7 Tips to Boost Your English Listening Practice

Follow these pointers to master English listening skills.

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By Barney Meekin · November 7, 2023 · 9 minute read

Improving English listening skills is hard. Really hard. This is because it’s a proper skill that you need to develop over time — years for some people. Nowadays, we have amazing apps that can help you remember vocabulary. But there’s no shortcut to improving your listening skills.

The thing is, practicing your English listening skills can’t be passive. You need to be actively listening to, and engaging with the content. In this article, you’ll get seven tips to help you effectively practice English listening skills.

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7 English listening practice tips

Here are some top recommended tips that can help you improve your listening practice in English, plus a listening process straight fom the language classroom:

1. Set an overall goal and make a plan

Mastering English listening could take years and years. So it’s important to set clear and manageable goals to break the process down into manageable chunks. When setting goals, specific and realistic are keywords you need to remember.

If you’re a beginner English speaker, the goal of mastering English listening skills in the next six months has two big problems. First, it’s vague — what does mastery mean and what skills will you master? Second, it’s unrealistic. As I said above, mastering English listening could take years and years. A beginner is very unlikely to manage that in half a year.

Here’s a more specific and realistic listening goal:

“I will be able to listen to (and understand) everyday conversations about hobbies after three months.”

When setting your goals, make them more like this second example.

2. Make a plan

After figuring out your goals, you need to make a plan. Answer this question: How will you achieve your goal? Think about how you like to learn, how much time you have, and how frequently you can practice. Then make a simple schedule that’ll take you closer to your goal.

Remember though, being flexible with your plans is important. Life happens and things get in the way. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you miss sessions because that can harm your motivation. Make sure you add flexibility to your plan.

3. Listen actively

Active listening is when you fully engage and pay close attention to the speaker. It’s important when you practice listening skills, that you aren’t passive. When you’re passive, you can hear what the speaker is saying. But you’re not really listening.

To effectively practice active listening — and to improve your English listening skills — you need to be mentally engaged. Here’s how.

  • Get rid of distractions. Focus on the speaker, not your smartphone.

  • Take notes. Jot down key points while listening and summarize what the speaker is saying. This will help you retain the information and is a useful reference for future review.

  • Ask questions. Questions are a great way to actively engage. You can ask questions right away or write them down to ask later.

  • Repeat back. After the speaker has finished, repeat back what you've understood in your own words. This reinforces the message and you can check you fully understood what the speaker was saying.

These tips work whether you’re interacting with someone in a face-to-face conversation, or you're doing listening practice activities from a textbook.

4. Listen to diverse materials

Expose yourself to a variety of content in English. If you’re a beginner, you need to stick to the basics. Listen to short, everyday conversations. Listen to texts from English textbooks. At lower levels, you don’t have too many options. First, you should focus on understanding short and simple listening texts.

But when you graduate from the beginner level, don’t just listen to language learning materials. Listen to news broadcasts, watch movies, and tune into podcasts. This will help you get well-rounded listening skills (and it’s fun).

5. Get out there and interact with people

One of the best — and most fun — ways to improve your listening skills is to interact with people. It doesn’t matter if they’re native speakers or other language learners. What matters is that you listen actively and enjoy yourself. You can join an online community of language learners in Busuu, find language exchange partners in your area, or spend time overseas.

Ready to improve your English listening skills?

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6. Repeat, read, review

Being out in the wild, and interacting with native speakers is great, of course. But listening to texts at home has two big advantages. You can repeat the audio and you can read along with the transcript.

This is the exact process I used in listening classes in my 15+ years in the language classroom:

  • Listening 1: Listen for the gist and make notes of the big ideas. Answer the following question: What is the main message the speakers are trying to communicate?
  • Listening 2: Listen for details. Make notes of the main points and any other details. Write down any questions you have or anything you don’t understand.
  • Listening 3: Listen and read at the same time. Answer your own questions from Listening 2 and check your understanding. Look for words, structures, or ideas in the transcript that you missed on the first two listens.
  • Post-listening task: Summarize the listening in your own words. You can do this by speaking or writing. To make it more challenging, set yourself limits. For example, write a summary in no more than 3 sentences.

This process isn’t set in concrete. For example, if you need to listen one more time to get all the details, you do you. You’re in charge of your learning — adapt this process to fit your needs and goals.

7. Transcribe audio content

There are tons of activities you can do to improve your listening skills. The most common are simple comprehension questions. But something I’ve found effective when teaching languages is transcribing content. It’s simple, but not easy.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Listening 1: Listen for the gist. Try to understand the overall meaning of the audio.
  • Listening 2: Write down everything you hear. Don’t worry too much about grammar or spelling at this point. Just write down as much as you can.
  • Listening 3: Listen again and write down any words you missed or got wrong in Listening 2.
  • Listening 4: Listen again but this time focus on accuracy. Try to get the sentence as close to the original as possible.

When you do this activity, you can listen as many times as you need. If you need more than four to get everything, go for it.

Practicing listening skills for a test

You might have specific goals related to English tests like IELTS and TOEFL. Here are some tips to help you ace those listening tests.

IELTS listening practice

  • Understand the structure. IELTS listening tests include four recordings: An everyday conversation, a monologue about everyday topics, a conversation with up to four people in an educational (or training) context, and a monologue of an academic structure — like a lecture. You need to practice listening to each of these types and answering questions.

  • Use past test papers. So you get used to the format and types of questions of the test, practice with past IELTS listening papers. Look for patterns in the mistakes you make to identify your weaknesses.

  • Practice the different question types. The IELTS test includes multiple choice, matching, diagram labeling, gap fill, sentence completion, and short answer questions. Practice all of these and make sure you answer as required, whether it's a word, number, or phrase.

TOEFL listening practice

  • Understand the structure. TOEFL listening tests include lectures and conversations. You’ll listen to 3 classroom lectures (and discussions) with six questions per lecture. And two conversations with five questions per listening passage.

  • Practice note-taking. You only get to listen to the texts once, so taking notes will help you answer the questions. Listen out for main ideas, supporting details, and the speaker’s attitude or opinion.

  • Practice the different question types. The TOEFL test includes eight question types. From listening for gist and detail to making inferences and understanding the speaker’s attitude. Practice all of them before you take the test.

Engaged listening takes both practice and time

Whether you’re listening to communicate or pass a test, being active is essential. Active, English listening skills take a while to develop. But if you follow the tips in this article, you’ll be on the way to smashing your English listening goals.

Master English listening skills with Busuu

Get everything you need to improve your English listening skills with Busuu. Complete listening lessons, and interact with native speakers in our community of millions to interact with. And do it all from your mobile device.