When you hear the word dictation, you might shudder and think of boring high school English classes. Dictations can be boring, yes, but there is a reason that they’ve been used in language classrooms for hundreds of years: they work.
As a teaching technique, dictations have fallen out of favor somewhat because they’re often thought of as too teacher-centered and not dynamic enough.
However, there are ways that you can use dictations to practice English on your own, and these exercises can help you improve your listening, vocabulary, writing, and even speaking.
For example, instead of a teacher reading passages or sentences to you, you can watch a video online or listen to various types of audio, such as a song or lecture. Write down what you hear, and afterwards fill in the words you missed.
Ways to Practice English Dictation
1. Write It All Down
This is a very simple exercise. Choose a song or a clip from a TV show or movie in English that you like; you can also choose a TED talk (popular lectures by experts on a range of interesting topics) or a podcast—there are many, many options.
The length is up to you, but you should probably start out with short clips such as one scene from a TV show or one song.
If it’s a video, make sure there are no subtitles or, if there are, turn them off while you’re listening – no cheating! Now, try to write down every word you hear. You may have to listen five or ten times, and that’s okay.
After you’re finished, check your listening and correct yourself. If you don’t have access to subtitles or a transcript, ask an English-speaking friend or a teacher to help you.
2. Do Cloze Exercises
Cloze exercises are texts (i.e., reading passages, sentences) with some words or portions of text missing. You read the text and fill in the missing words. Another variation is to listen to something (i.e., a teacher speaking, some kind of audio), and write the missing words.
In a classroom setting, teachers give cloze exercises to students. However, you can make your own English dictation at home.
If you want to use a song, you can find the lyrics online first and transfer them to a Word document. Then, delete some of the words or lines, or better yet, have someone do this for you so you don’t see the answers. Listen to the song two, three, or four times and write down the missing words you hear.
You can also listen to a TED talk. Many of the talks have transcripts that you can check after.
3. Use Apps
Alternatively, you may consider using an app to practice English dictation. There are various apps that provide English audio with transcripts, so you can compare your answers after you listen.
Check out Podcasts in English, which provides podcasts for beginner, intermediate, and upper intermediate learners, as well as those studying business English. The podcasts are about a range of topics and come with vocabulary exercises, worksheets, and transcripts.
For all of these methods, try to practice daily and make sure you keep a dictionary close by!