9 Ways to Help with English Listening

In most English listening classes the students sit in class and listen passively to a tired old recording. Then they answer mundane questions to check they understood everything.

It is no wonder that when students hear real English it sounds something like this:


(Interpretation: How’s it going? Did you get to class on time the other day?)

How can they possibly make sense of it?

They listen to recordings of English where the speaker sounds like someone from the BBC in the 1950s. Then encounter native English speakers who speak in a completely different way.

Real English, spoken by pretty much all native English speakers, uses something called Blended English. This is where all the words sound like they are joined together as one.

The practice in their English listening classes doesn’t use this kind of English at all. In the recordings in the English listening classes all – the – speakers – sound – like – they – are -speaking – like – this.

That is no real use to English students. Once you reach a certain level in your English listening, you need to ditch the useless English listening mp3’s and use some better methods.

As an English student, you are using the skill of listening far more than the other skills of writing, reading or even speaking. Listening helps you to form the other skills. It is the main language skill that takes precedence above the other skills.

The problem is you don’t know how to study English listening.

But there are many things you can do.

Let’s have a look at what you can do.


Stay Positive

The first thing you need to check is that you have the right mindset.

Keep Smiling!

I know this sounds silly, but it is true.

Go into your English listening practice with a positive mental attitude and you will do much better. For many students they have a defeatist attitude where they give up too early or say to themselves I can’t do this, it’s too hard, it’s too difficult.

Everyone can improve their listening skills in any language — and you can definitely improve your English listening skills. Just tell yourself that you have the ability and the mental capacity to do it. And then do it.

Success can be yours.

Ready? Let’s go.


Use All Your English Skills

Start using all your English skills together. They are not isolated one from the other. All the skills are part of one central mass — English.


Balance All Your English Skills

Reading informs writing which informs speaking which informs listening which informs reading which informs speaking and on and on…

You have to use all the skills equally.



One thing you can do to help your English skills is to employ the shadowing technique when practising English listening. Otherwise known as the Listen/Read/Speak system.

Master the Art of Shadowing

You listen first, then read the text, then speak out loud what you heard and read.

We call this shadowing because you follow what you listen to like a shadow. It is highly effective for learning English. It is particularly useful for listening and speaking.

Another way to do shadowing is by listening to something in English and repeating what you heard immediately after.

There are YouTube videos to help you practice this. You can find some examples here.


Listen to a Wide Range of Things

It’s really common sense.

If you want your listening skills to improve you really need to listen to a broader range of listening material.

Listen to Everything

Yes, in the beginning, you should listen to things you like to listen to. If you are interested in football or gardening, then listen to podcasts and news about those two things. The fact that you are interested in these topics will make it easier to listen to.

But there will come a time when you need to push yourself outside the boundaries of safety and comfort. Listen to other podcasts, news and any other listening material in other topic areas.

Just pick a podcast at random and start listening.

It may be hard at first but you will adjust to the new vocabulary terms and then you will increase your listening skills.

Many students live every day within their comfort zone. You need to get outside of that if you want to develop.


Predict what you are going to hear

I know – this sounds totally insane.

Predict what I am going to hear? How can I do that?

But bear with me. Try to imagine where the talk is going. Each time there is a pause in the speaker’s voice, try to imagine what he might say next.

Predict the Future

This is very difficult to do at first.

You could try pausing the listening for a second and imagine for a while where the topic could go next. This will you will create sentences in your own mind as you try to predict the future.

It is hard to do but try it.


Listen for the Big Ideas

Try to think of what the important ‘Big Ideas’ are in the talk you are listening to. 

What’s the Big Idea?

If the speaker is talking about the environment, what are the main things he or she is talking about? Think about those things and try to select a few key ideas where the talk could go.

It might be worth doing this before you even listen to the listening material. Look at the title and imagine what the big ideas of the talk could be about.

Make a note of those ideas and that way you can narrow down what the talk will be.


Listen and Write

This is a fantastic exercise.

Listen, then Write

You listen to something and write down every single word you hear.

For example, you could listen to a podcast. Then you pause it for a few seconds and write down what you just heard.

Only listen to a few seconds of the podcast. That is enough.

Then write down what you heard.

This is a great website to practice this exercise.


Listen to things again and again and again and again…

This is another exercise that can really improve your listening skills.

Listen again and again and again and again and again…

You listen to any podcast or listening exercise that you like. And you listen to the same thing again and again and again.

Listen to it a hundred times if you want. Eventually, you will be able to detect and hear every single word on the podcast.

It is time-consuming, and maybe a little boring, but it will definitely help you with your listening skills.


So Much Choice

And please remember there are so many choices for listening material. You can find things to use anywhere.

So much to choose from!

I have mentioned podcasts — and these are all free to listen to every day of the week.

But there are also:

TV series


Ted talks

elllo website

university lectures

English audiobooks

English songs

There are also websites with listening exercises for English learners. Try one of these:


Podcasts in English

English Class 101

British Council

Splendid Speaking



There is no need to limit yourself to those same old terrible listening exercises in your English classroom. There are many more choices and things to do.

But also you must push yourself.

It is no use staying with the same listening materials and exercises every day. This will not help you. Get outside your comfort zone and do something more challenging.

Please try the exercises and options above. They will definitely help you if you put some energy and time into it.

I wish you success and please let me know your results in the comments below.

2 thoughts on “9 Ways to Help with English Listening”

  1. Thank you for this article. Listening is so important and it is an integral part of day to day conversation. The tips are very helpful and each one engages a different part of the brain so if one doesn’t work the other one will.

    1. Thank you Leona. I have seen students in some listening classes just going through listening exercises that seem to have been recorded 20 years ago or more. There is so much more choice and all for free. It’s a waste not to use it.

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