Many people, including some here, seem to recommend dictation on improving listening skills, but I wonder if the dictation is any more effective than just listening to the script and writing it in my brain. The reason I don't dictate is it is very difficult in my target language (Mandarin Chinese), as writing one word takes a few seconds (another hurdle is it requires environments such as a desk and pen). But my Chinese listening skills are quite stagnating...

Should I dictate it while listening? Or at least as long as I'm equally concentrating, is it no more effective? The content is usually 30 seconds or something like that. My Chinese is likely A1 or A2 (CEFR scale) on listening, though it would be B2 on reading.

  • Could you please provide references that recommend dictation and writing? In my opinion, processing speed during listening should be at the speed of conversation which is much faster than writing. Watching movies, listening to radio would be a better exercise to develop listening skills.
    – Vitaly
    Apr 19 '18 at 22:25
  • @Vitaly Example: languagelearning.stackexchange.com/a/2024/304 I also found a few answers that recommend to dictate, and any English teachers recommend it when I was teen (but just edited as it sounds an exaggeration, sorry)...
    – Blaszard
    Apr 20 '18 at 4:59
  • What is your question about? To dictate something is to read it out loud so somebody else writes it down; that other person is said to be "taking a dictation". This is usually an exercise to see whether a learner masters the spelling of a language (at least in alphabetic languages). Dictation is not the same thing as taking written notes during a listening exercise. When you take a dictation, you write down everything that is dictated to you; however, during a listening exercise, you just take enough notes to help you remember the most important things you heard. Please clarify.
    – Tsundoku
    Apr 20 '18 at 17:32
  • Could you please clarify your question? Do you actually want to know whether taking dictation is more effective than "writing in the brain"? If yes, more effective in what regard? As a listening exercise? As a writing exercise? Something else?
    – Tsundoku
    May 16 '18 at 11:08
  • @ChristopheStrobbe Yes, and as a listening exercise.
    – Blaszard
    May 27 '18 at 10:48

In my opinion, dictation is a useful exercise to develop writing skills. It improves one's style and forces to use less familiar vocabulary and grammar structures.

However, listening comprehension is a skill that needs to be performed at conversational speed. One needs to practice listening to spoken language with its irregularities: dialects, broken sentences, omitted words, interruptions, mispronunciation of words in a rapid speech. Parsing of that constant stream of information should happen at the speed of the person producing the stream. Writing would immensely slow down the process in any language that I know.

To improve listening skills I would recommend, depending on how good one is with the language:

  • Movies with subtitles. Text in subtitles and actions of actors complement verbal information.

  • Movies without subtitles. For those who know the vocabulary and need to reduce their dependency on written text.

  • Radio. One no longer relies on any visual clues and is completely dependent on verbal information. News are the easiest types of broadcasts to start with.

  • Songs. Memorizing lyrics and singing along with a performer that one likes is more enjoyable than any formal class.


I cannot point you to a conclusive research but many English teachers including my CELTA instructors consider dictations effective.

And for a good reason: According do cognitive theory, for learning to actually occur, the brain must actively process the information it is getting. With listening or reading that can be achieved by well designed questions or tasks around the text.

Writing what you hear is a simple task that fits these conditions.

Better yet may be creating concise notes based on the listening (or reading), but that largely depends on the student's ability to make concise notes. The best option still is having well-designed tasks prepared by a good teacher. Dictation (or making notes if you are good enough* in that) is the best option, if you don't have a good teacher who can do that for you.

*And if you are not, maybe it is the next skill to pick up.


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