How to Improve Your English Listening Skills

business English listening

For many language learners, listening can be one of the hardest skills to master. The main complaint I hear, is that native English speakers speak so fast. They don’t really, but they probably do speak much faster than the listening materials that come with certain course books.

While these are a great resource to get you started, they don’t always reflect the natural pace of conversational English. Being able to understand spoken English in the moment is extremely important in business. If you miss vital information it can have disastrous consequences. Don’t panic! Here are six simple tips to improve your English listening skills.

How You Listen is Important

Before we into the listening tips there is one thing you should be aware of. There are two types of listening, passive and active. Both can be useful, but as you’d expect you’re going to get more out of active listening. What’s the difference?

Passive Listening

Passive listening is basically listening but not giving the material your full attention. An example would be when you have the TV or radio on while you’re making your dinner, talking to your spouse and helping the kids with their homework. You can hear the audio, but you’re not really listening.

Active Listening

If you sit down in front of the computer, press play on an English speaking video and dedicate your full attention, stopping and starting to take notes. Rewinding to hear the words again, and practice repeating them– this is active listening.

Equally, listening to something without doing another activity is also ‘active’. Your attention is directed to just one thing and gives your brain the chance to concentrate and store what it hears to memory.

Combine Passive and Active Listening

While active listening should make up the majority of your listening activities, it’s not always possible to give such close attention all the time. That’s where passive listening comes in as a support to your active listening. Combining the two approaches is a great way to surround yourself with English listening material.

So, let’s look at what kind of material will help improve your English listening skills.

1. Podcasts

Top of your list should be podcasts. Why? Well, they tend to be conversation heavy, and if you listen with earphones, then that’s even better for your listening concentration.

There’s also an endless choice of topics. If you are looking for something business based to improve your business English vocabulary, there are thousands of options to choose from. From factual documentary style to industry related, plus interviews, news and current affairs. Or if you prefer something a little more fun and entertaining, the choice is again endless.

The speaking style in podcasts is usually a little clearer than in TV and film, so it’s a great option for learning correct usage and accurate pronunciation. There are also countless English podcasts specifically designed for language learning. On top of all that, the majority of podcasts out there are free to download!

2. Movies

A great way to improve your listening skills is to pick a film you know quite well. Turn off the subtitles and just listen to the English. -By choosing something you’ve seen more than once you won’t have to worry about following the plot or reading subtitles. Instead, you can fully concentrate on listening and understanding the words.  

Watching movies, or TV for that matter, are a great way to pick up idioms and phrases in English. Try keeping a notebook by your side when watching, so that you can write down new words and look them up later. Remember, your listening skills will improve much faster if you take the active approach!

3. TV Series

Watching TV may be a nice way to unwind after a hard days work, but you can still make this activity count towards improving your listening skills. Just opt for native English speaking shows. Many TVs have subtitle setting, or if you’re purchasing from a streaming site, you can also download the subtitles for the programmes.

TV shows can give you a really rich experience of different dialects and accents from all parts of the English speaking world. So, if you happen to come across them in your daily life, you’ll be able to recognise and understand it much more easily.

4. Join a Language Exchange

Check in your city to see if there are any language exchange meet-ups. There are many ‘foreigners’ living all around the world and it could be a great opportunity to speak to and listen to a native English speaking person. Plus, having them right there in front of you, you can ask them to repeat themselves or explain any words you don’t understand.

5. Audiobooks

This is like a combination of podcasts and watching TV or movies in English. You can enjoy an interesting story, relax and be fully committed to listening.

As well as specialised language training audiobooks, you have endless options when it comes to topics and styles. No matter what genre you’re into there will be an audiobook which appeals to you. Choosing to listen to something you like means you’re much more likely to pay attention.

Depending on your level you can start with children’s books, young adult fiction or for more advanced levels, you can try adult fiction.

You can also make this a more active listening exercise by reading the physical book at the same time. This practice will help you understand the flow of the language, the pitch, tone and pronunciation. This also supports our next tip…

6. Read in English

What? I thought this was about listening skills!

Yes- but, reading in English will also help your listening skills. Reading helps broaden your vocabulary bank. So when you hear different or difficult words or phrases, you’ll be more likely to grasp and recognise them immediately.

Listen and Learn

The more you practice a skill the easier it will become. Like anything in life, it’s all about putting in the effort in order to get the results you want. If you would like to discover more way to improve your English for business or pleasure, join the Business English Community today!

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