Think about your best friend.
Do you both like the same things?
Do you both think the same thoughts?
Do you both wear the same clothes?
And that’s normal, because everyone is different.
We have different interests, thoughts, clothes… and also different learning styles.
That’s right, everyone learns differently.
So if you want to improve your English listening skills, you have to use the method (way) that works best for you. Some people learn really well in a classroom, while others prefer to practice on their own.
Once you’re in the right setting with the right tools, you can quickly boost (improve) your English listening skills. Are you ready to get started? First we need to find out what kind of learner you are.
What English Learning Setting Is Best for Me?
It is very important to be in the right setting when learning any part of English. With listening it’s even more important, because listening is a skill that requires your careful attention.
Here are three main types of learning situations:
- Classroom setting: A classroom will have other students with a teacher, and meets regularly. This might be for you if you like discussing with other students, feel uncomfortable alone with a teacher, or have trouble focusing on your own.
- One-on-one: One-on-one classes are sessions with you and a teacher (or a conversation partner). You might prefer these lessons if you feel shy around other students or if it’s easier to ask questions to a teacher or conversation partner privately (alone).
- Independent study: Independent means “by yourself,” so this involves studying English on your own time. You might like this option if you can get distracted by others in a classroom, are too busy for a formal class, or prefer to study in different places (on a train, at home, at a park) whenever you can.
Try these different ways of practicing English listening skills, and pay attention to which works best for you. Once you have chosen your learning setting, use the tips below to practice listening in English.
Tips for Improving English in a Classroom Setting
If you learn best in a classroom setting, here are some tips that will help you quickly improve your English listening skills in the classroom.
Record class activities on your cell phone.
If you have trouble understanding every spoken English word during your classes, record them. Later you can listen to class again and hear any of the words you might have missed the first time. These recordings will also help you become familiar with the sound of your teacher and classmates while they speak.
You should listen for the tone and intonation (sound of voice, high or low) of their words. This will help you pronounce difficult words more clearly and easily. Eventually you will find it easier to understand everything that is being said during classes.
Have a list of words to listen for in class.
Using a recording, write a list of the words you hear most often in class. Then, bring this list with you to class and listen for those words. Whenever you hear a word on your list, write a checkmark, dot or X next to the word. Which words do you hear the most often?
When making your list, you can also add words that you think you might hear in class. For example, if you’re starting a unit on traveling, add some English words for travel to your list.
Listen for the context, or how the words are used in sentences. This active listening exercise will help you understand when and why certain words are used. Once you’re comfortable with the words you hear all the time, you can focus on the words from your list with fewer check marks.
Ask your classmates for help.
While you can learn a lot from your teacher, it can also be helpful to learn from your classmates. Find someone in your class who wants to learn with you. You can agree on a certain podcast, speech, song or other audio and listen together. Then, quiz each other on what certain words or sentences mean.
By doing this with someone else, your classmate will probably understand words that you don’t, and vice versa. In addition to the listening practice, this will let you get to know your classmates better, which can make you more comfortable in class.
If you want, ask your teacher if you can share the audio with other students in class, and be sure to ask your teacher about anything you couldn’t understand.
Video clips on FluentU are perfect for this listening activity. FluentU is an online immersion platform that takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized English learning lessons.
Every word comes with an in-context definition, image, audio and multiple example sentences. You can even click on a word to see how it’s used in other videos across the site. Be sure to turn off the subtitles before you hit “play,” though, to really test your ears!
Tips for Improving English Listening During One-on-one Classes
If you learn best being one-on-one with a teacher or conversation partner, here are some tips to improve your English listening skills.
Listen to your teacher for intonation.
During a session, try to listen to your conversation partner or teacher only for intonation. Intonation is when the voice rises or falls in pitch (high/low sounds) while speaking. In English, intonation often communicates the emotion or attitude of the speaker.
If you can notice intonation, this will make it easier to hear the difference between a statement or a question. So pick a day, and instead of listening for the words your teacher/partner uses, listen for the emotion behind the words—based on the intonation.
You can even ask your teacher/partner to say the same phrase or sentence with different emotions (angry, excited, sad, etc.) so you can listen for the difference. You can even turn this into a game: Guess the emotion that your teacher’s using based on their intonation.
Listen to your teacher for stress.
Stress is another important part of understanding spoken English. When English speakers say words, they do not put the same force behind each syllable. The stress is always placed on a vowel. For example, you say “China” it sounds like “CHIII-na,” not “chi-NAAA.” Listening for the stress of words will also improve your spoken English.
Phrases and sentences also have stressed words. For example, in the question “What did you say?” the biggest stress will be on “What” and “say.” If you know music, consider those two words our main beats of the sentence. The middle words “did you” will be said more quickly and are not on the beat, since they’re not as important.
To practice listening for stress, try to do an impression of how your teacher speaks and sounds. Listen carefully, think about stress and intonation, and then give it a try! If you’re not comfortable doing this in front of your teacher or partner, record part of your lesson and then try it at home. You can make this a really fun exercise!
Have a conversation with someone who isn’t a native English speaker.
If you can, have a session with someone whose first language isn’t English (a non-native speaker). This will give you a chance to listen to the differences between how native speakers and non-native speakers sound.
If you can hear the differences, it will actually make it easier to listen to native English speakers. To find a non-native English speaker online, try language exchange sites like iTalki and My Language Exchange.
Tips for Improving English Listening with Independent Study
For those of you who prefer to study English alone, here are some tips to get better at listening.
Listen to the same English podcast every day for a week.
Find a podcast that you find interesting or entertaining and choose one episode. Listen to that episode every day for a week—while you’re driving, riding the bus, washing dishes, etc. Pick out words or phrases that are difficult to understand and look them up on the first and second days. Don’t forget to hit “pause” or to listen again.
After a couple of days, you should be able to listen for these words and understand them. It may also help to memorize parts of the podcast and practice speaking them out loud. Listen for the differences between yourself and speaker.
By the last day, you’ll find that you can understand much more than on the first. As you ear adjusts to hearing this English podcast episode, it’ll be easier to listen to new audio in English.
Overhear an English conversation.
If you’re living somewhere where English is spoken, take an afternoon to hunt for an English conversation. When you start to hear English, slow down and listen. You won’t know at first what they are talking about, since you’ll probably start listening in the middle of the conversation. This will make it even more challenging to understand, but also more fun.
Listen for any new words you may not know, and also try to see if you can catch what the conversation is about. You can search for English conversation on a bus, in a cafe or at a park—but hopefully not a movie theater!
If there are no English speakers where you live, once again FluentU is a perfect alternative. Listen to a conversation from a video clip on FluentU (turn off the subtitles!) and do the same activity described above. Here are other places online where you can listen to native English speakers for listening practice.
Join a conversation group.
Find a group of English learners who host a conversation table. Conversation groups usually meet regularly, but it’s not a class. You don’t have to come every week; the purpose is simply to converse (talk) in English. Meetup is a great place to look for English conversation groups. If you can’t find a group near you, start your own!
This will be a great way to listen to a variety of English accents and voices. If you’re nervous about speaking English, remind yourself that you are going to listen—and this is totally okay. You can even tell the other speakers this if you want to, if you think it’ll be weird to sit quietly. You could say something like:
Hi, I’m Rebecca. I’m going to focus on listening tonight, so I might not say very much!
Practice that line before you go, and then after you say it, you can concentrate (focus) on listening! And besides listening and speaking practice, joining a conversation group can also be a fantastic way to make new friends.
So, whether you learn best in a classroom, one-on-one with a teacher or by yourself at home, practice listening the way that’s best for you. These tips will help you improve even faster than before. 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.