Learn English by Listening: 6 Tips to Improve Your Comprehension

A woman lifting her headphone from her ear

Native English speakers have a tendency to speak quickly, cut off word endings, and blend different sounds together. This can make it difficult for non-native speakers to understand what’s been said. Nonetheless, one of the best ways to learn English by listening is to pay attention to native speakers.

That said, mindlessly listening to English doesn’t yield the best results. If you want to learn English by listening, you’ll need to develop good listening habits that allow you to retain information and implement what you hear in daily conversation. So, to help get you started, let’s take a look at our top tips to learn English by listening:

1. Learn English by Listening: Two Step Approach

It’s easy to get caught up in the details when you’re first exposed to new listening material. After all, when you hear a word or phrase that you don’t understand, you probably want to figure out what it means as soon as possible. While being proactive is a great quality, you shouldn’t get too caught up in understanding every single word the first time around.

Instead, focus on “big picture” listening comprehension first. Whether you’re listening to a podcast or a live TV news program, try to focus on the intent of the speaker. What’s the topic? What are they trying to say? What is their tone or general mood?

Once you answer these questions, you can then focus on more specific details. Go back and analyze individual words or phrases that you might have missed. Listening to the same material a second or third time will also give you a chance to figure out what different words mean based on context alone.

2. Slow and Steady Wins the Race

When English learners first decide to start a new study method, they often try to dive in headfirst. While it’s always great to be enthusiastic about learning English, trying to do too much too quickly can leave you feeling overwhelmed. Instead, you should start slow and ease your way into it.

For example, let’s say that you’re a B2 level English student who wants to start watching English Youtube videos every day. You might be inclined to find videos that native English speakers watch. While this is a good way to learn new idioms and adapt your ears to natural, conversational English, the difficult material could leave you feeling discouraged.

For this reason, we recommend starting off slow. Watching videos designed for non-native speakers ensures that the English will be clear, concise, and error-free. As you get accustomed to hearing English and your confidence grows, you can slowly ramp up (increase) the difficulty. Though it will take you a little longer to reach more challenging material, you will be less likely to give up as you progress!

3. Treat New Listening Material Like an English Class

Exposing yourself to more English is always a good thing. That said, passively listening to new material isn’t the best way to absorb the information. In fact, when you’re not paying attention, your mind can easily wander to other things.

To avoid wasting your time, you should treat any new listening material like a formal English class. So, what do you do in an English class? Or, more accurately, what should you do in an English class? In most English classes, you should listen, pay attention, and take notes.

While taking notes is technically optional, paying attention isn’t. It’s almost impossible to learn anything if your brain isn’t focused on the task at hand. So, imagine that the person speaking is your teacher. This way, you’ll be training your brain to treat what you hear as important learning material.

Taking notes can also help you retain information for the future. This is especially helpful for visual learners. If you have a hard time remembering things that you hear, it can be extremely beneficial to write down important notes to reference later.

4. Listen and Repeat

You may not always be in a place where you can speak out loud. For example, if you like to listen to English music or podcasts on the bus, you might not want to repeat what you hear at full volume. However, when the setting allows it, you should try to listen and repeat what you hear as much as possible.

Repeating new words and phrases forces you to actively engage with English. You have no choice but to pay attention and think about the words you hear. When you say something out loud, you’re more likely to store the information in your long-term memory as well.

Speaking English out loud can also help you practice new pronunciations. It’s easy to take note of new words and how they sound, but certain sounds are more difficult for non-native speakers to form by themselves. Repeating new words will ensure that you can implement difficult pronunciations in your own conversations.

5. Learn English by Listening To a Live Person

Listening to pre recorded material that you can pause, rewind, and analyze is a great way to build your basic comprehension skills. However, at some point, you will need to put those skills to the test in the real world. Understanding material that you’ve listened to multiple times is one thing; having a live conversation in English is something else entirely.

While you should start slow with listening materials, you may not have the same freedom when you’re having a conversation with a native English speaker. However, this doesn’t mean you should avoid having conversations in English. Instead, focus on building your listening and speaking skills at the same time!

Asking plenty of questions is one useful method for actively improving your listening comprehension. When you don’t understand something, ask the other person what it means. Don’t be shy! Asking questions is a great way to learn new information.

6. Don’t Limit Yourself to One Listening Resource

When it comes to studying English, everyone has their favorite methods and resources. However, you shouldn’t be afraid to mix things up or even step outside of your comfort zone. For example, if you like to listen to English podcasts, that’s great! But most podcasts have a specific format (interview, storytelling, conversational, etc) that may limit your exposure to certain vocabulary and grammar.

Choosing different kinds of listening materials will help you develop a well-rounded study plan. This, in turn, will help your English improve in more than just one area.

Here are a few useful links to help you learn English by listening:

For more information about grammar topics and all things ESL related, visit Magoosh Speaking today!

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