· 

How to perfect your listening skills in 6 easy steps

How to perfect your listening skills in 6 easy steps

Hi, I’m back for the latest episode of this blog. I hope you enjoyed reading my guide to learning a foreign language last time (link here).

Here are six simple steps to sharpen your listening skills:

Six Steps to Perfect Your Listening Skills
Six Steps to Perfect Your Listening Skills

In the above diagram, you see six steps to improve your listening skills. Let me go through this diagram in a bit more detail.

Step 1: When you start, you should actively listen to the song from beginning to end. Active listening means when you are listening for the words and meanings of the lyrics. Passive listening means that we don’t really pay attention to the lyrics, but just enjoy the melodies. If you have problems with the vocabulary, you should write down the unclear words as they are said/pronounced.

Step 2: Once you have done this, you then look at the title of the song and figure out a meaning to it. If you don’t understand a part of the title, then you should use an English-English dictionary to find another meaning to the title. If this doesn’t help, then you translate the words into your native language, but be careful because words have different meanings in different contexts.

Step 3: Then I would advise that you read the lyrics. Look at the words you may have written down and see whether you wrote them correctly. Look up the words in the dictionary.

Step 4: Then listen to the chorus without the text, as it is the most repeated part of the song.

Step 5: Listen to the song this time with the lyrics. Perhaps do this twice to become more confident. If you like singing, you can sing along as this also helps with your speaking. If you don’t like singing, then speak the words out loud.

Step 6: Once you are confident enough you understand all the lyrics, listen to the song from beginning to end without pausing. You should, by the end of this exercise, understand the meaning of the song and be able to understand the majority of it. Don’t worry if you don’t understand everything, you can always repeat this exercise numerous times, because you know how the saying goes, ‘Practice makes perfect!’

I would now like us to try this exercise with ABBA’s first big hit, ‘Waterloo’. Here is the link, enjoy!

Step 1: Listen to the song from beginning to end. If you have problems with the vocabulary, write it down how you think it is said.

Step 2: Once you have done this, you then look at the title of the song “Waterloo” and figure out a meaning to it. 

As many of you probably know, Waterloo is a place in Belgium and famous for Napoleons defeat by the English

Step 3: Now, let’s read the lyrics. Look at the vocabulary you may have written down and see whether you wrote it correctly. Look up the words in the dictionary.

Step 4: Then listen to the chorus without the text, as it is the most repeated part of the song.

Step 5: Listen to the song this time with the lyrics. Perhaps do this twice to become more confident. If you like singing, you can sing along as this also helps with your speaking. If you don’t like singing, then speak the words out loud.

Step 6: Once you are confident enough you understand all the lyrics, listen to the song from beginning to end without pausing. You should now understand the meaning of the song and be able to understand the majority of it. Don’t worry if you don’t understand everything, you can always repeat this exercise numerous times.

Why ABBA?

Why did I choose ABBA for our exercise? 

There are many answers to that question. Anyone can learn English from them. Despite them not being native speakers of the English language, they produced songs so as anyone who is learning English can learn from them. Their pitch perfect singing also allows you as a learner to make each and every word very clearly. 

My advice to you is really get into their music. Even if it’s not your sort of genre, they make it so easy to learn English. 

Coming from Sweden, they broke onto the world scene after their truly magical performance at the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974 with our practice song Waterloo. Let’s look in more depth at them! And listen to a few more songs to practise our new learnt skills on how to perfect our listening skills.

So, click on one of the videos below and enjoy! I’m looking forward to hearing from you about what you have learnt!

Who are they?

The basic answer to that is three Swedish nationals, Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson, Agnetha Fältskog and a Norwegian, Anni-Frid Lyngstad (Anni for short). Björn and Benny had known each other since the mid 1960s after they met during their early careers in Sweden. They met Anni and Agnetha in 1969. All of the musicians had been successful in Sweden during the late 1960s. Agnetha and Björn married in July 1971 and Benny and Anni married in October 1978.

How did they become popular?

They originally tried to qualify as Sweden’s Eurovision candidates with the song ‘Ring Ring’ in 1973. We already hear in this early recording the melodies and the perfection of the pitch. But, what we also hear is crystal-clear English pronunciation. This is despite none of the band coming from an English-speaking country. It has to be said, though, that the level of English is very high. For many English learners of all levels, but in particular for those of you starting out, this is a perfect place to start with the band. Here is just an example of some of the lyrics, which can be made out very clearly, “Won’t you tell me honey how I can go on here without you / I’m down I’m feeling blue and I don’t know what to do! / So, ring, ring, why don’t you give me a call?” Björn’s harmonic voice says, “And I all alone impatiently, won’t you please understand the need in me”. We can hear the perfect pronunciation and almost native-like intonation of all these lyrics.

Breakthrough

On the night of the 6thApril 1974, ABBA had their breakthrough! With metaphors of the Battle of Waterloo (British defeating the French at the Battle of the Waterloo, Belgium) and love, this is such a great song. The costumes worn are very extravagant and the guitar that Björn is playing looks very cool, with the shape of a star. This song, yet again, shows that perfect pronunciation we heard in their first track. Here are a few lyrics that can be heard clearly during the song, ‘My, my! At Waterloo Napoleon did surrender / I have met my destiny in quite a similar way / Waterloo, promised to love you forever more.’ What we also see is the almost symmetrical choreography, which would also be characteristic of all ABBA performances.

More success, please!

ABBA were not to be one-hit wonders, not at all! After breaking on to the world scene, they followed this up with song ‘SOS’, in 1975. SOS – meaning save our souls, depicts someone in danger of ‘not being able to carry on’. In this depiction, the musicians are firmly in love, yet the person they love is not interested. The visual effects show how someone can be in a twist and how lives can become distorted by love. ‘So when you’re near me darling, can’t you hear me SOS / The love you gave me, nothing else can save me SOS’. These lyrics are, yet again, clear as day to hear.

More hits, more popularity

The period between 1975 and 1980 was the most productive part of ABBA’s existence. 1976 saw the release of Fernando and 1977 saw ABBA release Dancing Queen which would be the only US number 1. A song which has a real quality to it because of the easy-going beat and melody. Every element of the song works perfectly, including the most important part – the English! ‘You’re in the mood for dance, when you get the chance, you are the dancing queen,’ proclaim Agnetha and Anni! ‘Friday night and the lights low, looking out for a place to go’ – something that we can all refer to in one way or another! ‘The night is young and the music is high!’ Such lyrics, which are crisply and succinctly sung, get us wanting to go to the dancefloor.

ABBA songs would not be ABBA without a bit of eccentricity, which we can see in the songs Chiquitita and Knowing Me, Knowing You. In Chiquitita, the band are sat in the middle of winter outside fully clad in winter clothes. In Knowing Me, Knowing You the band appear in clips outside, but also the jealousy, which would eventually bring the end of the band, is already on show. Knowing Me, Knowing You also features Benny and Björn on backing vocals, which are so clearly sung that they can be made out under the harmony of Agnetha and Anni. ‘Walking through an empty house, tears in my eyes, this is where the story, this is goodbye!’ – these lyrics are clear to all listeners that this is the end of a relationship. Benny and Björn reply, ‘it’s time, it’s time we’re through. This time I have to go’. English lyrics do not have to be so complicated and ABBA show how simple it is to make English learnable.

Breakup

Unfortunately, ABBA only survived until 1981 as Benny and Frida divorced. The final album produced one last hit One Of Us. A song that summed up the breakup of the band with the lyrics ‘One of us is crying, one of us is lying in a lonely bed, staring at the ceiling’. This musical direction of the band has also gone towards a more disco style rather than pop. This direction is typical of many pop bands at the beginning of the 1980s. 

What happened next?

As ABBA no longer existed as a band after 1982, there was a void that had to be filled. Between their breakup and today, ABBA’s records have been re-released by their record company, Polar Music. In 1999, the musical ‘ABBA’ premiered in London to great success. In 2008 with the help of Benny and Björn, the musical comedy film ‘Mamma Mia’, to a great fanfare. Last year, ‘Mamma Mia, Here We Go Again’ was released. This also received high praise from film critics.

Is there going to be an ABBA revival?

For those of you who have fallen in love with the harmonious melodies and clearly spoken English, it does not look like ABBA will come together anytime soon. They have been seen very rarely together since their official breakup in 1982. They were seen together at the premiere of the musical in 1999, the premiere in Leicester Square, London of the film Mamma Mia. 


If you've become enchanted by the pitch perfect English of this magical band, then here are a few items that you can add to your ABBA collection (they are affiliated links, if you buy via these links, I get a small percentage with no extra cost for you!)

Write a comment

Comments: 0