A long, long path.

Again today, I taught the listening section of the TOEFL for those whose scores ranged from 40 to 50 (so I assumed). Some have lived in the U.S for a couple of years, while others just came back to Japan. But they still have a hard time handling a lecture, no matter the length. They are much better at understanding a conversation.

I am not surprised to see them struggling to get the gist, because I also followed a similar path to theirs. At first, I gradually understood a short conversation, which made me try to listen to a short lecture, which was still too hard. I then got back to a longer conversation. Having practiced long conversations for a while (a while being as long as years!), I started to listen to lectures.

When I thought lectures were OK, I listened to British English. It then reduced me to just a novice learner who understood only a couple of words out of one long news article. When I finally overcame the accent, I tried to get back to conversations…in the film. Virtually zero understanding. Then I focused on the spoken English in the film, in which lots of slang expressions, unmentionables, curse words, technical terms were used in different accents.

Now I could get 30 (out of 30) in the listening section of the TOEFL any time… after all these discouraging experiences.

My students today have been exposed to English for about one or two years. Maybe they just started a long, long path to glory.


A piece of advice

The other day, I wrote about the TOEFL facebook page. Today, I found the following piece of advice on “listening.”
It goes like…
When you’re trying to figure out a speaker’s meaning, listen to how they say it, not just the words they use. They will often repeat important words or say them louder. The gestures they make while they’re talking will also help you understand what they’re trying to say.
Oh, well…
Is this tip of any value as far as the actual TOEFL is concerned?
“listen to how they say it”… doesn’t give test-takers any clues as to how the rock cycle is completed.
“often repeat important words…”…but the questions may come from other details of the passage.
“gestures…”…I just wish lectures in the listening section were given through videos instead of a picture (in which you will find the same person as you saw in the previous question.)
As a matter of fact, in taking the TOEFL test, test-takers are to be deprived of all the natural means of communication in our daily conversation. They have no choice but to maximize their concentration and make themselves “all ears.”
Watching a movie without the subtitles (one of the biggest reasons people study English) is far easier. 
Movies have…
a context
and non-verbal communication like facial expressions.
All this can be of great help in understanding what is going on in the film.
Let’s get back to the TOEFL.
Do we pay attention to gestures, facial expressions, or the tone of voice when listening to a lecture on “some features of igneous rock? Therefore I do not think it is a good exercise to focus too much on these non-verbal means of communication. Rather learners must practice being “all ears.”
Many learners have a hard time understanding spoken English. Why? Because it IS hard. Do we just give up because it is hard? No way. Then what does it take to achieve that goal? 
a strong will power
can-do spirit
Everyone including me has once or twice thought like “Oh, I’m just not cut out to be a good learner.” “English is not my cup of tea.””I should start to find something else to write on my resume.” “I could survive without the ability of English.”
“Listening” is not for the faint-hearted. If you don’t understand a lecture, you have to give it another try. If that is not enough, give it another. The thing is that you must keep listening until you get to understand it. It’s that simple. There is no need to make it more complicated.