Are you practising or improving your listening? What’s the difference?

Can you pick up a language just by listening?

I’ve written before that I don’t think it’s very helpful for beginners to start watching Vietnamese TV, hoping to magically pick up the language.

If you think about it, babies listen for a long time before they start speaking.

I’m not saying that listening is not important. In fact, I think it’s the most important skill to be able to have a genuine conversation. But there’s a difference between listening for fun and focused listening to improve your listening ability.

What are listening skills?

Vietnamese listening skills can be defined as your ability to comprehend, respond and communicate in Vietnamese. This is essential for a good conversation!

What do you mean by “practising listening”?

Practising Vietnamese listening is fun listening activities – watching movies, listening to music, chatting to friends. We do these things because we enjoy them, and they also help to attune our ears to the sounds of Vietnamese.

To be able to understand Vietnamese of course you have to listen a lot to get used to the sounds of a language. However, you often “hear” what you want to hear, you skip over words you don’t know or you’re having a conversation and your main focus is thinking about what you’ll say next!

Think of song lyrics in your native language – sometimes you mishear certain words (like Taylor Swift’s “star-crossed lovers” sounds like “starbucks lovers”).

Listening for fun is great, but simply listening may not result in increased comprehension.

What do you mean by “improving your Vietnamese listening skills”?

If you struggle with listening, you need to figure out why.

Read: What exactly is your problem with listening?

Only then can you make a targetted plan to improve your listening.

#1 common listening problem – lack of vocabulary

Often you’ll find vocabulary is your main problem, so you can turn to podcasts for learners like VPod101* or YouTube mini lessons. Beginners can try an audio course like Pimsleur*.

These learning materials tend to contain a dialogue and then explain new vocabulary before you listen to the conversation a second time. You can use these materials to study.

#2 common listening problem – recognising words you know

Sometimes it’s accents or the speed of natural speech that’s a problem. In that case you can slow down audio or use subtitles. This is a temporary measure to help attune your ear.

How to improve your listening with active listening techniques

Improving your Vietnamese listening skills will help you to better understand what people are saying and to pick up on important details. It will also help you become more comfortable speaking Vietnamese, as you will be able to understand more of what people are saying

To be able to improve your listening skills, you need to pay attention to everything that is being said. For this reason it’s important to choose materials suitable for your level and not materials that are too difficult.

Step 1: Choose suitable materials

Useful materials for improving your listening may include:

To be able to focus on improving your listening, you want to understand 90% or more of the words. If you can’t understand most of the words, you’ll be practising listening while you try to figure out the vocabulary.

Step 2: Use active listening techniques

Just listening is fine when you’re listening for pleasure. To improve your Vietnamese listening skills you can:

When you improve your listening, you will be able to better understand the people around you. You will be able to make more meaningful connections with native speakers and build a foundation for future learning.

I suggest a mixture of practising listening (listening for pleasure) and focused tasks to improve your listening in Vietnamese.

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