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Two students talking

This page will help you better understand conversations, class lectures, and presentations through simple listening and note-taking strategies.

General Listening Tips

This Effective Listening video course includes many short videos that explain how to remember details, empathize, avoid distractions, clarify your role, use nonverbal cues, paraphrase, and mirror emotions while listening.

To access the video, University of Minnesota students should:

  1. Click "Sign in"
  2. Click "Sign in with your organization portal"
  3. Type "umn.edu"
  4. Enter your internet ID and password

When possible, think about the topic ahead of time. This will help you activate vocabulary you might hear and be more ready to understand what is said. Ask yourself:

  • What do I already know about this topic?
  • Can I predict what the speaker might say or talk about?
  • What vocabulary might I hear?

Before a class:

  • do the assigned reading
  • take notes and write questions that you have about the material
  • review PowerPoint slides if the instructors provides them in advance

Before group work: 

  • read related materials
  • take notes
  • write questions that you have about the material before the meeting
  • work on or take notes on what the group might talk about

Before a meeting (with an advisor, doctor, teaching assistant, etc.):

  • think about what topics you will probably talk about
  • review vocabulary you might need to know for this situation

Before a conversation: 

  • think about what you might talk about. (What kinds of topics do you normally talk about with this person? Are there current events or activities happening around campus that you might discuss?)

Use active listening strategies:

  • Sit up straight and stay alert.
  • Sit near the speaker (or in the front in a class or meeting).
  • Make eye contact with the speaker.
  • Be ready to take notes if needed.

Ask clarifying questions to make sure you understand information correctly.

  • Do you mean…?
  • Are you saying…?
  • In other words…?

Ask additional questions when you don’t understand something:

  • Could you repeat that?
  • Can you explain that?
  • What do you mean by…?
  • I didn't understand the part about…
  • What did you mean when you said…?
  • Could you be more specific about…?
  • Could you give an example of that?
  • Can you say more about…?

After a class: 
Review your notes and take time to organize and complete them. This will help you find gaps in your understanding, review your materials, and make your studying more efficient later. If there were parts you didn’t understand, contact your instructor or a classmate for help.

After a group work meeting: 
Review your notes. Make sure you understand what you need to do, what deadlines you agreed to, and when your group will meet again.

After meetings or conversations: 
If there were any parts you didn’t understand you might Google more information, look up new words you encountered, or ask a friend to explain any terms, ideas, or jokes that you missed.

Understanding Fast Speech

When speaking, there are many things American English speakers do to change their pronunciation and speak faster. This might make it harder for you to understand fast speech, but there are patterns for how fast speech changes. Watch the videos below to understand some features of fast speech, then take a listening quiz for each video to test your understanding.


Read the video transcript.

Listening quiz on "Blending Sounds"



Read the video transcript.

Listening quiz on "Common Fast Phrases"



Read the video transcript.

Listening quiz on "T Sounds Like D"



Read the video transcript.

Listening quiz on "Dropping the H Sound"



Read the video transcript.

Listening quiz on "Dropping Syllables"


Finally, take this Fast Speech Listening Quiz to hear a mix of many different examples of fast speech. How many can you understand?

Resources for Understanding Fast Speech