How to improve listening skills in English: 10 Useful Tips
You might be fluent in English. You can read hundreds of books, write beautiful novels, and easily explain your thoughts. But at some point, you could meet a native speaker and not understand a word they would say. Pretty bad, isn’t it? If you recognize yourself, we may know how to help. To master your skills, you need to also learn English by listening. It’s an integral part of your studying process and is more important than you think. This article will provide all the tips, secrets, and lifehacks you need for your listening journey.
Why is it hard for some people to learn English by listening?
The English-learning process usually consists of four main components – reading, speaking, writing, and, guess what, listening. Even though most people neglect this process, it is still essential for mastering your level. And you might think this is challenging since native speech can be difficult to understand even for C1 speakers. But truth be told, it’s not. All you need to do is understand the reasons for your difficulties and learn how to eliminate them. So, the first topic in our discussion is why it is difficult to understand English when listening to it.
- Poor vocabulary. Yes, it might be obvious, but it is still one of the main reasons. You can’t listen to English words if you don’t know their meanings. Of course, we are not telling you to learn all millions of words to become a professional listener. But the more, the merrier – expand your vocabulary, and you will see how your listening skills grow.
- Permanent translation. This widespread mistake prevents you from learning English by listening. Remember the situation when you were trying to watch a movie in English for the first time? You’ve probably tried to translate every word and every line. As a result, you lose interest in the film and learning altogether. That is why it is essential to listen carefully – even if you don’t know the words, you can endeavor to fill in blank spaces from context.
- Interrupting the speaker. No matter how much you want to practice your listening skills, you can’t do it if you keep interrupting the person speaking. It would be best to give yourself time to understand what the other person is saying before replying. If necessary, ask short questions to ensure you understand the information correctly.
- Losing focus. When you ignore the speaker, you won’t be able to catch all the details of the conversation. That is why it is essential to maintain eye contact and avoid distractions that can prevent you from focusing on what the other person is saying.
- Learning the formal language. People from non-English-speaking countries that study this language at school usually know the basic and standard forms of it. And when they start to listen to natives, they feel confused because there are a lot of slang, idioms, and other unusual words that are not included in the school curriculum. So, to become a better listener, it is important to know how real people talk, not the ones in the schoolbooks.
- Personality type. There are four main types of personality according to the way you absorb information – visual, auditory, read/write, and kinesthetic. If you are an auditor, it will be easier to listen to speakers, while if you are kinesthetic, you will have to make more of an effort. But effective listening is a skill that can be learned and improved with practice. As with any other skill, the more you use it, the better you will become at it.
- Difficult materials. Some materials are more challenging to listen to than others. For example, if you are trying to listen to a lecture on quantum physics, it will be more complicated than listening to a Disney cartoon. Generally, the more familiar you are with the material, the easier it will be to understand.
Those are the main listen-English mistakes that can prevent you from understanding the speech. But there is no need to worry – we are here to help you eliminate all of them and master your listening. So let's not waste any more time! Look at the best tips we’ve prepared for your practice.
Ten tips for learning English – listen more to achieve more
If you have known us for enough time, you know our main motto – the English-learning process doesn’t have to be boring. That is why we’ve tried to collect the most valuable and exciting tips to make you interested in listening from the very first seconds. If you implement them in your normal studying processes, you will see the results in a short time. So, here they are – the best secrets and hacks for your English-listen daily practice.
Listen to as much English as possible
The first is the most important. The better you want to become at anything, the more effort you need to put into this process. So if your goal is to become fluent in English listening, you need to surround yourself with this language. You will not understand a word for the first time, but this problem will disappear in a few weeks.
The simplest way to do this practice is to start with songs. And it doesn’t have to be children's songs like Old Macdonald (although they are good too). We are confident you have a few favorite English singles from Madonna, Beyoncé, or Nirvana. Start with them! Read the lyrics, translate unknown words, and then repeat the song as much as possible. It will help you to understand the pronunciation and context of using particular words and phrases, and the best thing is that it won’t get boring.
Another practice you can do is, of course, watching movies and shows in the original language. It can be tricky at first, so we recommend starting with simple ones (we will talk about the best options for you later). But here we have an important notice – you must avoid subtitles since they will distract you from your main goal. If you are unsure about your skills, try some cartoons or Disney movies. Most of them have simple language aimed at the children’s audience, so you will be able to understand unknown phrases from the context.
Try to catch the main idea, not every word
This hack solves the mistake we’ve mentioned above – trying to translate every word. It is usually relative to people with intermediate English levels since they already know many words and try to translate everything to understand the speech better. But as we said, it is not a good idea.
When you are starting to understand a foreign language, it is tempting to concentrate on every single word. But that way, you will definitely miss the point. Instead, focus on catching the conversation's main idea and general context.
Sure, you won’t be able to understand everything, but you will get used to words you don’t know and be able to continue the conversation without too much effort. You can also try this method when reading books or watching movies. Don’t stop at unknown phrases; try to guess their meaning from the context and move on. You can always look up new words later.
Learn how to use audio texts
When we said that you need to put in some effort to learn English listening successfully, we were not joking. Of course, listening to songs or podcasts in the background is helpful, but obviously not enough. Audio texts are great for those who want to strengthen their listening skills. Four simple steps can help you to reach the top and master your language. Here is what you need to do:
- Find an audio text you are interested in. It can be an audiobook, a podcast with an available script, or anything else you would like to listen to. Turn it on, and try to catch the main point without reading. You can do it as many times as you want.
- After finishing with the audio, open the text. Read it carefully, and translate unknown words and sentences using vocabulary.
- Turn on the audio version again, and listen to it while reading the script. Pay attention to the details – can you now understand the words you didn’t get at first?
- Listen to the audio again, this time – without text. You may not believe us, but you will see a significant difference from the first time you turned it on!
Do this practice regularly, and it will bring you colossal results. The more you listen in English, the faster you will see the improvements. And again, choose only the audio that you are genuinely interested in. If you start with things that are boring for you, you won’t reach success.
Learn different accents
Since English is spoken in many countries, there are numerous accents you can hear in speeches. Students at school usually learn two different ones – so-called BBC (British) English or American English. And even these two accents sound unbelievably different.
You should be prepared for foreign accents in an English-speaking environment. Sometimes even speakers of the same accent sound wholly different, and it is essential to learn to recognize familiar words even when they sound different. But how to achieve this?
The best thing you can do is listen to various accents while studying. For example, if you’ve decided to start with songs, choose the compositions from various musicians – Adele is British, Sia is Australian, and Jimmy Cash brings you the best American accent. You can also start watching TV series from different countries. But again, don’t forget to choose the ones suitable for your proficiency level.
Another great option is to watch and listen to celebrity interviews. You might not know this, but Hollywood is full of accents. For example, the renowned Christian Grey, Jamie Dornan, is originally Irish, and you can hear his excellent accent. Beautiful Margot Robbie is known for her Australian way of speaking, and even Superman Henry Cavill has a unique British accent. So if you want to understand natives, try to start with various accents you can hear from your favorite celebrities – we promise that it will come in handy.
Practice with different types of materials
Once again, the main point is to make your learning listening English process as fun and exciting as possible. That is why you don’t have to stick to one material. If you want to learn and improve your listening skills rapidly, we recommend combining different sources – English TV shows, radio, podcasts, TED talks, movies, or songs.
This way, you will be exposed to various topics, intonations, and pronunciations. And don’t worry – it will become more accessible and exciting with time. Just like with anything else in life – practice makes perfect!
Vary your listening speed
If you want to improve your listening comprehension, it is essential to get used to different speeds of English. The native speaker’s speech can be too fast for you at first. However, you will never improve if you only listen to materials adapted to your level. Hence, we recommend starting with regular speech and gradually increasing the speed.
You can use various online tools to change the playback speed. For example, on YouTube, you can click “Settings” and “Speed.” Or, if you are using iTunes, go to “Preferences,” select “Playback,” and then choose the desired speed from the drop-down menu.
Find a person to practice with
Studying alone is good, but if you want better results, you must try some company. It is better than listening to recorded audio since you can always ask to repeat or explain something you didn’t understand. But where can you find someone to listen to? Here are some excellent places to start:
- Social media. The Internet is full of people from all over the world, so you can easily find an English-speaking person with similar interests.
- Language-learning communities. There are many websites and platforms where you can find new friends and start learning English by listening to people from different countries.
- Your friends. Yes, that’s right. If you have a friend who is good at English, you can ask them to practice with you. And if not, you can always offer your best buddy to join your learning journey and strengthen your skills together.
- Conversation clubs. Last but not least, a place to find people to practice listening is the speaking club. Many language-learning platforms, like Promova, offer an excellent free opportunity for all students. You can join a fantastic conversation club, participate in dialogues, listen to other people, and significantly enhance your skills.
These are only a few examples of online places where you can practice your English listening skill.
There are many more of them – and we will be happy to see your selection in the comments. But it doesn’t matter where you will find the person for practice. The point is to talk and listen to them regularly to achieve your goals pretty soon.
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes
Mistakes are our indispensable companions throughout the entire learning process. They give us the experience we need and allow us to memorize those things that are most difficult for us. That is why it is important not to be afraid to make errors. But what kind of mistakes can we while listening?
Of course, the main fear of non-fluent speakers is not understanding the person they are talking to. They think it would be a colossal mistake to mishear some words and interpret them incorrectly. We want to reassure you that it’s not. You don’t have to be afraid of doing something wrong – every mistake will bring you remarkable results in the future.
This advice applies to those cases where you are listening to real people, not movies or songs. When you find an English-speaking friend, don’t think they expect you to be fluent in this language. And if you are still worried, notify them that you are just starting to learn, and there might be some situations where you’ll need them to repeat something or to talk a little slower.
Be a good listener
You will never learn to listen if you don't want to pay attention. Even in your mother tongue, you only understand the information when you carefully listen to all the details and don't miss anything important. The same goes for a second language. Only attention can help you reach the top.
And it doesn’t matter whether you are learning by watching movies or joining the conversation club. In the first case, you can distract yourself by scrolling through your phone, sleeping, or turning on the film in the background. And when listening to other people, you may not be interested in the topic and just not pay attention to the words. So, the main thing to remember today is that if you want to improve your listening, you must first become a good listener.
Let’s turn back to our motto. Do you still remember it? As we’ve mentioned earlier, the main point is that learning English doesn’t have to be boring. Our last tip for you is to have fun with the studying process. You might think that listening is not as fun as reading or speaking, but it is not valid. All you need to do is to find the most suitable way specifically for you.
Choose shows or movies you want to watch, join conversational clubs you are interested in, and see how the studying process becomes a pleasure, not a burden. And we want to help you with that. Below you can find our list of resources for listening practice. We’ve divided them by levels, so you can easily find the best option for yourself. What are you waiting for? Check the list, pick one resource to start with, and see how listening will become a piece of cake for you!
Learning listening English: Best resources to begin with
Welcome to our guide on the best resources for learning listening English! Here you will find everything you need to get started with this skill. We will tell you what materials best suit you and how to make the most of them. Please make yourself comfortable, and we are going to start!
6 Best TV series for English listening practice
And the first thing in our discussion is, of course, our favorite TV shows. Who doesn’t like to sit on the couch after a long day, turn on Netflix, and watch something fun and exciting? And the best thing is that you can benefit from this pleasant activity. Just choose the option from our list, and enjoy your time with charismatic characters, intriguing plots, and simple language to listen to.
A1: Extr@ (2002-2004)
If you are just starting your learning path but already want to watch a simple series and listen to native speakers, this show is perfect for you. Even though it was created specifically for English learners at the Elementary level, it is not as usual as you think it might be. It is the story of two girls – Annie and Bridget – living in the same apartment in London. They are different but still good friends. The girls also have a neighbor named Nick.
One day, Bridget is visited by her pen pal, Hector. He is a lovely young man from Argentina who speaks very little English. Throughout thirty episodes, you can watch the adventures of this crew and their beautiful friendship. And don’t forget about simple lines and sentences to strengthen your listening skills.
A1: Private Detective Jack Stark (1996)
This British mystery series is about a private detective who solves crimes in London. The episodes are short, but they are perfect for beginners. This show was created for beginners; you can see it in the smallest details. For example, characters speak relatively slowly and legibly, and their lines are simple and understandable.
This show is also interactive – characters talk to the audience directly. And there are specific insertions between episodes that allow you to reflect on the vocabulary and grammar of the material you have heard. So if you are a fan of detectives just beginning to learn English listening, this is a perfect choice.
A2: The Hollow (2018-2020)
If you are looking for a more challenging listening activity, try The Hollow. This relatively new Netflix animated show tells the story of three teens, Adam, Mira, and Kai. Unexpectedly, the guys find themselves in a parallel dimension. They don’t know each other yet, so their main goal is to find a connection and understand why they came to this dangerous world.
Since it is a cartoon show, it is aimed at the teenage audience. Therefore, it is pretty simple to listen to. The lines are straightforward and accompanied by actions, so you can easily understand unknown words from the context. And don’t think that it won’t be interesting for adults – an intriguing plot, unique characters, and great humor are perfect for an audience of different ages.
A2: Alf (1986-1990)
This classic comedy show is still popular globally. The story is about Alf (an Alien Life Form), who settled in the home of an ordinary American family. This funny and slightly clumsy alien constantly finds himself in comical situations, so this sitcom will be the perfect way to have fun while having a productive time.
Characters speak slowly and simply, so you will quickly understand their lines. And we are almost sure that you’ve seen this show in your native language – as we said, it is famous around the globe. And if it’s true, it will be even more straightforward for you since you already know the plot.
B1: Friends (1994-2004)
Although many people think this show is excellent for beginners, we disagree with that. Of course, it is great, but only if you know some basic knowledge. We recommend this show for students with a B1 English level who want to strengthen their listening skills. The characters talk quickly, and there are many slang phrases and jokes that you might not get with insufficient knowledge.
Anyway, if your level is Intermediate or above, there is nothing better than Friends. The story of six friends – Monica, Rachel, Phoebe, Chandler, Joey, and Ross – living in New York City. You will laugh and cry, fall in love and get mad (because they were NOT on a break), and of course, you will practice your listening – classic American English in the show will come in handy for this.
B1: Emily in Paris (2020)
If you like fashion and romance and are looking for simple language to listen to, this Netflix series is perfect for you. The story of a young American girl, Emily, who moves to Paris to start a new life. She will meet many new people, make friends, love, and seek recognition from new colleagues.
We are confident that this beautiful show will not leave you untouched. As for listening practice, the show is suitable for the Intermediate level. Since it takes place in France, many people have English as their second language, so it will be easier for you to understand their lines.
Be warned; it is not easy to understand the English language in this show: the famous detective played by Benedict Cumberbatch speaks fast and is not always clear, even for advanced students. Scientific vocabulary also complicates perception. But no one is left indifferent to this adaptation of detective stories (as well as the British accent of the characters). So watch the series only if you're sure of your high level of English.
B2: The Crown (2016-...)
The series covers the most critical events in the life of Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain (from her marriage in 1947 to the present day). Ideal for those who want to hear authentic "royal" English and enrich their vocabulary with historical terms.
The best thing about the show is that you can fully dive into the unattainable life of the royal family to peek behind the veil of mystery. You will learn a little more about the secrets of Lady Di, Prince (now King) Charles, and Queen Elizabeth herself. And don't ignore the practice – here, you'll listen to proper British English, a rich vocabulary, and many complex grammatical sentences. That's why we recommend you start watching this series when you reach an Upper Intermediate level.
Best movies and podcasts for listening practice
As you can see, there are countless series to practice English listening. But we can all agree that watching a TV show is very time-consuming. So if you don’t have enough time to watch many episodes, we have a solution for you. Here is our compilation of movies and podcasts you can listen to in your spare time.
A1 Movie: Finding Nemo (2003)
Most films available for the Elementary level are animated since they are aimed at the children’s audience and are simple to listen to. This great cartoon is about a small fish named Nemo that was lost in the ocean. His father searches for his son and encounters many dangers, new acquaintances, and amazing adventures. It's easy to follow, and you can watch it with your children. This way, you will encourage them to start learning English, and you will also remember the basics by yourself.
A1 Podcast: Audio English
As the name suggests, this platform is great for beginners seeking listening practice. Here you can find dozens of podcasts divided by basic topics. You can choose the suitable ones and enjoy simple sentences, grammatical constructions, and useful vocabulary. And there are also enough practical exercises so that you can strengthen your pronunciation and speaking skills as well.
A2 Movie: The Holiday (2006)
In this film, you'll see a wonderful all-star cast, easy vocabulary, and two accents at once! Starring British actors Jude Law and Kate Winslet and Americans Cameron Diaz and Jack Black. A great combination and an opportunity to practice listening to both British and American English.
A2 Podcast: The English We Speak
This classic BBC Language-learning course is excellent for beginners. You can learn new vocabulary and practice listening to daily dialogues and exciting life situations. Hundreds of lessons are in the course, and the list is updated weekly, so you will easily find the topic you are interested in.
B1 Movie: Cast Away (2000)
The main character in this legendary film is played by no less legendary Tom Hanks. That's why we recommend this movie for students with an Intermediate level of English. This renowned actor is also famous for his skill in saying his lines slowly and clearly. And the storyline of this adventure melodrama will not leave anyone indifferent.
B1 Podcast: Luke’s English Podcast
This award-winning podcast started back in 2009 and, since then, has become a favorite educational platform for English learners. And there is no wonder why – Luke Thompson is a British tutor and comedian. His lessons are entertaining and pretty good for B1 students.
B2 Movie: The Matrix (1999)
Honestly, you can easily watch most movies when you reach the B2 level. With enough practice, you can listen to and understand native speakers. As a result, you can choose any movie or TV show. But we want to recommend The Matrix since it is one of our all-time favorites. This astonishing film, starring Keanu Reeves, is a perfect example of a quality fantasy movie.
B2 Podcast: BBC News
And we are back to BBC. This resource is brilliant for Upper-Intermediate speakers because it lets you stay tuned with what’s happening in the world. There is enough audio material on the platform, so you can also strengthen your listening skills while learning the latest world news.
Learning to listen with Promova
Promova is an excellent innovative language school. It uses the latest technology in the classrooms and offers various study options. Professionals here strive to create a comfortable learning environment where everyone can achieve their goals.
This website provides many resources for language learners of all levels. You will find grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, listening, and reading comprehension materials. Here you can join the conversation club, seek help from professional tutors, or install a convenient Promova app to practice listening by yourself.
Now you have enough information to get started. As you can see, learning English by listening can be simple and profitable. Whether you are a beginner or an advanced learner, we hope our tips will come in handy. And as always, don’t forget about practice – it is the key to success!