You feel like you’re making progress in learning English. You can understand your teacher when she gives you a lesson on grammar now. Three months ago, you could only comprehend one out of every ten words she said. Congratulate yourself! Then you sit down to watch a news video online, and at least half of the story’s content does not make any sense. You want to get better at listening, but how?
What to Listen To
Listen to small snippets of news stories online or to audio recordings that come with your English text book. The BBC and Voice of America are two media organizations with websites specifically for English language learners. Their audio news stories are designed to help students better understand today’s news with slower speakers and slightly easier vocabulary. They often come with free worksheets and quizzes you can do to test your understanding after you listen.
Choose topics that are of interest to you. If you listen to a story about the stock market and you are really interested in technology, you probably will not learn much. Yes, it is important to broaden your vocabulary into different areas, but, when you first start out, listen to stories that are of interest.
How Long to Listen
Start out listening to about 30 seconds or one minute of an audio recording. As you get better, you can listen to longer pieces. Next, try about two minutes, and keep adding a minute or two each time you feel confident you comprehend what you heard.
Write it Down
Write down what you remember from each audio recording. You might write down what you hear in your native language first. Go back, and listen again to be sure you didn’t miss any important details. Then listen again, this time writing down what you hear in English.
When you go back to listen for the second time, you will read your notes in English, and you will be helping your brain begin to think in English. This is one of the most important steps in becoming truly fluent in another language. When you can begin to form thoughts in that language without having to translate into your native language, you are well on your way to becoming bilingual.
When you write, you will be creating your own transcript (written document of an audio recording) of what you hear. If you listen to a news story online, there are often transcripts or news stories you can read to find out if yours is correct. You can also use a transcript to help you identify a particular word or phrase that you are not able to understand without seeing the words written.
Say it Out Loud
Practice saying out loud what you wrote down next. When your brain sees the words you write down and then hears your own voice saying them, it begins to make connections to new vocabulary and grammar structures. You will also be able to practice your pronunciation and speaking fluency when you repeat what you heard.
At first, you might need to refer to your notes when you speak out loud to remember what you heard or new vocabulary. Try it again later without your notes. You can first try to remember exact words that you heard. Later, try to summarize what you hear and retell it in your own words.
Find a friend who speaks English to listen to you as you talk about what you heard. You might also practice with another friend learning English.
Take it Further
Then have a conversation with a friend about what you read. You might ask questions involving why, what, where, how, when, and who. Give your opinions on what you heard using “I think. . .” or “I believe that. . .”
If you don’t have someone to listen to you, write about the audio recording. Just a few sentences can help you remember new vocabulary and to practice expressing your opinion. As you become a better listener, listen to longer and more complicated things like movies or longer news stories. Then you might write a few paragraphs or an essay about what you read.
Listening is not just a skill where you sit back and do nothing. It requires repetition and careful attention. You might listen to the same recording ten times before you understand every word. That’s okay. Set a goal for yourself that by the end of the week you will understand the main idea of at least one news story audio recording that is a minute or so long. Then work to understand and remember the details. After you listen, you must work to remember what you have heard. Do this by speaking out loud about it or writing.