March 30, 2016

Language Learning Techniques – How to Develop your Listening Comprehension

We hope you enjoyed our Language Learning experience posts over the past few weeks.

In the posts that follow, we are going to look at different techniques to develop your skills in your chosen language in four different areas: listening, speaking, reading and writing.

This posts gives you a few tips on how to develop your listening comprehension skills. Like any other skill, listening can be developed with practice. Good listening skills also help you improve your speaking skills.

Remember that there are only a few situations when you need to listen hard to and understand every word – like an announcement telling you when your flight is at the airport. Most of the time it’s not necessary to understand everything, so don’t worry if you don’t catch every word.

Another thing to remember is that if you are speaking to someone, you can ask them to repeat something. This is a normal part of speech so will not disrupt the conversation. The important thing to do when listening is…relax (but be active)!

listening skills

Learn Listening By…Listening

A few posts ago, we recommended you immerse yourself in the language you are learning in order to become more familiar with it. So the first thing to do to develop your listening skills is to listen to your chosen language as much as you possibly can. You will be surprised how much you pick up.

You can chose to have the sound on in the background while you are doing something else so as to get used to how the language sounds or you can take part in active listening. The two tasks have different goals.

You can find material to help you develop your listening skills on the radio, on TV or in audio books.

Preparing for Listening

In most conversations you have or situations you experience, you usually know more or less what is going to be talked about, so you know what kinds of words are going to be used. Approach listening exercises by preparing for what you are about to hear: make decisions about what to listen for and what to focus attention on while listening.

Ambient Listening

Listen to the radio thorough your headphones while you are walking or listen to music in your chosen language while you are cooking, doing the housework or relaxing. This will mean you get used to hearing the sounds of the language. It also means that you will not feel stressed when it comes to active listening because you will already be familiar with the sounds of the language.

It is important that this is not your only listening activity. The trick is to combine different types of listening so that you make progress.

Active Listening

There are a number of tasks you can do to practice listening actively – that means listening with a purpose, focusing your attention and listening out for specific details. Active listening requires you to take action based on what you have heard.

  1. Listen for one element in speech patterns rather than listening for meaning: listen for sounds, for tones, for melody, for stress and so on. You can then practise applying these patterns to your speaking.
  2. Pick out as many words as you can without worrying about understanding everything. The more you do this, the more words you will understand each time.
  3. Decide on a topic and try to pick out key words to do with that topic. Write them down so you have a list of topic-specific vocabulary to refer to.
  4. Try to transcribe what you hear. You can pause the audio and go back if you miss something or need to listen to it again. Many online radio programmes have transcripts that you can check yours against.
  5. Read the transcript whilst listening to a radio programme. That way you will be able to hear exactly what the speakers are saying.
  6. Listen to music and read the lyrics. There are lots of music videos online with lyrics that you can read along to.
  7. Listen to the same segment again and again to see how much more you understand each time.


You can find a lot of listening resources on the internet. If you search for the name of the language you are learning + ‘radio’, you will more than likely be given a list of radio stations you can choose from. Some of the online radio stations have tailored listening exercises for language learners, such as Radio France Internationale (scroll down to ‘Apprendre le français’ or see the Journal en français facile (News Report in Easy French) or Deutsche Welle.

A Word on Vocabulary

In order to develop your listening skills, it is also important that you keep up your on-paper study of vocabulary and grammar too. This will mean you will recognise more of the words in the audio you are listening to.

And, most importantly, have fun!

Written by Suzannah Young

March 23, 2016

Easter around the globe

In some countries Easter is much more than chocolate eggs and a bank holiday weekend. From water fights to crucifixion, we’ll take you through some of the most interesting Easter traditions from around the globe.

Eastern and Central Europe

In countries such as Poland, Slovakia and Hungary is it a tradition to celebrate Easter Monday with a water fight. Men throw buckets of water at women, a custom which originally represented a cleansing process and was meant to increase women’s fertility. In Czech Republic, the tradition has taken a slightly more worrying turn and the women are (gently) beaten with sticks.


In Traustein, in the south of Germany, hundreds of men dressed in traditional costumes take part in an Easter horseback parade.

Iberian Peninsula

Easter is taken very seriously in Spain and Portugal, where it’s known as Semana Santa. Religious processions walk through the towns, adorned with candles and Catholic statues, accompanied by marching bands for a dramatic effect. However, it’s the hooded figures, known as nazarenos that are the most surprising of all.

The Philippines

During Easter many Filipino men decide to undergo the suffering of Christ by being publically whipped with bamboo sticks and eventually crucified. This is believed to cleanse them of their sins and cure illnesses.


On Good Friday, the locals of Bermuda look to the sky to watch children fly their homemade kites. Afterwards they enjoy a breakfast of hot cross buns.

Happy Easter!

Easter 2015

March 16, 2016

Interview with Multilingual Matters

Multilingual Matters is an international independent publishing house with lists in the areas of bilingualism, second/foreign language learning, sociolinguistics, translation and books for parents.

Most publishing companies tend to be based in London. Why did you choose Bristol?
The company was originally based in Clevedon where the company’s founders Mike and Marjukka Grover lived. When they retired and their son Tommi Grover became Managing Director we moved our office to Bristol as that’s where the majority of the staff lived.

As your publications are highly specialised, are your staff also experts in the area?
We are not all specialists in applied linguistics and tourism studies, our expertise lies in publishing not the world of academia. All our books are peer reviewed by academics working in the field to ensure that the content is accurate and appropriate.

Are all your publications written by academics or are other professionals also considered?
The majority of our books are written by academics but we do publish a small number of books aimed at parents and teachers, some of which are written by non-academics. These books are usually for a more general audience and are more accessible to the general reader. The most popular of these titles is A Parents’ and Teachers’ Guide to Bilingualism by Colin Baker which is a guide for parents bringing up their children with more than one language or teachers working with multilingual children.

Do you organise any events, such as meetings with authors or discussion forums?
We don’t tend to organise our own events but we attend a number of conferences every year where we meet with authors and often we participate in a publisher session where we advise academics, particularly younger postgraduates, on the process of academic publishing and how to get their research published.

What would you say are the most interesting aspects of working in publishing?
Working for a small independent publisher allows for a lot of variety and flexibility that isn’t always possible in bigger publishers. It’s also great to work with the same people over several years so you can build good relationships – both with colleagues in the office and authors in the academic world.

How has the publishing sector changed in the era of e-books?
People have been saying for decades that the increasing popularity of ebooks will cause the death of the print book but so far that hasn’t happened although we are selling fewer print books and more ebooks all the time. More university libraries are purchasing electronic content for students and many of our customers prefer to read books on a tablet or e-reader rather than in print these days. However, we’re pretty sure that the print book isn’t going to disappear any time soon!

Thank you!

Multilingual Matters -- photo

Interviewed by Bristol Language School  
Photo courtesy of Multilingual Matters

March 9, 2016

Book Review: Growing up with Three Languages by Xiao-Lei Wang

Raising children bilingually sounds challenging enough, but trilingually? Xiao-Lei Wang and her husband decided to teach their children their heritage languages: Chinese and French, while living in the USA. They were very serious about this project and gave their full attention and creativity to make it work for their boys who are now trilingual! Xiao-Lei Wang described their experience in the book Growing up with Three Languages. Birth to Eleven and says that one of the motives behind this publication was the lack of successful examples of multilingual upbringing practises. By writing this book Xiao-Lei Wang wanted to help parents discover the possibilities of raising multilingual children. This is not to say that the task in itself was somehow easy and without difficulty or frustration, rather it was overall an enjoyable and rewarding process.

Growing up with three languages

Growing up with Three Languages was recommended to me by a friend who is planning to raise her daughter trilingually and found some of the book’s guidelines very useful. I particularly enjoyed its style, case studies, real-life examples, friendly reader approach and long lists of resources. I would point out however that the addition of an all-in-one bibliography would have been useful.

The author highlights a number of key factors on the process of raising children trilingually. Firstly , if we are planning to raise our children multilingually, we must ask ourselves a number of questions: from our reasons and motives, practicalities and teaching methods to our children’s names (yes, that is important, too!) and then deciding whether they should be going to a supplementary school or not. Secondly, let’s make the whole process as interesting, enjoyable and also positively challenging as we can, so that it does not feel like a chore both for us and for our little ones. Thirdly, we should not forget that communication should always be the most important priority and that language learning is a life-long process (I certainly agree with this!).

I would definitely recommend this book to any parent who is planning to raise their children multilingually, and it is an undeniably helpful resource for those whose heritage languages are Chinese or French.

Written by Kinga Macalla

March 2, 2016

On Languages: Polish

What makes Polish SO hard?

It seems that Polish grammar is the one responsible for these rumours! Many people are led to believe that Polish grammar is impossibly complex and simply un-learnable, but truth be told, it follows a set of logical and regular rules.


Let us explain a few of the reasons why some people are put off learning Polish:
• Nouns can have three genders: masculine, female and neuter
• There are seven grammatical cases, which means that each noun and adjective can have seven different endings
• Verbs come in two aspects (English doesn’t have grammatical aspects)
• The pronunciation is just impossible!

Okay, this might sound like a difficult language to learn, but don’t worry. While some things may appear harder, some things are definitely easier. For example:

There are no articles – people who learn English often struggle with when to use “a”, “an”, “the” or nothing at all. In Polish, however, you don’t have to worry about this, you just say the word as it is with no article.
Word order is flexible – the case system means that syntax (that is, the word order within a sentence) is more flexible than in English. You therefore don’t have to worry as much about how to structure your sentences.
Fewer verb tenses – English has 16 grammatical tenses! This is extremely difficult for most non-native speakers. Polish, on the other hand, has only 5 tenses (or 3 tenses and 2 aspects, depends on how you count). This means that what in English can be expressed in three different ways: “I read”, “I am reading” and “I have been reading” in Polish is reduced to a simple “Czytam”.
Lots of vocabulary with Latin roots – you might be surprised by the amount of vocabulary that will be very familiar to you, for example:
Situation – sytuacja
Motivation – motywacja
Conversation – konwersacja etc.
Phonetic alphabet – unlike in English, once you learn the rules, you can look up any word and know how to pronounce it based on its spelling.

As you can see, there are lots of areas where Polish is not so difficult (and perhaps even easier than English!). Yes, it may seem strange and difficult at first due to its phonology (i.e. the system of sounds) and grammatical structures that simply don’t exist in English, such as the case system or verb aspects. However, any language can be learnt with motivation and perseverance, and there will always be elements that won’t have an equivalent in your native language.

Written by Alicja Zajdel