Exposure is key when improving listening comprehension in any language. For many I train, who live in India and work with foreign native English speaking clients, immersion with the local, native speakers in the US, UK, or Canada is simply not realistic. Below are a few tips to increase exposure to native speakers.
Be a Silent Participant in Client Meetings
Some companies allow newcomers to sit in on client calls to improve their listening comprehension. This is the best way because the listener can practice listening to actual native speakers talk in English. Depending on how many native speakers are on the other end of the call, you may also be able to pick up conversational cues (group discussion skills) like pleasantries, polite ways of interrupting, tones, along with others.
For those who get this golden opportunity the key here is to pay attention. Don’t just sit there thinking, “Since I am not required to talk, I’ll passively listen.” Listen with intention and seriousness. The listening will help you to improve your understanding of native speakers as well as understand more about your company and give you some good information about different projects in your company. Don’t think that listening is a waste of your time. It’s a golden opportunity. And, you are getting paid for it, so hopefully that’s a motivator!
Learn the Sounds of the Language
Learning the sounds of a given language can help you to identify these sounds in native conversations better. Learning the sounds can also help you to enunciate and speak more clearly with native speakers. While some elements of accent, such as learning particular sounds can help with clear speaking and improved listening, other elements of accent, such as word combining are better used for listening comprehension.
For Indian speakers of English, sounds that are commonly confused are the R sound, v and w, p and b (South Indian speakers), and j and z and words ending with tion for North Indian speakers. Shadowing, which is listening to native speakers talk then mimicking them, is an effective technique for improving voice quality for some.
While some may disagree with me, I often use songs that mimic speech in some training sessions to highlight syllable stress and word combining. Some examples of such songs are found here.
Natural, Unscripted Conversation is Best
The video below suggests how to avoid ineffective and boring ways of learning English. I agree with this video in that movies, sitcoms, and most television shows are scripted. Scripted English is not natural conversation. It’s better to listen to podcasts of natural conversation, such as unscripted radio interviews or shows (my favorite, Car Talk or call-in shows for consumer tech products), unscripted youtube conversations on topics of your interest, or for monologues, the weather report on most local television news programs in the US is another alternative. For more ideas on podcasts, check out the video below for the link at the end.