Listening comprehension & note-taking


Like many students, you may be initially very worried about your listening skills. Academic listening usually involves trying to follow a lecture or discussion in English and writing adequate notes on it. If you have difficulties in doing this, you may not be sure whether the problems are listening problems or language problems. In any case, much listening to lectures or similar texts is essential. There is also a need for you to be aware of the way lectures are organised, the particular kind of language that is used in lectures (Lynch, 1983) and making sure you know the language, particularly the pronunciation of familiar words, of your own subject. I think the most important skill is for you to learn to recognise the structure of lectures - the main points and subsidiary points.

You need to practise:

  • How to take notes.
  • Recognising lecture structure: understanding relationships in the lecture - reference; understanding relations within the sentence/complex sentences; importance markers, signposts.
  • Deducing the meaning of unfamiliar words and word groups - guessing.
  • Recognising implications: information not explicitly stated; recognising the speaker's attitude. Evaluating the importance of information - selecting information.
  • Understanding intonation, voice emphasis etc.
  • Listening skills: skimming - listening to obtain gist; scanning - listening to obtain specific information; selective extraction of relevant points to summarise text; learning various ways of making sense of the words you hear.


Try this exercise: Exercise


It is impossible to write anything about listening without acknowledging the work of Tony Lynch. His Study Listening (Cambridge University Press, 1983) has been a great influence as will be obvious to anyone who knows the book.