Why is listening important in language learning?

A quick question to begin with: what do you think is the most common form of communication – speaking, listening, reading or writing?

You might think that the correct answer is speaking, but it isn’t – it’s listening.

Two Yemeni men chatting and listening to each other.

Two Yemeni men chatting and listening to each other.

Think of some of the many ways that people listen in their daily lives:

  • listening while you’re having a conversation
  • eavesdropping1 on other conversations
  • listening to a teacher or lecturer at school or university
  • listening while you watch TV or a movie or a play2
  • listening to audio-only entertainment like music, radio or podcasts

Studies have shown that listening makes up about 45% of the time people spend communicating, followed by speaking (about 30 per cent), reading (about 15 per cent) and writing (about 10 per cent). That’s right: listening is the skill you will use the most in English, or any other language you learn.

“Yet, for all its importance, students (and even teachers) often fail to give listening the attention it needs. This is all the more3 remarkable as learners often say that listening is the most challenging of all the skills in English.” – Raphael Ahmed, British Council

The receptive skills (listening and reading) therefore make up 60% of all communication, but traditional language teaching tended to emphasise grammar and the productive skills (speaking and writing).

I teach English as a foreign language myself, and in modern English teaching, we try to develop all skills. I certainly see the value of this approach4 and I encourage students to use a variety of methods and materials to help them improve their English.

As a way to complement5 classroom learning, or as a method of self-study, focused and active listening is extremely important. And not just to develop your listening skills – although that is important enough in and of itself6 – but to develop all skills.

“If you develop good listening comprehension, the other skills will come, the speaking will come, even your grammar, your accuracy. All of these things will come if you have had so much exposure to the language that you understand it when it is spoken by a native speaker.” – Steve Kauffman, polyglot and founder of LingQ

That’s where English in 10 Minutes comes in. With a growing library of interesting conversations to listen to, you can engage with7 English by practicing your listening skills at home or on the go8. Repeated listening and use of the worksheets will help you improve your listening skills – both listening for gist9 and for detailed information. And, as I said in the Introduction episode to English in 10 Minutes, listening to the same conversation repeatedly helps you notice how the language works and to anticipate10 what is coming next.

And then you can turn input, which is listening, into output, which is speaking.

So, what are you waiting for? Subscribe to the podcast using iTunes, Android or Stitcher, and happy listening!

  1. eavesdropping: listening to a conversation that you’re not involved in, often one you are not supposed to hear
  2. play: a performance you watch at the theatre
  3. all the more: even more
  4. approach: method, way of doing something (in this context)
  5. to complement: to add to, to complete
  6. in and of itself: enough by itself without the need for more reasons
  7. to engage with: to become involved with or to occupy yourself with
  8. on the go: when you’re out of the house and travelling to work or somewhere else
  9. gist: an understanding of the general meaning
  10. to anticipate: to know something will happen before it does

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