Published 25th March 2019


You may not realise it, but listening is a skill. Even in our native language it can be difficult to understand what someone is saying if they have a cold, speak quickly or if there is background noise. Listening to people speak in a foreign language is much tougher. It can be difficult to differentiate between words, connected speech can change sounds, and native speakers tend to speak really quickly. Especially if you are a lower level learner, whole sentences can sound like one word!

Because listening is such a vital aspect of learning a foreign language, the fact that you can’t understand what a person is saying can be disheartening. If you find your students are demotivated by their lack of listening skills, offer them some listening advice to make them feel better about their progress and be able to improve.

Here is some listening advice:

Practice makes perfect

Listening is a skill which takes time to develop, but it won’t improve if you don’t put any time and effort into it. Practise your listening by listening to podcasts and songs, watching series or movies, or chatting to native speakers. Try to listen to something in English every day, even if it’s only for a few minutes. You will start to see an improvement very soon.

Read while you listen

When you listen, read a transcript of the text. This will help you connect the spoken words with the written words. Listen to and read the text a few times. After a few times you can do shadow listening, where you read the text at the same time as listening to it. This helps you get a feel for the rhythm and intonation of the language.

Learn about connected speech

We don’t speak in isolated words. Connected speech affects the way we string words together. Assimilation, elision and linking sounds are just a few examples of how sounds can change based on their position in a sentence. Understanding the different aspects of connected speech will help you to identify the individual words in a sentence.

Use authentic materials

Practise your listening with authentic materials. This will help you get comfortable with the natural speed of talking, as well as different accents. The more exposure you have to natural speech, the easier you will be able to understand it.

Learn about communication skills

In real life, listening is not a once-off process. Learn how to ask for clarification, get repetition and how to communicate your lack of understanding. These are natural strategies of listening that native speakers use in real life and will help your listening.

Focus on pronunciation

If you learn about the phonetics and phonology of a language, you are more likely to be able to identify sounds when you hear them. Spend some time practising your own pronunciation and your listening will improve.