1. Listen for the most important words.
It’s not necessary to hear and understand every word. In English, some words in a sentence are more important than others. Try to listen for the “important words” to understand the general message.
On my vacation the year before last, I wanted to go to the mountains of Switzerland, but it was much too expensive for my limited budget, so I ended up spending a week on a deserted beach in northeastern Brazil instead.
If you are listening and you only hear the words in black, you can still understand the basic idea of the sentence, even though you didn’t hear most of the words!
2. Listen many times to the same recording.
In my classes, my students often follow this model (I will use the listening from Man’s Life Saved Through Facebook for this example):
- 1st time: Listen for the general topic – what is the listening about, in general?
- Write down 2 or 3 general words – Facebook, wife, help
- 2nd time: Listen for the main ideas – what does the listening say about the words you wrote?
- The husband was sick, and the wife made a Facebook page, and someone helped.
- 3rd-4th time: Listen for more details – what extra information can you hear about the main ideas?
- Dan, the husband, was 36 years old, and nobody in his family was healthy enough to help. A girl named Allie saw the Facebook page set up by Dan’s wife and offered to donate her kidney. The process went well, and Dan and his wife are very thankful.
- 5th time: Listen and read the text – look up any new words in your dictionary.
- After listening, read the text out loud (speaking) to work on your pronunciation.
3. Listen and read the text.
Many students are good at reading, but bad at listening. If you listen while reading, this helps you to “match” the pronunciation of the word with how it looks.
For example, “thought” is pronounced like “thawt” – but “though” is pronounced like “thoh.” These two words look very similar, but they sound very different!
All the Reading Lessons on Espresso English have audio so that you can practice this skill.
4. Listen to different accents in English.
English from the United States, from Australia, from England, from Ireland, from South Africa – it all sounds different! Here are some websites where you can listen to English from different countries:
- American English: Voice of America Special English (easier) and regular programs (harder)
- British English: BBC 6-minute English lessons
- Australian English: The Australia Network podcasts, the Australia Broadcasting Company (Radio, TV)
- World English: English Listening Lab Online has English from native and non-native speakers around the world!
5. Listen a little every day.
Subscribe to Espresso English to get English lessons – including listening – in your e-mail. It’s free!
I have one student who used to have a lot of difficulty with listening. Every day, she spends 1 hour driving to work and 1 hour driving home. She began to listen to English CDs in the car during this time. Now, her listening has improved a LOT – and her speaking is better, too! It’s OK if you don’t have very much time to spend listening to English – but doing a little bit of listening every day will definitely help.