How to Improve Your English Listening Skills
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How to Improve Your English Listening Skills
Why Most People Fail to Improve Their English Listening Skills
There’s only one reason people fail: they don’t listen to enough English.
Makes sense, right? If you spend 1,000 hours listening to English, your listening will definitely improve.
Unfortunately, here’s what many people do to improve their listening:
Watch a few movies in English every week.
Listen to something in English 3 – 5 times a week.
Listen to English for 15 minutes per day.
These actions are weak. They aren’t significant enough to make a difference.
Think about it. If you listen to English for 15 minutes a day. One year from now, you will have listened to only 91 hours of English.
This is not enough! It will take you many years to see an improvement.
People Who Listen to English a Lot Also Fail!
Some people spend several hours a day listening to English. They know that to improve their listening , they need a lot of practice.
Unfortunately, these people usually fail to improve their listening as well.
Why is that?
At first, they’re motivated to improve their listening. They decide to listen to English for 2 hours every day.
After a while, they have trouble finding time to practice.
Finally, they lose motivation and give up.
Because they quit too soon, their listening skills didn’t improve.
This is how many “motivated” English students fail. They practice hard in the beginning, but then they quit soon afterwards because they can’t maintain that kind of practice.
Here’s the lesson to be learned: for your English listening skills to improve, you must listen to English regularly over a long period of time.
Listening to English for several hours per day “for a month” is not enough. You need to do it for many months (or over a year).
How to “Successfully” Improve Your Listening Skills (Even If You Don’t Have Time)
Success Tip #1: Make Sure Your Phone Always Has English Listening Material
First, you need to download a lot of English listening material to your phone. This way, you can listen to English no matter where you are.
What kind of English material to download to your phone?
Podcasts are audio shows (English conversations) which you can download from the Internet for free.
To download podcasts to your phone, you need a podcast app.
Go to your app store and search for “podcast app” and pick one with good ratings.
Once installed, open the podcast app and search for podcasts by entering a search term. (Just enter something you’re interested in.)
After that, you will be able to listen or download podcast episodes.
Success Tip #2: Turn Boring Time into Listening Time
These activities have one thing in common: they don’t require concentration or deep thinking.
Riding a bus/train.
Doing house chores (washing dishes, cooking, etc.)
Waiting for something.
Throughout the day, there are a lot of activities like the examples above. These are the best times to improve your English listening skills!
Make sure to listen to some English during these activities. By doing so, it’s quite easy to listen to English for 1 – 2 hours every day.
Do you see the brilliance of this strategy? This is how you can improve your listening even if you don’t time. Even busy people can do this!
Success Tip #3: Make It Fun & Entertaining!
We all spend time each day on entertaining stuff: playing games, surfing the Internet, gambling, etc.
We spend lots of time on these things because they are fun and addictive.
So, if you want to spend a lot of time listening to English, just make it entertaining. If you do that, it’s easy to improve your listening skills. (And you don’t have to force yourself to do it.)
But how do you make “listening to English” fun?
Idea #1: Subscribe to Entertaining Channels on YouTube
Watching YouTube is a great way improve your English listening comprehension.
Note: make sure to only enable captions when it’s necessary. If you can understand 80 – 90% of the content, you should disable captions so that you can focus on listening
Idea #2: Binge-Watch Popular Television Series & Movies
What If You Don’t Understand The Material?
What if you don’t understand what you’re listening to, and there’s no transcript?
Or maybe there’s a transcript but you can’t read it because you’re listening and driving at the same time.
What should you do?
Option #1: Do Nothing
It’s not a big deal if you don’t understand some parts of the conversation as long as you understand the main idea. You don’t need to read the transcript just because you can’t make out some words or sentences.
Now you might be wondering, “If I don’t read, how will I learn the meaning of new vocabulary?”
This is a common concern. Some English students believe that in order to learn new words, they must look up those words in a dictionary. They believe that it’s the only way to learn new words.
But that’s not true! The truth is, your amazing brain has the ability to learn the meanings of new words from context (surrounding words). This is how you learned your native language (without using transcripts or dictionaries).
So%2c don’t worry if you don’t know some words when listening to English. If you hear people use those words multiple times in different contexts, your brain will eventually figure out the meanings of those words.
Option #2: Listen to Something Easier
When some students start listening to something, they try to finish it even though it’s too difficult to understand. Trying to do so is painful. After a while, these students usually quit improving their listening altogether!
This behavior is ridiculous. There’s a lot of free English material on the Internet. And new English material is created every day. Therefore, there’s absolutely no need to “finish” what you start.
If the material you’re listening to is very difficult (or boring), just delete it and find something else to listen to.
Option #3: Read in English to Learn New Vocabulary
If you feel like almost everything you listen to is too difficult to understand, your vocabulary is probably very small. That’s why you have trouble understanding most English conversations.
In that case, I suggest that, other than listening to English, you also read in English to quickly learn words and phrases commonly used in conversations. For recommendations on what to read, check out this resource.
Special Advice for Beginners
At first, don’t do anything that will discourage you and make you quit. If you quit, everything will be all for NOTHING.
In the beginning, don’t worry about that yet. Instead, please focus on getting yourself to listen to English “every day” (even if it’s just 10 – 15 minutes per day).
At this stage, you goal is NOT to improve your listening. Your goal is to develop the habit of regular listening. Once the habit is formed, improving your listening will be easier.
Here are things you shouldn’t do in the beginning (because they might make you quit):
Listening to something that’s quite difficult to understand.
Forcing yourself to listen to English for several hours a day.
Beating yourself up when you feel like you’re not practicing enough.
In the beginning (the first month), it’s okay to listen for just 10 – 15 minutes a day. It’s also okay to listen to something that’s very easy to understand. Just make sure that you do it (almost) every day.
If you fail to listen to English for a few days, that’s okay. Don’t beat yourself up. Don’t use that as an excuse to quit. Just relax, and promise yourself that you will listen to some English the next day.
Why Your Listening Improves Very Slowly (Even Though You Listen To English Quite A Lot)
This is a common problem among intermediate listeners.
Many intermediates feel like their listening has stayed at the same level for years, even though they still listen to English regularly.
You keep listening to things you can “easily” understand.
If you only listen to something easy, don’t expect to see a quick improvement.
Is There a Way to “Quickly” Improve Your Listening?
Listen to “challenging” English material.
Category #1: Too Difficult to Understand
This is the kind of material in which you can’t even understand the main idea.
If you listen to something and think, “I have no clue what they’re talking about”, then you’re listening to this kind of English material.
It’s a waste of time to listen to something you don’t understand. So, you should avoid this kind of listening material.
Category #2: Easy to Understand
This is the kind of material in which you can understand almost every single word. (Example: a talk by a native speaker who speaks slowly and clearly.)
The reason intermediate students have trouble improving is that they only listen to this kind of material.
Category #3: Challenging
Challenging English material are conversations in which you cannot make out every single word or sentence, but you still understand the main idea.
Want to know why beginners improve fast? It’s because, for them, almost everything they listen to is challenging. When you expose yourself to challenging stuff, you improve quickly.
So, if you’re an intermediate or advanced listener who wants to improve quickly, make sure that you listen to a lot of challenging stuff.
Here are a few ideas on how to do that:
Listen to speakers who don’t speak clearly
– Don’t keep listening to people whom you can perfectly understand. Some speakers are more difficult to understand than others. Listen to those people as well.
Listen to various topics
– Don’t keep listening to conversations on the same topics. Make sure to listen to topics that you aren’t familiar with as well.
Listen to both American and British English
– If you’re already good at listening to one of these accents%2c practice listening to the other accent as well.
Summary: How to Improve Your English Listening Skills
You must listen to a lot of English every day. The best way to do that (without spending your free time) is to listen to English during activities that don’t require concentration or deep thinking.
Another way to listen to a lot of English is to make it entertaining by binge-watching interesting YouTube channels and popular TV shows and movies.
If you’re a beginner, make sure to start small in the beginning. And if possible, you should also read in English to learn some new vocabulary.
If your listening comprehension is at an intermediate level, and it seems like it’s no longer improving, listen to challenging English material MORE.