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English learners can improve their listening skills by transcribing spoken English.

That advice comes from Pascal Hamon, the Academic Director for the English Language Institute at Missouri State University.

Students often study listening comprehension in less than interesting, even boring ways, he adds. Transcription, however, provides a fun way to improve one's listening skills.

At VOA Learning English, we often receive questions from English learners about how they can improve their listening skills.

Some learners want to build up general English skills, while others want to take exams that involve listening skills.

Take the TOEFL exam, for example. International students who want to attend an American college or university are often required to pass TOEFL, short for the Test of English as a Foreign Language.

This test has a listening section. It asks students to show their ability to understand short and long conversations in English. Those discussions are designed to test one's understanding of common vocabulary, idiomatic expressions, and special grammatical constructions used in speech.

Whether you want to build general English skills or prepare for a test, being able to understand spoken English is a necessary skill. And you will not get better at this skill unless you practice!

Pascal Hamon says that listening exercises should force English learners to focus on turning the sounds that they hear into words. Then, learners must use their brains to turn these words into a message.

Many students try to learn listening skills by performing listening comprehension activities. Hamon believes that such exercises have value but do not force the student to decode individual sounds.

Worse, some English learners listen to television or radio programs in English, but do not actively try to study how native speakers say words and sentences.

Building listening skills does not have to be boring, says Hamon. There are fun, game-like activities that build listening skills.

One such activity, Hamon says, is to make transcriptions.

Transcribing is the act of writing down the words that have been spoken.

English learners should start working with transcriptions by finding audio or video material that has a transcript with it, Hamon says.

Then, he adds, English learners can start practicing.

They listen to a segment as many times as they need, and they try to write everything they hear without subtitles, without, just focusing on what they hear. And then they can check with the actual transcript to see what they got right, what they did not get right, if there are areas where they thought they heard two words but there is actually only one, or they missed a verb ending or plural or something.

Students should not stop the transcription exercise there, however. Hamon says that students should always try to learn from their mistakes. Students should think, Hamon adds, about what they could do better. By identifying problems, and repeating the exercise, English learners will improve their listening skills.

You can start practicing transcription on your own by following these steps. First, find audio that has a printed transcript, but do not look at the words. You should choose audio that is right for your level. One way you could do this on our website is to open a story and start listening to the audio before reading the story. All of our stories have audio below the headline of the story.

Second, listen to a short section of the audio many times. After you have listened many times, try to write down what you hear.

Third, compare what you wrote against the story.

Finally, think about, as Hamon suggested, where you had problems. Ask yourself the following questions. What do I need to improve? What words or sounds did I not hear?

Remember, when you transcribe something, you do not always have to choose a news story. You could choose a song or part of a movie that you like. Just be sure that you are able to find a transcript for it to check your work.

To get you started, let me give you something to transcribe. Listen to part of a song at the end of this story. The song is called, How Deep is the Ocean, and the singer is American Billie Holiday.
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  |  12036 learners#Education #Speeches

During a long day spent roaming the forest in search of edible grains and herbs, the weary divine farmer Shennong accidentally poisoned himself 72 times.
But before the poisons could end his life, a leaf drifted into his mouth. He chewed on it and it revived him, and that is how we discovered tea. Or so an ancient legend goes at least.
Tea doesn't actually cure poisonings, but the story of Shennong, the mythical Chinese inventor of agriculture, highlights tea's importance to ancient China.
Archaeological evidence suggests tea was first cultivated there as early as 6,000 years ago, or 1,500 years before the pharaohs built the Great Pyramids of Giza.
That original Chinese tea plant is the same type that's grown around the world today, yet it was originally consumed very differently. It was eaten as a vegetable or cooked with grain porridge.
Tea only shifted from food to drink 1,500 years ago when people realized that a combination of heat and moisture could create a complex and varied taste out of the leafy green. After hundreds of years of variations to the preparation method, the standard became to heat tea, pack it into portable cakes, grind it into powder, mix with hot water, and create a beverage called muo cha, or matcha. Matcha became so popular that a distinct Chinese tea culture emerged.
Tea was the subject of books and poetry, the favorite drink of emperors, and a medium for artists. They would draw extravagant pictures in the foam of the tea, very much like the espresso art you might see in coffee shops today.
In the 9th century during the Tang Dynasty, a Japanese monk brought the first tea plant to Japan. The Japanese eventually developed their own unique rituals around tea, leading to the creation of the Japanese tea ceremony. And in the 14th century during the Ming Dynasty, the Chinese emperor shifted the standard from tea pressed into cakes to loose leaf tea.
At that point, China still held a virtual monopoly on the world's tea trees, making tea one of three essential Chinese export goods, along with porcelain and silk. This gave China a great deal of power and economic influence as tea drinking spread around the world. That spread began in earnest around the early 1600s when Dutch traders brought tea to Europe in large quantities.
Many credit Queen Catherine of Braganza, a Portuguese noble woman, for making tea popular with the English aristocracy when she married King Charles II in 1661. At the time, Great Britain was in the midst of expanding its colonial influence and becoming the new dominant world power. And as Great Britain grew, interest in tea spread around the world. By 1700, tea in Europe sold for ten times the price of coffee and the plant was still only grown in China.
The tea trade was so lucrative that the world's fastest sailboat, the clipper ship, was born out of intense competition between Western trading companies.
All were racing to bring their tea back to Europe first to maximize their profits.
At first, Britain paid for all this Chinese tea with silver. When that proved too expensive, they suggested trading tea for another substance, opium.
This triggered a public health problem within China as people became addicted to the drug. Then in 1839, a Chinese official ordered his men to destroy massive British shipments of opium as a statement against Britain's influence over China. This act triggered the First Opium War between the two nations. Fighting raged up and down the Chinese coast until 1842 when the defeated Qing Dynasty ceded the port of Hong Kong to the British and resumed trading on unfavorable terms. The war weakened China's global standing for over a century.
The British East India company also wanted to be able to grow tea themselves and further control the market. So they commissioned botanist Robert Fortune to steal tea from China in a covert operation. He disguised himself and took a perilous journey through China's mountainous tea regions, eventually smuggling tea trees and experienced tea workers into Darjeeling, India. From there, the plant spread further still, helping drive tea's rapid growth as an everyday commodity.
Today, tea is the second most consumed beverage in the world after water, and from sugary Turkish Rize tea, to salty Tibetan butter tea, there are almost as many ways of preparing the beverage as there are cultures on the globe.
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  |  10671 learners#Culture #Stories
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