It may sound a bit weird but I consider this topic a very serious problem when you’re listerning to the news or need to garther information from any source you’re working with.
I usually don’t have any problem when I am the person who’s telling the figures to someone or I’m just reading them from a text. A quite different story is when I’m the one that is listerning and have to catch them.
This is what I think it happens inside your brain. When you’re listerning to something what you’re really paying attention is to the whole message to get the gist of it. This is because most people can’t really, unless you’re a native speaker or bilingual, understand every single word that is said automatically. So your brain has a harder work to do.
Most people don’t have problems until specific data are given because in that moment you have to pay all of your attention to that data. In the case of figures the problem become worse due to the fact that figures mean nothing if you don’t put them into a context. So you have to deal with two problems; undertand the data (rather difficult when figures are large numbers) and guess what they are.
In addition, you must also pay attention for not losing the rest of the message or you won’t be able to put the data into their context. If several figures are said consecutively, the task can become a nightmare.
How am I trying to solve the problem? Bad news, there’s no short cut for that.
There’s only one way to solve this problem and it is mastering figures.
Most figures that I hear when listering to news, reports or any other source are relatively short. On the one hand, this is a setback because short figures are said quite fast but on the other hand, it’s much easier and faster to master dealing with short figures.
Look for short articles in websites that provide text and audio so that you can check afer the exercise. Take a papel and a pen, and try to listen to the article and garther all the figures (percentages, phone numbers or whatever) without paying attention at what they really are.
Your aim is gaining the ability to recognize the figures without thinking in them. Just like what they are; numbers.
You can also look for any text-to-speech tool (the Internet can help you here). There are some helping tools, even online, that you can use to train your ability to recognize numbers without thinking. You can prepare lists of figures and copy them into the text box they usually have, then press the start button and try to copy them all. Use several lists and select one of them randomly in order not to remember the figures.
Try to use quite short figures first and increase their lenth gradually.
This proccess is very slow and hard but quite useful because when you’re capable to assimilate figures without thinking, you’ll be able to get back your attention to the message itself and your brain will put automatically the figures into the context.
Remember that all the people deal with figures from their childhood and that's why you're not aware of the problem when you're talking in your own language. But when you're fighting against a foreign language, that's a quite different story!
Hope that helps.