How to Improve Listening Skills when Learning English – BELS Malta

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Learning English? Here’s how to improve your listening skills

Working on English listening skills is the most common problem-area for English learners – it’s not something you can just learn. Often times, students might have a high level of grammar and writing skills, but when it comes to English listening skills or speaking skills it’s a whole new story. The first thing to remember is that improving English listening skills is difficult for most students- if you’re feeling emotionally overwhelmed, you’re not alone. And there are also things you can do to improve the situation. Read our tips below and use them to create study plan that’s suitable for you.

1. Develop your conversation and functional language skills

The first step to improve your listening skills is to make sure that you have the necessary vocabulary to follow, or participate in conversations. If the language is not familiar, your challenge with listening may be due to a lack of vocabulary or familiarity with the language. The best way to improve this is by looking for books, videos, articles or courses which focus on improving language fluency and functional language. Functional language refers to areas of English that are used to perform a specific functions in different day-to-day situations. This could include anything like introducing yourself, speaking about the weather, ordering in a restaurant, giving opinions, making suggestions, explaining rules, complaining etc.

2. Listen to audio lessons or audio books

This tasks involves passive listening, and is ideal as one of the first steps when learning English. Doing this will help you understand the sounds of the language better, and therefore improve your listening skills. You will understand the difference between how the phrases are written and how they are pronounced. Apart from that, you can practice repeating the language to make sure that you can also produce the language accurately. This is a vital step before being able to move on to more challenging tasks.

3. Practice active English listening skills

Passive listening refers to listening mainly for exposure to the language, but involves no action on your part. As mentioned in point two above, this is useful to gain familiarity with the language. Once step one and two are done, it’s time to move onto active listening, which is when the real learning occurs. Active listening refers to when you are fully concentrated on what is being said.  So to improve your English listening skills in this way, give yourself a task to do while you watch the movie (make a list of common phrases or topic-words).

How can that be done? Here are some examples:

  • If you studied adjectives, listen to songs in English and write down all the adjectives you can here.
  • If you’re studying past tense verbs, do the same with songs or movies.
  • If you’re learning English related to law, study some useful phrases and watch some law TV shows and make a list of all phrases. To be more effective this can be segregated for different areas, for example, in internal meetings, in discussions with clients, in court.

3. Practice with people of your level

Reach out to other people in your situation, who are also learning and studying and practice together. It’s completely fine if you make mistakes, that’s the first step in learning. Even if your friend is the same level, this is still useful for you because you are practicing saying the phrases and reacting to responses. It will increase your fluency, confidence and quickness with English listening skills.

4. Overhear an English conversation

After you have studied and learnt some phrases in a controlled environment, like in English classes and through the steps mentioned above, it’s time to listen to a real conversation. This way, you can try to notice how the things you learnt in your studies take place in real life. Trying to follow a real conversation between native speakers is the best challenge to improve your English listening skills.

If you live in an English speaking country, take an afternoon stroll and try to look for an English conversation. When you start to hear English, slow down and listen, and put your English listening skills to a real test by trying to figure out the topic discussed. It won’t be easy, but it’s practical, and fun.

Don’t live in an English speaking country? Join expat events!

5. Be interactive

Rather than just listening to someone’s conversation, take it a step further and join it. Try to find conversation groups that are purposely organised by English learners to develop English listening skills. When you’re talking to people, you listen more carefully, and you think about how you’re going to reply. Put yourself in situations where you have to practice all the phrases and functional language you’ve learnt. Find a job or hobby that pushes you to use your English listening skills on a daily basis, like interacting with shop assistants, a receptionists, or in restaurants.

Can’t do this in your country? Travel to a country where you must speak English.

6. Practice English skills with native speakers

Practicing with real native speakers will boost your English listening skills and improve your rhythm and stress when speaking. The best way to improve your English listening skills is to practice having social conversations with a native English teacher a few times a week. This would also help take your language to the next level.

Want to learn more? Have a look at this article about how to improve your English vocabulary.