Listening is possibly the most difficult part of language learning to improve. Students always complain that people speak too fast, but in reality it is not that, it just seems that way because the learner cannot follow the text fast enough; in other words “they listen too slowly”. This post is going to look at how to improve listening skills.

KEY SKILLS FOR LISTENING There are two ways of looking at listening skills and both are well backed up by research into the topic:

What students need to get used to doing is listening to normal texts on the radio and in podcasts. You will not understand everything, but it will help them to improve. What you need to do is get used to listening in real time to help you improve.

In a contrasting opinion related to COMPREHENSIBLE INPUT students should listen to things at their level, they should listen to recordings where they understand 70% or more of what they hear. This will build confidence.

My opinion on the matter is to mix both of these methods. Learners need to listen in different ways, but make sure they do not get frustrated by listening all the time to things that are too difficult for them. You should listen to the radio, to music and watch TV in English to improve. The importance of enjoyment and motivation is evident. It is a good idea to watch things on TV that you have already seen in your own language, and then use them to improve understanding, as you will already understand the content and you are using it simply as a language learning tool.


Listening for exams

Students should understand the difference between normal listening in language use and listening in exams. When you do a listening task in an exam, the speakers are not speaking naturally, they are following a script. The script is written to lead towards the answers and also includes distracters. What the listener should do is focus on a few specific things to help them answer the questions.

  1. Preparation is key; you need to highlight the important words in the questions and the options to best answer the questions.
  2. Try to predict answers by using the information you have on the question paper.
  3. Focus on key words such as AGREEING AND DISAGREEING
  4. Be careful with distracters. If the audio includes the exact same words as what is written in the question, it is rarely the correct answer.
  5. Discard the options that are obviously incorrect
  6. take notes as you listen. This is a skill you need to practice at home
  7. guess unknown words based on the context of the topic
  8. the answers to the questions are always in order. Try to follow the recording with relation to the questions.

The final thing is that the speakers in the recordings of the audios almost always overpronounce or stress the answers to the questions. This can be difficult to hear at the beginning but with practice, you will hear it. We call this ´Sign-posting´.


General listening:


An important thing to remember that general listening level is very important to be able to pass exams. You need to practice listening frequently to improve. This takes time (months and not weeks) so you need to begin right away.

It is clear that there is a connection between speaking and listening and it is important to do both. An important part of listening is to listen and respond, learn how to listen and be able to answer questions speaking is a key skill and this interaction will enhance your listening skills.

You need to actively listen, this means to TRY TO UNDERSTAND. You cannot simply put on recordings in the background and hope it will just go in and you will learn passively, listening does not work like that. If it were so, we could learn in our sleep (YOU CANNOT). Do not switch off when listening, it requires effort to improve, my suggestions are:

  1. Listen and take notes
  2. Listen and try to retain information, then repeat it
  3. Listen and use the information by answering questions about it

So, as can be seen there are various ways that we can improve our listening skills. My advice is to listen frequently, do not avoid it. You should actively listen for at least 15 minutes per day, but it is important to not get stressed about it. Anxiety is your enemy and will only impede your understanding. You must start with low level texts and then build from there. When you are listening to real texts with native speaking, you should think like a child does and not try to understand every word, you should try to understand the subject and the key information only. This way you will not get confused or frustrated.

Another thing related to listening is the amount of vocabulary you know, you must make sure that you build your vocabulary enough so that you can understand enough content to comprehend well, see VOCABULARY ADVICE  

I hope this post has been useful and good luck with your listening in the future.


For full language courses go to APPF where we have full courses to pass the B1 PET, B2 FCE and C1 CAE


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Showing 5 comments
  • Gema

    Tank you!

    • Gema

      Thank**you. Sorry, a typing mistake!

      • Marc

        No problem. I hope it has been useful

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  • […] This post is focussed on settling doubts about listening skills. There are, of course, various ways of practising listening that need to be done during the preparation of exams or in the learning of English. But there are also some very simple things that listeners can look out for in the process of listening to English dialogue;, also see our previous post on listening for exams (HERE). […]

  • […] you do not stress yourself to understand individual details, see our post on listening for exams (HERE). This way you will be able to sharpen you listening skills and allow you to focus on more specific […]

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