English listening

Business English skills are essential for improving and getting ahead at work. Improving your business English vocabulary and knowledge will help you work more effectively and open up new career opportunities. One skill we also have to improve for business English is our listening skills. In this article, we are going to talk about ways and tips to improve your listening skills for a better business English. 

Listening comprehension is probably the most difficult task for many learners of the English language. It can be frustrating when you are in a conversation with somebody only for you to notice that you are not understanding everything that person is telling you. This can affect your confidence levels and lead to misunderstandings which could have negative implications in the future. This is especially in a workplace or business environment. 

Spoken English can be difficult to get a grasp of, which is why many will struggle with the listening aspect. Native English speakers tend to use slang, pronounce words differently according to their regional accent, and use the words ‘um’, ‘hm’, ‘ah,’ during speech. These are all obstacles facing language learners who are used to learning solely from textbooks and in classrooms.

Take note of some of the following practices to help improve your listening skills in English.

1. Listen to Podcasts/ Audios

A fun and interesting way to improve your listening skills is to listen to a podcast. Search for a podcast in English that you find interesting and choose one episode. Once you’ve found something, download it and listen to it everyday for a week - while driving, on the train, doing chores, or just before you sleep.

While you’re listening, try to pick up words or phrases from the podcast that are difficult to understand and write them down so you can look them up later. After a few days, you should be able to listen to these words and understand them. It may also help to memorize parts of the podcast and practice speaking them out loud.  

If listening to the podcast is difficult for you, try to search for a podcast with transcripts. First, listen to the podcast without looking at the transcript. If there are parts you didn’t understand, pause the recording and take note of the words or phrases. Start listening to the podcast again while following the transcript. Reading the transcript will help you understand the recording more because we tend to miss certain parts when listening without reading. 

English listening skills

By the last day, you’ll find that you can understand much more of the podcast than on the first. As your ear adjusts to hearing this English podcast episode, it’ll be easier to listen to new audio in English. This is a great way to improve your pronunciation, speaking and listening skills fast.

If you are not feeling very confident with your listening and are not quite there yet with understanding native speakers speaking at a normal pace there are many English learning podcasts out there designed for learners with a range of levels. Here is a really useful site for listening to everyday English conversations from native speakers. It’s particularly helpful because you can download the transcripts as well practicing the technique mentioned before of listening first without the transcript and noting down words you didn’t understand.

Podcast recommendations
If you have more of an advanced level of English and want to train your ear to listen to native speakers at a natural pace, a really interesting podcast is “This American Life”,  which features fascinating stories and interviews with each episode focusing on a different theme. This will get you used to the American accent. If you’d like to also listen to a British accent, then check out BBC Podcasts, where you’ll find a whole range of podcasts featuring not just news stories but documentaries, comedy, drama and interviews.

2. Join a Conversation Group

Join a group of English learners who host conversation classes in your local area. Conversation groups meet regularly. The purpose of these conversation groups is to simply talk in English about any kind of topic. This is a great way to listen to a variety of English speakers with different accents, tones and voices.

A fantastic website for finding conversation groups near you is Meetup, where people can organise and ‘meet up’ with other people who share a common interest in their local area. You can find a free conversation group or group classes. ‘Meet ups’ is an international website so is likely to function in your country. If you can’t find a meet up on there for English classes in your community, why not start your own conversation group! 

If you can’t meet up with anyone locally, try searching online . There are many free language exchange groups where you can find a partner who’s also learning English or  speaks English and wants to exchange conversation with your language that you can practice with.

If you’re feeling unconfident with your speaking, try practicing your introduction before you join the conversation group. Your first session should help you check if the group is a good fit for your level. Are you a beginner, intermediate or advanced speaker? While listening and observing, you should check where you stand compared to other people in the group. Also ask yourself what kind of topics do you like to discuss during a conversation? It could be anything simple like the weather, family, and hobbies. Or do you prefer more advanced topics like politics?

improve English listening

3. Increase your Vocabulary

An important factor in improving your listening skills is to increase your vocabulary. The more vocabulary you have, the greater understanding you will have. Always take note of the new vocabulary you hear and look them up or review them.

When you practice listening, write down all the new vocabulary for each recording that you listen to. You will remember the vocabulary better if you write them down with the sentence from the podcast that you heard. This gives context - the situation in which a word was used - so you will remember the situation when you see the word.  Try to use new vocabulary on your own by creating sentences. This is a very important practice that you should not skip. Try to use them in your own sentences by writing them down, then use these when you speak. This will help you get used to new words and really learn them. 

You can improve your grammar a lot if you become more confident with using longer sentences. Whenever you hear a long sentence - whether you understood it or not - pause the recording and write the sentence down. Once you’ve written it down, double check for relevant rules in the sentence. 

Learn more scientifically proven ways to increase your vocabulary here.

4. Watch films or TV series in English

Ok so this is an obvious one but if you struggle to understand films in English a tip for you is to watch it with subtitles first and then again without the subtitles so you can train your ear. You'll find it much easier the second time. Netflix is a website that has loads of films and TV series to choose from and they give you the option of subtitles in many different languages. You could also watch Youtube clips with and wirthout subtitles. 

Film & TV series recommendations

If you'd like to practice listening to the English accent then "The Crown" on Netflix is worth a watch. This series follows the life of the Queen and is an interesting insight into the pressures of being part of the royal family. "Downton Abbey" on BBC is another English series, which chronicles the lives of an aristocratic family in the early twentieth century. Be aware though that the accents in these series are upper class and more old-fashioned than the rest of the population of England. 

British film is famous for it's rom-coms (romantic comedies). Some classic British rom-coms are "Notting Hill", "Four Weddings and a Funeral" and "Love Actually".

If you fancy practicing your listening to the American accent, Wes Anderson is a fantastic film director and some of his best films include "The Grand budapest Hotel", "The Royal Tenenbaums" and "Moonrise Kingdom".

Improving English listening skills doesn’t only involve extra listening practice. It also incorporates recognizing why you are having difficulty with listening, anticipating the subject matter in a future conversation, and working on active listening during a conversation.

Practice is the key to overcoming difficulties in any of these areas. Everyone learns in their own way; something that works for one person may not work for another. Certain people might thrive in a classroom environment, whilst others will learn better on their own. It is best to try different ways in order to improve your listening skills more efficiently.