Listen, Speak and Write Better Through English Listening Practice

Have you ever fallen asleep with an English TV or radio show on?

Sleeping with English audio on might give you a sweet dream about speaking English like a native. Maybe you could even wake up with that superpower!

Well, no, we’re still just dreaming. Superpowers probably don’t come that easily.

But falling asleep with English audio in the background is more helpful than you might think. In fact, we recommend it as a creative way to practice English listening.

Sounds strange, right? Don’t worry, we’ll explain it soon enough.

The fact is, there are many ways to practice English listening in a way that improves your understanding of the language as well as other skills like speaking and writing.

You could try just listening to tons of English conversations and audio in order to improve. And sure, that exercise does help.

But there are many other types of beneficial ESL listening exercises. Stay tuned for some really focused immersive exercises that will improve your listening, speaking and even writing skills.

All you need is your listening ears, a pen and notebook and an audio file (superhero cape optional).

Where to Find Audio for English Listening Practice

Here are a few easy ways to find English audio files and videos for improving your English listening skills:


One excellent resource for English listening practice is the podcast. You can download or stream individual episodes on many different topics by searching Google for podcasts on a topic you’re interested in.

You can also pay attention to the accent and type of English used. For instance, “You’re Doing it Wrong” is a podcast from the BBC which takes a British look at everyday life in a unique way. “This American Life,” on the other hand, tells stories about living in America.

Bookmark or download your favorite podcasts and use them for your study.

Alternatively, you can subscribe and listen to podcasts on a mobile app. Many podcast apps allow you to change the speed of the audio, which is useful for one of our exercises below. If you have an iPhone, the pre-installed Podcast app has this function. Android users, check out CastBox.


Audiobooks are also great resources for listening practice. You can find many recorded books on Audible, which also allows you to fast-forward, pause and speed up the audio as needed. As a bonus, since Audible is owned by Amazon you can usually buy a print book and an audiobook together for some useful practice in reading along.

Don’t want to shell out (spend money) for a book? You can also download some audiobooks for free from websites like Librivox and OpenCulture.


Videos make fantastic listening practice resources since they allow you to hear the audio and see the context in one place.

If you like learning English with music, music videos are a great option for English listening practice.

You can find some great videos to listen to on YouTube (though be aware that not all videos here use correct English) and on FluentU.

FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.

You can try FluentU for free for 2 weeks. Click here to check out the website or download the iOS app or Android app.

  FluentU Ad

Use the annotated subtitles to read along with the audio or study flashcards, vocabulary and much more in order to make the most of your listening practice.

10 Immersive Exercises for English Listening Practice

1. Listen in the Background


You can do this exercise the first time you listen to an audio file.

Press play and do something else, like cooking a meal or jogging in the park (or, yes, maybe even taking a nap!).

You might not understand everything that you hear. Don’t worry! This exercise is not meant for a deep understanding of the content. Instead, focus on the sounds of the English language and let the audio play in the background while your mind and body are busy with another task.

Why this is helpful:

By having the English sounds in the background, you become immersed in the language naturally. Imagine a baby growing up hearing his or her parents talking: Little by little, the baby learns the words and grammar rules without any formal education. Immersing yourself by playing audio in the background lets you learn naturally just like that baby.

This practice is also useful for familiarizing yourself with the sounds and rhythm of the English language. Don’t stress out about missing some information or not understanding something—that’s not the purpose of this exercise.

A bonus benefit of this activity is that it’s easy to incorporate into your daily life. You don’t have to find time for it: You can do it any time you want.

2. Listen Only for Intonation


Intonation is the change in pitch—how high or low a sound is—when one speaks. The two main patterns of English intonation are falling (lowering your pitch to make a statement) and rising (raising your pitch to signify a question or disbelief).

With this exercise, direct all your attention to the changes in intonation of the audio. Listen for the points where the pitch goes up or down and try to figure out why this is happening. Is the speaker asking a question or making a statement? What kind of feeling is the speaker trying to express?

Why this is helpful:

Intonation is unique to a language. Do you ever notice that Chinese speakers sound distinctly different from, say, Italian speakers even though you understand neither of the two languages? That’s because of intonation.

If you want to speak English like a native speaker, you need to master the intonation. Listening for it is the first step.

3. Listen Only for the Stress


Listen for word stress, which can be recognized by the louder volume, higher pitch or extended length of a vowel in a particular syllable. (For instance, in the word “centipede,” the stress is on the cen.)

Now listen again, this time looking for the stress in each sentence, which are the words or phrases that have a louder volume and slower pace than the rest of the sentence. (For instance: “There’s a giant centipede in my bed.”) Which words are stressed? How would the meaning of the sentence change if the stress was on a different word?

Why this is helpful:

You’ve probably had a moment like this: You find yourself unable to understand the dialogue in a movie, but when you take a look at the subtitles you’re shocked because you actually know all the words!

Stress (especially in sentences) can make it difficult to pick out words since everything except essential information can sound like a blur.

If you aren’t used to English word stress and its rules, you might struggle to understand natural conversations. You might also confuse people by placing the stress in the wrong part of a word or sentence. Train yourself to hear stress with this exercise, and you’ll be improving not just your listening but also speaking skills.

4. Listen from Mid-sentence


Fast forward to a random place in the audio and start listening in the middle of a sentence.

Try to figure out the topic as quickly as possible. Can you also guess the emotion? Does it sound like a friendly chat or a heated discussion? The intonation and stress are your clues.

Why this is helpful:

This is a perfect exercise to prepare for you to enter real-life conversations. In workplaces, schools and other social locations it can be easy to miss a part of a conversation due to noise from the environment. This exercise will prevent confusion and help you catch up even if you don’t hear (or don’t understand) something.

Also, by being able to guess the topic quickly you can join a party conversation at any point and have fun.

5. Listen to the Verbs


Listen to about a minute of an audio file. (You can increase the time when your English level increases.)

Write down every verb you hear.

Pause the audio and immediately try to rewrite all the sentences based on your list of verbs. Do this quickly while your memory is fresh.

Listen again, this time pausing after each sentence. If your audio comes with subtitles, compare them to your sentences. How similar was your version to the actual one?

Why this is helpful:

This high-level listening practice with audio enhances your ability to catch the vital information while listening. It’s useful for attending classes in English-speaking countries or working in an English-speaking environment since it helps you focus on the key points of each sentence.

As you write, pay attention to the role of action verbs, such as “to drink” or “to run,” compared with linking verb like “to be.” Writing out the sentences from memory is a great way to practice, and will affect your choice of words when you speak and write yourself.

6. Listen to the Articles


Pick a video with subtitles or an audio file with a transcript. Listen to it once without looking at the written text, and once again with the text.

Pay attention to the articles: “a,” “an” and “the.”

As you listen the second time, circle or highlight every article. How many times is each article used? Which articles are used in which sentences? How’s the meaning of the sentence affected by the type of article used?

Why this is helpful:

With this exercise, you focus on recognizing unstressed sounds. Despite having no real meaning, articles are an essential part of the English language. Native speakers don’t stress those little items, but they do use them.

Articles are often among the biggest obstacles experienced by English learners, as it’s hard to figure out when to use them and how to use them correctly. Being aware of their use during your listening practice will help you understand how to use them in your own speech.

7. Listen at Different Speeds


Use audio software or an app to listen to a short audio file at a faster speed. Try to catch as many words as you can. Remember them or write them down.

Then slow the audio down and listen again. Do you hear any new words that you missed with the faster speed? What are they? Look up any words you don’t know.

Now listen one final time at a regular speed. How much can you understand? Are there still words you’re not getting? Slow down the audio as many times as you need to until you can hear and understand every word.

Why this is helpful:

This exercise will show you that speed matters. The extra words that you hear when you slow down a file are most likely either challenging sounds or unstressed sounds.

If they’re challenging sounds, you can put in some extra time to understand and learn them. If they’re words you know, then they might be unstressed. Listen out for how their meaning changes when they’re stressed and when they’re unstressed, and adjust your own speech using this new knowledge.

Also, consider speaking slower the next time you’re trying to say a difficult word.

8. Transcribe the Video


Pick a video with subtitles or an audio file with a transcript.

Listen to it without looking at the text and stop frequently to transcribe, or write down, every word.

Listen to the audio again and again until you transcribe everything.

Compare your notes with the available subtitles or transcript.

Why this is helpful:

Did you make any mistakes while transcribing? Is there anything you couldn’t write down at all? If some specific words gave you trouble, study them.

Pay close attention to your spelling, as well. One of the most challenging things about English writing is that the way something sounds is not always how it’s written. This exercise will help you strengthen your spelling and writing skills. It will also train you to recognize difficult sounds.

9. Practice Shadowing


Listen to a sentence over and over. Repeat the words immediately after the speaker says them. This is called shadowing.

Keep practicing until your speed and intonation matches those of the speaker.

Why this is helpful:

Shadowing an audio file is one of the best exercises to improve your listening and speaking skills at the same time. You’ll not only polish your pronunciation but also acquire the natural rhythm and speed of the English language.

For an added challenge, turn off the audio and try to say the sentence on your own. Record yourself and see how similar your version is to the audio file.

10. Listen Intensively


Find a quiet place and make set aside 15 minutes free of disruptions. No text messages and no emails.

Play an audio file and focus on catching the words as well as their use and the overall meaning of the audio.

Take notes about everything you find important, such as when a speaker raises her voice to imply her anger or where you think a speaker is being sarcastic (means the opposite of what they say).

Are there any words you don’t understand completely or are unsure how to spell? Write them down as well so you can check later. Listen to the speed, too. Are there any places where the speaker pauses, slows down or speeds up? What do you think these moments mean?

Why this is helpful:

Last but not least, this exercise focuses on taking your listening skills to the next level. It trains your ability to focus your attention on the words being spoken, and is beneficial whether you’re entering an English-speaking university, workplace or just an everyday conversation.

Perfecting this exercise is a big step forward from listening to understanding.


Whether we’re listening closely or playing audio in the background, listening practice improves our understanding of the language. Be creative and mix up your studying so you can improve not only your listening skills but also your overall English language skills.

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