Improving Your English Listening Skills

In this video, Alfredo interviews Carolyn Sandy, an English teacher in Asia, about how English learners can improve their listening skills.

Video transcript

Alfredo: At, we receive a lot of feedback from English learners who are saying that they need to improve their listening skills.

And today, we have with us Carolyn Sandy, who has taught English for multiple years in Asia, and specifically, in China. And, as we consider the idea of listening, I think about many English learners on our website who have pointed out that they have difficulty understanding English often. And it may be that they have difficulty understanding native speakers of English. And, Carolyn, it's sometimes it's just that they have difficulty understanding their English teachers. Or maybe they're even having difficulty understanding this video.

What are some things that English learners can do to improve their listening?

1. Work diligently.

Carolyn: One thing that English learners need to remember is just to be patient. Listening is hard work, and it takes a lot of effort to listen to someone and understand them as they speak.

Alfredo: So patience is something just to keep in mind. And so even if they're not getting the results that they want, they need to realize that you're not going to learn English after just a couple of days.

2. Ask for repetition.

Carolyn: And not being afraid to ask someone to repeat something--

Alfredo: Ok.

Carolyn: --to hear it again.

Alfredo: When we think about improving with listening--often if someone is going to listen, maybe through a CD or an MP3, using an audio device to listen--there are not as many advantages to understanding as there are in a situation, perhaps in a real-world situation where you're actually speaking with someone else, like I'm in from of you right now. So what are some advantages of actually being with a person and seeing that person while you are trying to understand what they are saying?

3. Observe body language and reactions.

Carolyn: A lot of language is communicated through body language and people's expressions, so if you can practice your English or the language you are learning with somebody who is speaking that language, you can learn a lot from their reactions to what you're saying, and even how they use their English on an everyday level that you may not get just from the textbook or learning vocabulary words.

Alfredo: Yeah. So body language is important. I imagine sometimes even when people use gestures, they can perhaps demonstrate what they're talking about. For example, if they use the word "umbrella," what does that mean?

Well, perhaps they will perform the action of opening an umbrella. And that gesture helps them to understand what the word is.

Carolyn: That's true.

Alfredo: So a gesture might be helpful. Even if--whether the person is re-enacting (is performing) the activity that the person is speaking about--or even just other body language is often helpful for people to understand. Are there other examples of non-verbal communication that can help besides body language?

4. Identify words that you already know.

Carolyn: Something that has helped me in learning Chinese is to listen maybe for words that you know and then to look at how people in the group are interacting with each other. And I kind of can piece together how what they are saying is relating to words that I know. And it helps me to fit the conversation together.

Alfredo: Ok, so taking the things that you've already heard, and making a connection.

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  • Sergio Rodrigues

    In order to improve my listening, I have subscribed to several podcasts ranging from easier to more challenging ones. Some people say we should listen to only we can understand, say 90 to 95% of what is said. Otherwise, would be a waste of time.
    Others, however, say we should listen to virtually everything, as long as the subject is interesting, even not understanding much, so that we get in touch with the intonation and rythm of the target language,
    I wouuld like to know your take on that.

  • Michael

    The title of the video is "Improving your English Listening Skills" - and what is the first tip? Be patient! How exactly being patient will improve someone's listening skills? Tip 1 is irrelevant, you're soothing the anxious learners instead of giving them useful information.

    Tip 2 - ask for repetition, is a good piece of advice, but it's good only for the situation of real communication, when you're talking with somebody. It won't radically improve your listening comprehension, it just will help you to get over some difficulties in that particular occasion. Next time you'll be talking to an English-speaker, you're likely to face the same difficulties. Your listening skills aren't going to improve just because you ask someone to repeat what he's just said.

    Tip 3 - "Observe Body Language" is good for getting on in a conversation, but, again, won't improve the skill itself.

    Tip 4 - words are pronounced somewhat different when said separately and when said in context. So trying to recognize familiar words in the flow of speech can be challenging. This tip can be useful for improving Listening Comprehension Skill - probably the only tip of the four that is of any practical use.

    Conclusion: waste of time, irrelevant information, actually confusing learners instead of helping them.

    • OnTargetEnglish

      Thank you for your perspective.

  • Alzaidiali

    thank you very much; it was very usefull for me

  • Vinodkumarkseb

    thank u sir

  • Luciezola

      Ronnie is so interresting and v.good teacher. I like her because I can understand very well.Can she wright to me please,I would like to ask her some questions... (

  • Crazy_lolo72

    amazing  ideas and advices to learn how to learn listening and so to understand what are people saying and talking about. i will follow your experience more and more to be fit and profissional English speaker and thanks alot .

  • This is a great way to practice! Practice makes perfect, so practice, practice, practice!¬†

  • Cesar_b_er

    I think this is a good way to practice english and i enjoy and listening over and over these convesations.I hope many more in the future. Thanks.

  • Mousamih

    i need someone to talk with him or her in english means who's native speaker