Welcome to my fifth post on practicing the skills measured by the TOEFL. Last time I told you about the general, non-academic listening skills measured in the TOEFL Listening Section. Now we’ll look at the academic TOEFL Listening skills you should practice. You’ll need to listen to school-related conversations and course lectures. In the TOEFL Listening section, there are two conversations and four lectures. In the lectures, sometimes only the professor will speak. Other times, the professor and students will both speak in a back-and-forth discussion.
Understanding New Information and Making Inferences
The best way to understand English conversation and discussion is to practice it yourself. Seek out academic conversations with English speakers. Use a service like Skype or Google Voice to could call up the admissions office at an English-language university or college you want to attend. To learn more about academic life, you could call many other offices as well: student life offices, housing offices, dining centers, etc… When you make these calls, it doesn’t hurt to ask if you could talk to some students who are already there, to ask them about campus life. During these conversations, practice your skills in understanding and inference. Take notes about what is being said and the inferences you’re making. When you can, check to see if your inferences are correct by asking your phone conversation partners.
There are many ways you can listen to classroom discussions. Kate (has already told you about iTunes U. Many of the free lectures available through iTunes U are “discussion format” with 2 or 3 different speakers. Popsci lists several discussion format science podcasts as well. Then there’s Educause, a site that lets you listen to live discussions about higher education. You can even ask questions to the speakers via text. Ebay offers similar live webinars about online selling. At free live webinars, check your comprehension by asking the speakers if you have understood them correctly.
For online lectures with just one speaker, Kate suggests Khan Academy and Rita recommends TED Talks. I definitely agree. For help in checking comprehension, be sure to look at transcripts of select Khan Academy lectures. The TED website has transcripts of all of their talks. Even better, TED has a website just for ESL learners. The TED talks on TEDxESL are usually short, sometimes as short as 3-5 minutes. This makes them more like the short audio tracks in the TOEFL Listening section. I will add RSA to the web resources Kate and Rita have recommended. RSA’s academic lectures come with transcripts and are usually less than 10 minutes long. The clever, fun animation that comes with them can help you understand as you listen. (But for a truly TOEFL-like experience, just listen without watching the screen.) With these kinds of lectures, make note of new information and your inferences. Check your notes with a study partner who has also listened to the lecture.
Adding New Information to What You’ve Heard
The TOEFL measures two “information addition” listening skills. You will be asked to create an outline that lists a series of events or steps in a process. Additionally, you will be asked to put ideas you have heard into categories. These categories are entered into charts.
You can practice these skills using phone conversations, online lectures, podcasts, or webinars. During a call to a university admissions office, you could take notes on the steps to applying, being accepted, and beginning your studies. Similarly, you can list events while you listen to a history lecture, or list developmental stages while listening to a lecture on animal life cycles.
Categorizing and charting needs to be done after you have listened and taken notes. Look at the information in your listening notes. How can it be categorized or charted? You may want to look at TOEFL listening charts from ETS’ official website so that you can make similar charts for yourself.