Lesson 3: Developing Language Skills: Academic Listening

Definition of Academic Listening

Ordinarily, listening is the ability to accurately receive and interpret messages in the communicative process. Listeners must have the ability to decode the message, the ability to apply a variety of strategies and interactive processes to make meaning, and the ability to respond to what is said.

Academic listening consists of an important set of listening, oral communication and academic learning skills, which are typically used in an integrated manner. When you attend lectures, you need to apply the highest level of listening skills you have. In academic listening, not only do you have to listen to your professors describing abstract and sophisticated concepts, but you also have to be effective in taking notes that will help you with learning the topics covered in the lecture. Thus, daily listening comprehension that suffices for most interactions is not enough in a lecture. Academic Listening (AL) involves attending to and comprehension of spoken texts in academic settings, such as lectures, tutorials, small group discussions, presentations, etc.

Academic Listening involves the reception and understanding of spoken material with an educational purpose. This area has many forms, including academic lectures, debates and seminar conversations, and regularly utilizes a high level of language structure and vocabulary. Better academic listening can lead to more understanding in lectures and a more fulfilling learning experience in school.











Difference between hearing and listening

Types of listening

Generally, there are many types (about 5) but for this course, we will discuss two main types of listening – the foundations of all listening sub-types are:

  • Discriminative Listening (This is the most basic form of listening and does not involve the understanding of the meaning of words or phrases but merely the different sounds that are produced e.g. /d/ and /b/)
  • Comprehensive Listening (Comprehensive listening involves understanding the message or messages that are being communicated.  It is fundamental to all listening sub-types


Active Listening skills

An active listener should do the following:


Importance of Academic Listening

  1. Effective listening can help you become a better student.
  2. Effective listening can help you become more effective in your interpersonal relationships.
  3. Effective listening can lead others to perceive you as more intelligent individual.
  4. Effective listening can help you become a stronger public speaker.
  5. Good listening allows us to demonstrate that we are paying attention to the thoughts, feelings and behaviors of the other person.
  6. Develops patience and tolerance in the listener in the classroom
  7. Effective listening skills create positive classroom relationships, which influence our opinions and responsiveness to one another.

Listening strategies

Two processes are involved in listening. Top-down listening uses background knowledge and contextualizes words to aid comprehension. Bottom-up listening uses sounds, words, and other small units to create meaning. These processes are complementary; listening for only the big picture but not the details is as ineffective as trying to understand every single word your lecturer says.


Top-down Academic Listening strategies

  • Before lecture, review and predict lecture topics.
  • Review assigned material
  • Consider how new information will relate to previous lectures
  • During lecture, identify the organization pattern (i.e., problem/solution, literature review, etc.).
  • Note the number of main topics being covered and how they are related
  • Listen for phrases that introduce, summarize, or shift topics
  • After lecture, continue to engage with the topic.
  • Review your notes for any information that is incomplete
  • Go to friends or go to office hours of lecturer with questions about information you missed

Bottom-up Academic Listening strategies

  • Focus on stressed words.
  • Listen for longer, louder words (usually nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs). These words carry the most important information.
  • Pay attention to repeated terms and pauses.
  • Take these as cues for possible key points in the lecture
  • Keep going.
  • Avoid trying to understand every word. In spoken language, not all words are important nor are they always grammatical.










Subcategories of the section on academic listening include the following:

Subcategory Content
Note-taking Tips and Practice How to take effective notes while listening, Listening for and understanding new vocabulary, Listening to a complex description
Noticing Attitude and Opinion Listening to understand more difficult language, Practicing listening skills for lectures
Lecture Orientation Listening for theme words and examples, Prediction skills for listening, Using clues to understand lectures, Listening closely to presentations, Listening for signposting language, Focusing on the language in a lecture
Lecture participation Asking questions, Pre-lecture preparation, Post lecture preparation, Formalizing notes, Understanding synopsis





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