Storytelling is one of the most ancient traditions around the world, and chances are you’ve been asking to hear stories and telling your own stories ever since you learned to speak.
Just as listening to stories is one of the main ways we learn our first language as children, listening to stories in a second language like English can help us take our language skills to the next level.
Stories provide a fun and interesting way to learn English and, fortunately, there are some amazing free resources online where you can listen to all kinds of tales.
In this post, you’ll find eight of the best online resources to use when you want to listen to English stories!
How to Learn by Listening to English Stories
There are plenty of methods you can use to get more out of your English listening time.
For starters, you can listen to the same story multiple times. Repetition is a great way to improve understanding and memorization of important English words and concepts.
Try just focusing on the main idea of the story the first time you listen to it. See if you can decipher (figure out) what the theme or main plot of the story is about.
Then, when you listen a second time, practice listening for specific details. One way to do this is to complete fill-in-the-blank exercises while you listen. This activity will help you train your ear to catch specific words that are being said.
If you’re someone who prefers writing things down, then take notes while you listen to the story. Jot down (write down) things that you think are important to the story or words that you didn’t understand and plan to look up later.
Along those same lines, keeping a vocabulary journal can be extremely helpful when you’re learning a language. As you listen to these stories, you should be expanding your vocabulary. Keeping a journal of new words allows you to refer back to them if you need more practice and provides you with a physical way to assess your progress during your listening time.
Lastly, after you’ve listened to the story a few times, download the transcript (written text of the story) and read it. (Several of our resources below come with transcripts built-in.) You can either do this on your own or read along while listening to the audio recording of the story again. This will ensure that you understand exactly what you’re hearing and will clear up any words or phrases you don’t know how to spell.
Now that you’re equipped (set) with the tools you need, it’s time to get started listening to English stories with the following eight amazing websites!
Listen to English Stories on 8 Wonderful Websites
Storynory is a truly amazing website that offers free audio stories. Their stories are divided by genre, including fairy tales, classics, myths and legends, poems, original stories and more.
Every audio recording is accompanied by a transcript that you can review, and some stories even offer related educational material for further practice.
The site was originally created for kids, but it’s great for adults learning English as well because all of the material is level appropriate.
Storynory offers both shorter stories that you can get through in one sitting and longer chapter books or stories, like L. Frank Baum’s “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” that are often divided into separate recordings or by chapters.
I recommend beginning with the first Baskervilles story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle entitled “Mr. Sherlock Holmes.” If you like this classic, you’re in luck, as Storynory has uploaded tons of Sherlock Holmes tales to the site. This first story of the series is read in a clear voice that should be easy for English learners to understand.
FluentU takes real-world videos like music videos, commercials, news, and inspiring talks and turns them into English learning experiences.
Unlike traditional apps, FluentU uses a natural approach that helps you ease into the English language and culture over time. You’ll learn English as it’s spoken in real life.
FluentU has a variety of engaging videos with topics like popular talk shows, music videos and funny commercials, as you can see here:
FluentU 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 “brought,” 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 is that FluentU keeps track of the vocabulary that you’re learning and recommends you examples and videos based on the words you’ve already learned. Every learner has a truly personalized experience, even if they’re learning the same video.
I recommend beginning with “Crazy News Stories” first, which tells several real-life news stories about wild animals and flooding. The stories are brief and incorporate easier vocabulary that shouldn’t be too difficult to understand.
Learn English Through Story is a YouTube channel that’s specifically designed for English learners. As such, stories are read clearly and slowly and are appropriate for ESL listeners.
Stories come in a variety of types, including smaller tales like “The Three Little Pigs” or longer books like “Sense and Sensibility” by Jane Austen.
If you don’t want to listen to classics or short pieces of fiction, the channel also records nonfiction story segments on real places, people, traditions and more.
Each story contains the written text on the screen as it’s read, so you can follow along if you choose or just check your comprehension afterward. Each story is also categorized by level, which means that you can find exactly what works for you.
If you’re in the mood for a longer book, I recommend starting with the recording of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” because chances are, you’re probably already familiar with the story. Having prior (previous) knowledge of a book can help you follow the English version better.
Digitalbook is a site that offers tons of free audiobooks for English learners to download or listen to directly on the site.
It has both classic novels like “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen and shorter tales like “The Wind in the Willows” by Kenneth Grahame, so whether you want a bigger listening project or some shorter practice, there’s something for you.
Digitalbook provides a synopsis (summary) of each story and the corresponding English level so you know exactly what to expect.
Try starting with the recording of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” which is written in epistolary form (meaning it’s written as a series of letters and journal entries). This can be a nice way for English learners to break up the content and focus on just one letter or journal entry at a time.
StoryCorps is a project created by an organization that interviews Americans from all types of backgrounds to find out their stories.
You can listen to different people telling stories about their lives, which exposes you to a wide range of accents and vocabulary. You can find stories based on themes, such as military, LGBTQ or African American history.
Typically, these stories range anywhere from a few minutes to 12 minutes long, so they’re short enough to listen to in one sitting.
Many of the stories are accompanied by beautiful animations, photographs or other neat visuals.
I recommend starting with a story called “The Treasures of Mrs. Grady’s Library.” It’s about a man who used to steal library books as a teenager because he didn’t want his friends to know he liked reading.
The story is truly beautiful, and though it may be a bit more difficult for English learners to understand due to the man’s thick Southern accent (he’s from Arkansas), it’s definitely worth listening to. The beautiful animations make it easier to follow than it would be otherwise.
This site was originally created for kids, which means that the English level is simple enough and also appropriate for ESL learners.
Stories to Grow by offers free audiobooks of classic fairy tales and fables and provides transcripts of each recording.
The stories are usually around 15 minutes long and don’t require any preparation ahead of time.
Try starting with the classic story called “The Velveteen Rabbit” by Margery Williams, a tale about a sweet toy that becomes real. The story is only about seven minutes long and uses vocabulary that’s easy to understand.
Open Culture has an enormous list of free audiobooks divided into three categories: fiction & literature, poetry and nonfiction.
Each list is sorted by authors’ names, so it’s easy to find whatever you’re looking for. Their content includes longer books, shorter stories, fables and more.
The list tells you exactly how each audiobook is available (through iTunes, Spotify, streaming, mp3 download, etc.), and some of these great stories are even read aloud by their original author.
For beginners, I recommend starting with a children’s book like Margaret Wise Brown’s “Goodnight Moon.” It features super simple sentence structure and vocabulary and uses repetition to make learning easier.
Easy Stories in English is another site created specifically for ESL learners. The stories are divided into four different levels so you can easily find what you need.
Transcripts of the stories are available, and the site has both shorter stories and longer books or stories divided by chapters so that each recording is no longer than about 15 minutes.
Intermediate learners can begin with a story like “The Black Cat” by Edgar Allan Poe. Not only is this a classic short story that’ll add some fantastic vocabulary to your knowledge, but the audio introduction to the story will also explain certain vocabulary words that you’ll need to know ahead of time.
To make a long story short, you now have all the resources you need to go out and listen to some fantastic English stories!
Camille Turner is an experienced writer, editor and ESL teacher.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn English with real-world videos.