Spoken English can be difficult to understand. You know the feeling of panic you get when someone starts saying something to you, and you have no idea what they are talking about? You begin to worry about how to respond, and you miss even more of what the person is saying. Improving listening skills is essential for every English learner, but it is hard to do. Spoken English is very different than English learned in the classroom. People use a whole lot more phrases and verbal tics when they speak than when they write. Most people don’t speak “proper,” grammatically correct English. Many words are pronounced differently when they are strung together than when they are written separately.
To be successful at understanding spoken English, you need to practice. Follow these tips to have a better listening experience:
Listen, listen, listen
It is impossible to become a better listener if you don’t practice listening. Listen to English as much as you can. Listen to the news in English, listen to the radio, or watch English TV. Listen to something you enjoy, or you will quickly get bored and stop practising. You can find exercises on the Internet where you listen to topics and then answer questions. Once you get into the habit of listening to English, it will be easier to maintain the practice, and with more practice you improve more quickly. Listen to English spoken in different accents – the speaker’s accent often affects how much you will or will not understand. Again, it is through practice that you will get used to different accents, and your understanding will improve.
Interact when Listening
Have a conversation or complete an exercise rather than just listening passively. You are forced to listen more carefully when you know you have to respond in some way.
Help yourself Learn
You can use subtitles on TV shows and movies to help you understand what is going on, but be careful about using subtitles in your native language. They get you stuck in a translation mode and make fluent listening more difficult. Try putting captions in your target language. You benefit from being able to read text as people speak, but you don’t dilute the message with your own language.
You won’t understand everything while you are learning. There are so many different topics to talk about, and people will speak about all sorts of things, many of which you will know nothing about. Jokes and comments about friends or colleagues can be difficult to understand. And many people speak very quickly. Don’t panic if you don’t understand everything. Sometimes it is fine to just listen to a conversation and not participate. If someone asks you a question and you don’t understand, ask them to repeat it.
Live in an English-speaking Environment
One of the sure-fire ways to improve your listening skills is to be exposed to English on a daily basis. Join a conversation class where you only speak in English. Do a language exchange with a native speaker, or visit an English-speaking country. Finally, sign up for an English summer school UK program and benefit from intensive exposure to the English language. You will find that you will understand much more at the end of the course.