstandings there are, even among people who are speaking the same language.

And I promise, next month I’ll be here, waiting for you.

Stephen Greene

Stephen is a freelance teacher, trainer and editor. He has been teaching for over 20 years all around the world, but has been living and working in Curitiba, Brazil for the last 6 years. He writes self-indulging articles about all things associated with languages at

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