When you think about having a conversation in English, what is the first thing that comes to mind?
While all of these are very important, it is even more important to be able to understand what is being said in general.
That is one reason why listening skills are one of the key skills to develop when you are learning English.
When you practice good listening skills, you are improving your pronunciation. You are enriching (adding to) your vocabulary. You are also perfecting your grammar knowledge.
Listening skills are worth your time and effort!
There are many ways to improve and develop your listening skills. You can use music, movies, TV shows and even videos, but audio tools can be especially versatile (flexible).
This post will give you some practical advice on how to use audio tools to learn English, no matter what your language level is.
The Advantages of Learning English with Audio
So why audio? Why not videos or books? You definitely should not forget about all other tools available to you, but audio has some unique advantages:
- Your eyes can take a break from screens. Using audio tools does not require that you look at a screen—like your cell phone screen or computer screen—for long periods of time, the way video exercises and films do. These days, we are surrounded by visuals, on our laptops, tablets and cell phones… so it is great to give your eyes a break! Just relax, close your eyes and listen.
- Audio is easy to find in several formats. You can download audio files online and upload them to your phone or iPod. You could go shopping for an audiobook or buy a CD English learning course to play in your car. They also tend to be less expensive than movie downloads or Blu-ray discs.
- Audio can be used in your spare time and when you travel. For example, if you commute (take public transit) to school or to work, you can definitely use both audio and video tools to improve English. But if you drive, then audio is the only way to learn, because you have to keep your eyes on the road!
- Finally, audio can be very entertaining. Radio talks, radio shows and news are just the start. There are radio dramas and comedies, podcasts and audiobooks available to you. The options are endless!
Tips on Using Audio Tools
- No matter what kind of audio tool you are using, you need to make sure that it is appropriate for your level of English. If you are a beginner, you will have a lot of difficulty understanding the readings of Shakespeare or a documentary on international financial systems. You are likely to get discouraged and stop using this kind of audio quickly. Do not waste your time; start slow and build up on your listening skills.
One great way to keep track of your English level is by learning with FluentU. FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons. It’s great for using alongside audio tools!
- It is also very important to have fun with audio. The readings of Shakespeare may be great practice for you as an advanced English speaker, but if you do not like poetry, you will probably not enjoy it that much. Choose an audiobook that you love or that interests you. Start on a new radio show. As long as you enjoy your learning, it will be beneficial to you.
- Here’s a more practical tip: choose comfortable headphones or earbuds for your audio English practice. There are two reasons for this: first, if you listen to audio in a public space, it is a considerate (polite) thing to do to respect other people and not force them to listen to your language lessons, too. Second, you may be listening (and wearing headphones) for long periods of time, so your head and ears should be comfortable while you do that!
Below, you will find a lot of ideas on audio tools that you could choose based on your level of English.
Remember that while some audio tools are more appropriate for more advanced learners, you can always adapt the tool you like to your study plan by choosing less advanced topics and content. Read on!
Learn English with Audio: Listening Practice for Every Language Level
Audio Tools for Beginner English Learners
General English audio courses
Audio courses you can find on CDs or online may be perfect for you if you are just starting to learn English.
In addition to giving you a good foundation in listening, you will also hear correct pronunciation (most likely with a British or American accent), grammar rules and vocabulary on certain topics. These audio courses are great for driving or listening to on public transit.
- “Complete English as a Foreign Language” by Teach Yourself. The Teach Yourself series offers excellent introductory courses for many languages, including English. This course focuses on fun and interactive exercises based on different topics, so you can quickly improve many areas of your English. There is a textbook that comes with the audio guide, but you do not have to have both to start learning.
- Pimsleur English courses are different, because they consider your native language when teaching English to you. There is English for Spanish Speakers, English for Mandarin Speakers, English for French Speakers and many more course options. Because every language has its peculiarities (parts that are strange or different), Pimsleur focuses on the most common problems English learners from different countries face. Each course is audio only. And you can try a free English lesson on their website!
Pronunciation and vocabulary audio courses
Audio courses that focus on specific areas of interest are great for beginners, too. For example, if it is important to you to develop the perfect English accent, an audio course is the best way to do it. There are lots and lots of specialized courses available.
- “English Pronunciation in Use: Elementary” is actually a textbook, but it comes with five CDs that you will be using the most. It is a great self-study course aimed at beginner learners who want to speak with a British accent.
- “American Accent Training with 5 Audio CDs” is an audio and book course that will help you learn to speak with a proper American accent. Its complete focus is on pronunciation, including vowels, consonants and diphthongs (two vowels together that make one sound), so you are guaranteed to speak like an American once you finish it!
These audiobooks are great for beginner English learners because of their simplicity and focus on easy vocabulary. You can start with the simplest books of nursery rhymes, fairy tales and even ABCs. These make for fun and easy audio exercises that you can listen to when you are tired or don’t have much time to practice listening.
- “Dr. Seuss’s ABC” is the children’s favorite author presenting the letters and the sounds of the English alphabet. It is a great start for elementary English learners!
- “Treasury of Nursery Rhymes” by Lucy Cousins is a collection of well-known nursery rhymes that come with a beautifully illustrated book. When your English improves, you should definitely keep this one for your bookshelf!
Audio Tools for Intermediate English Learners
When you move up to the intermediate level of English, your options for audio tools increase. Your vocabulary, understanding of grammar and listening skills themselves become better.
Nonetheless, the formal English courses described above may be very useful for you as well. You will find the courses targeting pronunciation and accent particularly valuable.
In addition, you should seek out podcasts and audiobooks!
Podcasts are daily, weekly or monthly audio programs that you can subscribe to, either for free or for a small fee, which you then download to your computer, phone or tablet. Podcasts cover so many different topics and come in so many forms, you are bound to find something that interests you! News, sports, analytical programs, interviews, pop culture—podcasts have it all.
Keep in mind that some podcasts may be above your English level. Choose those that are not only interesting, but that you can understand as well. Some good resources to find podcasts are:
One of the most popular podcast programs for English learners is EnglishClass101 by Innovative Language. It currently has over 1,400 video and audio lessons to teach you English, in the style of podcasts. These podcasts also come with interactive learning tools, so that you can practice your English with relevant activities. And you can sign up for free!
When it comes to audiobooks, you can now listen to certain genres that tend to have intermediate-level-appropriate vocabulary and grammar, such as young adult and adventure fiction:
- Audible, an app that is compatible with (works with) most Android devices, is dedicated to audiobooks (most paid, but some free).
- Apple iBooks has a dedicated audiobooks section, with free and paid choices available as well.
- Your local library may have audiobooks on CDs or available as online downloads for free. Be sure to check it out!
Audio Tools for Advanced English Learners
As an advanced speaker of English who wants to use audio tools to continue improving, you will be able to enjoy a wide variety of literature and programs available to native speakers. All of the suggestions above are great, including podcasts and audiobooks. Here are some more ideas that advanced learners can try.
When it comes to audiobooks, you may enjoy listening to the readings of modern bestselling books, classical English literature and even non-fiction, if you want a challenge.
- The New York Times Best Sellers list will give you some ideas, if you would like to listen to popular fiction or the latest in book trends, especially in the USA.
- All-Time 100 Novels is the list by Time of the best English-language novels since 1923. That may be subjective (not the same for everyone), of course, but it offers great suggestions for your next audiobook, especially if you would like to listen to an American classic.
Radio comedies and dramas
The ultimate listening practice for advanced speakers are definitely radio comedies and dramas. BBC Radio is famous for producing high-quality ones.
These are just like your favorite TV shows with an interesting plot, engaging characters and witty (clever) dialogue, except they rely only on voices and sounds to tell the story. This is far from easy for an English learner to follow along with, so it will be a great test of your listening skills!
- “Wooden Overcoats” is a sitcom (situational comedy) set on a small island and following the director of a local funeral home and his new employee. Do not be put off by the subject, because the show is funny and clever! It is released in a podcast format and has won multiple comedy awards and nominations.
- “Cabin Pressure” is one of the best comedies on BBC Radio 4 that follows the adventures of a small airline. There are only four characters (and one of them is voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch). The episodes are each 30 minutes long, so you can listen to one or several at a time.
Using audio is the perfect way to improve your English listening skills and become better at understanding English speech, its patterns and even different English accents.
Depending on the audio tool you choose, you may learn new and exciting vocabulary, practice grammar and improve pronunciation, or just have fun and be entertained while you listen.
Keep in mind that patience is very important when you work with audio, because listening is not easy.
Your improvement will be gradual, but as long as you are having fun, you will soon see the results.
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