The beginning is the hardest part.
Ask the famous writer Stephen King.
He threw away the first draft of his novel “Carrie.”
After his wife encouraged him to rewrite the novel, it got rejected 30 times.
But when it was finally published, it sold 30,000 copies and was later made into a hit film.
Language learners face similar struggles when they start out. They might lose confidence when they make mistakes. Or they might not have the resources to make progress.
This is especially true for listening skills. Many beginner language programs focus primarily on speaking instead of listening comprehension. That means lots of beginners are not taught how or where to get listening practice.
So in this post, we will get you started right.
We will show you unique activities and the best resources for beginners to practice their English listening skills.
Why Beginners Need Listening Practice
According to a paper by language teacher and researcher Larry Vandergrift, listening comprehension benefits beginners in several ways:
- More strategic starting point: Starting with English listening (instead of speaking) helps your brain retain basic knowledge about English sounds better. Speaking requires the memory of sounds and the knowledge of how to produce them. If you are a beginner to learning English, it can be overwhelming.
Since listening does not force learners to repeat what they are hearing, they can focus more on understanding the meaning of the content. This deeper understanding allows learners to build English skills in an efficient way (without wasting time or energy).
- More useful results: Native speakers of any language dedicate 40 to 50 percent of their time to listening in a conversation, according to Vandergrift. This means that listening is as important as speaking in any interaction. Concentrating on listening while learning a language allows students to get better in English interactions at a faster rate.
- Emotional benefits: When learners are not expected to speak in the early stages of language learning, they feel more comfortable. They do not get embarrassed about failing to pronounce words correctly. They also do not feel the stress of performing well in front of others. This makes the learning process more enjoyable and pleasant.
The Best English Listening Practice Activities and Videos for Beginners
1. Beginner Activities to Practice English Listening
Bilingual Movie Watching
There are primarily two types of movies you can use for this activity. The first are movies that were originally made in your native language and then were translated into English for an international audience. Depending on your native language, you might have a lot of movies to choose from or just a few.
The second are English-language movies, usually made in Hollywood, that have been translated into your mother tongue. Since the English movie industry by default seeks to release their films in as many countries as possible, most movies are made in multiple languages. For instance, the “Harry Potter” series has been translated into languages like Hindi, French, Cantonese and many more.
For this activity, you will watch the movie one scene at a time. First watch the scene in your native tongue and then watch it in English. That way, you will know what is happening in the scene and in the dialogue when you watch it in your own language. Then when you see it again in English, you can focus more on the words without getting totally lost.
Write down anything that seems confusing or difficult. After the scene ends, try to match the English words with the words in your own language. Also focus on the differences in sounds and way of speaking as you compare the two versions.
The best movies for language practice are generally made for children. The plots are easier to follow, the dialogue is not complex and the vocabulary is also not very advanced in these movies.
The Blackout Method
The blackout method is a technique used by 20th century poets. Recently it became popular with online writers and artists who regularly share their poems on Instagram and Tumblr.
This practice activity is a fun, unique way to practice active listening (focusing all your attention on the sounds, grammar and meaning of words as you listen).
First, you need an audio recording and a transcript of the audio. The British Council has a great collection of dialogues with transcripts to get you started.
Then, follow these steps:
- Listen to the audio without the transcript: Listen to the audio two or three times and make sure you have a good understanding of the content. Note down any sections that are unclear.
- Listen while reading the transcript: Now you will see the whole recording written out. You may understand confusing parts just by reading them, or you can look up any words you do not know. If you need to listen to the audio clip again so that you gain a better understanding of the text, do not hesitate to do so.
- Highlight new or interesting words: These will form your blackout poem. Try to pick words from the beginning, middle and end of the clip. The more new vocabulary words you include, the better.
- Make a meaningful sentence using those words: Look for other words in the transcript that can be used along with the words you chose. Linking words, articles, pronouns and so on can be used to complete the sentences. After you have selected these words, highlight them too. Then use a black marker to black out (cover up) all the other words that have not been highlighted.
Now the new words should be stuck in your brain! Not only have you listened to them many times, you have used them to create your own, unique poem in a new context.
Remake a Recording
If you do not like learning alone and enjoy sharing knowledge with others, then perhaps you should practice in groups. For this group activity you need at least two people who are also English learners and preferably a person who is already fluent in English. Although you do not need a teacher for this activity, it is always more helpful if someone can guide you while you learn.
You need around 70 minutes to complete this activity. Here are the steps you need to follow:
- Individual listening: Select a recording that talks about something that you already know (podcasts are an excellent resource for this activity—you can find lots of English podcasts here). Each person listens to the recording individually and tries to see how much they understand.
After this, all group members listen to the recording two more times, taking notes on a sheet of paper. The notes might include specific words or the main points of the recording.
- Reconstructing: In this phase, the group discusses what they have heard. This allows learners to grow more confident in their abilities as they share their observations with others. It also helps learners to discover techniques they can use to improve their comprehension skills.
Once that is done, the group tries to write down what the speaker in the audio clip said. Try to recreate the script as accurately as possible.
- Discovery: Here the group plays the recording again to compare it to their recreated script. They note down any errors and discuss parts they missed.
The focus of the group should be on grammar, vocabulary and the points mentioned in the audio clip. All the errors should be noted down in a list. Then the group has to correct their text by listening again, or looking up a grammar or spelling rule if necessary.
2. Resources for Beginner English Listening Practice
English Sounds Playlist from Rachel’s English
Pronunciation is one of the hardest and most confusing parts of English. Many learners get confused since the spellings and sounds of words vary so much. The sounds used in English may also be very different from the ones used in other languages, especially the non-European ones.
Rachel’s channel hosts a special series where she focuses exclusively on the particular sounds in the English language. She has more than 30 videos explaining how to make various sounds. She has covered almost every vowel and consonant present in English.
Every beginner will benefit from this series as they will learn to identify and also produce the sounds. This will help in both basic listening and pronunciation skills.
FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
Each video comes with captions you can click for an instant definition, visual learning aid or native pronunciation. That means you can quickly learn new words while you listen, or check your comprehension if you are not sure that you understood. FluentU also creates flashcards and exercises for every video so you remember new words when you are done watching.
If you do not want to be distracted by the videos, there are also audio-only files for pure listening practice.
The clips are organized by genre and learning level, including lower beginner and upper beginner. You have the flexibility to practice with any video that interests you. But FluentU also personalizes the experience by suggesting new videos based on what you have already watched.
Best of all, you can take your listening practice anywhere with the FluentU mobile app. Start exploring the full video library for free with a FluentU trial!
Kids’ Stories from the British Council
The British Council is one of the most well known educational organizations in the world. In this YouTube series, they have made special animated short films that depict stories in English for children.
The stories include traditional folktales that have been passed from one generation to another, along with stories set in the current world.
The pace, accent and vocabulary is simplified so that beginners can understand the content clearly. The videos also have clear subtitles, which means you can use the videos to practice reading along with listening.
Since these videos have links in their description where you can find texts of the stories, they are perfect for the blackout activity discussed above.
Long Story Short
This is a fun online series made for native English speakers, but can be understood by beginners. Each episode describes an everyday event in a funny way, in under five minutes.
The dialogues are repetitive and simple and are really helpful in understanding the meaning of common words. They focus on ordinary things like making a website or celebrating Halloween, which can help learners understand the culture of native speakers.
The main problem with the series is that the pace is quite fast in all the videos. This can be easily corrected by changing the audio settings on YouTube. Just click on the gear icon on the lower right side of the video. Then select the “Speed” option and set it to 0.75 or 0.5, which will slow the audio down.
Long Story Short is a great resource for the “Remake a Recording” activity, since the speech is very natural and tells a relatable story.
Subtitled Spoken English Playlist from Daily English Conversation
This YouTube playlist from Daily English Conversation features hour-long videos that have different conversations about many topics. Usually one video has as many as 70 different conversations. Each of them is repeated many times so it is easier for learners to follow.
The conversations also have subtitles along with narration, which helps you relate the sounds to the written words. But the videos do not have visuals, which makes it a little hard to connect words with specific objects.
Overall the series is very helpful for people who are just starting to practice English conversation or listening.
Funny Ads Compilation
Advertisements are meant to communicate something quickly to a large number of people. For this reason, most of them are short and use very simple language so that the audience understands them instantly. This makes ads the perfect content for beginner English listening practice.
This channel usually combines the various ads of one or two companies in medium-length videos. Each ad lasts for around half a minute and uses repetitive language. Sometimes the video can be quite fast, so be sure to watch them in slower speeds if necessary.
The language used in most ads is casual and informal. You can note down anything that you do not understand and look it up later. It is best to select only one or two ads from the whole video and watch them again and again so you get a good idea about the content.
Dialogues and Roleplays from English Singsing
This series teaches beginners how to have simple conversations in daily life. Each video takes up a word or a topic and then gives you examples of how native speakers use them in reality.
The animated series is designed for people who are just beginning their learning journey. The videos are all around one minute long. The sentences are very short and the pace of speaking is slow, too.
All the videos have subtitles so you can follow the dialogues properly.
Apart from the actual words, the videos also give you a good idea about the rules of conversation in English.
Kids Interview Bands
Interviews are some of the most popular formats of conversation in the media. They are also great to learn how to ask questions in English. In this series, two kids interview members of rock bands from all around America.
The questions are generally short and so are the answers. Learners may find it difficult to understand some of them because they might be related to English pop culture. But you can always research online to learn more.
This series is good for those learners who have a basic English vocabulary. It is especially useful for learners who are interested in music. Since the interviewers are kids, the vocabulary and concepts discussed are not too complex.
Daily Beginner Conversations Playlist from American Spoken English
This channel focuses only on American English. Their videos are different because they first narrate a whole sequence of events, then they focus on individual sentences with transcripts.
While watching the videos, try focusing on the underlined words in the subtitles. Those are the important words and you should probably look up their definition in the dictionary while practicing.
Most of the videos deal with everyday subjects like vacations, jobs, relationships and so on. The videos also have simple, cartoon illustrations that help the listeners connect to the topic of conversation.
Convos with My 2-year-old
This is a popular YouTube show with more than 740,000 subscribers. In each episode, the YouTubers reenact conversations they had with their children, but the children are played by grown men.
Although the basic plot is very simple, it is one of the funniest series I have ever watched. Most of the episodes are very short and do not go beyond five minutes.
It is good for observing native English speakers converse. But since the original dialogues were spoken by kids, the language does not become too complex to understand.
Convos is a slang word for “conversations,” and the general tone of the show is very informal and humorous.
Choosing the right content decides the quality and the success of your practice sessions. With these resources and practice activities, you should feel prepared to practice English listening the right way, starting now.
Dhritiman Ray is a writer of fiction, poetry and non-fiction. He specializes in topics like education, psychology and lifestyle. To know more click here.
And One More Thing...
If you like learning English through movies and online media, you should also check out FluentU. FluentU lets you learn English from popular talk shows, catchy music videos and funny commercials, as you can see here:
The FluentU app and website 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 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? FluentU remembers the vocabulary that you’re learning. It gives you extra practice with difficult words—and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned. You have a truly personalized experience.
Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or from the Google Play store.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn English with real-world videos.