English students often find it difficult to understand native speakers, sometimes because the English learned in classrooms and textbooks is different from how people speak in real life. The use of slang, not strictly following grammar rules, or simply not using certain combinations of words in the same way as in their own language, could be some of the many reasons why English learners might have these problems. In addition, it isn’t only about hearing the words, but also about understanding whole messages which the other person is trying to pass on to you.
Is it possible to improve your listening and understanding? It is and there is only one way to do it: listen to English…. all the time. Here some tips for practising in a way to really benefit your listening skills:
Talk to people
To everyone. Your host family, the barman, the bus driver, shop assistant… Interactive listening is the best. Not only you will be listening more carefully but also your brain will need to work on how to respond to what you hear and actually understand.
Listen to podcasts or the radio
If you are on your own, podcasts or radio programmes are a good option. Find topics that interest you, as it is much easier for you to stay focused if you are excited about what you are going to find out from the programme. With time, it could be useful to expand the range of English you listen to so you get to know a variety of different situations and topics.
You should also regularly watch movies or TV series. If you have difficulties with understanding fast speech or accents in movies you can also use subtitles (in English of course). This way you will be able to match the words with their natural pronunciation, although with time you will need to switch them off as there are no subtitles in real life!
Understand what you are listening
Try to improve your understanding, not just your listening skills. You might find it useful if after watching a video or listening a podcast you can reproduce what you have understood by retelling it to someone else. Noting down the words you don’t know and looking them up later on in the dictionary will enable you to enhance your range of vocabulary at the same time. The next time you do it set yourself the challenge of understanding even more
Choose what you are going to listen for
Practise intensive listening (and work on your language accuracy at the same time) by deciding exactly what you are going to listen for. You could choose to listen out only for articles (a, an, the) or exactly when English speakers use certain prepositions (for example, in, on, for) and focus only on this feature when listening in on conversations. This will help to reinforce what you study in course books but in a real context and it will help you to reproduce these language features more confidently in your own productive English.