If English skills were superheroes, which English superhero would you be?
The Rapid Reader who has the ability to read through academic texts as if they were comic books (and understand every word)?
What about the Super Speaker who is able to speak with perfect accuracy and use a never-ending number of synonyms and vocabulary words?
Do not forget the Writing Warrior who can defeat any English challenge with nothing but a pen.
If I could be any English superhero, I would have to be the Listening Legend. The Listening Legend can understand native conversations, films, TV shows, podcasts and more!
But why would I choose to be the Listening Legend?
Because with their ability to understand all types of listening input in English, they are able to improve all of the different skills of the other English superheroes!
Listening is like a super-super skill in English.
That is right: Listening is a fundamental skill that will give you superpowers in English. It is one of the most basic skills that will help you in all other areas of English learning.
So, what are you waiting for?
Are you ready to save the English-speaking world once and for all by building your listening superpowers?
Let’s look at how you can develop these listening powers so that you are ready to take on the world!
Why Is English Listening Important?
As we have discussed, English listening is an English superpower and, when learned correctly, can improve all other areas of your English skills.
There is no greater feeling than being able to follow a conversation at a natural speed in a language that you have been learning. It is a great sign that you are improving towards a fluent English level.
And, did you know that listening is so important that you use it more than any other form of communication?
Let’s take a look at some specific reasons why English listening is so beneficial to your learning goals and objectives.
It is a foundational skill for learning.
As we have discussed a little bit previously, English listening is a foundational skill for learning. Foundational means the basis, or a large part of, something that supports the smaller parts.
So, when you are practicing English listening skills, you are also working on vocabulary, speaking and memorization. Plus, it is great for your brain.
It helps with general communication.
In fact, listening in English is one of the best ways to cover a number of different English skills at once. This is because listening is the basis of input (exposure to authentic language). When you are listening in English, you are being exposed to one of the normal modes of the language through things like music, TV shows and movies.
This means that it is one of the most basic methods of communication along with speaking, reading and writing.
You can travel and communicate with native speakers.
Of course, listening in English is one of the most important skills when traveling abroad to an English-speaking country. Imagine missing a flight, train or bus because you misheard or misunderstood an announcement!
Plus, once you can listen effectively, you can speak and interact with English-speaking friends and native speakers on a deeper level. You will be able to explore and enjoy conversations in another language!
It helps with understanding different accents, dialects and vocabulary.
English is the most spoken language in the world when you are looking at all speakers and not just native speakers. Because of this, naturally, there is a huge range of different accents and dialects to understand.
If you want to be a true global speaker of English, then it is important to expose yourself to these differences. Even for native speakers, the differences between native accents can be difficult.
In fact, one of the key secrets to learning English listening is to be able to understand different dialects in English. Of course, this skill also helps with our previous point regarding travel and communication with native speakers.
It is a key skill for certain jobs and English exams.
With big shifts in the global market and changes to the way we work comes changes to the way we communicate.
English listening is still a fundamental skill in many workplaces. Whether you work in or are wanting to work in technology, hospitality, education, research or a number of different fields, English listening will be required.
Listening is also a part of all official English exams. If you need to pass an English test for immigration or work purposes, you will be tested on your listening skills. Many of the exams are very strict when it comes to grading this section.
Often, if you misspell a word or phrase in a listening test, it will be marked as incorrect and you will lose a point. So, super English listening skills are required!
The Difference Between Active and Passive Listening
Perhaps you are already aware that there are two types of listening. They are called active and passive listening. They are defined by the level of engagement (participation) of the listener.
“Engagement” refers to the extent to which you are focused or interacting with something or someone.
As a general rule, if you are engaged in the listening, such as in a conversation, then it is considered an active form of listening. If you are listening to something in the background, like music, while you do something else, then it is considered a passive form of listening.
Let’s break down these two concepts further:
How to Improve English Listening Skills
Now that we have looked at the importance and types of English listening, you are probably wondering how exactly this skill can be learned or improved.
In fact, it is entirely possible to quickly improve your listening skills anywhere. It just takes the right approach.
Let’s look at some of the key ways that you can improve your English listening skills whether you are a beginner or an expert.
Focus on active listening.
The first and most obvious step is to focus on active listening. With input, engagement and focus, you will be able to make the most of your listening skills and practice. In fact, this is one of the key English listening practice tips that work.
Approach oral texts/listening activities in stages.
While this step is particularly important for beginners, it can be beneficial for English listening learners of all levels.
But what exactly is meant by approaching oral texts in stages? It means that you should be breaking down English listening exercises into sections or topics.
For example, if you are listening to a reading of a short story, you can use this recording in several different ways. You can listen for the gist (general idea) first, then focus on details and specific information. Then, you can answer questions and even discuss the language.
In this way, you will become very familiar with the different components of English listening. You can then slowly begin to add more difficulty by trying to listen for multiple things at once.
Chat with English speakers.
Perhaps one of the most obvious and beneficial ways to practice your English listening is to chat with English speakers. If you are a beginner, you can always prepare some topics ahead of time.
In addition to this, you need to be clear about your goals with your speaking partner. If you are having difficulties with listening comprehension or are a beginner learner, then there is no problem in politely asking your speaking partner to speak slower or more clearly.
For example, you can say:
“Would you mind speaking a little bit slower? I am practicing my listening skills.”
“Could you please repeat that?”
“I did not quite catch that. Could you say it again?”
In this way, you can make sure that you are truly practicing active listening.
This is the best way to learn English listening and understand native speakers at the same time.
Use a resource that provides transcripts.
If you can use a listening resource and read the written text at the same time, you will be able to increase your fluency and listening capabilities.
One of the best resources for this is FluentU.
With FluentU’s built-in, interactive captions, you are able to see exactly what is being said in each video. You can also click on individual words to learn more about them and hear them pronounced. This way, you will not miss any vocabulary or misunderstand words as you would with other resources.
Using transcripts while you listen creates an immersive environment with a continuous stream of active listening input. In addition to this, you will be able to simultaneously (at the same time) improve both your listening and reading skills.
With FluentU, you will be able to select resources from a library with more than 1,000 videos and audio files. By using a variety of listening sources, you will be exposing yourself to different listening input every time you log in for a lesson.
FluentU even suggests new videos and activities based on your level. Sign up for a free trial to get started.
English Listening Practice Resources
From YouTube to exam transcripts and even the news, there are many different resources that can be used to assist you with your English listening practice.
It is important to keep in mind that some resources may be better suited to beginner-level learners while more advanced or technical resources might suit a learner with a strong basis in English listening already.
For this reason, we will be your guide to online English listening practice. We have broken down some of the most popular English listening resources by level.
These suggestions are not set in stone (unable to be changed or altered). Every learner will prefer different listening practice techniques. But, these will help you get started when it comes to choosing level-appropriate resources.
English listening tests
Listening tests are perhaps the best starting point in your English listening journey.
This is because you can use English listening test websites to assess your current skill level.
Tests are also great resources to practice specific components of English listening. In fact, you will find that many English listening tests improve comprehension while preparing you for an official exam.
You can even take the same test many times to really master the listening concepts.
As mentioned earlier, begin by listening for a particular concept, such as the main idea, and then listen for something more specific during your second attempt.
There are also a number of English listening practice audio tools on these same websites that will provide a structured lesson. These are excellent resources for a beginner learner and will provide a solid base in English listening.
English listening apps
English listening apps are a great option for a beginner learner. Why? Because they are fun and engaging and you can use them pretty much anywhere. There are many listening apps designed to get you fluent fast, and there are new English listening apps that are being created all of the time!
To get the most out of these apps, you want to form a habit of using them whenever you have some downtime (free time). In addition to this, you should be using resources that increase in difficulty as you progress. This is so that you will continue improving and developing your skills.
This is often a big problem when using apps to learn, as some do not increase their difficulty or use native content.
Because of this, FluentU is a highly-recommended English learning app. By using native sources as the content and adding interactive captions, quizzes and flashcards, the app puts native content at the center of the learning experience.
While FluentU is a great option for a beginner, since the product learns with you and increases in difficulty, it is recommended that you use this app all throughout your learning journey. You can remove captions, take advanced quizzes and explore more technical content if you are looking for a more advanced listening lesson.
While native conversations may be difficult to understand if you are a beginner learner, recorded conversations can be used a little bit differently.
If we use two of the above strategies—break it down into sections and use transcripts—you will notice that English conversations become a very approachable and beneficial tool for your English listening learning.
You can add in a final step by slowing the speed of the recording to help with comprehension.
You can then start with some general questions, such as, “What are they discussing?” “What emotions do you think they are feeling?” etc.
As you progress, you can speed up the recording and throw away the transcripts to slowly increase the difficulty.
Best of all, there are many English websites out there for you to learn real English conversation from home.
I love audiobooks. I think they are a great way to learn something new in a relaxed and convenient way. You can even use them to relax after a long day or listen to them while riding on the train to work!
They are also a fantastic way to study a new language. If you are an intermediate learner and wanting to study, then learning English with audiobooks is a great choice.
You can choose a nonfiction audiobook to learn new subjects at the same time. Or, you can find a great fiction title that will keep you entertained and help boost your vocabulary.
To start improving your English listening in this way, make sure you start with books that you know or are familiar with. This will provide context. You will also be able to listen for cognates and familiar sections or phrases.
As you get more comfortable with this learning method, you can start exploring different genres and styles of books.
As with recorded conversations, you can also control the speed of your chosen audiobook depending on your level. If you are not ready to listen to a full book, then you can also start with some shorter, wonderful English stories to get you familiar with this learning style.
Recorded English speeches are an incredible resource for intermediate learners. They use a good mix of vocabulary and often include both formal and informal speech. They are also generally a little bit slower-paced than other listening resources.
In fact, speeches in English are great for both listening and speaking practice. To use these resources effectively, there are a few steps that you can take. You can print off transcripts, which are the written forms of the speeches, and then follow along while you listen.
Or, you can practice the speeches yourself by listening in segments and mirroring the language.
Movies are everyone’s favorite!
Learning English through movies and film has long been a popular study method and for good reason: They are fun!
Movies are also a useful resource when it comes to English listening.
To get the most out of movies as a listening resource, there are different approaches you can take. You can switch between movies with actors who have different accents or who are from different English-speaking countries. In addition to this, you can also explore different styles and genres for greater vocabulary exposure.
Do not be afraid to play around with subtitles as well. And, there is always the option to use subtitles in your native language if you need extra help.
Of course, if you are not a movie fan, there is always the possibility of using the same approach but with TV. In fact, TV shows are great for improving listening comprehension. Be sure to follow the same steps as above.
Due to the fact that TV shows are shorter in length than films, you could even focus on particular areas of listening during each episode. For example, during one episode, you could listen for informal vocabulary and in the next episode, prepositions.
If you are not sure how to get started, FluentU’s video library includes many videos from films, movie trailers and TV shows.
Which station are you going to tune in to (listen to)? Music, news, interviews?
If you want to know how to learn English with the radio, then you are in the right spot. While some might think that the radio is a thing of the past, in reality, it is like a modern secret weapon for English learning!
Because the truth is that using the radio as an advanced learner is a great strategy. You can choose from advanced radio stations to study more complex content or listen to everyday stations to practice colloquial and everyday spoken English.
If you have never considered using the radio as an English listening resource before, then now is the time! There are many different options to learn English with great radio shows. In fact, you can choose from native radio shows or even radio stations dedicated to English learning!
By listening to the radio online, you will also be able to access channels from around the world. This means that you will be able to gain valuable exposure to different dialects and languages from around the English-speaking world.
As an added bonus, you will discover some great new music!
If you are not listening to podcasts, then I have one question for you: Have you been living under a rock?
This idiom means “to not know about something that everyone knows about.” Podcasts are all the rage (very popular) at the moment.
And best of all, they are a unique way to improve your listening and speaking skills.
There are podcasts about pretty much anything these days. To get you started, you can listen to some of the top English podcasts for learners.
From there, you can choose podcasts that cover topics that you are interested in. As you are using podcasts as an advanced resource, you can practice notetaking and summarizing what you hear. You will be listening to extract (take out) the most important ideas or concepts.
You can also listen multiple times to deepen your understanding. This is a great approach, especially if you are using native English podcasts for your English learning.
Be careful, as podcasts can be very addictive!
Music is a universal language.
It is a way to connect with other cultures and countries. It is also a great way to practice advanced English!
How? Well, by listening to more “advanced” styles of music in terms of lyrics, you will be able to explore music on a deeper level. You can dive deep into English music culture, as well as start to listen for metaphors, similes and stories within some complicated lyrics.
If you choose a song such as “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen, you will be exposed to colloquial language, as well as metaphors and changes in tempo (speed).
To get the most out of learning English with music, remember that you can always use lyrics. You can listen with or without lyrics and mix up activities to make sure that you are actively listening to music. And, if you use FluentU, song lyrics will be presented to you as interactive subtitles that you can click on to study further.
By following these tips, using the resources that we have looked at and focusing on active listening, you will sharpen your English listening skills in no time.
Listening is an ability that will help you in all areas of your English learning. Because of this, it is very important to devote plenty of study time to this skill.
So, keep listening in English… and become a Listening Legend!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you’ll love FluentU, the best way to learn English with real-world videos.