Listening is one of the four foundational skills of language learning, next to reading, speaking and writing. For most students, listening is relatively less challenging than the other 3 language skills to develop. That’s partially because sometimes it’s enough to catch only the keywords and phrases mentioned by the speaker in order to understand their message – at least, that’s how most listening exercises are constructed. The trouble begins when the speaker speaks quickly, with an accent or uses vocabulary which is too advanced for the listener. In a real-life conversation, you can simply ask your partner to repeat or to explain, but this is impossible when listening to the TV, the radio or to audio recordings.
But wouldn’t it be fantastic to listen to English-language news, podcasts and shows? How amazing would it be to watch an English movie or a TV series without subtitles? And all of this is possible with practice! Here are 5 tips you need to keep in mind, if you wonder how to improve your listening skills in English in a smart way – not a hard way.
Adjust the listening sources to your level, not the other way around
If you decide to practice and improve your English listening, make sure the materials you choose are not too difficult for you. It’s actually okay to learn just 1-2 words when listening; you do not have to learn 20+ new words each time you practice listening. Choosing materials which are above your English level is counterproductive – on top of feeling discouraged and frustrated, you will not be able to remember many words long-term. On the other hand, if you select easier recordings and listening exercises, with just a few new words to learn each time, you will be more satisfied and efficient when learning. But you can’t go too easy on yourself, either. Just make sure you understand the majority of the recording and that you’re adding several new words to your vocabulary lists after each, listening exercise. You can also increase the difficulty of your exercise by speeding up the recordings you are practicing with. If you are not sure what kind of speed if okay for you, experiment – on most apps, you can slow down or speed up a recording easily. Try doing that!
Listen to the same recording at least a few times
Repetition leads to proficiency. Make sure to repeat and listen to each new lesson at least 3-4 times. Also, remember to revise old lessons and listen to their recordings once in a while again. Repetitive listening helps new information and vocabulary stay in your long-term memory. Of course, that doesn’t mean you should replay every recording 100 times. Once you have learned all new words and grammar structures, you are ready to move to the next lesson.
And if you still have difficulties with your listening practice, remember this helpful trick to help you improve your listening skills in English. If there is a part you don’t really understand, pause the video, rewind a bit and listen to that part again. Do that a few times. Maybe you will be able to figure it out yourself before moving on to the subtitles or the transcript. If you still have no idea what’s being said, write down the sounds you hear. Then, compare it to the transcript. Were you close or not exactly? Do that with other troublesome bits. It’s easier to check the lesson transcripts first and then listen to them, but you really want to improve your listening skills in English! So first, focus on cracking the recording yourself.
Choose English sources with transcripts or subtitles
You probably do that already, but consider this tip as a reminder – always choose a video with subtitles or a transcription available. Without them, it’s like walking in the dark. You want your practice to be effective, and comparing what you hear with what you read is vital for making progress. As you learn, thanks to self-assessment and feedback, there is no way around it. Guessing what is being said might lead to mistakes, especially if you are learning on your own. Don’t treat video subtitles or lesson transcripts as hints, instead think of them as material equally important as the recording. Once you confirm what is being said, you can really focus on remembering and understanding it.
Listen to different English accents
Since English is a language which is spoken worldwide by people of many nations, there are numerous English accents. What kind of accent you speak yourself depends on where you live, what is your native language, when did you start learning English, what kind of materials do you use to learn English, and so on. Therefore, if you want to be proficient in English or live in an English-speaking country, you need to get used to various different accents.
A great way to familiarize yourself with a bunch of accents is to watch a TED talk. TED talks conferences are being organized worldwide, making it possible for everyone to participate in it. Many speakers want to connect with an English-speaking audience, therefore they choose to speak English. You can try typing on YouTube “TED talk + country” to find a video from any particular country you like.
Practice listening as much as possible
The more you practice, the better you get – that’s a well-known fact. If you want to improve your listening skills in English and take them to the next level, practice as much as possible. Having said that, your study sessions shouldn’t last too long. As listening requires a lot of focus, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to keep up with English listening practice for an hour or two. What’s more important is frequency. Try to listen to English speech every day for at least 10-30 minutes, depending how much time is on your hands. You can do that on your way to work or to school, you also try doing it when cleaning or doing other household chores. If possible, try to re-listen later and write down all the new words and grammar you hear.
If you do like long study sessions – getting cozy with a blanket and a cup of tea – do them, but take breaks. How? It’s up to you and your preferences. For starters, try studying for 30 minutes and take 5-minutes long break, then repeat. If you need a longer break – take it. If you want a longer session – make it longer. Just make sure you are still fresh and ready to study.
You can improve your English listening anytime, from any place you want, if you choose to learn English online with one of italki’s English teachers! An experienced teacher will know what you need to practice and how you should practice to achieve the best results. By participating in a dialogue with your teacher, you practice listening AND speaking, which is like killing two birds with one stone! The vocabulary you learn by listening can be immediately put to practice in a conversation with your English tutor! What’s even better, you can do all of that in your own home. Do not hesitate to book a trial class today!