What is the Best Way to Learn English? Strategy For Learning English, Part I – Listening

Your Needs

Perhaps you are motivated to learn English in order to qualify for a job that requires you to speak with others in English – in person and on the telephone. Or maybe your motivation is to use your English for traveling or conversation with international friends. Or perhaps you are preparing to take courses in English – either online or at a university. If any of these apply to you, choose an English learning program that provides a lot of practice listening to English.


In my opinion, listening is the single most important element in learning English (or any other language). The point of learning English is to be able to communicate. It is important to practice speaking English, but speaking does not provide the opportunities for learning that listening provides. When we listen, vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation are all presented in a context. And remember that, ideally, during a conversation you will be listening half of the time. So make listening a high priority.

 You will want to listen to a lot of different voices of native English speakers. It helps to have a native English-speaking teacher. However, there are a lot of very good English teachers who are not native speakers. If you are considering learning from a non-native English-speaking teacher, you will want to know if the teacher uses audio files with the voices of native speakers.

 Listening in class

Whether in a physical or virtual (online) classroom, listen closely to the other students. While teaching online classes, I occasionally have the impression that one or more of the students are surfing the Internet or even leaving their computers while other students are speaking because they either don’t respond or they are slow in responding when called upon. When in class, adopt the attitude that the time spent listening to the other students is at least as valuable as the time spent speaking. Don’t underestimate the value of listening to the other students just because they are non-native speakers. It may be as important for you to understand non-native speakers as it is to understand native speakers. It is very likely that much of the English you will hear during your life will be spoken by persons whose first language is not English.

 Chat rooms can be good places to practice listening if the students actually speak as well as text chat, and if there is any real exchange of information and ideas. It is best if there is a moderator present, and it is even better if the moderator has a topic to present. Two free opportunities for moderated discussions are the hosted discussions at the English Horizons website and the classes at StudyCom.

 Listening to online audio files

There are a number of web sites that have audio files of native English-speakers’ voices that you can listen to. Some have transcripts of the recorded audio so that you can read what you hear. It is strongly recommended that you listen to the audio file before you read the transcript. After you listen, read the transcript to check your understanding of what you heard. Then listen again. A list of listening resources can be found at the end of this article.

Tips for Listening

1. Choose an audio file that is at an appropriate level for you.

2. Listen, making notes of what you hear. Play the file through to the end the first time. Listen again, pausing occasionally to reflect on what you are hearing.

3. Read the transcript if one is available. If you can print the transcript mark the words that you are not sure you understand. Guess at the meanings from the context, then check your dictionary.

4. Read the transcript aloud, recording your voice.

5. Listen to your voice reading the transcript.

6. Listen to the audio file again, and compare the sound and rhythm of your voice to the voice in the audio file.

 This process gives you practice speaking and reading, as well as listening.

Recommended listening resources (links to the sites listed below can be found below the author’s information after the end of the article):

 Voice of America Special English

News and articles of general interest. This is especially for Beginner & Intermediate levels, but it is also recommended for Advanced students who need listening practice. The reporters speak very clearly and somewhat slower than radio reporters normally speak.

Voice of America English

News and articles of general interest.

Randall’s ESL Listening Lab

Short audio files, including conversations, at all levels from easy to difficult.

Focus English

Everyday English in Conversation.

English Language Listening Lab Online

Many topics and listening activities.


Interesting articles. Includes vocabulary exercises.

BBC World News English

News articles. Narrated by British English speakers.

Science@NASA Headline News

For advanced students interested in scientific articles.

Living on Earth

Articles on cultural and environmental issues.

Pulse of the Planet

Articles of special interest to students who are interested in nature, biology, astronomy and diverse cultures.

Earth and Sky

Short radio messages on various topics, including astronomy, geology, and nature.

History and Politics Out Loud

Includes famous speeches.

© Copyright, Charles Stinard 2008. All rights reserved. This material may be republished or reproduced in its entirety without the express consent of the author; provided that this copyright notice and a link to the author’s site (below) are included. 

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