How to Improve English Listening

Written by jessica smith
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How to Improve English Listening
English as a second language learners need to practice listening to the English language. (listening Chinese man image by yang xiaofeng from

As a language learner you know that listening comprehension is an important skill to master. There are many things you can do to improve your English listening skills from every day activities like watching TV to taking a formal class. Whether you are studying English as a second or foreign language (ESL and EFL), the key is to be persistent and practice a lot.

Skill level:
Moderately Challenging

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  1. 1

    Watch television programs and movies in which the dialogue is conducted in English. This will help you understand a particular English-speaking country's culture, customs, idioms, slang and accent. If you are a beginner, watch the movie with English subtitles. If you are more advanced, watch the movie without subtitles. Choose shows or movies about something you are familiar with and avoid shows with complicated plots. Situation comedies are a good choice because the language usually is centred on daily life activities. Reality shows are another good choice because the language is less scripted.

  2. 2

    Make friends with foreigners if you are living in an English-speaking country or studying abroad. Take advantage of the English speakers around you by joining clubs, organisations, or classes in which you are immersed in an English-only environment. It might be difficult at first to approach a foreigner and make friends, but it will be worth it. The more you hear the language in its real environment, the more your listening abilities will improve.

  3. 3

    Listen to music in English. This is a relaxing and enjoyable way to improve your listening skills. Find the lyrics of a song so you can read or sing along with the music.

  4. 4

    Listen to something and try to write word for word what you hear. Known as doing dictations, this exercise requires you to listen carefully to each word that is spoken. Look on the internet for free practice dictations.

Tips and warnings

  • If you can understand everything you hear, it is too easy. Challenge yourself.
  • Don't listen to something that is way above your ability level. It will make you frustrated and you probably won't learn much.
  • Do listen to something that is just a little above your ability level. You will hear just enough new vocabulary to learn and improve without being overwhelmed. Instead, keep studying new vocabulary. Vocabulary knowledge is necessary for improving all language skills (listening, speaking, reading, writing). If you have a limited vocabulary, just listening to English might not help you improve.
  • Use educational materials designed to help you improve your listening skills. There are many products available that are made specifically for English language learners. There are also many websites that provide free listening practice.
  • Enrol in an ESL class. Most schools will provide ESL classes for primary and secondary school students. If you are a college student or adult, a university or adult education centre might offer ESL classes. You can also hire a private tutor or ask a friend to tutor you.

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