“I understand nothing when I listen to English.”

Headphones

A lot of advice about how to get better at English listening says that students need to understand almost everything in their independent study materials. I disagree with it because this is a useful guideline but it is not a rule; it is useful for a lot of people, but not everyone.

Think about this: young children do not understand television programmes for adults but often want to watch them. This is because they want to be like adults. You want to be like a native-English-speaking adult therefore your exposure to English should include media for native-English-speaking adults.

Some people will disagree with me. They think getting students who are not ready to listen to advanced materials to listen to media above their level will turn them off English, leading them to give up or be stuck in level. I do not believe this. I believe that if you want to improve your language skills, you will try advanced materials that you are interested in, which is the important thing to remember, and then either succeed the first time, persevere and then succeed or give up and try again in the future.

If you study with materials that a teacher thinks are good you are not studying based on your own interests so your motivation to continue is not high enough to keep learning, especially new, difficult things.

Choose podcasts at random. Try some videos on YouTube or from your local video shop. Watch lectures about things you want to know about.

Think about vocabulary you know about the topic of the material. Think about the purpose of the material and who it is for. Write down new words you hear and what you think they mean. Check your dictionary later. Can you summarise the media? Do you agree with the opinion of the speaker or speakers?

Take notes if you have time or have space. Repeat your materials as many (or as few) times as you like. Listen to anything and everything that interests you. Most importantly, don’t forget that it’s OK to leave something behind when it’s too difficult now or too boring. Anything that is truly important will be engaging enough to build knowledge about quickly, even if you can’t understand some of the material immediately.

Download a listening sheet to help you when you listen to English next time.