This is the transcript for the English with Stephen podcast episode that looks at everything you might need to know about individual words in English.
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Hello and welcome to English with Stephen, the podcast that gives you everything you need to learn English in under 10 minutes.
One of the problems a lot of my students have is listening. They say they can read and understand quite easily, but as soon as someone starts talking, bang, they can’t understand a thing.
And so today I am going to give you my top tips for improving your listening skills.
Before we look at how to improve your listening skills, I would like to tell you about a great English learning community I am part of. Learn English Online is a group of teachers and students who work together to improve their language skills. There are lots of online events where teachers and students get together to have conversations. Sometimes, these conversations are specifically about learning English, at other times we play games, talk about films or just chat about whatever we want. The conversations can be by text or by speaking and listening. So it is a great way to improve your listening skills. And best of all, it is totally free. If you are interested, you need to go to Discord and look for Learn English Online. Alternatively, I will put a link you can follow on my site EnglishwithStephen.com.
Ok, so how can you improve your listening skills? Here are my ten hacks that are guaranteed to make you a better listener.
First, don’t worry about it!
You will not understand everything. Here is an experiment you can try. Listen to some people talking in your first language. It could be at a family dinner or around a few drinks or wherever. Count how many times there is a misunderstanding. I did this and I was amazed how often people do not understand everything they hear. If this is true in the first language, imagine in the second! There will be words and phrases you don’t understand. Live with it. Move on. Focus on what you do understand.
Second, guess meanings from context.
A lot of what we do when we listen is to confirm guesses we have already made from the context. We pay attention to things like intonation, body language, the time and the place, and then we make assumptions about what people are going to say. And then we listen to check if our assumptions were correct.
So, make sure you do this in your second language. Don’t just rely on the words you hear, pay attention to everything else as well to help you make informed guesses about what is going to be said before it is actually said.
The third tip is related to the second one. You should aim to become an active listener.
Listening is not a passive activity. You don’t just sit back in your chair, wait for the words to enter your ears and then the message appears in your brain as if by magic. You have to do some of the work by paying attention to the context, the sounds of the words, and then creating meaning.
You can help yourself to do this by being an active listener. If you are in the same room as the speaker, then look at them to help you continue to pay attention. Use your body language to show if you understand or not. Make noises like “uhu” and “right” to be part of the interaction. Ask questions.
If you can’t see the person, force yourself to pay attention by making notes or regularly remind yourself to think about what the person is saying.
Fourthly, work on pronunciation.
We often think about pronunciation as a way to improve our speaking. However, it also works wonders on your listening skills as well. If you are aware of some of the things that happen when people speak quickly, like how the sounds change and interact with each other, then you will not only be able to use them, but also recognise them when other people are using them.
My fifth tip is to make the most of all of the opportunities that are out there.
There are lots of opportunities to listen to English. You can watch TV and films on streaming services, you can watch youtube, you can listen to songs. It is so much easier to access spoken English today online than it used to be. So make the most of it.
Sixth, use focussed listening.
Just listening to lots of English will not, in itself, help you to improve quickly. Instead, you need to be focussed on what you are doing. A good idea here is to say to yourself you are going to listen to one song and really focus on the words and the meanings. By doing this for a short period of time you are more likely to be successful. As I said earlier, listening is not passive, it is active. This means that if you listen for too long you can get tired. So do listen intensely for 5 to 10 minutes, and then do something else.
My seventh tip is something I have done a whole episode on. If possible, use transcripts and subtitles.
If there is something you haven’t understood, check in the transcript or use the subtitles. When you check, make sure you listen again to how the word or phrase is spoken. Pay attention to the individual sounds, where the stress is, how it is part of a phrase, and if the sounds change when it is part of that phrase.
By doing this, you will be in a better place to understand in the future and improve your ability to listen in English.
Next up, please, please, please don’t focus on just one accent. I know I have the most amazing, sophisticated accent in the world. But there are many speakers of English who are not as fortunate, and you need to understand them as well as me. So make sure you get practice listening to a variety of different accents.
And I don’t just mean American English or Australian English or whatever. Make sure you listen to speakers of English from Japan, Germany and Brazil. There are more students of English than “native” English speakers, so you have a higher possibility of speaking to an English learner than somebody born in an English-speaking country.
My penultimate tip is probably a waste of time for you, my dear listener because you are already doing it. But I will say it anyway. Listen to podcasts.
Podcasts are great. They are free, easy to find and they don’t take up much space on your phone or computer. There are podcasts for English speakers in your native language, there are podcasts like this one designed for students but in English. And there are podcasts on every topic you can imagine that are not designed for English learners.
I have an episode especially about how to use podcasts to learn English. Look for it on your podcast app, or find the link I’ll post in the transcript on my site.
Finally, there is one thing that is not directly related to listening but does cause a lot of problems. Learn more vocabulary.
If you don’t know a word or a phrase, then you cannot possibly hope to understand it. The number one problem for many English learners is that they do not know the words they hear. If you improve your vocabulary, you will automatically improve your listening skills. Working on grammar won’t really help with listening but working on your vocabulary most definitely will.
If you need some help improving your vocabulary, I have a great episode on creating a lexical notebook that will provide amazing results.
That’s about all from me. Have I missed anything? If you have a good tip for improving your listening skills, please let me know. You can let me know on my site, EnglishwithStephen.com where you will also find the links I have mentioned.
Alternatively, Follow me on Instagram. I will be posting 9 different images that coincide with tips for listening. My name on Instagram is EnglishwithStephen, or you can find a link on my site.
Don’t forget to check out Learn English Online on the Discord server. I will put a link on my site if you have problems finding it.
Thanks for listening, and I hope to talk to you again next week.