Tips for being a good listener

How to improve my English Listening?

This question (or near question) is often asked by ESL students who are new in Canada (and of course any other English speaking country). In many cases the speed of the the English they are now hearing is faster than greased lightening on a luge run and they just can’t deal with it. The accent and speed they are accustomed to from their teachers is nowhere to be found, and this leads to confusion, self-doubt.So, as ESL teachers we get repeatedly asked the simple question “How to I improve my English listening ability?” The answer to this question is a frustratingly simple 3 steps.1. “Listen lots!” 2. “React to what you hear” 3. “Repeat!” Do this regularly and listening comprehension will increase drammatically and quickly.Ok….let’s look at these in turn

Listen Lots

To improve your listening you need to listen to natural English lots…as much as you can. Sure you can listen to ESL tapes and follow along with Made For English CDs, but these rarely match real langauge in terms of speed. People learning English (or any langauge) need to get as much natural speed input as they can.Great ways to do this include: TV or radio news broadcasts, Net based audio (podcasts, audio files, video), joinging local clubs, volunteering, watching English movies, TV, going clubbing, starting a club.

React to what you hear

Listening isn’t enough. A student needs to react to what they have just listening to. This reaction allow the communication to continue in its natural way. The reaction is what allows a student to confirm that they heard correctly, understood correctly, and could respond appropriately to the situation.Sometimes this is as simple as continuing a conversation by responding to a question or trying to elicit opinions/information/ideas on the topic.Other times it may involve writing: summaries, opinions, diary entries, reviews can be used to respond to what you’ve heard.


Really simple here. Don’t it once? Great, now do it again…and again…and again on a regular schedule, in different situations and on different topics. Listening well involves more than just understanding the words. It involves understanding the contect (the place) and being able to understand the language being used in context.In the end what really matters for improving English skills overall, not only English listening skills is practice and use. Improving langauge skills always requires 2 acts 1) getting input and 2) reacting to the input (output). You need to get langauge into your brain and then you need to get the language out to be heard and read by others.So, if you or your students want to improve English listening skills, just follow the three simple steps. Listen, Respond, Do it again.


English Listening Tips – Active Listening

A great way to improve overall English listening ability is through activities that require active listening.What I mean by this is getting yourself or your students into situations where they have to actively work with and use the language that they are listening to in order to complete the communication process.This needs at least 2 participantsshould involve multiple interactionsInteractions should be ‘free’ not staged. When I say staged, I mean not scripted dialogs, although some contextual staging can be useful. The participants should be free to respond and interact as they think is right and as they are able to at their current level of ability.

Listening & Speaking

There are as many options here as you can think of ranging from completely controlled (structured dialogs) to completely free group tasks. In all cases activities of this kind should try to require a student to do both listen and respond by speaking.

Structured Listening

Structured listening/speaking activites can be quite good. In such cases the interaction is controlled or limited in some way. Perhaps by requiring answers to specific questions, having very specific expectations of the activitiy (e.g. interview your homestay about their job), or
working in a specific context (do a skit about ordering pizza over the phone).
This kind of listening helps keep a student’s focus and gives them boundaries within which they
can work. This will ideally help reduce some stress.

Unstructured Listening

These situations tend to develop out of task based activities where people must work together to accomplish a specific task These activities can be a simple as group discussions, organized ‘mini-debates’, or more complicated and involved like developing original skits and plays, or doing partner presentations. The value of these activities is that a student needs to be able to adjust and respond to an always changing situation. They are not predictable and force students to call on their abilities spontaneously.

Listening & Writing

Regardless of how, responding to what you hear is important. This can, and should be done in writing as well by speaking.As a teacher, encourage your students to keep simple journals that they regularly write in as a way of developing their overall langauge ability. 5 – 10 minutes 3-5 times/week will make a huge difference in a students overall writing fluency as well as their overall comprehension of the langauge they are experiencing through reading and listening.This does not to be anything special. They just need to write in response to something that they read or listened to. It can be a summary, an opinion, a feeling, personal comment, agreement, disagreement, whatever turns their crank.The point is to take an opportunity to recycle and reuse the language they they have been hearing and a way that is relevant to them. what they write about is in a way irrelevant. It can be about a TV show or movie they just watched. It could be about a conversation they had at a coffee shop with a friend. It could be about how bad small town DJs are in the local bar scene. The point it to integrate their daily listening experiences into their writing in order to reinforce the language. Ok…enough of that.

Listen lots….listen actively…and English Listening Skills will improve.

Tips for being a good listener

Give your full attention on the person who is speaking. Don’t look out the window or at what else is going on in the room. Make sure your mind is focused, too. It can be easy to let your mind wander if you think you know what the person is going to say next, but you might be wrong! If you feel your mind wandering, change the position of your body and try to concentrate on the speaker’s words. Let the speaker finish before you begin to talk. Speakers appreciate having the chance to say everything they would like to say without being interrupted. When you interrupt, it looks like you aren’t listening, even if you really are. Let yourself finish listening before you begin to speak! You can’t really listen if you are busy thinking about what you want say next. Listen for main ideas. The main ideas are the most important points the speaker wants to get across. They may be mentioned at the start or end of a talk, and repeated a number of times. Pay special attention to statements that begin with phrases such as “My point is…” or “The thing to remember is…”
Ask questions. If you are not sure you understand what the speaker has said, just ask. It is a good idea to repeat in your own words what the speaker said so that you can be sure your understanding is correct. For example, you might say, “When you said that no two zebras are alike, did you mean that the stripes are different on each one?”

Give feedback. Sit up straight and look directly at the speaker. Now and then, nod to show that you understand. At appropriate points you may also smile, frown, laugh, or be silent. These are all ways to let the speaker know that you are really listening. Remember, you listen with your face as well as your ears!

Thinking fast

Remember: time is on your side! Thoughts move about four times as fast as speech. With practice, while you are listening you will also be able to think about what you are hearing, really understand it, and give feedback to the speaker.

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