Last updated at 10:15 GMT, Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Improving your listening skills

Two men talking and listening to each other

Two men talking and listening to each other

A question from Margarida Dourado in Brazil:

My problem is listening and understanding what people say when they are talking. Could you give me some tips to improve my listening skills? Thanks a lot.

Amy Lightfoot answers

Click below to hear the answer:

Thanks for writing in Margarida, I think this is a question that a lot of students will be interested in. In my opinion, listening is one of the hardest skills to develop when learning a language. It can be very exhausting trying to understand someone talking in a language that is not your own, not to mention having to understand all the different accents that a language may be spoken in. I have some tips which I think will help you, along with some suggestions for websites you could use for listening practice.

There are only a few situations where it is important to understand every single word that someone is saying – for example when listening for an announcement at an airport – otherwise you might miss your flight! However, most of the time it’s really not necessary to understand everything, so you must try very hard not to worry if you don’t catch every word.

Another thing to remember is that if you are able to ask questions then you can ask the speaker to repeat themselves or explain words that you don’t understand. Don’t be afraid to do this – generally people are always happy to teach someone something!

Here are some phrases that might be useful:

Could you repeat that please?
Would you mind saying that again?
What does that word mean?
Could you explain the meaning of that word?


Here are a few things you could try at home to help you develop your listening skills:

Have a look around the BBC Learning English website – there are lots of fabulous listening activities. One of my favourites is The Flatmates http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/flatmates/

This is a soap opera with a twist: you can vote for what happens in the next episode. A great feature is that the script is available to read line by line if you need some help while you’re listening. My other favourite is 6 Minute English http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/general/sixminute/. This includes some vocabulary definitions and is always about an interesting topic.

Subscribe to a podcast on the internet. Two sites you might like to look at are http://www.listen-to-english.com/ and http://www.britishcouncil.org/learnenglish-podcasts.htm. These feature audio clips written especially for English language learners. You can subscribe on both websites and they’ll deliver the podcasts straight to your inbox each week.

Listen to more music in English! This is of course another great way to improve your listening – try http://www.last.fm to find some new songs in English in all different styles.

Get together with some friends who are also learning English and try and arrange a regular meeting where you can practise speaking in English and listening to each other – this will help you to develop confidence as well.

I hope this has been useful and that you will try out some of these ideas. Remember what I said about not trying to understand every word and good luck!

About Amy Lightfoot

 Amy Lightfoot

Amy Lightfoot started out doing a degree in psychology in 1995 and quickly became interested in the processes involved in learning languages. She now has a Trinity CertTESOL, DELTA and MA in English Language Teaching. She has taught English and worked on teacher training projects in the UK, Portugal, India, Afghanistan and Bhutan. She is currently working as a freelance materials writer and language trainer in Somerset, England.

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