An English teacher’s 7 tips to improve your English listening skills.

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Listening is one of four important skills you develop when learning English, or any other language. Some people think that just learning words and vocabulary in English is enough to enable them to be able to listen to English and understand it. This is not true! You need to consciously practice listening to improve your English listening skills. Just like learning a musical instrument, the more you practice listening to English, the more your train your ear to hear the different intonations, rhythms and word stress and the better you will get at understanding it.

Here are 7 top tips that will help you to improve your English listening skills:

1. Make sure you do your English listening practice at the right level!

Don’t make life too hard for yourself! Listening to audio aimed at advanced students or native English speakers when you’re an pre-intermediate student won’t do anything except stress you out. Find materials for students at your level and focus on those instead. You can search online for “pre-intermediate audio for English learners” to find resources. For example, this website, which has podcasts, is a good starting point.

2. Surround yourself with English

A lot of learning happens unconsciously in the subconscious mind, so always having English audio in the background in your life will improve your listening and understanding in English. Even though you may not be paying attention to the audio, you would be surprised how much your subconscious mind is picking up.

Finding listening resources in English is simple given that there is a constant flow of media coming from English speaking countries, in particular Britain and the US. Here are some of the main sources students are using today to improve English listening skills:

  • YouTube for videos in English on everything!
  • Youtube or Spotify to listen to music or podcasts in English
  • Netflix or Amazon Prime to watch movies in English
  • Audible: Choose an Audiobook on Audible to listen to a book in English

You can easily do English listening practice by listening to music or a podcast whilst you clean, run, or walk to work. You can replace your nightly TV viewing with an English series or a movie. Remember, it is important to choose to listen to English on topics you are interested in and that you would naturally listen to in your own language.

3. Use resources with transcripts

Whilst you can learn a lot of English by listening, having access to the transcripts where you can read what you are listening to can help you in a number of ways:

  • You can check that you understood what you heard
  • Listening and reading together helps you practice two important skills.
  • You can get a feel for the sound changes and music of the language
  • You can check the spelling for new vocabulary items

Again, a fun way to practice listening and reading at the same time is to watch a TV series or movie in English with subtitles on or by listening to music you like while reading the lyrics. Note: Be careful when watching Youtube videos with English subtitles as lots of videos have automatically generated subtitles which are often incorrect and don’t make much sense.

4. Repetition

It is really important to listen to the materials more than once! The first few times you listen to something, you’ll likely pick up the overall gist of the conversation. Afterwards, you’ll slowly pick up nuances in the conversation, pronunciation, linked sounds, new phrases and learn new vocabulary. Listening to one audio again and again trains your ear to recognise the common sounds native speakers make all the time.

So, you should continue to do your English listening practice using the same audios until the audio has become too simple – until you understand it 100%.

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5. Don’t try to translate while you’re listening

If you’re doing something else in your head, you aren’t listening effectively. Let images and feelings come to you whilst you listen, but don’t actively translate anything. Once the audio has stopped, you should take a moment to think about what you’ve heard. You can translate during this time if you need to. You should also feel free to look up any words you don’t know or if you aren’t sure about the meaning of the sentence as a whole.

6. Note non-verbal cues: Body language

You can get a lot of information about what people are saying from how they say it and what they look like when they’re saying it. Facial expressions give you a lot of information. If someone is smiling at you and you hear the words “I’m…upset”, you should know that the information your eyes are getting is different to what your ears are getting.  You should ask them to repeat or to clarify. It is more likely that they said, “I’m not upset” if they’re smiling.

You should remember that different body language is used in different cultures. You should research body language in English speaking countries as it might be very different to your own.

7. Practice makes perfect

Listening in English is a skill. It’s something you can train to be better at. Set aside some time to do English listening practice every day and you’ll quickly notice the difference. Off course, conversation practice is best because it kills two birds with one stone (speaking and listening), but it is not the only way to practice. If you don’t have someone available to talk with remember that you can still practice by listening to audio alone.

So to conclude, you can easily combine improving your English listening skills with other fun and enjoyable tasks. If you make it fun and interesting it will become a habit! A lot of students don’t do enough English listening practice and tend to focus too much on Grammar. Yes Grammar is important, but when you improve your listening and understanding, all your other English skills are quickly improved and you are on the way to becoming a fluent English speaker. We are sure that if you try some of the strategies above for a few weeks you will notice a big difference in your level.