• Daniel Bullock

How can I improve my listening skills?

listening, skills, music, karaoke, english
Want to improve your English listening skills? Read on!

Improving our listening skills is a very important part of our overall English language journey. If we have decent listening skills then this will enable us to better take part in conversations and also allow us to comprehend more of what is being said. This can help us not only with our communication skills but also with our comprehension when watching TV, movies, YouTube and also listening to music and songs. It goes without saying that improving our listening skills is a good thing! Let’s look into various ways that we can improve our listening skills.

Ways of improving our listening skills:

  • Work on your vocabulary

  • Speak with people-I know, it sounds simple!

  • Don’t get hung up on grammar

  • Listen to great songs!

  • Take in as many accents as you can!

Improve your vocabulary

This is the first and most simple of steps. We need to have a good base of vocabulary in order to understand what other people are saying. Studying vocabulary and using your time to review and improve this will bring big benefits to your listening skills. As an English teacher I have met many many students over the years, and the students Who tend to have a good listening are the ones that read a lot. One of my students in the past read an English novel each month. I think because of this he was able to follow higher level conversations.

How do we study vocabulary?

To improve our vocabulary we should keep a notebook of new words. Make sentences with the new words and constantly review them, also check with the teacher if you have one, that your sentences are correct. If you are taking a regular English class, take notes! You may think just listening to the teacher allows you to remember all the words, or at least the important words. Trust me it doesn’t. Students are so busy concentrating on speaking and listening that it makes it very difficult for them to remember each new word presented. If you have an organized notebook made from less than notes, and if you review it very often your vocabulary will improve. I’ve mentioned just above read a lot and anytime you hear a new word spoken or song look it up in the dictionary and put it in your notes. There are lots more ways you can improve your vocabulary, so let’s look into that at another time!

Listen to songs that you like

How many times have you found yourself coming along or quietly singing a song that you never practiced? The music you like is naturally going to be remembered more easily than songs you don’t like. I would suggest reading the lyrics to songs you like or singing karaoke. I think this is a fun way to learn words and phrases.

Watch TV shows that you like

Similarly to the point above, watching TV shows that we like and that we are interested in will naturally push us to learn new words and phrases. Depending on your English level I would recommend at first listening to very short segments of TV shows and dialogue perhaps just one minute or two minutes. After you have done this note down what you think you heard. Then go back and check the subtitles in your language and find out if you were accurate with your listening. Keep doing this on a regular basis and you may find your English listening can improve!

Speak with people

conversation, speaking, listening
Getting lots of speaking practice also helps our listening ability

Speaking with people not only helps us practice our vocabulary and speaking skills, but also our listening. When you speak with someone it is important to relax and try to focus on the general picture of what they are trying to say, if you’re managing this rate also try to pick up as many details as you can from what they’re saying. If you’re not sure you should ask them what they mean. Phrases to do this include: “I’m sorry what was that?” or “ sorry could you say that again please?“. One little caveat here though, if we shouldn’t fake understanding too much. If we say words like: yeah, yeah, right I see, but we don’t actually know what they said then this can be dangerous! Imagine if someone had said that beloved pet dog had passed away, and then we responded “oh really? Do you have any plans for the weekend” Obviously this would be grossly inappropriate.

Listen to podcasts in your sleep?

Does listening to podcasts or other long conversations in your sleep help you improve your English? And more specifically your listening ability? Probably not. I would say the jury is still out on that. They have been quite a few studies on the topic which shows some level of improvement in listening but there is another argument against it too. If you’re not actually listening and paying attention to what is being said how can we learn from those words and expressions? On the other hand though, taking a positive outlook, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing to expose yourself to more English even if you’re not actually focusing on it. It can’t do any harm can it?

Does taking English classes improve English listening?

Taking an English class will improve your listening. It will also improve all other aspects of your English. Without a doubt though, it does depend on the type of class you are taking. If you are taking a grammar lesson with very little conversation then it stands to reason that our listening won’t improve that much. But if you are taking a conversation class then that can have a big impact on your listening ability, especially if you are doing vocabulary and listening drills as part of the conversation class. The other thing to consider is frequency of lessons. Taking a class once or twice a week, over the long term should be the minimum. I have met many students in the past who have unrealistic expectations of their improvement trajectory. They have expected to improve within a few weeks by only coming to class once a week. That is highly unlikely to help.

Don’t get hung up on grammar or very difficult words

Try not to stress, panic or overthink difficult words or grammar structures while you’re having a conversation or listening to someone. If you have a problem with an expression or a structure this can actually take your focus away from the general picture of what is being said.

For example your friend says: “I’d been working there for only a fortnight” two problems present themselves here. First your friend said “I’d been” Mini beginner or intermediate students struggle with the past perfect structure and might get confused as to the meaning of the sentence. Also the word fortnight was used. Unless the student is very aware of British or Australian English for example, the word “fortnight” might confuse them. And also these days with the popularity of the video game “Fortnite”, that can even add to the confusion!

Experience different accents from around the world and don’t discriminate

global, accents, 英会話
Try to absorb the sounds of different English accents from around the globe

Some learners of English specifically want to practice one accents or region of English. This can cause problems. As we know, English is a truly global language. If the student has knowledge in one area of English for example American English, that’s great. But if they have studied only American English and not put any time or effort into other types of English, for example British, Australian or New Zealand English, then when they encounter those speakers or accents they will have trouble understanding what is being said.

Additionally, many of the speakers of English aren’t even native speakers, They come from countries where English is spoken as a second language. Check out our post on this matter. So my advice here would be to just try to experience as many varieties of English as possible. Don’t think: “oh, this English isn’t from my favourite country, so I’m not going to study it, or it isn’t beneficial for me. That thinking is too narrow for this modern age.

Ways to improve English listening skills

To improve our listening skills we should build our vocabulary, listen to songs and also watch TV shows that we like. Other ways to improve our listening skills include speaking with people in English, not getting hung up on grammar and making effort to experience different accents and ways of speaking from around the world.

As we have seen in this article there are many ways that we can improve our English listening ability. The ones mentioned above give us a nice introduction into learning English listening but there are other things that you can do also. Good luck in your continued studies!