5 ways to listen for the GIST in an English CONVERSATION!



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No doubt you will find listening difficult if you are a keen student and work hard at your grammar and perhaps can even write very well. The reason for this is that when someone speaks they

  • don’t always speak clearly
  • may not be using the vocabulary you are used to
  • shorten words
  • use slang
  • sometimes don’t even use the right grammar – AND they may be a native speaker too!

But don’t worry, there is a whole new way of learning to listen that is quite different to the other English disciplines. The technique is called ‘listening for the gist’.

gist:  the general meaning of a spoken passage

So how do we listen for the gist?

  1. Listen for key words

Key words will pop up through the conversation that will at least give you an idea of what the passage is about.


  1. Listen for the tone of voice

If it is a conversation, you can get the feeling of the message by how the people are talking? Are they sounding happy, sad, angry…listen to the tone. This will let you know at least the intentions of the people talking.


  1. Listen for any repeated words or phrases

If it is a conversation there will be quite a bit of repetition. Listen for what is repeated, often these will be key words or questions.


  1. Listen for intonation

Intonation is when the sound in a sentence goes up and down. Chances are if the sound is going up at the end of a sentence, you are listening to a question, if it goes down at the end of a sentence it will be a sentence confirming something.


  1. Don’t worry if you don’t get everything

The most important thing is to relax and don’t worry. That way you will be able to relax into the inner message of the discussion. This will help you with its intention and its overall message.




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