How to Practice Listening!

(Photo by javierdebe)

(Photo by javierdebe)

You have been studying English for a long time. You have a good knowledge of English grammar and you know lots of words. You can read things in English and you can communicate well in writing. You have trouble understanding what people are saying, however, and it’s impossible for you to watch English movies or TV shows without subtitles. Does that describe you?

You are not alone. Listening is usually the slowest skill to improve. For most language learners, listening is their weakest skill. There are two reasons for this:

  • You may be pronouncing a word incorrectly, and therefore you can’t understand the word when it’s pronounced correctly.
  • You are listening for the wrong words and sounds. Natural spoken English is a mixture of stressed & unstressed words, linked words, contracted words, and reduced words. Many words are not fully pronounced.

Here’s an activity that you can do to improve your listening skills and get used to the sounds of natural spoken English. I learned this activity fromCarl Kwan, and I’ve expanded on his method.


Choose a short audio clip at your level.

If you are a beginner or low intermediate, choose something that is about 1-2 minutes; more advanced learners should choose longer clips that are about 3-5 minutes. Make sure you also have the words to the audio clip. You need to be able to check your work!

Here are some suggestions:

Read Theory
Super Easy Reading
(These are reading websites, but there are listening clips for each passage.)

Intermediate & Advanced
The English Teacher Melanie Podcast (American accent)
BBC 6-Minute English (British accent)
BBC Words in the News (British accent)
ESLPod (American accent)



1. Listen to the whole audio clip once without looking at the words. Relax. Take a deep breath. Don’t panic.

2. Listen to the entire clip again. It’s easier to hear and understand what you’re listening to when you’re relaxed and not panicking.

3. Listen to the clip, but pause the clip every 5 seconds.

  • After you pause the audio, write down a word, phrase or anything you can remember from the clip.
  • When you have finished and listened to the entire clip, read through your notes completely.
  • It’s OK if you don’t understand every word, but can you understand the general theme of what the speaker is saying?

4. Repeat step 3. Check your work. Correct your work. Add any new words you heard.

5. Read through your notes completely again. Try to finish the sentences. If you wrote down one or two words, can you figure out the sentence from those words? Use your knowledge of grammar to try to complete the sentences.

6. Hide your notes. Listen to the clip again, but this time stop after 10 seconds. Again, write down the main words you hear. Check your work compared to what you wrote down in step 5.

7. Listen to the clip completely one last time while reading your notes.

8. Compare your notes to the actual words.

  • What words did you get right?
  • Did you have trouble hearing certain words?
  • Are there any words that you should have heard [words that you already know] but did not? Why? Is your pronunciation wrong? Was the word unstressed in the sentence? Was it linked to a word before or after it?
  • Look up any new words that you don’t know.

9. Listen to the clip while reading the words. Check your pronunciation of words you know but didn’t hear or understand when you were listening.

10. Hide all your notes and the words. Listen one final time to the clip. It should be easier now to understand what the speaker is saying.

11. After about a week, come back and listen to the clip again to refresh your memory.

NOTE: Your listening skills will not improve overnight. Like anything in life, it takes a lot of practice! If you practice consistently 3-4 times a week, soon you will start to see an improvement in your listening skills.

Good luck and happy studying!


Read this article in Japanese. (

Read this article in Portuguese (Brazilian). (Learnendo)


Audiobooks at!

64 Comments on How to Practice Listening!

  1. Kaori
    August 27, 2010 at 3:54 am (5 years ago)

    I will try this!
    Thank you Melanie :D


  2. Márcio Martins
    January 12, 2011 at 10:01 pm (5 years ago)

    Hello, thank you for this post. I need to improve my listening, so I'll try your tip.

  3. laiba
    January 20, 2011 at 9:17 pm (5 years ago)

    I'll b trying this activity as I'm really obsessed with my listening. I need to improve it so I'm gonna give it a go but again the problm is wrong pronunciation.

  4. enrico.paolo
    January 27, 2011 at 4:59 am (5 years ago)

    Very thanks Melanie for yours english lesson…I put them on cd so I can listen them into my car while i drive…
    Hi from Italy


  5. heduzat
    January 31, 2011 at 5:03 pm (5 years ago)

    Melanie I am very happy because I have found this awesome blog. It's helped me a lot improving my english skills.
    Thanks for doing this job.

    Hi from Mexico

  6. ale
    June 16, 2011 at 3:47 pm (5 years ago)

    Thanks a lot teacher Melanie. It is hard for me understand when the people speak with me. My reading improves everyday, but my listening … I think that it does not better.

  7. Neves
    September 23, 2011 at 4:40 pm (4 years ago)

    Oh, my God! This is great! I've been trying to do it, and really! I'm very excited. I'm improving so much!

    Thanks! Thanks! Thanks! Thanks! Thanks! Thanks! Thanks! Thanks! Thanks! Thanks! Thanks! Thanks! Thanks! Thanks! Thanks! Thanks! Thanks! Thanks! Thanks! Thanks!

    Hugs from Brazil, Melanie

  8. rami
    January 7, 2012 at 7:35 pm (4 years ago)

    ! This is great! I've been trying to do it, and really! I'm very excited. I'm improving so much!
    me tow
    great wishes to you

  9. Quan Nguyen
    April 22, 2012 at 12:10 pm (4 years ago)

    Thank you so much! Melanie.
    I’ll try to learn English everyday. I hope my English get better soon.

  10. Awais
    May 1, 2012 at 10:10 am (4 years ago)

    Thank you Melanie, This is great. a very special thanks from Pakistan.

  11. Tai
    May 13, 2012 at 8:01 am (4 years ago)

    Dear Teacher,

    I will follow your advices also. My listening skill is not good. I had listening everyday but i just hear them not listen. Listening is hard skill as we learn a language. Thank teacher Melanie again :)

  12. Roly Kurniadi
    June 15, 2012 at 10:08 am (4 years ago)

    Thank you very much for the tips
    I’ll try to listen to your listening lesson as often as possible..
    I’m Roly from Indonesia

  13. abode aose
    June 23, 2012 at 1:06 am (4 years ago)

    I have tried this tip and it works . Thank you very much for this tip

  14. Sarah
    June 23, 2012 at 6:13 pm (4 years ago)

    Thank you! My daughter has dyslexia and this is one of her below average areas. Hopefully this will help her improve her listening skills for tests and life in general.

    • Melanie
      June 24, 2012 at 10:21 pm (4 years ago)

      Wow! That’s great that this exercise can help even native speakers of English!

      Best of luck to your daughter. It must be so frustrating to go through life with dyslexia.

      = )

  15. Akbar
    June 25, 2012 at 5:42 am (4 years ago)

    I’ve never ever seen like this beautiful web blog before.i visit almost 3 to 4 days in a week and would like to so as soon as i’ll be letting you know about myself how well i’m going.

    • Melanie
      June 25, 2012 at 8:58 pm (4 years ago)

      I am thrilled to hear that this blog has helped you so much, Akbar!

      I wish you the best of luck with your English studies,
      = )

  16. mohamed yashin
    July 31, 2012 at 1:21 pm (4 years ago)

    hi melanie,
    henceforth i also spending time for English everyday.Thank you for your valuable advice madam.

  17. Danny Silva
    August 1, 2012 at 10:54 pm (4 years ago)

    Hi, Melanie

    I absolutely agree with your tips about how to improve the listening. Then, to include in the part you said the listening problem can be a wrong pronunciation, I had this problem yesterday. I played an audio sentence and the first time I misunderstood it. So, I was so confused, but I read the sentence, and I used a translator and also I heard the right way to pronounce these words, and I was repeat them many times, so at the end I was pronouncing the words very well, and I heard again the sentence and could understand perfectly. This sentence is very diferent from you read it to you pronounce it.

    The phrase is: The fossil fuels are carbon dioxide (fossil and dioxide sounds so weird)

    Thank you teacher Melanie

  18. khusboo
    August 12, 2012 at 2:15 am (3 years ago)

    thank you its a good advice and I think its a good advice

  19. Anna Nguyen
    September 27, 2012 at 5:30 am (3 years ago)

    I am really appreciated to the knowledge you’ve given to us. May God bless you.

  20. mimi
    October 4, 2012 at 11:50 pm (3 years ago)

    hi…i have some ques to ask u madam..

    can you tell me little bit about pre-listening activities??i’ve to do some reseacrh on how to improve english skill and ‘listening’ being my headline to do it..could u share anything that i’ve to know about listening…..

  21. kalyani.s.k
    December 6, 2012 at 2:04 am (3 years ago)

    Hi melanie;
    your blogspot is so interesting, I am working in a bpo where I talk to Uk people, sometimes I don understand their accent this had made me feel inferior but now I found a way where i can improve my listening skill as well as my pronounciation. thanks a lot melanie

  22. Chris
    December 26, 2012 at 12:04 am (3 years ago)

    Hello Melanie,
    A great post indeed on How to Practice Listening.
    I teach English pronunciation in Northeastern Thailand to about 700 elementary school students. There is no doubt in my mind that Listening is the most important skill to develop for fluency acquisition and I couldn’t agree more with you on all the tips you recommend. I always tell my young students to learn with their ears and not with their eyes. I always show them movies and cartoons and ask them to write down words or group of words they heard. I also like to use the “Magic English” cartoon series from Walt Disney with my younger students.
    Bye and see you again on Facebook!

  23. tannaz
    January 3, 2013 at 4:14 pm (3 years ago)

    Hi dear,it may seem a bit usual but I’m you know persia?
    well,I’ve been studying English for many years & I found your website so’s awesome .
    thank you so much.

  24. prashan weragoda
    May 22, 2013 at 2:51 am (3 years ago)

    thak u very much…………….

  25. Sunny
    May 27, 2013 at 11:03 pm (3 years ago)

    Hello Melanie,

    I have found your tips exactly meet my needs! Thank you very much!
    I am Sunny from China. I have STUDIED English for 15 years but could not communicate well!
    These days I’ve been focusing on listening skill search and meet you here!

    I could now understand VOA Special. but normal speech is still difficult for me!
    I think you know my problem either. Yes I could not hear connected speech, unstressed words or syllables and weak forms. usually i find they are what i’ve already know!

    i will follow your tip!

    and i hope your great work keep on!

    All the best!


  26. Gigi
    June 2, 2013 at 12:38 pm (3 years ago)

    Thanks a lot teacher Melanie:) I’ve trying learn an english by myself for a 1year. And i’m getting better.I watch a movie,read an article,and listen to interviews by my favourite people. I’ve a lot of dreams.I hope your lesson will help me to reach my dreams. Thank you,
    All the best <3

  27. usman
    June 17, 2013 at 10:33 am (3 years ago)

    The teacher melanie you r great .. ur advice is really cool.

  28. rishabh goel
    July 7, 2013 at 2:16 pm (3 years ago)

    I am very thankful to my teacher Melanie who helped me to improve my english.

  29. rishabh goel
    July 7, 2013 at 2:29 pm (3 years ago)

    Teacher Melanie your system of teaching is very good. I am proud to be your student. Your material is arranged in a systematic way. Anyone can subscribe your blogs and learn English free of cost. I have improved my listening skills which was challenging for me. Thank you teacher. I respect you.
    Best wishes
    Rishabh, India

  30. Vahid Pouyafar
    July 19, 2013 at 9:51 am (3 years ago)

    Hello Ms Melanie. Thanks for your great website. I’m an English learner from Iran. Today I found your website in google results and I’m going to try the activity which you suggested. My level is Pre-Intermideate (first level of four levels in Pre-Intermediate) and you suggested “Read Theory” and “Super Easy Reading” links to download podcasts for low intermediate but I’d like to know if It’s good to listen to podcasts in BBC Learning English website that are more than 2-3 minutes for my level. Is there any problem by BBC’s podcast for me? Are they so long for my level? or is it possible to don’t understand most of words spoken in podcasts?
    sorry if there are grammatical mistakes in my comment.
    Best wishes,

    • Melanie
      July 19, 2013 at 3:08 pm (3 years ago)

      Hi, Vahid!

      Your writing is at a much higher level than ‘pre-intermediate.’

      I did not recommend ‘Read Theory’ and ‘Super Easy Reading’ for low-intermediate students. They are for beginners. You are not a beginner so you do not need to use these resources.

      Listen to the sources recommended for intermediate & advanced learners. Only you will be able to decide if these are right for you. Doing this activity will help you determine that. Try this activity with a podcast from each of the sources I recommend.

      Good luck!
      = )

  31. Vahid Pouyafar
    July 20, 2013 at 12:00 am (3 years ago)

    Thaks for your reply. I try it and share your page on google+ English learning community!

  32. Sandy
    July 23, 2013 at 1:19 am (3 years ago)

    Hey Melanie – Hi again :)
    I must say, you are a fantabulous teacher that I came across ever.
    Thanks you very very much for this blog.
    It’s really helpful. Now its in my dream list to visit canada and meet you in person. :)
    Thanks again

  33. Vahid Pouyafar
    July 27, 2013 at 11:31 am (3 years ago)

    again hello again!!!!
    I have another question.
    When I listen to the podcasts of 6 Minute English from BBC, in all these podcasts sometimes the person speakes very fast (the BBC correspondent) and I can never understand it. What do I have to do? I try to listen to it for 5 or 6 times but I don’t understand. Do I should ignore it? and its words after the activity?
    Best wishes.

    • Melanie
      July 27, 2013 at 2:26 pm (3 years ago)

      Hello Vahid,

      In your above comment you wrote, “I can understand most of sentences spoken in the audio clip.” Which audio clips are you using for this activity?

      If you would like to understand more of what the people are saying in the ‘6 Minute English’ podcast, try this activity while listening.

      Make sure you stop after 5 seconds and write down whatever you heard. If it’s easier for you, just write down the main words & try to complete the sentences after you have listened to the entire episode.

      Good luck!
      = )

  34. Sean
    August 15, 2013 at 2:58 pm (2 years ago)

    this article held my breath, I stopped by and got deeply attracted as soon as I read the portraiture of myself…
    Not to say, I’ll try these tips ASAP!!!
    I swear I must perceive every single words over National Public Radio!!! -in a week!!!

    My most headache is linked-word, reduced-word!!!(besides I don’t understand what is contract-word). You are absolutely right, we know words, but we’re hearing wrong words!!

  35. agus
    August 15, 2013 at 10:48 pm (2 years ago)

    Hi, thank you for your advice.

  36. semazzi
    August 16, 2013 at 9:10 am (2 years ago)


  37. Kaushal Kumar
    August 20, 2013 at 1:13 am (2 years ago)

    Hi Melanie ! I really wanna thank you for Imparting your knowledge with us .
    You have such a kind heart that you are giving us your efforts to help us learning english through your Perfect Blog. it is helping me lot Mam. It is very hard to appreiciate about this blog. I mean i lack of word lefft in the appreciation of this blog.
    May God Bless you and give you The Happiest life !

    Hi From India.

  38. Alex Raju
    August 23, 2013 at 12:16 pm (2 years ago)

    Thank you so much. That was very much me and it helped me a lot. This helped me not only in listening skills but also helped me to be more patient.

  39. Serge
    September 14, 2013 at 2:06 am (2 years ago)

    Hi Melanie! I accidentally found your lessons on the Internet. I’m trying to improve my English skills, and Your tips are very useful for me! Thank You very much for Your work! With huge respect from Russia! Serge.

  40. mohamed
    September 17, 2013 at 4:08 pm (2 years ago)

    Hi, miss melanie
    it is realy a nice work you do on this website I am very happy to get this website I hope I could improve my ponounciation realy its my wish if u have any other advice let me know,please
    Iam an #ENGLISH teacher and I want to be awesome more and more
    thank u

  41. Anthony
    September 28, 2013 at 10:36 am (2 years ago)

    Hi Melanie,

    I think the website is great, with a lot of great resources. I had a question about the listening exercise. You mentioned that you should revisit the audio in about a week. Should I assume then that the audio transcript be not read until after having revisited the audio? Thanks a lot!!!

  42. Cristina Barata Feyo
    September 28, 2013 at 11:32 am (2 years ago)

    Hello Melanie,
    As an English teacher your blog has really been quite handy when I taught my students how to deal with signs and symbols. These students have some difficulties in understanding and dealing with comprehensive tasks but your ESOL free English courses (British accent) have proved its efficiency with these students.
    Thank you very much!

  43. Cristina Barata Feyo
    September 28, 2013 at 11:40 am (2 years ago)

    I have already given the link to your blog to other Portuguese teachers dealing with English in Portugal because I’ve found it a great tool within the teaching field.
    Once again thank you for sharing!!

  44. Winor
    October 1, 2013 at 4:22 pm (2 years ago)

    Hi M.S Melanie
    After being trying at home and searching around the web for quite a long time finally i had found you… by the grace of God.

    thanks for your state of the art advice.

    God Bless you.
    Winor the 7 Day Adventist

  45. Bontot
    October 15, 2013 at 7:24 pm (2 years ago)

    That was awesome tip how to improve our english listening skills tips I really like it.
    It can cheers me up
    Thank you Melanie :-)

  46. Claudio
    October 16, 2013 at 7:28 am (2 years ago)

    Thank you so much M! Excellent advice! I’ll try it.
    From time to time I do something like you post here with your postcast.

    Thanks again and greetings from BA – Argentina

  47. Jordi
    October 16, 2013 at 8:10 am (2 years ago)

    Happy blogiversary!! =)
    and thanks a lot for your English resources.
    Take care and keep healthy!

  48. Sunny
    October 16, 2013 at 10:17 pm (2 years ago)

    Hi Melanie,

    Happy Blogiversary!

    If possible, would you like to post lessons about Pausing and Intonation?

    and are the de-stressed function words very clear for you when listening to native speakers?

    I think it is. but i am still curious! how does that feel like?

    All the best!


    • Melanie
      October 18, 2013 at 2:05 pm (2 years ago)

      Hi, Sunny!

      Right now I am concentrating on teaching the rhythm of English pronunciation, so it will be a while before I teach pausing & intonation.

      Your question about function words is very interesting! Native speakers don’t even notice that we don’t fully pronounce the function words! I didn’t know that I didn’t fully pronounce ‘to’ or ‘can’ before I started teaching English. I knew that I didn’t fully pronounce ‘and,’ because sometimes we write ‘and’ with just and ‘n,’ like in ‘rock’n’roll’! When we listen, we recognize ‘to,’ even though it’s pronounced /tə/. So, yes, the function words are very clear for us. We need to hear them to understand the sentence, even though they are reduced!

      I teach how to pronounce the reduced function words in my podcast:

      = )

  49. arthur
    December 31, 2013 at 7:48 pm (2 years ago)

    Thanks for all this tips. They are so great to study. Thank you again!

  50. Sung, hoseung
    January 7, 2014 at 12:53 am (2 years ago)

    Thank you. Your advice is very helpful to me. I’ll trying to speaking English very hard. Have a nice day!!!

  51. Nada
    February 6, 2014 at 3:36 pm (2 years ago)

    Thanks, I’ll try this

  52. Betuel Balyo
    March 7, 2014 at 8:17 am (2 years ago)

    Thank you Melanie, my best teacher.
    By Betuel Balyo, Indonesia-Papua

  53. lwin
    April 25, 2014 at 10:56 am (2 years ago)

    Thanks Melanie,
    It is a the first time I am visiting your website. I have been visited a number of English websites. You are impressive!!!
    from Myanmar(Burma)

  54. Cesar
    June 8, 2014 at 11:45 pm (2 years ago)

    Hi Melani
    Thanks for your dedication and your help, I’ve studied English for a long time but I failed to improve my listening, I will try with this method.
    Cesar Lopez, from Perú

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