Wanna open your mouth and effortlessly speak fluent English?
Getting to that level is always a challenge.
Many English learners think the way to get there is to talk constantly.
Talking helps, but listening can help you even more.
You probably don’t remember, but listening is the first language skill you honed as a baby. It’s how we all first learn our native language. Because of the way we develop as humans, it’s the only thing we can do for the first year or so of our lives. Sure, we can make little sounds, but we’re nowhere close to fluency. Then, suddenly, after a long time of absorbing the language, we start talking.
And some of us never stop.
Remembering to take some quiet time and absorb the language is incredibly important in your language acquisition.
English Listening Practice: The Complete Toolkit
Students who are outgoing tend to be some of the best English speakers, but may struggle to understand the rhythms of English. Not all English speakers stress and link words in the same way. A word may sound one way in America and not sound the same in Britain. So it’s important to hear how different countries speak English. How can you engage in a conversation if you don’t understand what’s being said to you?
Immersing yourself in your second language by interacting with others is extremely beneficial to language learning, but it isn’t always possible. Lucky for you, there’s an overwhelming amount of resources on the internet for improving your listening.
So, don’t disregard the importance or ease of sitting back and soaking in the language. While in your homeland, dive into listening and take some time to learn sentence structure, intonations and nuances with your ears to become a better English student!
A Step-by-step Guide of How to Practice Listening
As adults we don’t take the time to sit back and listen because we want to be more proactive and speedy in our learning. We may feel that we should be doing something with eyes, mouths or hands. Be proactive while you listen. Even a little bit of skill in reading, writing and speaking our second language can help with listening practice. Here’s how:
- Find an audio track that also comes with the transcript. First, listen to the track without reading the transcript. Train your ears and brain to hear the words and visualize them at the same time.
- Now read the text out loud to see what you missed.
- Listen to the audio again, this time reading the transcript out loud while it plays. This’ll help you recognize words you didn’t quite hear the first time and see how words sometimes blend together.
- Next, put the transcript away and grab a blank sheet of paper. Listen to the audio again. This time, try to write down the transcript as you hear it. Listen a couple of times if you need to.
- Finally, fill in the gaps of your writing with one more listening and reading of the transcript. The more you listen and recognize the words, the more they’ll be committed to memory and hearing them won’t sound so new to you.
5 Great Websites for Listening
Not sure where to go for listening help? Here are some great sites to start with that’ll allow you to follow the above five steps.
1. Breaking News English
It’s free, it’s printable, it’s interactive and it accommodates many levels. This site’s full of short audio tracks about current events, weird news and worldwide issues. In the 26-page lessons you can do word-fill activities, vocabulary exercises, true and false questions and multiple choice quizzes along with other activities that prompt conversation and critical thinking on the subject. Then you can check your answers. This gives you all the tools to follow our guide to listening.
2. Ted Talks
This offers a wide range of speeches on as many different subjects as you can think of, all for free. If you can’t find a talk that sounds interesting to you, then you aren’t looking hard enough! Furthermore, you can find talks with subtitles in 105 languages. One hundred and five!
There’s a good chance that, after you first watch the talk with English subtitles, then you can watch it in your native language to help clear up anything you didn’t understand.
You can also find an interactive transcript or a printable one that you can read at your leisure or along with the talk. TED allows you to learn more about an interesting topic, learn new words and even get tips on how to give a good presentation. This is ideal for advanced learners, but there are plenty of talks for all skill levels.
This site is great because of its variety in exercises and accents. You can get news, situational dialogues, video blogs from other English learners around the world, audio tracks called “mixers” where six different speakers respond to the same question and other helpful audio. These also all come with transcripts that you can use to read along with the audio.
This is especially fun and interesting because the content is made by people from all over the world. Not only is language learned here, but also different accents and cultures. Here you can connect with other learners and participate in the language learning journey together, and if you feel inclined you can upgrade your account ($19.95) to have access to more language exercises.
4. The British Council
Like Elllo, the British Council offers some great audio and four different levels to choose from. They also provide questions and gap fills that you can do as you listen to the audio track. If you want to study it even further, they also offer PDF downloads with more questions and exercises. Below the online exercises there’s also an active chat board where you can answer a question posed by a moderator and vote on other people’s responses, getting you involved in a language community.
All right, since you want to improve your English listening skills, I absolutely have to tell you about FluentU. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a beginner or near fluency—our philosophy is that you’ll learn better if you listen to real-world English.
FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
FluentU lets you read along with subtitles and look up definitions along the way, but it also has an interactive learning mode that teaches you new vocabulary by using questions generated from the videos themselves. The best part? All prompts are personalized based on your history.
Give it a free try and see your English listening skills skyrocket!
Be Entertained: Watch, Listen, Laugh, Cry, Dance and Learn
These days there are also lots of great podcasts to listen to for free! A few weeks ago, I was at a conference with Hyunwoo Sun from Talk To Me in Korean. He mentioned that many non-English speakers are improving their English while learning Korean on his site. Perhaps you’re a multi-tasker and could find an English language podcast that teaches another language of interest like TTMK!
Though podcasts and audio tracks are incredible for the English learner, there’s nothing quite like watching television or movies and listening to music.
Sitcoms, movies and music from countries where English is the native language can teach you about the culture, frequently used idioms, slang, common body language (don’t underestimate the importance of body language!) and the rhythm of the language without having to actually live in that country.
There are countless stories of people crediting cheesy American sitcoms for helping with their English skills. Fortunately, there are also some incredible TV shows being made these days that are offered around the world that appeal to everyone.
And now the internet, iTunes and YouTube offer an endless library of TV and movie resources for you. There’s plenty to choose from.
Overwhelmed? Need a recommendation? Check out the videos in FluentU’s library for television, movies and music that’ll help you practice and feel confident with your listening. It’s extensive, user-friendly and has been organized and created with you, the English student, in mind!
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.