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Self-Study Using Dictations

Question: Hi Teacher Joe. I read your ideas about using dictations in the August issue of College English. It seems like a good way to improve my listening skills while also learning new vocabulary and sentences. Sometimes, however, I don't know if I should listen word by word, sentence by sentence, or paragraph by paragraph. Can you give me any suggestions? Thanks! From ZLL, Shanghai.

Answer: Hello ZZL. Many readers of College English have taken my advice on dictations. I really do think that dictations are one of the best ways to learn a language. When you listen to something in English and try to write down every word, you find out very clearly what your strong and weak points are.

One big advantage of using dictations is that it is good for students of all levels. So, if you can only catch a few words, that's okay for now. If you can catch whole sentences, even better! With practice, you will reach a point where you can understand whole paragraphs without missing any words. Then you won't have to write anything, just go on to the next paragraph until you find some words you can't catch. The most important thing is to do it at your own pace. Don't worry about how other people might do it. If you just do your best, you will surely succeed. (Go to www.teacherjoe.us/Dicts.html to try some dictations online!)

Some readers asked me other questions about dictations. For example, some want to know how many times they should listen to a sentence. The answer is that you should listen as many times as it takes to write down all the sounds. You really should try to write down every sound, even if you don't understand the meaning completely. After you've done your best, then you can look at the text to see how many words you got right.

Other readers asked me what they should listen to. Of course, you should choose materials that are recorded, so that you can repeat them for the dictations. DVDs, recordings of radio programs, songs or textbook cassettes are all good. The most useful material will be anything spoken at natural speed. If you want to start with textbook cassettes, it's okay at first, but after you start to improve, you should challenge yourself and listen to real English that is made for English speakers. Although it seems difficult at first, you will be a much better listener by doing such practice.

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