How to be a better listener

This page gives advice on how to understand more of what you hear.


@@ You spend more time in school listening than doing any other activity. It is important that you understand most of what you hear, so that you can learn about your different subjects and at the same time improve your English. ~~

What makes it hard to understand what you hear

In order for you to become a better listener, look first at the following list. It contains many of the things that can make it hard for you to understand what you hear:

  • the speaker talks too quickly
  • the speaker talks too softly
  • two or more people are speaking at the same time
  • there is background noise
  • there are other distractions
  • the speaker or the topic is boring
  • you are not concentrating on what the speaker is saying
  • there are no pictures or charts to look at while listening
  • you have no idea about the topic
  • the speaker uses many new or difficult words
  • the speaker's sentences are long and complex

Any one of the above problems alone can make it difficult for you to understand. But very often you are faced with two or three of them together. For example, you may be in a lesson where the teacher is talking quickly and in complicated English about a topic you know nothing about. Then your chances of understanding will be small.

What you can do to increase your listening comprehension

However, there are quite a few things you can do to improve your understanding of what you hear. These are listed below:

  • ask the speaker to repeat or rephrase what they said
  • pay attention
  • block out distractions
  • look at the speaker (ask to sit near the front of the class)
  • ask questions (aloud and silently)
  • try to picture and make connections, e.g. to a previous lesson
  • think about and answer silently all the questions asked by the teacher
  • listen to the other students
  • listen for the teacher's clues (see below)
  • ask someone after the lesson to explain what you didn't understand
  • try to find out something about the topic before the lesson
  • take notes while you are listening

One reason why it is a good idea to take notes is that you can review them after class, and ask the teacher or another student to explain them to you if necessary. Try taking notes in your own language. You can often do this more quickly and accurately than in English. Here is more information about taking notes.

Teacher clues are words and phrases that teachers use to organize the lesson. These phrases separate spoken content into sections in the same way that paragraphs organize written content. The clues also indicate to students what it is they should pay special attention to.

Following are some common teacher clues:

  • The first (aspect)... / the second... / the next...
  • Ok, let's look at how...
  • One important thing to remember...
  • Now that you have learned...
  • Right, let's review...

How to practice your listening skills

If you do all these things, it will help you to become a better listener in class. But you can practise your listening understanding outside of the classroom, too. For example, you can borrow ebooks with stories to listen to at home, or try to understand the words of the pop songs you like.

Watching English language TV or videos is a great way to improve your listening skills because what you see can help you understand what you hear. Even better is to watch DVDs or Netflix movies with the English subtitles turned on. Or how about listening to a podcast on the internet? [ Go to an ESL podcast website ]

Working on increasing your vocabulary will also help you to become a better listener.

Important advice

Finally, remember this: @ the more you speak to people, the more they will speak back to you. Talking with other students is a great way of getting lots of extra listening practice! ~