Are you afraid of going into a conversation and not understanding the person in front of you? Are you frustrated because you feel like you know English, you use English on a daily basis, yet you’re still having a hard time understanding people on TV, and movies, and even in real life? Are you confused because sometimes you can understand people, and sometimes you can’t, and you can’t tell why that is?
So, if this is the case, I want you to know that what you’re experiencing is really, really natural. And there is nothing wrong with you or your English. Because when you speak a second language, sometimes when listening to speakers, what happens is that we have this idea of how the language should sound. And that is not always aligned with how people actually use the language.
Because, first, we learn English through reading and writing for the most part. And we might have a different perception as to how the language is used or spoken. And sometimes that’s not how it is in real life. Or sometimes we’re just exposed to one accent – standard American or Received Pronunciation (RP). And there are so many different accents and dialects of English. And when we hear something that is different than what we’re used to, then our brain is having a hard time processing the sounds, and processing the words, and processing the language.
So, I want you to know that the problem is not with your English, and not with your ears – your hearing is perfectly fine. It’s how you practice your listening skills. Because listening is a skill that you need to develop. Just like developing your speaking skills, and developing your grammar and vocabulary, and all of that good stuff, when it comes to using a second language.
So, in this video, I’m going to give you some tips and strategies to help you improve your listening skills and listening comprehension. So you’ll never have to fear again any conversation in English, and you’ll never have to be afraid of not understanding other people. Are you ready? Let’s get started.
By the way, if you’re new to my channel, then hello and welcome. My name is Hadar. I’m a non-native speaker of English. And I’m here to help you speak English with clarity, confidence, and freedom. You can connect with me on Instagram at @hadar.accentsway, or go to my website to get a lot of free lessons and resources to help you get to where you want to be.
Before we begin talking about the tips and strategies to improve your listening skills, I want to talk about why we face this challenge understanding native speakers, or other people using English. And that is because what we hear is not necessarily what is said. Let me rephrase that. It’s not what we hear is not necessarily what is said – it’s what we perceive that is not necessarily what is said.
Because when someone speaks your ear detects everything, but the brain doesn’t process everything that ear detects. So sometimes the brain may not process or not perceive some of the sounds used. Maybe if words are reduced or emphasized in a way that is not natural to you or not in a way that is not used in your native language, your brain may filter it out even. And then you won’t be perceiving or processing the things that are said.
So, what we actually want to improve is to improve our perception. And not necessarily our hearing. Okay? So that is something important to recognize. And also, not to trust your ears because we want to listen closely and to make sure that we’re not missing out on anything, when we really listen to English.
And the exercises that I’m going to share with you today are going to be around active listening. So, it’s a different way of listening and not just this passive listening that is happening as you’re listening to me right now, or usually listening to English.
So, the first thing I think that can help your listening skills is actually practice your pronunciation. Become aware of all the sounds of English and practice those sounds. Because when you practice sounds inside your mouth – cause that’s how we practice sounds – your brain starts recognizing that this is a sound that exists in English. And your brain is going to be more aware of the sound when you hear them.
Let me give you an example. In English, there is a difference between the ‘sheep-ship’ vowel pair, right? And if you don’t have that distinction in your native language, then your brain might merge these two sounds into one sound that does exist in your language. So you might be hearing those two sounds, and you might think that these two sounds are the same sound.
But when you start practicing these two sounds, then your brain starts recognizing that these are two different sounds, and then you’ll start hearing those two sounds more and more as you listen to English. And then you’ll start noticing those nuances. This is why practicing sounds is really, really important. And I’m going to link to all the lessons about the sounds of English that I have on my channel, so you can practice with my videos, and improve your listening skills by improving your pronunciation.
Another thing that I want you to do is to practice the intonation, rhythm, and stress of the language. So again, it’s about practicing pronunciation to improve your listening skills. This is why I love teaching pronunciation. Because it’s not just about sounding clear, it really is about understanding people better.
Especially when it comes to reductions. Reductions happen when there are certain words in the sentence or the language, that are less important than other words. Words like: on, in, at, for, is, am, are – all of these words, that are called function words, are usually reduced to a very neutral vowel sound. The vowel in those words is reduced, so “on” can be pronounced as ‘uhn’. “in” can be pronounced as ‘uhn’. So, it’s practically the same sound. Your brain hears the same sound – ‘uhn’ for two different words: “on” and “in”. Now, you are expecting to hear “on” or “in”, and you’re hearing ‘uhn’ – no wonder it’s confusing.
I’ll give you another example. “What do you”, when it’s reduced, sounds like ‘whadaya’, ‘whadaya’. ‘whadaya’. Now here’s the thing. “What are you”, when it’s reduced, sounds like ‘whadaya’, ‘whadaya’. Exactly the same. So you’re hearing this phrase, that sounds like one word – ‘whadaya’, ‘whadaya’, ‘whadaya’ – in the middle of a conversation, maybe even a fast conversation – your brain is probably looking for a word that sounds something like ‘whadaya’. Or even if you’re aware of this idea of reductions, then it’s hard to decide if it’s “what do you” or “what are you”. And then it takes a little longer to understand everything.
So, practicing reductions on your own will really help you understand it better, when it’s used by other speakers. And let me tell you this – it’s used all the time when people speak in English. Those reductions, those reductions of less important words. And then different words might sound the same. And then it takes a little longer to understand it. So when you practice it on your own, you become more aware of it. You’re doing it yourself, and then it’s much easier to understand.
Also, what it does is that it helps you – and that leads me to the next tip – which is, it leads us to understand that some words are more important than others. So you actually want to look for clues when other people speak, to words that really matter, to important words.
So, words that matter, words that lead the conversation – these are usually content words. Not only that they’re not reduced, they’re also stressed more, they’re higher in pitch, they’re usually longer, right? So we want to look for those clues when people speak. Just like I did now: “we want to look for those clues when people speak.”
So, every time you recognize that there is a rise in pitch, right, or words are said in a slower manner, look for those words, try to hear those words, and to recognize and to analyze those words. And even if you can’t hear every single word within that utterance or that sentence; even if you hear those key words, your brain will be able to piece everything out together. Okay?
So, practicing reductions will also help you understand how to listen to people, and to look for those signals, and to look for those clues when people go higher in pitch, when people prolong words.
Also look for physical cues. Look at the facial expressions. People are usually more open when they stress an important part. Maybe people use their hands. I always use my hands when I emphasize something important. So you want to look for the intonation cues, the musical cues, but you also want to look for the physical cues when people speak. And trust that you will be able to understand everything, even though you don’t hear every single word.
Which leads me to the next point – don’t try to analyze or understand or perceive every single word when people speak. Look for the important parts. Just like when we read, right? Think about how you read in your native language, and even in English. You don’t read every single word, you skim through the page, your eyes kinda like go over the words and you see the big words, the content words, the words that lead the message. And you kinda like photograph those words with your eyes, and then you process everything in your brain right after.
Same thing with listening. Listen to the keywords and then try to process everything in your brain. Because of reductions, because we might miss out a few words, we want to make sure that we’re not trying to analyze every single thing that is said to us.
Now, I want to give you some practical practice exercises to help you improve your listening skills. So first, what I want you to do is to start watching content without captions and subtitles. It’s going to be harder, but it’s going to teach you how to listen, or to actively listen, even though it’s harder. But harder is good because it actually stimulates real life. And, you know, we’re practicing English to be able to succeed in real life. And in real life, unfortunately, there are a no captions. So you want to watch content without subtitles as much as possible.
When you hear a part that is not clear, try before you go into, you know, the captions or the transcript, try listening to it again and again and again, and guess what it is that you’re hearing. There’s a lot of room for guessing here, right, and for intuition. And it’s within a larger context, so you’re most likely to be right. You just need to trust the fact that even if it’s not 100% accurate, you need to get the gist of it.
So, you want to teach yourself how to listen to something again, and again, and again. You want to be very, very particular about what it is that you’re hearing. But you also want to teach yourself to get the idea and run with it, and continue with it without understanding every single thing. Right? So, back to the practice, watching something without subtitles. And then listening to a part that is unclear again and again and again until you get it right, or you get most of it right.
Another great exercise is to transcribe a text. So, you take a minute-long audio, and you play it. You listen to it a couple of times, and then you start writing out everything that you’re hearing. So you want to write every single word that you’re hearing. And the parts that are not clear, you just leave empty or you guess the word.
And then I want you to look at the transcript. This is why using YouGlish or TED talks is really great, where you have the transcript built-in. You want to look at the transcript and see what you got wrong. And try to guess why you got it wrong. What confused you there? Was it a specific sound? Was it a reduction, maybe a phrase with a few words that were reduced completely, so you kind of like missed it?
Maybe it was a phrase, a combination of a few reduced words that completely went over your head, and you couldn’t understand it or hear it. Right? And then, you know what your pitfalls are, you know what confuses you. Right? So this is a really great way for you to understand your weaknesses when it comes to listening. And I would recommend doing it even every day – just listening to a minute-long audio and transcribing the text.
I also highly recommend opening yourself up to different voices and different accents, and different people, and different situations, different circumstances. Don’t just listen to teachers on YouTube that have sort of the same accent. You want to open yourself up to people with foreign accents. You want to open yourself up to people with different dialects. Because the more you hear accents, the more you become aware of the different… of the variety of sounds.
And then you start understanding the substitutions. So you can do this exercise, of you transcribing the text with different dialects, right? And even though it might be hard at the beginning, it’s going to pay off big time. Because you’ll be able to open yourself up and to understand more and more sounds, and more people.
And here’s a tip. When you hear someone and you feel this resistance, and you’re like, “No, no, no, no. I can’t understand that person”, that is the person you need to work with and try to understand even more. Because again, the more you listen to someone, the easier it becomes for you to understand them. Right?
And when there is a challenge, you have to face it, so you can overcome it and then it’s going to be easier for you to hear and to understand even other people. Right? When you really face something that is challenging for you. Okay? So when you feel resistance towards how someone sounds, that should be an internal clue and cue for you to keep going and actually do it despite the resistance. Because it just shows you that there is something that needs to be resolved there.
And actually, that’s the case for everything, when it comes to English – when you’re trying to avoid something. That’s probably the one thing that you need to tackle and to overcome the most. With some exceptions. Okay, not always. That’s not always the case.
Another tip is that if you like reading books, I recommend reading it with the audio version. Because the brain processes both the written word, but also how it’s spoken and how, you know, it’s pronounced. And it’s really good to connect the two things together. Because these are not two different languages, it’s the same language. And sometimes it feels like it’s two different languages or two different places in our brain. And we want to do it together because it really does help us not only with our listening skills, but definitely with our pronunciation, how we think and see those words.
And the last tip I have for you – and that’s relevant for everything else related to English when you’re practicing your listening skills – do it with something that makes you enjoy doing it, that is fun for you, that you love. And not something that is boring, or tedious, or uninteresting. Okay?
So, that’s it. Thank you all so much for watching. Have a beautiful day, and I’ll see you next week in the next video. Bye.