I have written before about the importance of listening. When you are living and interacting with others in a place where your second language is most people’s first language, listening becomes even more important. Listening provides innumerable benefits for everyone, but here I wanted to dive into a few of the ways that regular practice of good listening skills can be beneficial to people living in a second language.

1. You learn regional words and phrases.

Listening to others gives you the opportunity to hear the words and phrases they typically use. While most of these words and phrases will probably be common to all dialects of the language, every once in a while, you will hear something new that is unique to the region you are in.

Here in the South there are a lot of phrases that no one taking an English class ever learns. Whereas the sentence I’m fixing to get a buggy might not make much sense to the average English speaker, to someone from the South, it clearly means I’m going to get a shopping cart.

2. Phrasal verbs make more sense.

When the same verb has different meanings depending on the preposition with which it is paired, it can get confusing. But when you listen carefully, you tend to hear the more common phrasal verbs over and over. Just like a song on the radio, the more you hear it, the more you’ll learn it. When you hear phrasal verbs multiple times throughout the day or week, you are more likely to learn their meanings and how they are used.

To hang out means to spend time relaxing or enjoying but hang up means to hang something from a hook or to end a phone call. My clients find phrasal verbs to be one of the most challenging areas of the English language.

3. You learn about other people.

When you listen to others speak, it gives you a front row seat to their mind. By paying attention not only to the things they say but to the words and inflection they use to communicate their message, you can often learn a lot about who the person is.

In other words, you learn more by listening than by speaking.

4. Your contributions to the conversation become more valuable.

For many people it is tempting to interject in a conversation simply to participate, or because they feel they need to keep talking to have people pay attention to them. Maybe you are one of these people. If the other speakers do not find value in your contribution to the conversation, then they may be less likely to pay attention to your words in the future. In these cases, it is better to hold your tongue and listen to the conversation until you have a solid understanding of the issue being discussed. When you have something to add to the conversation, wait for the right moment. If you have listened well, then when you speak up, your listeners will appreciate what you have to say.

You probably know of the painful feeling that comes when you speak up during a conversation only to find out that your comment is too late. It would have been relevant a moment earlier, but the conversation has moved on and your understanding is lagging behind. If you are at this stage in language learning, practice good listening skills, but don’t be afraid to speak up. Keep talking. Your comprehension of the language will improve with time, as long as you listen.

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