41 unique ways to practice listening to English


Our PhraseMix Premium service gives you a super-easy way to improve your English by listening to key example sentences. But there are lots of other ways to practice listening to English, if you're willing to put in the time and effort. We've pulled together a big list of 41 interesting ways that you can improve your listening skill.

  1. Tweet This Idea!

    Get hooked on an English TV show.

    Find an English-language drama or comedy that seems interesting, and start watching it from the beginning. Follow the storylines and get to know all the characters. Not sure what to watch? Here's a list of some of the best TV series of all time.

    How this can help:

    To learn English, you have to practice consistently for a long time. When you find a TV show you like a lot, it's easy to spend hours and hours watching it.

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    Listen in the background.

    Find an English podcast (You can browse thousands of free ones on iTunes). Play it on your headphones while you work, ride the bus, exercise, or cook dinner.

    How this can help:

    This is another way to spend more time listening to English. It's easier to find time to listen to English if you do it while also doing other things.

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    Listen on low volume.

    Visit YouTube and find an interesting English video. Turn the volume down low so that it's a little hard to hear. Try to figure out what's being said.

    How this can help:

    In the real world, you can't control how loudly the people around you speak. It's good to practice trying to figure out what people are saying, even when the volume is low.

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    Listen while you read.

    Visit a site like http://www.elllo.org/ and listen to one of the conversations while reading the transcript that's included on the page.

    How this can help:

    English speakers often pronounce words very differently than you might expect. If you've learned English mostly through reading or in a classroom, you might be surprised to learn what words really sound like in the "real world". Listening while you read along helps you to match your expectations with reality.

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    Listen to yourself.

    Record yourself speaking English using your computer or phone. Play it back and listen to your own pronunciation and accent. Fix any problems that you notice and try again.

    How this can help:

    By listening to yourself, you can quickly find problems in how you speak. If you continue to listen to yourself over time, you can also track how much you're improving.

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    Listen to the same sentence 30 times in a row.

    Find a recording of a single sentence. You can use the lessons on PhraseMix if you're a member. If not, use the sample audio player on phrasemix.com/getpremium. Listen to the sentence on "repeat" 30 or more times in a row. Try to notice new things each time you hear it.

    How this can help:

    Listening to something again and again makes it "stick" in your memory. It's a great way to remember phrases. It also allows you to notice important sounds that you might miss if you just listen once or twice.

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    Listen to an audio book.

    An audio book is a recording of someone reading a book. Buy one or download a free one, and listen to the whole book.

    How this can help:

    Books use a wider range of vocabulary than everyday speech, so they can teach you new words. The readers for audio books also speak in a very clear and entertaining way, so they're easy to listen to for many hours.

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    Listen to two things at once.

    Get two recordings of people speaking English, like a TV show and a podcast, and try listening to both of them at the same time. Try to keep up with what's being said in at least one of them.

    How this can help:

    If you're speaking to someone in a public place like at a restaurant or a busy office, there will be a lot of people speaking at once. You will need to "tune out" all the noise and focus on the person you're speaking to. Playing two recordings at once is a good way to practice this skill.

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    Listen to an English speaker with an accent.

    Find a scene in an English movie where a character speaks with a strong accent like this scene. Try to figure out what they character is saying and repeat it in your own words.

    How this can help:

    Not all English speakers speak "textbook" English. You will need to communicate with people with a wide range of accents. This is one way to practice understanding people who speak differently.

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    Compare a reality TV show to a scripted show.

    Watch a "reality" TV show that follows people around with a camera. Then watch a regular scripted drama or comedy and try to notice how they are different.

    How this can help:

    The way that people speak in scripted TV shows and movies isn't quite realistic. It's important to know how people speak when they're choosing their own words.

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    Listen to a song and write out the lyrics.

    Listen to a song. Try to write out the lyrics. When you think you've got it, look up the real lyrics online. Then try singing the song yourself.

    How this can help:

    Hearing the lyrics to a song can be really hard, even for native English speakers. But once you figure out what a singer is saying, it get stuck in your mind and you can remember it for a long time.

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    Listen at slow speed.

    Find a way to listen to something at slow speed. Some phones have a function that allows you to do this. Audio editing software also allows you to do this. Notice how each word sounds, and whether it's what you expected or surprising.

    How this can help:

    When you listen at full speed, it's hard to catch everything. When you listen to normal speech at a slow speed, it's easier to notice words and sounds that you would usually miss.

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    Watch a lesson by an English teacher.

    Visit YouTube and search for "English lessons". Watch a video by one of the English teachers there. Notice how the teacher simplifies the way that they're speaking to be easier for learners to understand.

    How this can help:

    English teachers usually speak slowly and clearly, so they're easy to understand. If you have trouble with understanding other people, you can try listening to English teachers for a while.

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    Listen only for intonation.

    Listen to a conversation. Instead of listening to the words or meaning, pay attention only to the intonation or pitch. When do the speakers' voices become higher or lower?

    How this can help:

    Intonation is a part of speech which is very important, but we usually don't focus on it. If you want to make your English intonation more natural, you should focus on it specifically sometimes.

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    Listen only for stress.

    Similar to the last point, try listening only to the stress: which words or parts of words do the speakers pronounce more loudly?

    How this can help:

    English uses stress heavily. When you use the wrong stress, it's hard for English speakers to understand you. It can even change the meaning. You should definitely spend some time focusing on it.

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    Listen to a really short clip.

    Using an audio or video player, try pushing "play" and then stopping it again really quickly, so that you only hear parts of words instead of the whole word. Try to repeat the specific sound that you heard.

    How this can help:

    When you listen to full words and sentences, your brain changes the sounds to match what you expect to hear. By playing just part of a word, you can hear the actual sounds more clearly.

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    Listen to a speech.

    Listen to a speech by a politician or other leader. Notice ways that they speak which are different from everyday conversation.

    How this can help:

    People speak more formally in speeches than they do in everyday conversation. So listening to speeches is a good way to practice formal English.

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    Try to do an impression.

    Pick an English speaker with an interesting way of talking. Try to do an "impression" of that person - try to copy their voice and way of speaking exactly.

    How this can help:

    Why is it hard to improve your English accent? One big reason is that it feels "strange" to speak with an accent that's different from your own. But when you do an impression of someone, you feel free to act silly and speak differently than you usually do. This makes your speaking practice more effective.

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    Listen to one side of a conversation.

    Listen to someone's telephone conversation. Try to imagine what the person on the other side of the telephone is saying.

    How this can help:

    "Active" listening is a lot more effective than "passive" listening. When you try to imagine part of the conversation, your mind is more active.

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    Listen on the street.

    If you're in a place where there are English speakers around, try listening in on public conversations in shops, restaurants, on the bus, in the airport, etc.

    How this can help:

    This is real English. Understanding real conversations is the goal of learning English, isn't it? It's very difficult to understand a conversation that you're not part of because you don't know all of the background information. That makes this activity a great challenge!

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    Listen to the same thing every day for a week.

    Pick something like a short TV show or podcast. Listen to it once a day for a week or more. The first time, pay close attention. After that, just listen again and try to remember what people are going to say before they say it.

    How this can help:

    When you listen to something in English for the first time, your goal is just to understand the main ideas. If you listen to the same thing again, you can pay attention to other details: what words the speakers used, their pronunciation, what mistakes they made. Listening to the same thing again and again allows you to listen more deeply.

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    Listen with a friend.

    Sit with a friend and listen to a short audio clip. When it's done, talk with each other about what you heard. Then listen again to see whose memory was more correct.

    How this can help:

    If you're listening with someone else, you will pay closer attention. You can also correct each others' mistakes.

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    Listen only for articles.

    Listen to a podcast or watch a video. Instead of listening to the meaning, just try to hear the articles "a", "an", and "the". Count each time you hear one of these words. Then try again and see if you count the same number.

    How this can help:

    Articles are very hard for English learners to get right. One reason is that we don't usually emphasize them when we speak. If you pay close attention to articles, you might find that English speakers use them a lot more than you thought.

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    Listen to someone whose native language is not English.

    Listen to someone who grew up speaking a different language, but who now speaks English fluently. One example is the movie actor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

    How this can help:

    This exercise is great for motivating yourself. It's inspiring to listen to someone who didn't learn English until later in life, but was still able to become very fluent. The same is possible for you!

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    Listen to someone speaking very quickly.

    Try to listen to someone who's speaking more quickly than normal like in this video. If it's too hard to understand, try listening to just on sentence at a time. Pause in between each sentence to allow your brain to "catch up".

    How this can help:

    This is simply a good way to challenge yourself. It's hard to understand fast speech, but if you can do it, slower speech seems so much easier!

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    Watch 'on the street' interviews.

    News shows on TV sometimes show short interviews with people on the street. Try watching some 'on the street' interviews. Here's a video with 'on-the-street' interviews from a late-night comedy TV show.

    How this can help:

    When people are interviewed this way, they usually speak in a very natural way. Watching these interviews also allows you to listen to lots of different people with different speaking styles and accents.

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    Listen to computer-generated speech.

    Search for an English 'text-to-speech' program (like this one) and paste some English sentences into it. Listen to the computer try to pronounce it.

    How this can help:

    The biggest advantage of listening to computer-generated English is that you can hear anything that you want, even if no one has recorded it. If you're reading something interesting, you can paste it into a text-to-speech program and hear what it sounds like.

  28. Tweet This Idea!

    Read a sentence out loud, then listen to it.

    Find a website that has audio with matching transcriptions. If you're a PhraseMix Premium member, you can do it here. If not, you can use this video and click to read the transcript. Read a sentence out loud. Then listen to how it's pronounced by the speaker on the recording.

    How this can help:

    By reading a sentence first, you're preparing yourself to listen for differences. It's a good way to notice if you're pronouncing a word wrong, or if your intonation is strange.

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    Practice 'shadowing'.

    Listen to a short clip of someone speaking. Play it again and again. After listening a few times, try to repeat what the speaker is saying immediately after they say it. Keep practicing until you're saying the same thing at the same time.

    How this can help:

    Shadowing is a great way to practice not only your pronunciation, but also your rhythm and speed.

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    Listen to a child.

    Find examples of child between 2-5 year old speaking. Try to figure out what the child is saying and how their speech differs from adults.

    How this can help:

    Children speak their own special kind of English. It's useful to be able to understand them. It's also interesting because you can hear what sounds are easy or hard for kids to make.

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    Listen for numbers.

    Listen to something and just focus on the numbers. Write down any numbers that you hear. You can try it with this video if you listen without watching the graphics.

    How this can help:

    Sometimes it's important to be able to pick specific information from what someone is saying. Numbers especially can be really important. This is a way to practice that skill.

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    Listen to a university lecture.

    Pick a topic that you've studied or have an interest in, and find a recording of a university lecture. Several big-name universities have classes posted for free on sites like EdX

    How this can help:

    University lectures use a lot of specific vocabulary which you will need if you want to talk about specialized topics. But they're also easier to understand than you might expect because they just focus on one specific topic.

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    Listen to every episode of a podcast.

    Find a free podcast that interests you and that has 20 or more episodes. Download every episode and listen to one a day until you've heard them all. (If you have no idea what you should listen to but you want something challenging, try the excellent show Stuff You Should Know).

    How this can help:

    When you listen to the same people's voices for a really long time, you start to pick up some of their speaking habits. You also develop a kind of relationship with the podcast that makes you look forward to hearing them again.

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    Transcribe something.

    Listen to 2-3 minutes audio recording and write down every word that you hear. Keep going back and playing each sentence again and again until you've transcribed the whole thing.

    How this can help:

    This is a challenging and time-consuming way to listen. But you can learn a lot by trying to hear and write down every single word. You might learn new vocabulary or find out that certain words are pronounced very differently than you thought they were.

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    Listen to a sales pitch.

    Listen to an experienced salesperson trying to sell something in English. Notice how the salesperson speaks in order to sound trustworthy and convincing. Here's an interesting video of a sales call

    How this can help:

    Good salespeople are masters of language. You can learn a lot from them about not only about how to speak, but also about what to say in order to persuade people.

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    Listen to an argument.

    Watch a movie or TV scene where two characters argue with each other. Write down any phrases you hear which seem like they might be useful to you in the future if you ever argue with someone.

    How this can help:

    If you speak English for long enough, you will eventually get into an argument. You'll need some practice in order to argue effectively.

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    Start listening in the middle of a conversation.

    Find a long video or audio recording of two people talking to each other. Instead of starting at the beginning of the conversation, skip to somewhere in the middle. Try to figure out the topic of conversation as quickly as you can. Once you've figured it out, skip to another point in the recording and do the same thing. Keep doing that until you think you've discovered all of the topics in the conversation.

    How this can help:

    You won't always join a conversation at the very beginning. You need to be able to figure out what people are talking about, even when you're joining in the middle. This is a good way to practice that skill.

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    Listen to someone who has trouble explaining themselves.

    People don't always speak perfectly. Sometimes we have trouble explaining what we're trying to say. There are techniques that English speakers use when they're trying to figure out how to express themselves. Listen to someone who's not speaking very clearly and confidently, like in this job interview video.

    How this can help:

    English speakers have certain phrases and sounds that they use when they're unsure or when they hesitate. It's important to learn those.

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    Watch a lesson on the sounds of English.

    It can be helpful to listen to a teacher carefully pronounce and explain the sounds of English like in this video.

    How this can help:

    It's good to know what the basic English vowel and consonant sounds are, so that you know what to pay attention to when you listen to people speak.

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    Listen to someone talk about your profession.

    Listen to a conference speech, a training video, a lecture, or a conversation about your profession (your job).

    How this can help:

    You already know a lot about your profession. That background knowledge will help you to understand what's being said, even if the vocabulary and grammar are complex.

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    Practice intensive listening.

    Find a recording of something that you really want to understand and listen to it intensively. Stop the recording when you hear a word that you don't know. Try to look up its meaning. Think carefully about why the speaker chose the words that they chose. Take notes on any phrases that could be useful to you in the future.

    How this can help:

    When you listen using your whole mind and all of your attention, you understand more and remember more. It's hard to do this all of the time, but it's a great way to stretch your English listening skills.

So... what do you think? Are there any new techniques here which you've never tried before? Do you have an interesting technique of your own that you'd like to share with other English learners? Let me know in the comments!

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