Section 2: Developing Effective Listening Strategies:

Activity 3: Listening for Specific Information

Listening Strategies
Listening for Specific Information
  • To show how effective listening for specific information can be in listening comprehension.
  • To encourage language learners to listen for specific information as an effective listening strategy
The Internet
30-60 minutes



Activities One and Two showed us how we can use our background knowledge about a topic to make predictions and how to get better at making inferences about the meaning. Another effective strategy is listening for specific information. This strategy can be very helpful for understanding lectures. The main way to listen for specific information (when specific questions are not provided for you) is to predict (see Activity One) what the main idea of the lecture will be. Ask yourself, "What is the main purpose of this speech? What is the topic? What does the speaker want to tell us?"

When we have a focus or purpose, our listening comprehension improves.

In the following listening task you will be asked to predict what specific information you will hear and you will have to listen for that information. Before we begin, let's think about the way we listen for specific information in our day to day lives.

When you ask for directions to a place, do you listen to understand every single word or just the main directions? It depends on your purpose. If you are trying to remember the main directions, you probably listen for street names, landmarks, and left or right.

Imagine someone was giving you directions to the University of Hawaii and said, "If you are coming from downtown, you have to take King Street for a long time, you will go on it for a long time and pass a lot of shops and restaurants and parks. Then turn left on University Avenue. It's right after a grocery store with a big parking lot that is always busy. Go up a little hill and the University is on the right side after you pass over the highway. You can't miss it, there are a lot of brick buildings and students will be walking around."

What information would you take from this little speech?

Probably something like "Go down King Street until University Avenue. Turn Left. The University is on the right side of the street." You listened for the specific information you needed.

When you are in a classroom, you also listen for specific information, depending on your purpose. What do you listen for in a lecture? Information from your reading? Information based on what is written on the board? Information based on handouts? Information that the instructor repeats? Its most helpful to come into the classroom prepared to listen for a purpose and for specific information.



For this task again you will listen to a famous speech of your choice. Based on the information you read about the speech, you must come up with what specific information you will listen for. Once you write out the question or questions you will listen for, you will play the speech, listening for the specific information.

You will need Real Player -- if you do not have RealPlayer, click here to download it.

Step 1. On the Internet, go to Click on the tab for "Great Speeches" and then on "Find More" (underneath the main video screen), and browse until you find a speech that interests you. (Some of the speakers have accents that are not American, so you may possibly want to be careful whom you choose. Be aware, though, that professors at UH have a variety of accents, so it may be very good practice to listen to all types of English pronunciation.)

Step 2. Once you have selected and clicked on a speech, scroll down the page and read the short summary of the topic and of the speaker. Look up any challenging vocabulary or concepts.

Step 3. Before you listen to the speech, write down one or two questions that you will listen for. What would be a teacher’s purpose for having you listen to this speech? Based on what you have already read about the speech and from your own background information, what do you think you should pay attention to? For example, if you were listening to Joe DiMaggio's speech, you would read the summary and write down a question like, "Does Joe DiMaggio give any hints in his speech about why baseball is no longer any fun?".

Step 4. Play the speech (you will need Real Player on your computer), listening for the information to answer the specific question that you wrote.

Step 5. Did listening with a specific purpose help your comprehension? Play the speech again, check to see if your answers were correct. Can you add any new details?



Keep track of your successes in a journal. Save your questions and answers to track your progress. Is your listening comprehension improving? Do you feel more comfortable listening when you have a purpose? As you become more experienced with listening for specific information are the questions you develop becoming more and more specific?




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