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Listening Section

In this video, we’re going to look at the listening section in a bit more detail. First, let’s talk about the content. A lot of what you’ll hear in TOEFL listening recordings is similar to the reading tasks. That is, the topics will be academic, like what you might study at a university. Now these topics, just like the reading, might be completely new for you personally.

There will be new words in most lectures. Words that you don’t hear in normal conversation. So for example, if you have a lecture on chemistry, you might hear the word oxidize. Now, this is a very specific word, specifically for chemistry. If you’re not studying chemistry, you almost never need this word.

It’s not important for normal, everyday English. But it will appear in the lectures, you will hear a word like this. And that might make them a little bit scary. It might make the lectures a little bit scary. But remember this, you don’t need to know words like oxidize before the test. These subject specific words will be defined or explained in the lecture.

By the way, these are academic lectures, but that doesn’t mean they’re boring. The ideas maybe subject specific and new for ,you but they can be fascinating, really interesting. And if you’re interested, you’ll remember it better. So you want to try to be interested, try to understand and enjoy the lectures. That way, you’ll actually remember the information better, and that’s a good thing, of course.

Now, as we said, they’re very similar to reading passages. College life conversations are the other type of listening you’ll get. These are real life conversations, not in a classroom. But it’s not exactly separate from that academic topic, because these are still about school life. Often, the person you’ll hear talking is, or the people you’ll hear talking are a student and a professor.

The professor will not be in class. This is not a classroom conversation. It’s the student talking with the professor in an office setting. That’s important because they’re not really academic language, like lectures are. You’ll hear more informal language, more idioms, more relaxed speech.

And there will be more changes in topics too. You could hear the students talking with other people at the school as well. They might talk with anybody who works at the school or lives at the school, really. Again, these conversations are about the students’ life and studies. What’s important is the type of lang, language you’ll hear, which is a little different from the academic lectures.

Now, how hard are the TOEFL listening recordings? Well, I do have some good news. They’re easier than normal, natural, native speech. If you hear two Americans talking to each other, or two English people talking to each other, they’re going to talk in a way that’s harder to understand than what you’ll hear in the TOEFL recordings.

So that’s great. What, why is that? They’re scripted, these are actors, they’re reading, they’re not speaking naturally. And although that might sound difficult, because TV and movies are very, very hard to understand, and those are from scripts.

The TOEFL actually has bad actors. These are not TV actors. They’re not movie actors. They don’t sound like real life. They sound like people reading and that makes them clearer, easier to understand. Now, this is true of both lectures and conversations.

What’s also true of both lectures and conversations is that they try to make them natural. Notice I put these quotation marks here, because they’re not really natural. They’re just a little bit more like people speak in real life, because they have pauses and repetitions. That is, the people will say er, and they’ll repeat themselves.

And they’ll say the same twice or maybe three times. These pauses and repetitions are in the scripts, though. They don’t sound exactly like real life pauses and real life repetitions. They’re a little easier to understand, again. You won’t miss any questions simply because you didn’t hear it. You will hear everything.

The bad news is that there’s a lot of information in these recordings. The conversation topics can change very quickly, and the lectures are whole topics, whole subjects in just five minutes. There’s a lot of information, so that means notes are very important. They are absolutely key. You need to take some structural notes, so that you can understand and remember everything that you heard.

What about the clock? Most students take about 30 seconds per question. You can really take more than that. It’s possible to take closer to a minute on each question, but it’s not really necessary. It’s not needed.

Generally, it’s not really a problem. This is one area of the test when timing is the smaller problem. The bigger issue is notes. Now, there are two common problems when taking notes. Taking too many, and not taking enough. What you need, then, is balance.

And in order to improve this, you need to practice a lot. You need to take too many notes sometimes, and take almost no notes other times. And try to find the right amount of notes for you. It’s different for everybody. Over time with enough practice, you’ll learn how much notes you need to score your best on the listening section.

The most important thing when you take those notes, is that you write down the big ideas. At the minimum, you want have the structure of the listening on paper. You want to know the main ideas and the main details. Now, this is a little bit difficult to do. It takes time and practice and experience with TOEFL listenings to understand how they’re structured.

So again, practice is key. Doing this helps you to stay focused. It helps you to pay attention. If you have a pencil in your hand and you’re paying attention to the structure of the, of the lecture, or of the conversation, then you’ll pay more attention.

If you’re not taking notes, you might stare into space and forget where you are and lose your, lose track of what’s happening, and you might not hear some parts. So taking notes can be really, really helpful and very important in that part. When you do write notes, use your own words. You can shorten words.

For example, the word because could become just b/c. It’s faster that way. Or the word with can just become w/, also faster. Or you can use symbols you know, arrows, hearts, if somebody likes something. Mathematical symbols. Or, you can use your own language if you want.

Whatever is fastest for you is the bets style for notes. They have to be quick, quick, quick. Now, finally, let’s talk about some question types. There are altogether seven different types of questions that you’ll see in the TOEFL listening. Some of them are very similar to what you hear in the, or what you read in the reading passages.

The first of those is detail questions. They are, again, very similar to what you get in the reading. They ask about a specific fact from the recording, a specific detail. Main idea questions ask about possibly why a conversation happened. These are, purpose ones are usually about conversations. Why did the student visit the professor?

You might get main idea that’s more about content though. What was the conversation about? Or, what was the lecture mainly about? These are just big picture, big idea questions that usually are about the beginning of the text, or ,sorry lecture or conversation. Next, we have function questions.

These ask why a person says a certain phrase or sentence. They often come with a short repeated clip from the recording. You’ll hear something like, why does the professor say this? And then there’s a bit of repeated lecture. Attitude questions ask about how people are feeling. You can often answer these by the tone of voice.

Do they sound angry, excited, relaxed? Inference questions are again, similar to the reading. They ask about something that’s not exactly in the listening, but you can figure it out. You might get some detail a, and detail b, and using detail a and detail b together, you can figure out, come to some conclusion of detail c.

These are very, very small conclusions. You don’t need to use a lot of thinking. It’s just a little bit of thinking. Often, it’s a combination of detail and attitude. You hear a tone of voice. Maybe the person sounds sad.

And you hear them say some specific detail. And together, you can figure out what the person might do. You can figure out what the person might say. All right. And finally, we have two more that are a little bit bigger. Organization questions ask you to understand how the whole lecture or the whole conversation was structured.

Notes are very, very important for these. And category questions ask you to understand where certain details fit in categories. You might have some category, maybe about, let’s say a lecture on the US revolutionary war, that’s America fighting England. So you might have something about the US, America and the UK that’s Britain, England.

And you might have some details, A, B, C, D. And you need to categorize them. A and B are about the US. C is about the UK and D is about the US or something like that, that’s just an example. All right.

And that’s all for the introduction to the listening section. Thank you.

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