Want to improve your English quickly?
Do you also want to boost your confidence and speak better?
Listening to native English speakers is one of the fastest ways to accomplish this!
You can improve your language skills a lot through focused listening practice, especially if you take notes on a few important points.
But what does listening practice look like for business English learners? What notes should you take? What makes the practice “focused”?
Keep reading, because here are 10 tips for improving your English level with effective listening practice.
10 Ways to Improve Your Business English Through Listening Practice
1. Use podcasts with transcripts
To prepare for important meetings or presentations, listen to native speakers on podcasts beforehand.
Here’s a very informative 17-minute talk about problem-solving that you can listen to while also having access to the transcripts. This will help you get into the English speaking “mode” and you will notice you will soon feel better about your own English.
First, start listening without looking at the transcripts. If there are parts you don’t understand, pause the recording. Start listening from the beginning while reading along with the transcript. Reading the transcript will help you understand the piece in more detail because we can sometimes miss certain parts when listening without reading.
Here’s a useful website with podcasts from several fields and here’s another with podcasts designed especially for people learning English—both whose podcasts come with transcripts.
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2. Note and use new vocabulary
When you practice listening, write down at least five new words for each listening piece. You will remember them better if you also write down the sentence and podcast where you heard the word. This gives context—the situation in which a word was used—so you will remember the situation when you see the word.
Then, use the five new words on your own. This is a very important step that you shouldn’t skip.
You can try this trick: First include the new words in your own sentences by writing, and then use them when you speak. The writing practice will help you get used to the new words and really learn them.
What can you write? You could write a quick paragraph summary of the podcast, draw a mind map or even invent (create) your own sentences.
3. Write down longer sentences
You can improve your grammar a lot if you become more confident with longer sentences. English learners usually make grammar mistakes when it comes to forming complex sentences.
So, whenever you a hear a longer sentence while listening, pause the recording as many times as necessary to write the sentence down. Once you’ve written down the sentence, double check any relevant rules.
“If” clauses and time clauses usually result in longer sentences, for example. In this case, the rules are:
- No “will” or “would” after “If” (unless they are modal verbs).
- No “will” to refer to the future right after “when,” “as soon as,” “after,” “before” or other time expressions.
4. Watch out for words that sound strange
Spend a listening session looking out for words that sound differently from the way you say them. Check their pronunciation with online dictionaries.
You may have been pronouncing it wrong, but it’s also possible that the word is pronounced differently in British and American English, like the word “schedule“ or “advertisement.” It’s always a good idea to adapt your pronunciation to the people who are going to be listening to you.
If you discover that you’ve been making pronunciation mistakes, practice saying a word correctly several times. Then, use the word in a full sentence. Do the same thing every day for a week, or until you’re sure you have now learned the correct pronunciation.
But please, please, don’t worry about your non-native accent! While pronunciation is either correct or incorrect, accent is another thing. It’s about who you are and where you come from. It’s also not evaluated in English language exams like TOEFL, IELTS or Cambridge BEC! And that’s because your accent is yours; your accent doesn’t make your English incorrect.
5. Focus on the speaker’s intonation
Intonation is the way we pronounce certain words or groups of words. It’s the little melody that makes speech different from the way robots speak. So pay attention to intonation and how the speaker manages to highlight important parts of their speech.
Listen to this podcast of about 40 minutes about the importance of having the right mindset in business. While listening, pay attention to how certain words are stressed.
For example, at 4:00 you should hear the word “after” stressed, and “probably” at 17:22. You will notice that the speaker pronounces those two words more strongly than the other words around them. Try to imitate that kind of intonation when you speak.
Sometimes we do this naturally, because native speakers sound so good, don’t they? Other times it may seem useful to simply pause the recording and try to imitate the speaker’s intonation until you get it right.
6. Break down speeches into introduction, body and conclusion
Listening to certain types of material can also help you give better business presentations. Generally, such presentations need to have a very well organized structure so that the audience can easily follow you.
Listening to native speakers giving longer speeches can help you get used to having amazing structure in your own business presentations.
So whenever you listen to other people’s presentations, pay attention to the introduction, the body and the conclusion. Notice where each starts and where they end.
To help you stay focused, write down one key word for each section. For example, if the speaker uses a joke from an advertisement in the introduction, just write down “joke from ad.”
This is just meant to help you realize that most speeches need these three parts. If you pay attention to this when you listen, you’ll be able to make your own speeches more structured.
- Here’s an example of a longer speech about international law. Even though the ideas are quite complex, it’s still easy to follow because it’s well structured.
- Here’s another example of a longer, well-organized speech given by a non-native speaker this time.
If you want to listen to other speeches on business topics, TED Talks are a very good idea. They are both interesting and well-structured, plus the talks come with interactive transcripts.
7. Take note of connectors
Some speakers like using connectors when moving from one point to another. Connectors are words that speakers use to link other words or phrases. This way, the listeners will be able to tell when the speaker moves from one point to the next one.
While listening, write down the connectors the speakers use. Later, include those connectors in your own speeches or presentations.
Here are some examples of connectors that are widely used:
- To express cause and effect: as a result, as a consequence, therefore, thus
- To present points in a certain order: firstly/secondly/thirdly, moreover, furthermore, besides
- To contrast points: on the other hand, however, nevertheless, on the contrary
- To explain points: that is to say, that is, namely, to put it differently
- To link points: as for, with respect to, as regards, as far as … is concerned
8. Be relaxed about hesitations
Whenever you listen to native speakers, notice how they manage hesitations. The truth is that hesitations are natural. Learners are sometimes afraid that if they hesitate too much, this will show their language weaknesses.
But sometimes we hesitate because we are thinking about what we are going to say next, and this is only natural.
Good speaking starts with good listening. So whenever you listen to native speakers, write down filler phrases they are using to help you be more relaxed about hesitations.
Here are some examples of such phrases:
- you see…
- to put it differently…
- in other words…
- how should I put this…
- what do you call it…
9. Write down what you like about the speaker
This next listening tip works well with a speech that you can also watch—not just listen to. Sometimes it’s not what the speaker says, but the way they say it that makes you like them. So, what did you like?
Was it the speaker’s body language? Here’s a great example of how body language can help you give a better speech. It’s an entertaining TED Talk about the importance of doing things when they should be done.
Did you like the more unusual ways speakers get their message across, like questions, jokes and pauses? This TED Talk about the importance of having effective meetings gives you plenty of that.
This strategy is several steps past comprehension. It will get you listening for more advanced aspects of the English language—not just meaning.
10. Listen to a wide variety of speakers
Finally, listening to a lot of speakers will expose you to many different speaking styles. (It also means you’ll spend more time practicing listening—which is excellent!)
Here’s a great resource for finding more podcasts from the business field. There are probably many speakers who you will like—not just one. You will become a combination of all the people you listen to, because they can all teach you something.
Maybe you like one speaker’s pronunciation, but you don’t like their structure. Or maybe you think someone’s intonation is great, but they use too many fillers.
There is no such thing as the perfect speaker, but the great thing is that you can learn a little bit from all of them!
Another excellent resource for hearing native English speakers use business language is FluentU.
Unlike traditional language learning sites, FluentU uses a natural approach that helps you ease into the English language and culture over time. You’ll learn English as it’s spoken in real life.
FluentU has a variety of engaging content from popular talk shows, nature documentaries and funny commercials, as you can see here:
FluentU makes it really easy to watch English videos. There are captions that are interactive. That means you can tap on any word to see an image, definition and useful examples.
For example, when you tap on the word "searching," you'll see this:
Learn all the vocabulary in any video with quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
The best part is that FluentU keeps track of the vocabulary that you’re learning and recommends examples and videos to you based on the words you’ve already learned. Every learner has a truly personalized experience, even if they’re learning the same video.
You can start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, by downloading the app from the iTunes or Google Play stores.
By using these ten tips as you listen to a variety of speakers, your English listening skills will get stronger and stronger. Good luck!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn English with real-world videos.