4 Tips for Listening for Pragmatic Understanding
A monthly peek at test content from Michael, a TOEFL® test expert.

4 Tips for Listening for Pragmatic Understanding

Sep 10, 2015

Listening is one of the most important skills needed to succeed on the TOEFL® test, and in academics in general. In fact, the ability to listen and to understand is tested in three out of the four sections of the TOEFL iBT ® test! Today, let’s look at ways to strengthen your skills for one of the key listening purposes you will be tested on: Listening for Pragmatic Understanding.

Sometimes people imply ideas when speaking rather than expressing their purpose directly. To get the true meaning of a statement, it’s important to understand not just what the speaker said, but how and why it was said. In the TOEFL® test, the Listening for Pragmatic Understanding questions will test your ability to understand a speaker’s purpose, attitude and degree of certainty. Here are four tips to help develop these types of listening skills:

  1. Think about what each speaker hopes to accomplish. What is the purpose of the speech or conversation?
  2. Learn to pay attention to the speaker’s tone of voice. Is the language formal or casual? Is the speaker’s voice calm or emotional?
  3. Notice the speaker’s degree of certainty. How sure is the speaker about the information? Does the speaker’s tone of voice indicate something about his or her degree of certainty?
  4. Pay attention to the way stress and intonation patterns are used to convey meaning. Replay segments multiple times, listening for shades of meaning. This will help you understand a speaker’s point of view.

In general, be sure to listen to different kinds of material on a variety of topics to build your listening skills. Start with television shows and movies, then move on to programs with academic content, such as NPR and BBC broadcasts. Practicing listening will not only help you succeed on the TOEFL® test, it will be invaluable preparation for your journey abroad!

I’ll be back soon with more exclusive tips from inside the TOEFL® test. Until next time, good luck!

– Michael from ETS

Sharpen your listening skills while learning about interesting academic subjects at TED Talks