5 Tips To Improve Your Listening Skills

Lesson Overview

Lesson Summary 

Today, I’m sharing 5 awesome tips to improve your English listening skills! What you HEAR in real conversations is often completely different to what you LEARN in English class!
There are SO many elements to naturally spoken English that influence your ability to understand English speakers – I want to make sure you are practising effectively and *actually* improving your listening skills!

So listen in for my 5 practical tips to help you take your English skills to the next level!

Video Transcript
Section 1
Well hey there I’m Emma from mmmEnglish! Today’s lesson is going to focus on five tips to improve your English listening skills. So often we focus on speaking, don’t we? But listening, understanding someone else is just as important if you want to be able to communicate effectively, right?

What makes listening so hard is that the English that you hear is often quite different to the English that you learn. So I want to share five different techniques that you can use to improve your listening skills.

Perhaps you’ve already tried a few of them, maybe some of them are new. I definitely hope that you can take a couple of new ideas away and put them into practice after this video.

When I was preparing for this lesson I asked the members inside my English speaking community Hey Lady! about what they feared most when it comes to listening to someone speaking English, what were the things that worried the most and I got lots of different responses but the top three were:

  1. Not being able to understand words, maybe slang.
  2. People talking too fast so of course, that includes linking, contractions and reduced forms.
  3. Thirdly, not being familiar with or comfortable with the accent.

What do you think? Do you agree? What worries you the most when you have to listen to someone who is speaking in English? Let me know down in the comments.

Listening to people is something that we do all of the time. You’re listening to me right now. We listen to podcasts, we listen to TV shows and movies. All of this is passive listening, you’re absorbing the sounds and the words, taking what you know and understanding it, interpreting it.

But today I really want to talk about how you can practise and how you can improve your listening skills so that you can feel more confident joining conversations and meeting new people and communicating in English.

1. Pronunciation

First up, pronunciation. One of the best things that you can do to improve your listening skills is to study pronunciation but I’m not really talking about learning and practising individual sounds but rather focusing on the elements of naturally spoken English.

Things like contractions, reduced forms, sentence stress, intonation, all of these things, learning to hear and recognise the sounds of English as it’s actually spoken because English doesn’t always sound like what you expect, does it? Sounds blend together, they change, sometimes they’re completely dropped.

And it’s no wonder that your poor little brain is  crying out for help as you’re listening to someone speaking English and it’s no wonder that you tend to blame your ears and yourself for not being able to hear and understand the sounds

But it’s not your fault. You haven’t been taught to hear ‘What do you want to do?’ that’s what you expect to hear, isn’t it?

What you actually hear is something like: Whaddaya wannado?

Learning to recognise these sounds and to start associating those sounds with the words ‘what do you want to do’ is gonna help right and I have the perfect video to help you practise, the thirty most common reductions in English. The link is up here and I’ll add it to the end of the video.

But if you study and learn the sounds of naturally spoken English, you’re going to be in a much better position to actually understand spoken English.

2. Reading and listening together

Next up is reading and listening together. Now, this really shouldn’t be a new idea because I talk about it all of the time. It is one of my favourite techniques to help you improve your pronunciation which I just explained is an excellent way to help you improve your listening skills, right?

With this technique, you get to see the word as you read and you also get to hear it as it’s being spoken. So you start to recognise the sounds and associate it to the words.

Hey quick question. Do you use Ted Talks at all when you study and you practise your English?

Ted Talks are brilliant resources to help you with your listening skills in English.

If you go to their website, every video has an interactive transcript and that transcript allows you to follow the script as the speaker is talking so it’s great for learning new words, it’s great for hearing the natural pronunciation and you can even use it to pause and to practise imitating what the speaker is saying.

Ted Talks are also a really awesome way to listen to different types of English speakers because there are so many different talks that you can listen to.

Listening to those different voices, different accents, different paces, all of this is essential to helping you develop your listening skills.

3. Listen to different accents

So this is my third tip, listening to different accents, different voices and in different contexts. Opening yourself up to different voices and different accents is so important.

It’s not only about accents but it’s also the tone of people’s voice, the pace at which they speak and then, of course, the context in which you’re listening, background noise, maybe you’re really comfortable talking one-to-one but when there’s a group and there’s multiple people talking, they’re talking over the top of each other it becomes more challenging.

So we have all of these different features to play with. Playing with the difference in all of these experiences is something that will help you to develop really strong listening skills.

Now if you choose to listen to different voices, it may be a little harder at the beginning. It’s definitely going to be something that pays off for you in the long run because you’re going to be able to understand more people and you’ll feel less fearful as you meet people who have an accent or a tone of voice that you’re not familiar with.

So how do you know when you should look for a different accent or a different type of person to listen to? When you’re listening to someone, maybe you’re listening to me right now and you’re feeling really good.

I can understand most of what she’s saying. I feel relaxed and comfortable. I’m kind of pleased with myself actually.

Well, this is a sign, it’s a sign that’s telling you you need to shake things up a bit. If you’re feeling comfortable, then you know it’s time to push the boundary of your comfort zone a little. Not a lot, let’s not go crazy but a little.

And when you feel a little bit of discomfort or that fear when you start talking to someone and you realise that their accent is quite different or maybe they’re speaking really quickly, you just want to notice that fear, that resistance that you have of not being able to understand someone you’re worried about it.

That is telling you that this is the type of situation that you need practice with. The more you listen to someone, the more you understand of them, right?

So again Ted Talks are really great tools to help you with this because people who are presenting, they’re often speaking a little more clearly. You have the transcript to help you practise with and you get to ease into different accents, different paces, different tones.

4. Write what you hear

Let’s get on to my next tip. Write what you hear. This is my absolute favourite one. I can’t wait to share it. So we’re not talking about sitting down to a YouTube video and writing out the entire thing, everything that you hear.

That is not going to work, it’s not going to be fun. It’s going to take you a bloody long time. So I have some really specific steps to follow if you want to practise along in this way.

Step one is choose a really small section of a video, a podcast or a Ted Talk, just thirty seconds only.

Step two is just listening to that section a couple of times. You’re not writing yet, you’re just listening, you’re getting used to their accent, you’re getting used to the tone and the pace of their voice. You’re also becoming more familiar with the topic or the context of the conversation.

Step three. Okay now you’re ready to pick up your pen and to write. So you want to listen to the first sentence, pause, write down what you hear. Listen to the next sentence, pause, write down what you hear.

Now you may want to slow down the speed of the audio a little. It’s really easy to do that with Ted Talks, with Audible and on YouTube. We really don’t want to make this an impossible task. If slowing down the speed a little helps you to get through the practice there is no harm in doing that at all.

So what about when you don’t quite catch something, maybe there’s a word that you don’t recognise, you don’t know the meaning of, you can’t recognise it, maybe the sounds have kind of all squished together and so it doesn’t make a lot of sense to you.

That’s fine, leave a gap, keep listening, write down what you do hear. Do this all the way through to the end of that little section that you’re listening to and go back to the start, listen again, try to fill in some of those gaps. Look at the words around the gap.

Can you try and guess what could go there or what should go there?

So tell me, what is so great about this really simple technique to help you improve your listening skills? Any ideas?

Unlike all of the other tips that I’ve shared today, this one helps you to actually discover what you’re not hearing.

When you’re listening, you are always taking in information. You’re taking in everything that you understand and you’re leaving the rest behind but the parts that you don’t understand, they’re the parts that are going to help you to learn and to grow.

So filling in those gaps is going to help you to understand and it’s going to help you to improve your listening skills.

5. Watch without subtitles

And lastly, watch without subtitles.

Okay, quick poll. Who watches movies or TV shows without any subtitles? Answer honestly here. I really genuinely want to know. Share it down in the comments.

Watching a movie or a TV show in a language that you’re learning without subtitles is really hard work especially if you’re sitting down to do it at the end of a long day, you’re sitting down to watch your favourite show, you just want to relax.

Yes watching without subtitles is harder. It’s going to teach you how to listen. When you listen to people in real life, there are no subtitles right, there are no captions in real life so we have to build that confidence and that awareness with our listening skills.

You’ve got your favourite TV show, you have a notebook handy, you’ve got it sitting next to you on the couch just so every time you sit down to turn on the telly you’ve got it there ready.

You want to turn off the subtitles and start paying attention. Remember we’re just focusing on the first one minute, when you watch that one minute through, pause, take out that notebook and write down a few notes about what you saw or what you heard in the first minute of that video.

So, for example, you might write something about one of the characters.

  • Paul seemed really frustrated by Annie’s decision to book a holiday with her friends and not to ask him first.

So then go back, turn on the subtitles, of course in English, and read them through for the entire minute making sure that you understood everything exactly as you wrote down.

The ideas are all clear and true. That is the active listening practice that you need to keep improving your skills.

So there you have it! They were my five tips, five different techniques that you can use to practise and to improve your English listening skills.

Of course, you can do it on your own. You can do it with a study buddy but I recommend that you just choose one of the techniques we talked about today and put it into practice over a whole week. Try and do it a few times see if it sticks. See if it’s something that’s working for you, something that you enjoy.

I’ve left some links to some really great Ted Talks down in the description. You can use them to get started and if you want to focus on natural pronunciation then check out this video right here, the one about common reductions that I mentioned earlier or this entire course that I made here on YouTube that’s about linking and natural pronunciation.

I’ll see you in there!

Links mentioned in the video

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