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How to improve your listening comprehension in English 👂 [VIDEO]

In this video Misha shares some tips and tricks in order to better understand spoken English! 👂

Do you find it hard to understand native speakers when they talk at a natural speed? Do you always need to read the subtitles to understand your favorite movie or TV show in English? 🎧

👇 Here's our step-by-step guide to improving your listening comprehension:

🌎 Don't forget to choose the language of the subtitles by clicking on the video's settings.

⏱️ Timecodes
0:00 - Intro
0:46 - Why is it so HARD to understand spoken English?
4:51 - How to improve your English listening comprehension
5:11 - How to learn vocabulary the right way
12:23 - Resources to learn vocabulary
13:51 - Which words should you learn in English?
17:42 - How to learn all sounds of the English language
22:48 - How to learn in context
25:14 - What about SPEAKING?

📝 Full transcript:

Hello, this is Misha from Click & Speak. In this video, I'd like to answer one of the top questions we receive from students which is, how to better understand spoken English? If you feel like native speakers talk too fast and you can't follow what they're saying, or you cannot understand movies or TV shows in English without the subtitles, then this video is for you. Now, if you're still learning English and you're having a hard time following what I'm saying, then you should activate the subtitles which are available in both English and a bunch of other languages. So, make sure to do that so you can understand everything that I'm saying. All right?

Now, I have always believed that understanding where a problem comes from is half of the solution, right? So, if you know why understanding spoken English is so hard, then you can take specific steps in order to improve your listening comprehension in English. All right? So let's see the top reasons why understanding spoken English is so hard. The number one reason is the lack of practice. All right? Now, a lot of our students spend hours on working on grammar, reading, translating, but not enough time listening to English, right? And, as we all know, practice makes perfect. So if you don't listen to English, you are not going to start understanding spoken English. Seems quite logical, but I feel like we should mention that. All right? So, make sure to include more audio in your English studies. Whether that's a podcast, an audio book, a movie, a TV show talking to real people, that's not important. What's important is to constantly be exposed to spoken English. All right, that's number one.

Now the second problem, which stems from the first one is the contrast between spoken and written English. And the thing is, we're used to reading English and maybe we have a nice idea about how to pronounce a word, which is very different from how it's actually pronounced, right? The problem is that English is not a phonetic language, which means that the spelling of a word does not represent its pronunciation well. And that's a problem because when you learn a word without audio, without hearing it, you can be fooled by its spelling and think that it's pronounced a certain way, whereas in reality, it's totally different. To avoid this, always, always, always listen to audio recordings of each new word that you learn, and that's essential.

The third problem is the lack of vocabulary. Now, if you have never seen a word, if you've never heard a word and someone uses it, then chances are, you will not be able to understand it. Of course, sometimes you can guess the meaning based on the context, but especially if you're a beginner or at a lower intermediate level, then you probably won't be able to understand what we're saying. Okay? We'll see how to fix that issue.

Now, the fourth problem that our students tell us is that English speakers talk too fast. Now, I've put a question mark there because I'm not so sure, is it that they're talking too fast or that we're listening too slowly? That's a little joke, of course, and we'll see how to fix that issue as well. Now, the final problem that I often see when people are learning English is practicing with materials that they find boring. All right? If you don't find particular resource interesting, if it's not stimulating, if you're not feeling motivated, then you're going to abandon it, and we don't want that. We want to immerse ourselves on natural materials, which we find interesting and which we can follow. That's the best balance. So those were the top reasons why people have a hard time understanding spoken English, and in the next couple of slides, I'd like to show you how you can fix that and what you can do in order to improve your English listening comprehension. All right?

Now, the first thing you can do is to learn words in all of their forms. Okay? So, when you study new vocabulary, when you study new words, do you tend to learn them in just one of their forms? If so, that's a mistake. All right? Let's take an example with the most common word in the English language, which is the verb to be, okay? If you learn that word only in that form be or the infinitive, then you will not be able to understand it in all of its other forms. Okay? And that's a common verb, but it's most commonly used in other forms, for example, I am, she has been, we were, et cetera. Okay? So, bottom line, if you learn a word in just one of its forms, then you will be able to understand the word in only that form, and you will not be able to understand it in other contexts, which is a problem. Well, with that, you need to learn each word in all of its forms.

The problem is that if you learn new words in only one of their forms, you won't be able to recognize them in other forms. And chances are, people tend to use the same word in a bunch of different forms. Okay? So how do you learn a new word effectively in all of its forms? Here's a little checklist of all the steps you need to make, all of the things you need to learn in order to master a word, in order to be able to recognize it when someone else uses it, but also to be able to use it yourself whenever you need it. Okay? For our example, I've taken the word example. Okay, let's say that you want to learn the word example, when you can apply this when you learn any new word. Okay?

Now, first and foremost, you need to learn the pronunciation. As we already saw, there is a big contrast between spoken and written English, right? So what you need is a phonetic transcription, and preferably in the international phonetic alphabet, all right? Now, that's an alternative system, an alternative alphabet, which lets you represent the pronunciation of a word phonetically. So each symbol corresponds to one sound, and it's always the same sound. Once you look up the phonetic transcription of a word, you will always know how to pronounce it with certainty. Okay? And here's a phonetic transcription of the word example. Okay? I see that it's pronounced example, example. Now don't worry of these letters, these symbols look funny if you can't understand them because we will focus on them in another video. For now, what you need to do is understand the importance of phonetic transcriptions and how they're more valuable than the spelling when it comes to pronunciation.

The second thing you need to learn is the word stress. Now, in English, each word has at least one stressed syllable. We pronounced the syllable more clearly, maybe with a longer vowel sound. And in this word, in the word example, it's the second syllable that's stressed. I've put it in bold. So it's example, example. It's not example nor is it example. Okay It's example, example. Third thing is to learn the spelling, of course. Now, this is not super important for your listening comprehension, but it is important for your overall knowledge of English or as so you can use English in any context. Well, be sure to know the correct spelling of the word.

The next thing you can do is look up the grammatical category of the word. Is it a noun? Is it a verb? Is it an adjective? Is it a preposition? That's important because that will give you valuable information about what other forms the word has. In this case, the word example is a noun. So this gives me valuable information about the next step I need to make, which is learn the other forms. And nouns have usually two forms, the singular and the plural, example in the singular and examples in the plural form. This is quite obvious and easy for regular nouns, but there are nouns like mouse, which have an irregular plural form, mouse in the singular, but mice in the plural. Right? And if you only learn the word mouse, chances are, you will not be able to understand the word mice once someone uses it.

Now, the next thing you need to learn is the language register, in what context is the word you're learning used, because English has a lot of words. And a lot of words have similar meanings, the difference is that they're used in different context. Okay? They have different language registers. A word can be vulgar, a word can be colloquial. And if there's nothing written in the dictionary, then chances are that the word belongs to the neutral language register, meaning that you can use it in any context and it could not be odd.

And the final thing you absolutely need to do when you're learning a new word is look up an example sentence. This will help you understand how to use the word, in what context the word is used. And it will possibly also help you remember the word because our brains understand things and remember things better in context. We'll talk about that too later, but there's no use learning isolated words. Okay? You always need to learn in context, in order to be able to understand in context and also speak in context. Right? Makes sense. So, our example sentence with the word example is, "Can you give me an example?" Now that's a perfect sentence to illustrate what the word means and how you can use it. Be sure to follow all of these steps when you're learning a new word. So you can be able to recognize it when you hear it, as we can be able to use it once you need it.

Now, let's talk about some resources which will help you better learn vocabulary iEnglish. All right? The first resource is the free online dictionary Wiktionary, and this is an amazing dictionary because it gives you information about the meaning of the word. It gives you a phonetic transcription so you can understand how to pronounce the word. You can analyze the different sounds, the word's stress, et cetera. And you also have an audio recording of the word so you can hear it pronounced by a native speaker.

The second resource I would recommend is another online dictionary, which is called Your Dictionary, which has a lot of example sentences. All right? So if you're learning a new word and you're not sure how to use it exactly, or you're not sure about the context in which a word is used, then you can go to Your Dictionary, look up a word, and you will get a bunch of example sentences. The final resource I would recommend is YouGlish. Now, this is a website which allows you to look up a word and get example sentences from videos from YouTube. Now, this is great because you can hear the word pronounced by native speakers, and also see and hear the word used in context.

Now that you know how to learn words in English, which words should you learn? There are more than one million words in the English language, but don't worry, don't run away, you don't need to learn all of the words in the English language. All right? No one knows all one million words, not even native speakers. And this is because there's a natural process in which the important words are used all the time. And the more important a word is, the more often people use it. To give you an example of this, the 600 most commonly used words in the English language represent 85% of daily vocabulary. In other words, if you know the top 600 words in the English language, you will be able to understand about 85% of all conversations.

The next step would be to learn the top 5,000 words in the English language, the 5,000 most commonly used words which represent 96% of daily vocabulary. In other words, once you master these 5,000 most commonly used words in English, you'll be able to understand 96% of all conversations. At that point, you will be completely fluent in English. All right? Even though there will still be words that you don't understand, you will have enough vocabulary to be able to understand the word, to be able to guess its meaning, and to be able to communicate effectively.

So, how do you find these most important, most commonly used words? How do you learn the most important vocabulary? The best solution is to use a frequency list, or to use a method or a course based on a frequency list, which will help you learn the most useful vocabulary. First, focus your time, focus your energy on the most important words, which you will immediately use. This here is a screenshot of the website frequencylist.com, which is a free resource you can use to browse the top 5,000 most commonly used words in the English language. It has a lot of useful information such as word itself, be for example, what part of speech is. So here, we see it's a verb.

And as we just saw, it's important to know the grammatical category of each word so you know what the other forms of the word are, right? So here you can see that the inflictions or the other forms of the word be are be, am, are, been, being, is, was, were, and none of them are obvious just by looking at the word to be, right? So this is why it's super important to look up the other forms of each word. What's amazing about this website is that you can also look up the word on YouTube, similarly to Youglish, you can see the word used in context. Now, I recommend using FrequencyList.com because it's a free website. It lets you browse all 5,000 most commonly used words in the English language. And once you learn all 5,000 of them, you will be able to do anything you want in English. Okay? You will be completely fluent. The next important thing you need to do in order to improve your listening, comprehension in English is to learn about phonetics. Don't run away. Don't get scared. It's not as complicated as it sounds, and we won't go into too much detail.

We'll just see the things that will serve you immediately. And the first thing you absolutely need to do is to learn to recognize, and to be able to produce all sounds of the English language or all the sounds of the dialect of the accent that you're learning. Okay?

Now, did you know there are 39 sounds in General American English? Chances are, no one's ever sat down with you to go over each sound, how to pronounce it, how to recognize it when someone pronounces it, and how to articulate it, right? So that's what we're going to do now with an amazing resource called American IPA Chart. Now, here's what the website americanipachart.com looks like, and what it is, is an interactive infographic which lets you browse all 39 sounds of General American for free. You can even print or download the chart for free as well. Now, here you can see that, first, we have the 24 consonants used in Standard American. Okay. Now, what the infographic lets you do is click on a sound to hear it pronounced by a native speaker. Okay?

Let's see P: puh, puh, puh, puh. We have an example word, and you see the word written in English, then you see the word's phonetic transcription so you can analyze each sound. So if you click on the word, you will hear the word pronounced once again by a native speaker. Pig, pig. If you click a second time, the native speaker will pronounce the same word slowly. Pig, pig. The idea is to go over all of the sounds, all 39 sounds in General American and to learn to pronounce them individually and within a word. Now, each person finds different sounds difficult to pronounce, and this usually depends on your native language. If the sound in General American does not exist in your own language, then it will be harder for you to articulate that sound. For example, the th sound, the /θ/ is a sound that does not exist in a lot of languages and is generally hard for foreigners to pronounce. So let's work on it a little bit. Panther, panther, panther, panther. Okay? The same sound, but voiced /ð/, /ð/, /ð/, /ð/. Feather, feather, feather.

So, you can also go through all of the vowels in General American. So you have 10 pure vowel sounds in Standard American like for example, the i in pink: i, i, pink, pink, pink, pink. Or a sound that is very typical for American English, which is hard for foreigners to pronounce: er, er, purple, purple, purple, purple. Okay? And you can also go over all five diphthongs or the five vowel clusters of Standard American like for example, the ei, ei, ei in jade, jade, jade, jade. Okay? Or the ai, ai in lime, lime, lime, lime. Now what we just saw was the American IPA Chart, which is a free website that you can use to browse all 39 sounds of Standard American English. I would advise you to individually go over each sound and focus on the ones that you find hardest to recognize and hardest to pronounce. Now, keep in mind that in another video, we will go over each sound in General American and we'll pronounce it together.

The next step I have for you in order to improve your listening comprehension is to learn in context and always learn in context. There is no use learning isolated words. And if you have ever learned or studied word individually out of context, know that that's a mistake, because you will find it hard to both understand the word when someone else is using it, and you will also have a hard time remembering the word, being able to use it once you need it. Right? So that's why you always need to learn in context and you always need to expose yourself to the English language. Now, here are some resources you can use in order to expose yourself to the English language, and these are some materials that will allow you to learn English in fun and natural way. Now, I recommend checking out some YouTube channels, music, movies, TV series, books, and even comic books. On our blog clickandspeak.com, you can find articles with resources to practice English for free.

The next step I have for you is to spend time with audio and with no text, periods of time when you will only listen to English without text, without subtitles, without transcriptions. Okay? Now this is important because the more time you spend listening to English, the better you will be able to understand it and the more comfortable you will feel listening to it. During these periods, focus just on the audio, pay attention to the way words are pronounced. If you ever hear a new word that you don't recognize, you can do this little exercise of spelling out the word or trying to spell out the word and looking it up online. This will help you get used to the differences between spoken and written English. All right? And the great thing is that the dictionary or Google, whatever you may be using, will most likely recognize the word even if you spelled it wrong.

So, these were my top tips on improving your listening comprehension in English. The thing is, people usually tend to learn to understand English quite well, but they still have a hard time replying, answering, or speaking, right? And usually in conversations, half of the time, you're listening, and half of the time, you're speaking. So, if you want to communicate in English effectively, then you also need to learn to express yourself better. In the next video, I'll show you some of the best ways you can improve your speaking in English. All right? Thanks for watching (and reading!).

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Dimitar Dimitrov


Last modified: October 1, 2021, 3:08 pm