May 6th, 2007
A lot of students ask me how they can improve their English listening. Many people have a good English vocabulary but they can’t understand because the speaking is too fast for them to listen to. The funny thing is that they still keep trying to build their vocabulary, hoping this will improve their English listening.
You need to know that in order to improve your English listening ability you need to spend more time listening to English. Reading will improve your vocabulary but that’s often not the problem when it comes to improving listening. Think about it. It’s common that you could know all the words of a sentence if you read it, but if you only heard it in regular speed you won’t catch the meaning. Why is that? I hear a lot of people say that “the English speaking is too fast”. Unfortunately, people are not going to change the speed they speak English. You should instead look think of the problem is “your listening is too slow”.
When native speakers are listening to English spoken quickly as on CNN, they don’t listen to every word and think of the meaning of each word. That would take much too long and they also wouldn’t be able to understand. Their brains are good at listening to only the important words and getting a feel for the general meaning. It’s very hard to explain how to do that. If you are really good at a sport or a musical instrument, it’s hard to explain how you are doing it exactly, but one thing is for sure, you need to practice a lot before you will be good. It’s quite similar with improving English listening. Even though the progress seems slow, you are certainly improving your listening.
It’s important to listen to things that are challenging for you but not impossible. If you are listening to something too easy you won’t improve your listening. If you are listening to CNN and can almost understand nothing, you won’t improve your listening very quickly that way. If you have a chance, it’s a good idea to practice with TV shows like friend’s. Our podcasts are also designed to help you improve your English listening. It’s good to read the dialogue on the website as well as listen so that you know exactly what is being said. Keep practicing and don’t give up. You will certainly improve your English listening that way.