Listening Strategy Guide

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Advanced Listening

Listening Strategy Guide
Lectures 4-6

Michael Berman

version 4.0
© Copyright 2003, DynEd International, Inc.
January 2003

Listening Strategy Guide
Lectures 4-6

This guide describes key strategies for improving your listening skills. As you complete this
course, review these strategies carefully and often.


Listening Topic 1: Pre-listening Strategies
Listening Topic 2: Identifying Main Ideas
Listening Topic 3: Note Taking
Listening Topic 4: Processing Details
Listening Topic 5: Determining the Relationships of Ideas
Listening Topic 6: Guessing Vocabulary from Context
Listening Topic 7: Identifying Pronoun Referents
Appendix: Practice Exercises

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Listening Topic 1: Pre-listening Strategies

Predicting the themes and vocabulary of a lecture before you listen can help to improve your
comprehension of difficult listening segments.

First, look at the title of the lecture and any other clues you have (photos, maps, charts, outlines,
etc.) and think of specific questions you think might be answered in the lecture. Next, think
about possible answers to each of your questions. Discuss the questions with a partner, if
possible. Here are a few sample questions for Lecture 4, How to Give a Lecture:

1. What are the necessary steps to prepare for a lecture?
2. What are some techniques for delivering a lecture well?
3. How many main points can a lecture have?

Can you think of other questions? If you have trouble thinking of questions, consider the major
question words (who, what, when, where, why, how) and ask yourself how they might apply to
the lecture topic. Creating these “prediction questions” will help you maintain your focus during
lectures. In addition, the answers to the questions you form during this pre-listening step will
often correspond to the actual main ideas of the lecture; in this way, these questions actually
improve comprehension by helping you to identify main ideas and discriminate them from less
important details. (Note: This pre-listening strategy can also help you prepare for other listening
situations, such as meetings, interviews, and any other instance in which you have clues to the

You can use this prediction strategy during the lecture as well. That is, as often as you can, try
to predict what kinds of information might come next. Even if some of your predictions are
incorrect, this strategy will help you stay focused and give you a better chance of general

Second, try to predict vocabulary you may hear in the lecture. To do this, you can analyze the
main words in the title of the lecture. A dictionary and thesaurus will be very helpful.

For example:

Analysis Questions


What are some synonyms of the phrase give a lecture? Make/give a speech, give a talk,
make/give a presentation, deliver an address

Who gives lectures? Who listens to them?

lecturers, speakers, presenters, professors,
teachers, politicians


the general public

Where do people give lectures?

in universities/colleges/high schools, in front of
a class, behind a podium, on a platform, on

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What can a lecture contain?

introduction, main points, details, conclusion,
stories, anecdotes

Who have been some famous lecturers or speakers?
Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt,
Martin Luther King, Cicero

For the next lectures, try to develop your own prediction questions and lists of vocabulary.

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Listening Topic 2: Identifying Main Ideas

There are four keys to identifying main ideas in lectures and presentations. First, a speaker may
signal a main idea through discourse markers; that is, there are certain phrases that tell you a
main idea is coming. Here are some examples:

The point I want to make/cover here is…
The main point is…

See Listening Topic 5 for more
information on discourse markers.
The important thing here is…
What I’m trying to show is…
What I’m going to talk about today is…
The purpose of my remarks is …
This afternoon I’d like to explain/focus on…

Similarly, speakers often use rhetorical questions to signal main ideas, topics, and themes.
These are questions that the speaker asks out loud, and that the speaker plans to answer in his/her
presentation. In general, rhetorical questions will always be answered in the lecture or
. Therefore, rhetorical questions are important discourse markers to pay attention to.
For example, in Part 6 of Lecture 5, Professor Morris asks, “What makes this seem like a
reasonable thing to do, to say that some people are enslavable?” Here, the professor is using a
rhetorical question to introduce the main idea of the rest of his talk.

Another key to identifying main ideas is repetition, or how many times a word or phrase is
repeated. If something is repeated several times, it suggests importance. For example, in the
lecture part mentioned in the previous paragraph (Lecture 5, Part 6), the same rhetorical question
is essentially repeated four times in one minute. In Part 4 of the same lecture, which is a longer
and more complex segment, there are 9 repeated words and phrases:


Number of Times Repeated

Rome and Italy











true slave society


put slaves on the land


drive poor farmers off the land 2

Once you know, through repetition, that these words and phrases are important, it is much easier
to identify the lecturer’s main ideas, which are:
1. Rome/Italy was an example of a “true slave society.”
2. Rome/Italy and its slave population grew so big because rich Romans drove the poor
farmers off the land and replaced them with slaves. Once the poor farmers had been
driven off the land, they needed to go to the City of Rome to buy food (which was
now being produced by the slaves).

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The third key to identifying main or important ideas is pace. Pace is the speed of speech.
Unimportant points or small details are usually spoken more quickly. Important points, such as
main ideas, are usually spoken more slowly and clearly. For example, Part 1 of Lecture 5
contains the following passage:

Now, when you’re thinking about these sorts of things, it’s relatively easy, I think, to
conceptualize, get an idea of what’s it’s like for slaves
, to sort of imagine yourself into
the plight of the slaves, the victims of this inexplicable violence. These sort of crazy
people come out of nowhere set fire to you and whip you and things… I mean, not
completely easy to imagine that, but you can sort of imagine being on the receiving end
of this kind of thing. What I think is much harder for the historian is to imagine what it
would be like to be a slave owner, to be in a situation where you seriously thought this
was perfectly okay

In the passage above, it is clear that its most important points are in bold. When you listen to
this part of the lecture, it will be equally clear that these are lines which Professor Morris says
more slowly, clearly, and deliberately than the other lines. This is his way of signaling that these
ideas are the main ideas he is trying to express, and, in contrast, that the more quickly spoken
lines are not. Paying attention to pace is especially helpful when a speaker is a generally fast
talker, such as Professor Morris. In such cases, pace can act as verbal bold print, and help you
identify the principal points in challenging listening situations.

Finally, a lecturer’s visual aids, such as outlines, lists or drawings, often provide obvious clues to
a speaker’s main points. For example, in Lecture 4, Professor Kennedy lists the main points of
his lecture on an overhead projector transparency, and in Lecture 6, Professor Mahood puts her
core definitions and important rock names on the screen. These types of visual aids should be
taken advantage of. In fact, there is an old piece of academic advice which states that when a
speaker has made the effort to write something on the board, you should make the effort to write
it in your notes!

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Listening Topic 3: Note Taking

Taking notes effectively is crucial to success in academic and professional environments. There
are four important components to successful note taking.

1. Language. Take notes in the language in which you will need to use the notes. That is, if
you are in a business meeting in New York with U.S. companies and you will need to use
your notes to write memos, letters, or contracts in English, then take notes in English, not in
your native language. Similarly, if you are in a class where you will be tested in English or
you will need to discuss the information in English, take notes in English. This will help you
remember precise language and context in note-taking situations. In addition, it will help
develop your English skills. Finally, and most importantly, after you have become an
efficient note taker in English, you will be able to take notes more quickly and accurately
than if you constantly translated everything.

2. Speed. Effective note taking requires that you record information quickly. To do this, good
note takers DO NOT WRITE DOWN EVERY WORD or try to take notes in neat sentences;
instead, they write only key words and phrases. In addition, good note takers use shorthand
when they take notes. In other words, they use symbols to represent words or ideas. Here are
some common examples:

is more than



is approximately equal to

thousand (40K = 40,000)

isn’t equal to

per, out of (1/25 = 1 per 25)

to change to, a change

+, & and

leading to, causing

∴ therefore,

to be caused by, as a result of
♂ man,

to go up, increases

♀ woman,

↓ to

each, at

When you take notes, try using some of these symbols as well as any others you can think of.
Everyone has a different system of note-taking shorthand, so feel free to be creative!

Here is an example of efficient note taking which reflects a short passage from Lecture 5.
Notice that ideas have been reduced to key words and that shorthand symbols are used

Slavery was a major institution in both the Greek and the Roman worlds. In classical Athens –
the fifth and the fourth centuries B.C. – probably about a quarter or a third of the total
population is slaves brought in from outside the community to work for individual slave owners.
And that population, proportion …that’s roughly comparable with what you get in the U.S. south
in the beginning of the nineteenth century. About a quarter or maybe a third of the population in
some areas are slaves. So slavery is essential fact of life in the ancient worlds.

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You write:
slavery = maj. instit. in Grk, Roman worlds
- classical Athens – 5th-4th C’s B.C. – ¼ - ⅓ pop. = imported slaves

≈ slave % in U.S. South - early 19th C.

∴ slavery = essential pt of life in anc. worlds

3. Organization. Your notes should reflect which of the lecturer’s points are main points and
which are details. Sometimes the details are also broken down into smaller categories or sub-
details, and your notes must show this as well.

There are many effective ways to represent lecture organization in your notes. One common
technique is to write the main ideas close to the left margin of the page, the details below the
main ideas and a little bit to the right, smaller details below and to the right of the larger
ones, and so on.


o Detail 1 of Main Idea 1

" Supporting information for Detail 1

" Supporting information for Detail 1

o Detail 2 of Main Idea 1

" Supporting information for Detail 2


…and so on

If this system of note taking doesn’t suit you, ask your teacher for other suggestions.

A final note: Clear, organized note taking requires practice. Furthermore, your opportunities for
practice don’t have to end when the lecture ends: the best note takers often rewrite their notes to
show the ideas and organization more clearly.

4. Accuracy. Are your facts correct? Did you write down all the main points and a sufficient
number of details? Can you read your notes and understand what you wrote? These skills take
time and practice, but you can achieve a lot of success through good pre-listening preparation
(see Listening Topic 1), efficient note taking using shorthand, and a clear pattern of organization.

In addition, accurate note taking requires stamina. That is, you must be able to concentrate for
long periods of time. The more you practice, the more your note-taking stamina will develop.

Finally, there will be times when you miss information. Don’t worry – this happens to all of us!
If you do miss information, make a guess about what you missed and try to maintain your focus.
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Finally, there will be times when you miss information. Don’t worry – this happens to all of us!
If you do miss information, make a guess about what you missed and try to maintain your focus.
Fortunately, lecturers often repeat important information, so if you miss something, there’s a
good chance you will hear it again.
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Listening Topic 4: Processing Details

Advanced Listening requires you to comprehend many different types of details in several
different contexts. Consequently, this listening strategy topic is presented in three parts, each
discussing a different aspect of understanding details.

1. Aural Skimming: Listening for a Particular Detail
Our goals in listening often involve understanding or “catching” one crucial detail; this typically
requires pulling one particular detail out of a larger set of details. For instance, while listening
to someone talk at a business meeting, you might have a special interest in a particular budget
figure or a date for a certain event, but have little interest in other details. Other common
examples include listening for particular facts in weather reports or in airport announcements
about flight information. Similarly, in Advanced Listening you are often asked to listen for a
particular detail within a lecture segment.

The most important strategy for this type of listening is prediction. That is, before listening,
try to predict what may signal or mark the information you are listening for. For example, what
words might the speaker use when giving this detail? If you are listening for a particular
number, think about what type of number you expect: Will it be in the hundreds or the millions?
Will it be a fraction? A decimal? A percentage? The more you focus yourself before you listen,
the better chance you have to succeed in the listening task. (See Listening Topic 1 for more
discussion about prediction.)

2. Understanding and Recalling Details
Just as we enter some listening situations with the goal of comprehending one crucial detail, we
also come out of listening situations with the need to remember or process pieces of information
we have heard. Here are two strategies to help you understand more details while you listen as
well as remember more details after you have listened.

Maintain your focus. It is easy to become distracted while listening, especially when the
language is not one you natively speak. One way to maintain your focus is to continue to
actively predict what may come next in the lecture.

Take detailed notes. Not only does note taking help you stay focused, but it also will
provide your best reference to what has been said. In academic and other listening situations
which require the understanding and recall of large numbers of details, it is absolutely
necessary to take the best notes you can. Studies have found that efficient, detailed note
taking is a key predictor of academic success. (See Listening Topic 3 for a more
comprehensive discussion of note taking.)

3. Strategies for Making Inferences

Some questions you hear in the Interactive Listening section are inference questions. An
inference is an assumption made from information that we have. That is, in the case of listening
comprehension, an inference is an interpretation or a conclusion based on the information that
we hear. Making inferences is a critical skill because not all important information is clearly or
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Document Outline

  • Contents
  • Listening Topic 1: Pre-listening Strategies
  • Listening Topic 2: Identifying Main Ideas
  • Listening Topic 3: Note Taking
    • 1. Language
    • 2. Speed
    • 3. Organization
    • 4. Accuracy
  • Listening Topic 4: Processing Details
    • 1. Aural Skimming: Listening for a Particular Detail
    • 2. Understanding and Recalling Details
    • 3. Strategies for Making Inferences
  • Listening Topic 5: Determining the Relationships of Ideas
    • Markers of Addition
    • Markers of Cause and Consequence
    • Markers of Clarification/Explanation
    • Markers of Classification/Categorization
    • Markers of Comparison and Contrast
    • Markers of Definition
    • Markers of Exemplification
    • Markers of Sequence of Events
  • Listening Topic 6: Guessing Vocabulary from Context
  • Listening Topic 7: Identifying Pronoun Referents
  • Appendix: Practice Exercises
    • Overview of Exercises
    • Lecture4: How to give a lecture
      • Part 1
      • Parts 2&3
      • Part 4
      • Part 5
      • Part 6
      • Parts 7 & 8
      • Part 9
      • Parts 10-11
    • Answers to Selected Exercises