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Tips to Improve Your Listening Skills

Learn how to improve your English listening skills with these tips to help you prepare for the TOEFL iBT® test and university study.

Practice listening to something in English every day, and gradually increase the amount of time that you listen.

  • Listen to different types of materials.
  • Listen actively. Try to answer the following questions:
    • who
    • what
    • when
    • where
    • why
    • how
  • Listen passively to get the general idea of what's being said.
  • Keep a listening log (a list of everything you listen to in English each day/week).
  • Write a 1-sentence summary to remember the main idea of what you heard.
  • Write down new expressions, idioms and vocabulary that you hear.
  • Use dictation and other exercises to help your listening ability.
    • Ask an English speaker to dictate an article to you. Good sources of material are magazine or online articles or textbooks.
    • First, write down exactly what you hear.
    • Then, only take notes on the important points that you hear.
    • Do information gap exercises, using unfamiliar content and complex structures.

Use the resources in your community to practice listening to English.

  • Visit places where you can practice listening.
    • If possible, enroll in an English class.
    • Go to a museum and take an audio tour in English.
    • Follow a guided tour in English in your city.
    • Call or visit a hotel where tourists stay, and get information in English about room rates, hotel availability or hotel facilities.
    • Call and listen to information recorded in English, such as a movie schedule, a weather report or information about an airline flight.
  • Watch or listen to TV programs and podcasts recorded in English.
    • Some helpful TV channels to listen to are CNN®, Discovery Channel® and National Geographic®, as well as soap operas or situation comedies.
    • Do this with a friend and talk about the program together.
  • Watch movies or other videos online (turn off the captions!) or go to a movie in English.
  • Listen to an audiobook in English.
  • Listen to English-language recordings that come with a transcript. Listen to each recording at least 3 times:
    • The first time, take notes about the main ideas you hear.
    • The second time, read the transcript and listen for the ideas you wrote down.
    • The third time, write down any words and phrases that you didn't understand, and look them up.
  • Practice speaking English with others.
    • Exchange language lessons with an English speaker who wants to learn your language.

Begin to prepare for academic situations.

  • Visit academic classes conducted in English.
  • Record lectures or presentations, and replay them several times.
    • Listen to short sections several times, until you understand the main points and the flow of ideas.
    • Stop the recording in the middle, and predict what will come next.
  • Become familiar with the organization or structure of academic lectures.
    • Pay attention to the difference between main ideas and details presented.
    • Listen for the general (main) ideas.
    • Pay attention to details — facts, examples, opinions.
  • Pay attention to the structure.
    • Lecture or presentation — introduction, body and conclusion
    • Narrative story — beginning, middle and end
  • Learn to recognize different styles of organization.
    • Theory and evidence
    • Cause and effect
    • Steps of a process
    • Comparison of 2 things
  • Think carefully about the purpose of the lecture.
    • Try to answer the question, "What is the professor trying to accomplish in this lecture?"
    • Write down only the information that you hear. Be careful not to interpret information based on your personal understanding or knowledge of the topic.
  • Develop a note-taking strategy to help you organize information into the main points and supporting details.
    • Make sure your notes follow the organization of the lecture.
    • Listen for related ideas and relationships within a lecture, and make sure you summarize similar information together.
    • Use your notes to write a summary.

Listen for signals that will help you understand the organization of a talk, connections between ideas and the importance of ideas.

  • Listen for expressions and vocabulary that tell you the type of information being given. Think carefully about the type of information that these phrases show:
    • opinion — I think, It appears that, It is thought that
    • theory — in theory
    • inference — therefore, then
    • negatives — not, words that begin with "un-," "non-," "dis-" or "a-"
    • fillers — non-essential information — uh, er, um
  • Identify digressions — discussion of a different topic from the main topic — or jokes that are not important to the main lecture. It's OK not to understand these!
  • Listen for signal words or phrases that connect ideas in order to recognize the relationship between ideas. Think carefully about the connection between ideas that these words show:
    • reasons — because, since
    • results — as a result, so, therefore, thus, consequently
    • examples — for example, such as
    • comparisons — in contrast, than
    • an opposing idea — on the other hand, however
    • another idea — furthermore, moreover, besides
    • a similar idea — similarly, likewise
    • restatements of information — in other words, that is
    • conclusions — in conclusion, in summary
  • Pay attention to the connections between examples.
    • When you hear 2 details, identify the relationship between them.
    • Write a sentence connecting the examples, using the appropriate connecting word.
  • Pay attention to intonation and other ways that speakers indicate that information is important. Important key words are often:
    • repeated
    • paraphrased — repeated information but using different words
    • said louder and clearer
    • stressed
  • Pay attention to body language and intonation patterns used to express different emotions.
    • Emotions are often expressed through changes in intonation or stress.
    • Facial expressions or word choices can indicate excitement, anger, happiness or frustration.
  • Listen to how native English speakers divide long sentences into "thought groups" to make them easier to understand — a thought group is a spoken phrase or short sentence. Thought groups are separated by short pauses.
    • Listen to sets of thought groups to be sure you get the whole idea of the talk.
    • Listen for pauses between important points.
  • Listen for numbers you might hear in prices, times or addresses.
  • Listen for verbs and other expressions that show if an event is happening in the past, present or future.
  • During a lecture, pay attention to words that are written on the board.

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