Listen for Main Points

In order to have a successful conversation, you need to understand what someone is saying to you

  • Whether you are a beginner or have been learning the language for years, you probably do not know as much vocabulary as a native speaker of the language, so chances are you will not understand every word that you hear.
  • Instead of getting caught up on the words that you don’t know, focus on what you do understand.
  • Even if you do not know every word, often you can figure out the gist of what someone is saying, or at least the main topic. 
  • Focus on the words that you already know and words that you can guess the meaning of (words that are similar to English words or to words you know in the language, as well as names of people and places). Don’t worry about words that are completely unfamiliar.

In casual conversation, usually it is enough to understand the main point of what someone is saying.  In a situation where you need to listen for detailed information (like phone numbers, addresses, or directions):

  • Ask clarifying questions.
  • Have the person repeat the information to you again, and/or repeat back what you think you heard to make sure you understood correctly. Also see: Learn Phrases for Clarification.

One way to practice listening for the main points is through extensive listening activities (See: Extensive Listening).

(These suggestions are based in part on Boris Shekhtman’s book How to Improve Your Foreign Language Immediately:  Foreign Language Communication Tools)