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How to Become a Better Listener for Your Language Proficiency Exam

June 4, 2021

How to Become a Better Listener for Your Language Proficiency Exam

Strategizing to improve your listening skills can help immensely on a language proficiency exam. Becoming a better listener will also improve your relationships and lead to more positive interactions in your workplace, community or family life. But what does it mean to be a good listener and how can you improve?

The Art of Listening 

In Transactions on Professional Communication published by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, author Marion Haynes describes listening as "the process of taking in information and synthesizing it into an understandable message." What does that mean? When we really listen to another person speak, we are actively absorbing information and learning from them. Haynes goes on to describe the detective work that comes with listening. She identifies common clues that help with understanding, which include "how things are said, what is not said, and nonverbal behaviour" of the person you are listening to. On a practical level, her research indicates that we should listen for more than just words in order to fully grasp the meaning of a conversation. This insight is helpful in social situations within your community or workplace and is certainly worth considering when you are preparing for a language proficiency exam. 

Language Proficiency Exams 

There are several language proficiency exams out there, but one of the most popular is the Canadian English Language Proficiency Index Program. CELPIP is the leading English test for immigration, citizenship, and professional designations in Canada, so you will absolutely want to put your best foot forward on this exam. 

Demonstrating Your Listening Skills 

During the listening component of a language proficiency exam, audio passages are typically played only once. That may sound intimidating at first, but it does mirror real life where we often only have one chance to hear someone make a statement or share a thought. Questions typically come after the audio is played for you, so you can focus on one task at a time.  On the CELPIP exam, all of the questions are multiple-choice. That means you will not need to write out lengthy answers or descriptions of what you are hearing. You will be given a list of possible answers and must select the correct one. If you are unsure of the answer, try to guess anyways because you may just stumble upon the correct answer and improve your overall score. This is a lot like real life too, where we occasionally have to guess or make assumptions if we cannot perfectly understand or hear what is being said.  The listening passages and questions also get progressively harder as you go along through the CELPIP exam. Ideally, you can build up your confidence by answering some of the earlier questions with ease and efficiency before the more challenging listening passages come along. 

The Heart of the Message 

When you are listening to a passage for a language proficiency exam, consider the central theme or idea. Use the following questions as a guide for your listening: 

  • Who are the speakers? 
  • How do they know each other? 
  • Are they friends, strangers or colleagues? 
  • What general idea or problem are the people talking about? 
  • How do the people feel? 
  • What are the next steps? 

You can also listen for dramatic pauses, tone of voice and word stress. The words people say are important, but sometimes the way that people say something is even more important for helping you grasp the meaning. If you are feeling at all lost, try not to get caught up by the information that you do not understand. Instead, focus on your strengths and pay close attention to the key details that you do understand, and which make sense to you. This will not only build your confidence, but will also help you develop a fuller grasp of the situation and create a clearer mental image. 

Next Steps 

There are also numerous continuing education courses and educational opportunities to help you boost up your listening skills before your exam. Consider taking a CELPIP preparation course to fully immerse yourself in the language and get expert guidance from a qualified educator. A business communication course is another excellent way to build up your skills in all areas of language proficiency. When you are ready to book your exam, look for a professional and secure venue such as Ashton Testing Services. 

Written by: CJ McGillivray