Tips on improving your listening skills

When you’re learning a second language like English, the first skill that you develop is the listening skill.  All the other skills follow this one.  It’s the easiest skill to develop, and a learner usually makes a lot of progress in the beginning without doing much work.  Later on, however, a learner needs to develop a plan of action to keep on improving in this skill.  Following are some tips on the kinds of activities you can do to achieve this.

  • Watch English TV and news programs. You can turn on the “closed captions” in the beginning to read the words that are spoken, but turn it off when you get to the point where you can understand without it.
  • Listen to English songs.  If you need the lyrics, you can find them online.  This website has many excellent songs that you can listen to and learn so you can sing along.
  • Listen to English news radio.  You can also listen to the ESL news at:
  • Work on listening exercises on different websites.  On this website you can listen to TED talks and do listening exercises.
  • Transcribe (write) a listening text.  You can repeat sections until you get all the words down on paper.
  • Watch lectures online and take notes.  Your notes should include the main idea and supporting details.
  • Listen to TED talks that interest you.  If they’re a little too difficult, listen 2 or 3 times.
  • Volunteer at the library, food bank, community center, child’s school, etc. and start conversations with other people.  Conversations are a way to improve both your listening and speaking skills.
  • Actively listen to other people’s conversations at the bus stop, in a store, in a restaurant, etc., but pretend like you’re not listening because you don’t want to appear to be “eavesdropping.” (listening to someone else’s conversation)
  • Listen to newscasts in “Learning English” with the CBC.  Go to:
  • When speaking with an English speaker, and you don’t understand something, say, “Could you repeat that?, What does that mean?, How do you spell that?”, etc.
  • Attend events that are in English.  You can find them by googling “free events in Vancouver,” for example.
  • Use context (words around the new word) to guess the meaning of new words.  Trust that your guess is right and continue listening.
  • Pause a listening exercise that you are doing, and restate (put it in your own words) what you just heard.
  • When listening to someone, be present and in the moment and pay attention to what is being said.  This is called “active listening” and is the best kind of listening you can do.  Don’t be thinking about anything in the past or future.
  • Listen not only to the words but also to the tone of voice (high, low, loud, or soft).  Also pay attention to facial expressions and body language.  A lot of meaning is separate from the words a person uses.
  • When you’re in a conversation, listen for key points and repeat them.  This shows understanding and also tells the other person that you understand what they’re saying.
  • Listen to English Podcasts on YouTube.
  • Engage in a conversation with a native speaker.  Because the person is right in front of you, it’s easier to understand them, and you have to listening actively, not passively.
  • Join a Meetup group for conversation.  Go to: and search for a group to join (such as “English conversation.”)
  • Listen while you read a transcript.  A good site for this is: www.elllo. org

There are a lot of suggestions on this page, and you can’t possibly do all of them.  The best thing you can do is to choose one of these right now and get started.  If you like the activity, then continue to do a little bit of it every day.  Even ten minutes a day will produce result that will encourage you to continue.

Click on the audio recording below to hear the lesson.

© 2014 Ambien Malecot