Listening “Blind Spots”

Listening is a tough skill to master.

Some of my students worry that they can’t understand everything they hear.

Many of my students worry that they can’t understand even 20% of what they hear.


But actually that is normal.

Many people know that you have blind spots in your vision.


If you cover your left eye and look at the cross with your right eye, then slowly move your head towards the picture, there will be a spot where the black circle disappears.

You are always missing pieces of your field of vision, but you never notice. Your brain fills in the blanks.

Listening is the same. Even in your native language you don’t always hear every word someone says to you.


So when you are in a difficult English listening situation ( like a TOEIC test, listening to a podcast, or talking to a native speaker) the trick is to not worry about the words you don’t understand. focus on the words you can hear, and try to figure out the context.


Here’s an example. Listen to the first 30 seconds of this video.

Tony (Viggo Mortensen) doesn’t speak very clearly. Dr. Shirley (Mahershala Ali) speaks better, but you still may only hear this when you listen:


Tony: —- place — — —-. —- horns real?

Dr. Shirley: Elephant tusks yes

Tony: — —- that? —- –  molar?

Dr. Shirley: – what?

Tony: – molar. Shark tooth. – – tigers, —

Dr. Shirley: it — – gift

Tony: – thought, -,  – —- – – —- – — office. —- —- – doctor —— – driver

Dr. Shirley: that’s all —- told you?

Tony: Yeah


Only hearing those words you could be frustrated. But those are enough to figure out a bit of the situation.  You can see Tony is asking questions that show they are meeting for the first time. Even if you don’t know the word “molar” you can understand it has to do with teeth. And something about a “driver” is important.



If you slowly study the full  script:


Tony: some place you got here. them horns real?

Dr. Shirley: Elephant tusks yes

Tony: how ‘bout that? that a molar?

Dr. Shirley: a what?

Tony: a molar. Shark tooth. Or a tigers, maybe

Dr. Shirley: it was a gift

Tony: I thought, uh,  I thought I was goin to an office. they said a doctor needed a driver

Dr. Shirley: that’s all they told you?

Tony: Yeah

You’ll see there isn’t much more content than that.


The secret is to listen to lots of English. Focus on the words you can hear and understand. Don’t get frustrated. Eventually your brain will start to fill in the blanks.

Need free listening content? Try a podcast in English.