How does a baby learn his or her first language? The answer’s obvious. Babies begin listening in the womb. When they are born, their senses of touch, taste, sight and smell are still developing. Everything is new in this strange world. But the sounds are already familiar.
One of my friends made a recording of the theme music from Neighbours, and played it to soothe her baby when he cried. It always worked. She had watched the Australian soap opera twice a day during her pregnancy. The baby had learned that this music announced a peaceful, relaxing time of day. Time to sleep!
So listening is important. In fact, it takes babies months to discover how to control their mouths and start speaking. In those early days, it’s all about listening.
In other words, be patient. If it took you that long to get used to the sound of your mother tongue, you can’t expect to speak a foreign language fluently in two weeks. Or at least, not without a major effort.
Perhaps you feel that understanding spoken English is one of the biggest challenges of the language? Think about it. Listening is effortless. If it wasn’t, babies couldn’t do it. You don’t even have to concentrate. Just leave the radio on while you’re doing the housework or driving, like background music in a film. Choose songs you enjoy listening to. It’s even more effective to listen to spoken English on the BBC World Service or Radio 4.
You’ll pick up the intonation and rhythms, even if you can’t understand a word. Let the music of the sounds flow through your brain. Listen all day, every day, if you can.
Gradually, you’ll find yourself recognising words, then phrases. Soon, you’ll notice that people are talking about sport, politics or the weather. The topic might be the only thing you can identify, but it’s a beginning. If you concentrate on what you hear, for five minutes at a time, a few times a day, it will begin to make more sense.
A client of mine arrived at her lesson one day, very excited. She had been listening to a discussion programme on her way to our meeting place, and had been surprised that one of the participants sounded so angry. Then she realised that the broadcast was actually a play, a drama. Now the conversation was easier to follow!
The more you listen, the more you will understand. It’s as simple as that. Like an athlete training for the Olympics, it takes practice. The best news is that frequent listening will improve your fluency in speaking, as well as your pronunciation and intonation. You’ll find yourself thinking in English, instead of translating from your own language.
Try talking to a native speaker every day. This allows you to listen to English and respond in real time, while lessons with an experienced teacher give you the opportunity to hear clearly spoken English and ask for explanations if you don’t understand.