Let’s face it: you won’t get fluent without English listening practice.
When I was a new language learner, I mistakenly thought that speaking correctly was all that mattered.
I poured over vocabulary books and grammar guides. I could easily introduce myself and use common expressions.
But listening to audio recordings and podcasts made me realize just how much I’d missed. As the fast speech flew by, I realized that I would never be able to have a real conversation until I improved my listening skills—so I could actually understand what people were saying to me!
As an ESL learner, you need to focus on English listening practice if you want to achieve true fluency in the language.
That’s why we’re sharing the 12 best audio resources to improve English listening that you can find online. Keep reading to discover everything from short clips with comprehension activities, to long and in-depth listening resources, to sample listening tests for IELTS and TOEFL.
How to Be a Better Listener
These four vital tips will maximize your studies and improve your listening skills in no time.
- Pay attention to the purpose of your listening: Sometimes we listen simply to understand another person in a conversation. Sometimes we listen to find out a certain piece of information or to ace an exam. Each requires a different kind of effort and preparation.
You can look for resources that are curated for that purpose and train accordingly. Our resources below will help you with a wide range of listening goals, including test preparation.
- Listen for more than just the words: There’s a lot of information you can find out by listening. Along with the words, pay attention to pronunciation, the speaker’s accent and their tone of voice. Even the pauses between phrases are important. These will all help you understand how English is used naturally and improve your own spoken English.
If you’re using a video resource for English listening, watch the body language and facial expressions, too.
- Figure out your mistakes and weaknesses: Some of us get stuck with accents. Some of us find it difficult to follow fast conversations. Knowing your weaknesses can go a long way in avoiding mistakes and helping you focus on areas that need work.
Our list of resources below begins with two free English listening level tests to help you with this.
- Make the most of every resource: Don’t just listen to an audio file and answer a few short questions. Try solve all the exercises—and do them again in later days or weeks to see if you make fewer errors.
English Listening Practice: 12 Amazing Audio Tools to Be a Better Listener
There’s a wealth of audio and video content out there that you can use to practice your English listening skills. But choosing the right one for your skills, commitment level and needs might be difficult, which is why this guide is here to help.
Online Listening Tests to Determine Your Level
Your listening skills also depend on your language skills. If your sense of grammar and vocabulary isn’t strong, you won’t understand half the words or follow the trail of conversation.
Fortunately, you can determine your listening level (and your overall English level) with simple tests, available online for free.
This is a short, 20-minute test with 15 questions. Once you complete it, you’ll be given a grade between A2 (upper-beginner) to C2 (most advanced). Based on the grade you get, you can choose whether you wish to practice English listening at basic, intermediate or advanced levels.
This is a self-adjusting test, meaning the questions can get easier or harder based on your responses.
It’s always best to take more than one test to accurately figure out your learning level. This is another short test of only 24 questions. You’ll listen to six short audio clips and answer a series of questions about each one.
English Listening Practice Exercises with Short Audio
Once you’ve determined your level, it’s time to get started with English listening practice!
These resources have short audio recordings with lots of exercises to improve your skills.
TalkEnglish has a variety of short listening exercises sorted by skill level (basic, intermediate and advanced). Some are as short as 16 seconds. The protocol is simple—carefully listen to the audio file and then view and solve the quiz questions. You can also see the transcript of the dialogue afterwards.
Even the busiest English learners should have time to do three to five of these lessons every day.
Here, you can sort through listening exercises by skill level and by length. So, if you’re stuck in your doctor’s waiting room, opt for a 10+ minute long audio file—but if you’re exhausted after a day’s work, just pick a short one-minute file to keep up your daily effort.
These activities will help you practice listening for information, distinguish different consonant sounds and figure out implied meanings from a particular context.
This website contains a library’s worth of useful and engaging material. It’s perfect for those who like a playful and fun approach to English listening practice.
In addition to audio lessons with quizzes, there are also some games that make use of your listening skills. Some even have video and multimedia content.
And they have over 1,400 free audio lessons, so you won’t run out of material anytime soon.
If you prefer simple and short audio lessons (15 to 20 minutes long) that are mainly conversations about daily life, then this website might be the right one for you. The audio files here are particularly suited for vocabulary building.
Moreover, each lesson comes with an e-book, a transcript and an option to download the audio files to replay later.
Extended English Listening Practice Resources
Can you listen to an entire audiobook without getting lost? Can you recall important bits of information and follow storylines or a very long conversation?
Give your listening skills a real workout for an extended period of time with these excellent resources. With hours of audio, you won’t run out of listening practice opportunities!
If you’re looking for an all-in-one course to improve your English skills, including listening, then you need to know about FluentU.
FluentU’s learning approach is innovative and immersive. You start out by watching real English videos—like movie trailers, music videos, inspiring speeches and more—that have been transformed into personalized language lessons.
Didn’t understand something in the video? Click on any word in the interactive subtitles for an instant definition and grammar information. This way, you naturally improve your English listening skills and while absorbing authentic English. There’s also a quick-loop button to easily rewind any tricky section.
If you’re up for the challenge, turn off the English subtitles and see how much you understand!
After you’re done watching, FluentU provides flashcards and fun quizzes to make sure you remember everything you learned. The videos are organized by genre and level (six levels from beginner to advanced) so it’s easy to find the ones that work for you.
Perhaps the best part is that you can take this entertaining English listening practice anywhere you go with the FluentU mobile apps for iOS and Android.
This is an amazing site, packed with comprehension exercises, podcasts and even audiobooks for your listening practice needs. You can also get a taste of English classics, fairytales and fables.
Along with those longer listening materials, Agenda Web offers a host of shorter exercises and interactive dictation exercises.
If you’re specifically looking for audiobooks that are delivered mostly by native speakers, then this website might be a good one. Each of the audiobooks are divided into chapters and are accompanied by relevant exercises.
There are also a number of speeches you can listen to. You’ll learn the art of rhetoric and public speaking while you practice English listening. You can even hear the story of the Fernandez family, who set up this particular language course.
If you’re up for some long audio stories, then this website has a few of them that you can immediately access, including famous ones such as “The Hound of the Baskervilles” and “The Railway Children.”
They also come with a transcript, which you can follow if it gets difficult or you’re trying to learn the pronunciation and spelling of new words.
Listening Practice for English Exams
Planning to work, study or live in an English-speaking country? Many of you might be looking for free listening material to practice for official English tests. IELTS and TOEFL are the two most popular and widely-used tests, and preparing your listening skills for them should give you a head-start.
For IELTS exam-takers, this website has a number of sample listening tests, along with the sample tasks and transcripts.
Answer keys are provided so you can check your mistakes.
This website contains a full TOEFL listening sample test, along with dozens of listening “mock tests.” These are shorter practice tests that you can solve and practice whenever you have time.
You’ll also be provided with tips to ace the test and general exam information.
If you really want to improve your listening skills, you must be prepared to practice as much as possible. Determine your listening level, make adequate time for English listening practice and choose resources that you enjoy. Finally, don’t forget to apply your skills in daily life and learn from your mistakes.
And One More Thing…If you enjoy learning English with fun, authentic media, you'll love FluentU. FluentU uses a natural teaching method that helps you ease into the English language and culture over time. You’ll learn English as it's actually spoken by real people.
Learn all the vocabulary in any video with games and quizzes. FluentU helps you learn fast with useful questions and multiple examples.
Archita Mittra is a freelance writer, journalist, editor and educator. Feel free to check out her blog or contact her for freelancing/educational inquiries.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn English with real-world videos.