Strategies to Improve English Listening Skills

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As a new English speaker, your language skills are progressing well -- grammar is now familiar, your reading comprehension is no problem, and you are communicating quite fluently -- but listening is still posing 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. 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. A few suggestions for interesting listening selections are CBC Podcasts,  All Things Considered (on NPR), and the BBC.

Listening Strategies

Once you have begun to listen on a regular basis, you might still be frustrated by your limited understanding. Here are a few courses of action you can take:

  • Accept the fact that you are not going to understand everything.
  • Stay relaxed when you do not understand -- even if you continue to have trouble understanding for a while.
  • Do not translate into your native language.
  • Listen for the gist (or general idea) of the conversation. Don't concentrate on detail until you have understood the main idea(s).

First, translating creates a barrier between the listener and the speaker. Second, most people repeat themselves constantly.

By remaining calm, 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. In real life, however, the person continues talking while you translate. This situation obviously leads to less -- not more -- understanding. Translation leads to a mind block 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? If they are like most people, they probably do. That means that whenever you listen to someone speaking, it is very likely that they 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 or key phrases to help you understand the general ideas. If you understand "New York", "business trip", "last year" you can assume 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, and if you focus on the word tuner you might become frustrated.

However, if you think in context, you probably will begin to 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.

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Your Citation
Beare, Kenneth. "Strategies to Improve English Listening Skills." ThoughtCo, Dec. 23, 2017, Beare, Kenneth. (2017, December 23). Strategies to Improve English Listening Skills. Retrieved from Beare, Kenneth. "Strategies to Improve English Listening Skills." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 18, 2018).