Listen to this article while you read.

We all want to be understood. We humans are a social species, and being able to understand one another has its benefits. One of the struggles of learning a new language is being sure that native speakers of that language understand you. The more pressing our message, the more important it is that our listeners comprehend our speech.

Careful listening allows us to pick up on cues from a conversation partner about a couple of things. By listening closely to the other speaker, we can glean information about what is important to them. In some cases, we can find out about what they may or may not know. If you listen extra carefully, words and phrases the other speaker uses to refer to the things you are both talking about can be quite informative.

It can be difficult to correct someone’s speech. When the conversation is flowing, it can be distracting and downright annoying to have someone interrupt you to say that you used the wrong word. Consequently, most people try to use subtle corrections, if any at all. A subtle correction may be the same phrase you just said, repeated back to you with a word change, or just a single word.

Listen carefully to the words that people use. Are they the same words that you are using in the conversation? If this is the case, then you and your conversation partner are probably on the same page. However, if the other person is using different vocabulary, then take note. It could be that the words they use are more appropriate than the words you are using in the conversation. Or, the words used by your conversation partner may give you insight into their thoughts and feelings about the topic of conversation.

You can convey the same idea in different tones, depending on the way you say it. For example, when discussing a shared project, there are several ways to talk about taking away components of the project.

Saying you want to cut a component out is a fairly neutral way of saying you want to take it away. Using the phrase pare down indicates a desire to take something away in order to minimize, or simplify the work. A stronger way to communicate the same idea but with greater intensity is to eliminate something, or to rip it out. If someone uses either of these phrases, it is likely they feel strongly about the subtraction of the component being discussed.

Good listening skills are not something that you can acquire overnight. Like most communication skills, listening takes practice. The best way to practice listening in a second language is to talk to people. Having a real-life conversation not only gives us the opportunity to get to know someone, it is also a great source of feedback for our speech. Even if your partner in the conversation does not explicitly correct your speech, by listening carefully to what they say and how they say it, you can learn a lot.

Glossary

pressing: urgent, important, critical :: The more pressing our message, the more important it is that our listeners comprehend our speech

to pick up on: to notice or recognize something :: listening allows us to pick up on cues from a conversation partner

glean: to get, to find out :: we can glean information

downright: absolutely :: it can be distracting and downright annoying to have someone interrupt you

subtle: hard to notice, not obvious  :: most people try to use subtle corrections

on the same page: having a shared understanding, agreeing about something :: you and your conversation partner are probably on the same page

take note: pay attention :: if the other person is using different vocabulary, then take note

insight: intuitive understanding :: the words used by your conversation partner may give you insight into their thoughts and feelings about the topic

to depend on: to be decided by, to be determined by :: You can convey the same idea in different tones, depending on the way you say it

acquire: get, develop :: something that you can acquire overnight