4 ways to improve your listening

“Listen” by ky_olsen via Flickr (creative commons)

While targeted practice in IELTS listening tasks is important, you should continue to practice your general listening skills.

If you’re not in an English-speaking country, this can be a bit difficult to do and requires a lot of effort to go out and find English to listen to. Thankfully we’re all connected on the web, with access to all kinds of free media, so it’s not too bad.

Here are 4 ways to practice your input listening – this is listening to others speaking without any involvement or interaction on your part. It will also be useful for the listening tasks in the IELTS.

1) Read the news in the morning, then watch the news on TV or the internet or listen to the radio/podcast on the same news stories of the day. Having read the stories first, you’re able to see key words/new vocabulary that you can look up and become familiar with the key facts of the stories. With a background understanding of the  main ideas and main details, you’ll be able to understand the same news stories (which may be presented in different ways) that you listen to on the TV,  radio or on a podcast. Here are some useful websites:

2) Watch movies and TV shows with English subtitles. Watch with a pencil and notebook!! Take note of new words and expressions. Then watch the movie again without the subtitles. This time you’ll have the familiarity of the story, dialogue and new expressions. Listen to the intonation and how people’s words are connected when they’re in a conversation.

3) Listen to English music. There’s YouTube, Spotify (which I’ve only recently discovered and love), iTunes… find your music. And do a search on the lyrics as well. Make the connections as you read the lyrics and hear them being sung. Then listen without the lyrics.

4) Listen to audio books or a lecture. If you have a Kindle,  iPad, or mP3, you can buy/download audio books easily that aren’t too expensive (there are free ones too – see below). Of course, choose books you like, perhaps ones you may have read already. iTunes university is also at your fingertips and you can listen to brilliant professors from top universities lecture their undergraduate students – for free! Here are some useful websites:

  • Audible.com (of Amazon.com) – audio books you can play on your smart phones and MP3s
  • bookshouldbefree.com – Free public domain audiobooks and e-books
  • NewFiction.com This site offers a library of audio books performed by multiple actors, which they call ” iSoaps“, like modern-day radio dramas!
  • LibriVox.org – free audio books from the public domain and podcasts
  • iTunesU – an application through iTunes to access lectures and classes from prestigious universities such as my alma mater UC Berkeley (where I graduated from), Stanford, Yale, MIT and Oxford.

5) I’m adding this 5th one in case you want to practice listening to a native English speaker in a conversation. Sign up with a native-English speaker tutor, face-to-face if you can, or online.

If you keep your practice up, plus target your test-taking strategies for the IELTS listening test, you’ll be impressed with your results.


I'm an English teacher specializing in IELTS preparation - especially writing and reading. If you have any questions, please ask! You can also sign up for weekly tips and lessons for IELTS and English!

Posted in IELTS Listening, Listening, Resources Tagged with: ,
One comment on “4 ways to improve your listening
  1. IELTS Listening says:

    Nice post about IELTS Listening.

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  1. […] it’s good to continue practicing general listening skills, it’s good preparation to be familiar with the different question types and to practice […]

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