Often people ask me, “How can I improve my American English listening comprehension and understanding? Do you think I should watch more Hollywood movies? But I don’t understand them, what should I do?”
While many people have learned and improved their English by watching Hollywood movies, there are many more who do not find it helpful at all. So, for them, I suggest another method.
The Turn & Learn Exercise
Well, while Hollywood movies can be helpful tools, I suggest them only for one exercise, the turn and learn exercise!
What’s the turn and learn exercise?
Find a five minute clip of any Hollywood movie or American TV show on YouTube. When pressing play, do not watch it, but turn the computer around and ONLY LISTEN. At first, don’t listen for content (active listening), listen for feeling (passive listening).
Can you understand the feelings of the people talking? Are they happy, mad, frustrated, or some other emotion?
What do you think they are thinking? Remember, feelings come from the heart, and thoughts from the brain!
What do you think their facial expression looks like? Were they making eye contact with each other? Make these guesses, turn the computer back around and watch them. Did you get the right feeling? This will help you increase your emotional intelligence while on phone calls with Americans.
Passive Listening Increases Emotional Intelligence
In addition to understanding someone’s feeling or mood while on calls, these exercises can help you to understand conversational fluency- cues to start talking at the right place, how to interrupt politely, the importance of punctuation and tone, and other cues. Maybe you do not believe this works, but I have proof from several clients that it does!
Several Bangalore and Kochi based professionals aged between 25- 45 were selected to work with me. While their English was very good, they were not able to hold a fluid and productive conversation with the U.S. counterparts on the phone. When I spoke to them, immediately I found out why. These professionals did not know how to wait, be patient, stop talking, listen to what I was saying, then start their conversation. While they were enthusiastic, their enthusiasm actually spoiled the interaction. They were so worried they may forget what they wanted to say next, that they would say it before their counterpart started or finished talking. This caused a lack of conversational continuity; their "responses" actually had no bearing to what their client or colleague just said, in many cases. So, the person talking with them felt interrupted, and not listened to.
To improve their conversational and listening skills, I asked these professionals to download podcasts on topics they enjoyed listening to. These podcasts should be unscripted (unlike Hollywood movies), preferably YouTube videos, local news or weather reports, radio shows, or radio interviews or morning shows. Basically, these podcasts should be conversations with two or more people who are participating in natural conversation. Rather than listen for content, they were instructed to listen to the flow and pacing (music of a language), as well as for tones, pausing, and conversational cues. Since they had long bus rides to and from work, they downloaded these podcasts on their phones, listening to them on their way to and from work. So, what was the outcome?
An AMAZING Transformation
Obviously, passive listening alone will not help us have better conversations. Passive listening needs to be mixed with active listening. I was wondering, could these professionals mix the two? I was confident they could because their English was good. And, above all these professionals, wanted to improve. They had the motivation, drive and interest to improve.
Believe it or not, that mixed with this simple exercise created amazing results that stretched beyond my wildest expectations. When I met them three months before, they were barely able to hold a conversation with me. Even, after those conversations, when I checked for their understanding of what I contributed, it was very little. But, this time, meeting them three months later, I was not only able to have a conversation with them, but a fluent and inspiring conversation! And, later when myself and their managers checked their comprehension of the points I contributed to the discussion, it improved 75-100%!
This also proved to translate well to the client interactions. These participants were able to improve their virtual meetings, speaking with more ease and confidence WITH their counterparts in the U.S. (instead of TO). Many of these participants noted their working relationships improved, the work flow also improved and several of these candidates were chosen within a year to go onsite to the U.S. It was an amazing boost to their professional AND personal lives!
This is a tip anyone can use. These candidates did continue to meet me for individualized coaching to improve other elements of soft-skills, business communication and professionalism, but you, too, can use the tip, too to start your journey to better, easier conversations with your American counterparts today.
Feel free to share your experiences and feedback in the comments section below.
Jennifer Kumar, the Managing Director of Authentic Journeys, a native American English speaker and American citizen lives in Kochi, India helping virtual teams build stronger teams across global boundaries. With over 1,600 professionals helped, the track record speaks for itself! Contact us for more information today!
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Keywords: Business English, English as a Second Language, ESL, American English, Working with Americans, Professionalism, Listening SKills