Improving Listening Skills

Listening tips

Woman listening to music outside by smart phone
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Does this situation seem familiar to you? Your English is progressing well, the grammar is now familiar, the reading comprehension is no problem, you are communicating quite fluently, but listening is STILL a problem!

First of all, remember that you are not alone. Listening comprehension is probably the most difficult task for almost all learners of English as a foreign language. So, now you know you are not alone...!

The most important thing is to listen, and that means as often as possible. The next step is to find listening resources. This is where the Internet really comes in handy (idiom = to be useful) as a tool for English students. Here are some suggestions for interesting listening selections:


Once you have begun to listen on a regular basis, you might still be frustrated (adjective=upset) by limited understanding. What should you do?

  • Accept the fact that you are not going to understand everything.
  • Keep cool (idiom=stay relaxed) when you do not understand - even if you continue to not understand for a long time.
  • Do not translate into your native language (synonym=mother tongue)
  • Listen for the gist (noun=general idea) of the conversation. Don't concentrate on detail until you have understood the main ideas.

First, translating creates a barrier (noun=wall, separation) between the listener and the speaker.

Second, most people repeat themselves constantly. By remaining calm (adjective=relaxed), you can usually understand what the speaker had said. 

Translating Creates a Barrier between Yourself and the Person Who is Speaking

While you are listening to another person speaking a foreign language (English in this case), the temptation is to immediately translate into your native language.

This temptation becomes much stronger when you hear a word you don't understand. This is only natural as we want to understand everything that is said. However, when you translate into your native language, you are taking the focus of your attention away from the speaker and concentrating on the translation process taking place in your brain. This would be fine if you could put the speaker on hold (phrasal verb=to make a person wait). In real life, however, the person continues talking while you translate. This situation obviously leads to less -not more- understanding. Translation leads to a kind of block (noun=no movement or activity ) in your brain which sometimes doesn't allow you to understand anything at all!

Most People Repeat Themselves

Think for a moment about your friends, family, and colleagues. When they speak in your native tongue, do they repeat themselves? Not literally (adverb=word for word), rather, the general idea. If they are like most people, they probably do. That means that whenever you listen to someone speaking, it is very likely (adjective=probable) that he will repeat the information, giving you a second, third or even fourth chance to understand what has been said.

By remaining calm, allowing yourself to not understand, and not translating while listening, your brain is free to concentrate on the most important thing: Understanding English in English.

Probably the greatest advantage of using the Internet to improve your listening skills is that you can choose what you would like to listen to and how many and times you would like to listen to it. By listening to something you enjoy, you are also likely to know a lot more of the vocabulary required!

Use Key Words

Use keywords (noun=principal words) or key phrases to help you understand the general ideas. If you understand "New York", "business trip", "last year" you can assume (verb=to take for granted, suppose) that the person is speaking about a business trip to New York last year. This may seem obvious to you, but remember that understanding the main idea will help you to understand the detail as the person continues to speak.

Listen for Context

Let's imagine that your English speaking friend says "I bought this great tuner at JR's. It was really cheap and now I can finally listen to National Public Radio broadcasts." You don't understand what a tuner is. If you focus on the word tuner you might become frustrated. However, if you think in context (noun=the situation explained during the conversation) you probably will understand. For example; bought is the past of buy, listen is no problem and radio is obvious. Now you understand: He bought something - the tuner- to listen to the radio. A tuner must be a kind of radio! This is a simple example but it demonstrates what you need to focus on: Not the word that you don't understand, but the words you do understand.

Listening often is the most important way to improve your listening skills. Enjoy the listening possibilities offered by the Internet and remember to relax.