Teachers often describe listening tasks as being of two different sorts. The first is listening for gist. That means listening for a very general concept in an extract. Imagine listening to the following extract;
In my job there tends to be a great deal of freedom. I mean, I don't have to be in an office at 9am sharp wearing a tie and a name tag. I can work from home and the most important thing is simply that the job is done and that the plans meet the clients' expectations. Are they satisfied that the building I've designed meets their needs? So this job requires a greater degree of personal discipline. There isn't somebody looking over me 10hours a day.
When testing to see if a student has understood the gist of the text an appropriate question would be simply; What is the speakers job? (An architect )
The second kind of listening task involves listening for specific detail. From the extract above a question for detail might be "What characteristic does his job require of him?" - (personal discipline )
Possibly the single greatest mistake that language learners make when doing any kind of listening is that they wrongly believe that they have to catch EVERY SINGLE word in order to follow what's going on. This is NOT necessary nor does it necessarily happen in native speaker speech. Often when people are from different places and speak with different accents or one of the speaker tends to speak in a muffled or mumbly way communication still continues.
From the extract above imagine if I had a low level of English comprehension and for me the extract above sounded like this:
In my job there blab la to be a great blabla of freedom . I mean, I don't have to be in an office at 9am blab la blab la blab la blab la. I can work from home and the most important thing is blabla simply that the job is done and that the plans blab la blab la clients ' blab la bla bla. Are they bla bla that the building I've designed blab la blabla? So this job blab la bla personal discipline. There isn't somebody looking blab la bla 10hours a day.
Even with almost half of the extract sounding like bla bla bla to me I still have the information I need to be able to complete the task. This is called global listening. Too often when a language learner is listening to an extract he/she simply shuts down and gives up after encountering the first bla bla. Thinking that if he hasn't caught all of the words then he just won't understand anything at all. This is 100% false.
On the other hand, some students have become so well trained at listening and spend so much time watching English language films and listening to music that they can easily make assumptions about the missing information and make guesses from the context of what was being said. As a result the learner has a much higher level of 'receptive English' than their actual 'productive English'. Another way of saying this is simply that they understand more than they can say.
TIP= Watching films on DVD can be a great way to develop listening skills. This technology can be very helpful these days. I used to use this technique when I was learning Polish. Watch a clip of your favorite film in the original English language and then watch the clip a second time this time with the English subtitles on. How well did you understand the clip? Did you catch everything? What words gave you a hard time or were new for you completely? You can then watch the clip with Polish subtitles to see if your interpretation of the English was accurate.