Published 25th February 2019


Teaching listening in the English as a Foreign Language classroom is one of the trickier aspects of our jobs. Due to the nature of the skill, it can be difficult to really know how much our students understand and it can be hard to identify the particular problems our learners may be having. If we look at some of the more common barriers to successful learners we can hopefully gain a better understanding of how we can deal with listening in the EFL classroom to help our learners become better listeners.

Common barriers to successful listening


The most obvious barrier to listening is the environment in which the listening is taking place. If the environment is noisy or if there is a lot of background noise, it’s going to be more challenging for the listener to hear what is being said. If they cannot hear, it will be impossible for them to interpret it into identifiable words.


If a student is distracted or not paying attention, this has the same effect as a noisy environment. Similarly, if they are tired, upset, anxious or unmotivated. Also, if they are not interested in the task or feel it is too easy or too difficult they won’t listen effectively.


If students develop bad habits when it comes to listening, it will be challenging to break them. For example, students may listen intently to try to hear and understand every word. Usually it is more beneficial to listen for the general idea and try to comprehend big chunks of language rather than individual words.

Spoken Word Recognition

When a person speaks English, whole sentences can sound like one long word. This makes it almost impossible to process and understand. This can be because of a mismatch between a spoken word and its written form or the speaker speaking very quickly. As a result, listeners will mishear what is being said.


Students may rely on translation to try to understand a listening text. In other words, as they listen they are translating what they hear. As you can imagine, this is a very time-consuming and ineffective strategy for comprehension.

Language Level

Listeners may not understand what they are hearing simply because of their level of English. They may not be familiar with the words being spoken and so be unable to identify them as words.


If a listener is not familiar with a speaker’s accent it will be very difficult for them to understand what they are hearing, even if they utilise effective listening strategies.

Text Length

The longer a listening text, the more information and language there is to process and the more difficult it is to understand. This is especially true if there are no breaks within the text.


If the topic of a listening text is complex or unfamiliar to the listener it will be difficult to understand.

Phew that’s a lot of barriers! As you can see, listening is quite a complex task and there are many reasons our learners may not be successful. However, if you consider these barriers closely you can think of appropriate tasks in the classroom which can help your learners improve their listening skills.