Listening is one of the most difficult skills in English. Sometimes English is difficult to understand because people use words and phrases you don’t know, and other times it can be difficult because people speak fast and change the sounds of the words.
But listening is also an area which you can improve in just a few minutes a day. Here are my tips to improve your English listening.
Create a daily listening habit
Listening is a skill that you should practise regularly to get results. It doesn’t matter what you listen to, but you should aim to listen for 5-10 minutes every day. Here are my recommendations of things to listen to:
– news stories (try the BBC site for British English)
– podcasts (most of the episodes on my Smart English Coach podcast are between 5 and 10 minutes long)
– TV series / films (there are lots of streaming platforms, but Netflix has American and British English series and films to choose from)
– YouTube videos (search for videos on subjects that you enjoy, such as your hobbies)
– TedTalks (these tend to be longer, but you can search for talks of 5 minutes or less)
– movie trailers (search for the name of the movie + trailer)
– short stories (a good platform to try is Audible)
For extra improvement in your English listening skills, vary what you listen to. So you could listen to a news story on Monday, 10 minutes of a TV series on Tuesday, my podcast on Wednesday, and so on.
This way you’ll get exposure to more vocabulary, a wider range of English accents to understand, and different subjects so you feel interested and motivated.
Try different listening activities
Instead of listening ‘passively’ and hoping that you’ll improve, try a range of different ‘active listening’ exercises.
These five ideas will help you improve your listening in different ways. Again, try a different one each day so that you don’t get bored.
1. Listening for new or unknown vocabulary
Listen to a few seconds of a news article, podcast, Ted Talk, etc. Write down any words that you are unsure of. Then, read the transcript (or captions) to find the spelling of the new word. Look it up in a dictionary to make sure you understand. Some online dictionaries also give you the pronunciation of the word.
Repeat this process for the next few seconds of the news story or podcast.
Remember: Some of the words that you hear will be important for the news story or subject of the podcast or Ted Talk. But other times, the word might not be new to you, but pronounced in an unfamiliar way.
2. Listening to fast conversation
Listen to a sentence from a conversation – especially from native English speakers. (Choose a TV series or film for this.) Then write it down. You can listen more than once if the sentence is very fast. This is similar to a dictation exercise, and it’s useful because it helps you associate the sounds you hear with the spelling of the word.
Then read the transcript from the TV series or film. (Check the imdb site for film scripts.) Compare the transcript to what you write. What are the differences? Remember that in fast speech, words change. Long vowels can become shorter, two words can become one, and contractions are very common.
Now practise saying the sentence out loud. You can also record yourself saying it. How does your sentence compare to the actor’s sentence? This is a good exercise to improve your pronunciation.
Listen to a whole ‘speech’. This could be a few minutes of a Ted Talk, or it could be an online presentation, or a YouTube tutorial. After you listen, write down the main ideas. How much did you remember?
This exercise is great for helping you understand the main points of spoken English.
4. Gap-filling exercises
Sites like lyricstraining.com give you practise in listening for specific words. These listening exercises are good for training your ear because you have to listen very carefully. For best results, make sure to repeat the word yourself.
Shadowing is when you repeat what you hear immediately after you hear it. It can help you become more aware of ‘fast-speech’ pronunciation, such as contractions and word changes, and it can help you practise word stress and intonation.
Choose any type of spoken English (TV series / film / news story, etc) and repeat what you hear. You’ll need to be quick, so pause the recording often to give yourself enough time to repeat what you hear.
As well as helping you to improve your listening, you’ll also improve your pronunciation and your fluency.
Get regular listening practice!
It’s useful to listen to speakers of different languages. In the English Fluency Club, you can speak to people from all over the world, giving you lots of fantastic listening practice! Get all the details below: