Six Tips To Improve Your English Listening Skills

Build Your English Listening Skills at Language Link VietnamWhy do people have TWO ears, but only ONE mouth? Because listening is twice as hard as speaking!

Understanding spoken English can be difficult, especially if the speaker is talking very fast. Problems include:

  • Feeling frustrated because you do not understand every word
  • Only understanding people when they speak slowly
  • Finding it hard to keep up with all the information
  • Getting tired during long listening

Like all skills, listening takes practice. The following SIX tips will help you improve your listening skills.

1. Listen to Things You Enjoy
You need to practice listening, so why not make it fun? Discovery Channel, sports radio, podcasts, and music are all things you can listen to. Find an English song you like and sing along, and you’ll improve pronunciation too!

2. Identify the Main Idea
You will understand more if you keep in mind the main idea someone is trying to communicate. To identify the main idea:

  • Determine the type of speech. Is this a conversation or a presentation? Is it formal or informal? Different types of speech have different rules, and they produce different language
  • Identify the purpose. Why is the speaker talking? To inform? Persuade? Apologize? Listen for specific phrases (e.g. “I’m sorry!”) that will help you identify the purpose.
  • Use your own knowledge. Whether someone is speaking about Hanoi’s traffic or the countries of Europe, you already know something about the subject. Good listeners use this knowledge to understand what someone is saying.

3. Pay Attention to KEY Words
Imagine you are listening to a foreigner introduce himself. To you, his words sound like this:

Hello…Tom…New York…teacher…

Do you know his name? Where he’s from? What he does for a living? Of course! You only need to hear the key words to understand the meaning.

4. Predict What the Speaker is GOING to Say
If you are talking to a chef, and he is standing in a kitchen, you know he’s probably going to talk about food. You can prepare yourself by thinking of the vocabulary he’s going to use, and why he’s going to use it. A good listener ANTICIPATES what a person is going to say.

5. Stay Calm
Accept the fact that you are NOT going to understand everything. And that’s okay: you don’t have to! Even native speakers don’t hear every word. But if you miss something, try not to worry. Keep listening, until you hear a key word that you understand. Stay calm, and you will understand more.

6. Practice Listening Every Day
This is the most important thing you can do. Listening takes practice, but if you spend at least 30 minutes listening to English every day, you’ll be amazed by how quickly you improve! To start, you can listen to the TV, or check out some of these Best Websites for Improving Listening.

What Do You Think?
What do you think? How do you practice listening? Do you have any advice to add? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

18 thoughts on “Six Tips To Improve Your English Listening Skills

      • I usually practice listening via BBC broadcast station. I just have a tip :

        Keep using this two both ways:
        1. Listening to speech with high speed
        2. Listening to speech with slow speed, so that we can be more familiar with pronunciation and intonation.

    • Thank you, Tra! I’m glad you find them useful. Is there anything else that you would like to know more about? Anything else you’d find useful?

      Thanks again for your kind comment.

  1. Cool tips!
    There is only tip: keep practicing every day!
    Listening is not my biggest trouble! I barely speak fluently, could u give me some tips?

    • Hi Nam,

      Fluency is something that only develops over time. The best advice I can give is:

      * DON’T study grammar too much! Language is a natural skill, and simply learning the rules won’t help you
      * Keep LISTENING, because this will help you FEEL the rhythm of the language
      * Keep READING, because this will help you learn vocabulary and structure
      * Look for opportunities to PRACTICE. You don’t need to speak with native speakers; you just need to USE the language for communication.

      Finally, please try to be PATIENT. I’ve been learning Vietnamese for three years, and despite the fact that I live in Vietnam and am surrounded by Vietnamese, I’m still far from fluent. But I know that if I keep reading and listening and using the language, I’ll be fluent over time.

      Time is the key… :-)

  2. I think that the best way to be fluent in English is to communicate every day.
    Of course, much better if you have time to read & listen more via certain media.
    And i know one thing that if you want to use English well, you can not feel ashamed when you say something wrong.
    Just speak as much as possible. Over time, you can improve your English skills, even by others’ comments.
    That’s my opinions. Thanks.

    • I agree 100%, Vi. What you’re saying is SO important!

      You should NEVER be afraid to make mistakes. You should hear me speak Vietnamese – I make mistakes all the time! But I understand that this is how I learn, and I appreciate it when people help me.

      To me, this is one of the most important points to keep in mind. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts!

      • However, i see it’s really not easy to do that. Not everyone is self-confident enough. For me, though i understand it very well, i can not do that til when i feel self-confident with my knowledge & skills. It’s very difficult to change. Hix hix. Poor me!
        However, in my mind, i always remind myself such a good way.
        plz help me to overcome this matter!
        Thanks.

        • Hi Vi,

          You’re right: it’s NOT always easy. But I think this issue is very important, and gets to the heart of how a lot of students feel. Because it’s such an important topic, rather than answer you quickly now, I would like to write a blog post entirely on this subject.

          Please come back in a few days, and I’ll have a blog post for you on gaining confidence. Okay?

          Thank you so much for your question!

          • Okie. Thanks so much. Do hope that i will gain my confidence in studying other languages as well coz now i have been studying Korean & Chinese also.

  3. Thanks for your suggestions, Hal!
    But in my office, my boss is French. He speaks English by French accent, so fast & sometimes, he uses Vietnamese in English sentence.

    • Thanks for your comment, Thao.

      It’s true that some accents can be difficult to understand. The thing to remember is that MOST of the world’s English speakers are NOT native speakers.

      English is an international language, therefore, we need to be ready to listen to and speak with a wide range of native and non-native accents.

      Your boss is clearly a person you need to speak English with. Like anybody, the more you listen to him, the easier it will be for you to understand his unique speaking style.

      Use the skills mentioned above, and if you still don’t understand him, just ask him to repeat himself! Who knows: you may be able to help him improve.

  4. Before I felt very happy, exited with learning English.
    I don’t know that I don’t pronounce English exactly
    I only hope I can speak E with foreigner
    when I met foreigners, I often follow them and heard their conversation
    Although I can’t understand , I am very happy
    Now I am studing at an university, I learn E more, I read many tips, advices about English skill
    And I am afraid , I think I can’t speak E because It’ s too difficult
    I don’t believe myself , I don’t try more.
    Maybe I’m failed but I know E is very important . What should I do???

  5. In my opinion, the first and most probably important factor that influence our listening skill is stay calm. just listening like the way we listen to our native language. The second thing is practicing listening English everyday.
    These things are just my ideas. hope people sharing more ideas

    • Hi Truong,

      Thanks for posting. I agree. When you listen to things in your own native language, quite often you don’t hear everything the first time. I know that happens when I listen to the radio or watch TV in English. So, for your first listening:

      - don’t panic, you won’t hear everything first time;
      - don’t start answering questions immediately, just listen;
      - listen for key words.

      Of course, you must read the questions carefully before the listening starts so you know what to listen for.

      Keep posting Truong!
      Matt

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