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Supercharge your language with Extensive Listening



What is Extensive Listening?

Extensive listening is one of the best ways to improve your language level. In fact, only this week I met a new client who had learnt English to a very high level only through extensive listening and reading! You can practise this skill by listening to a lot of English at a level that you easily understand. The experience should be enjoyable and effortless. This is not the time to listen to things that are at the limit of your understanding; you need to comprehend most of the what you hear in order to benefit from it. By surrounding you with English, extensive listening imitates your experience as a young child when your family spent hours talking to you using simple, happy words.

Should I use subtitles?

There are many opinions about this. Some people would say ‘never!’ while others might say ‘always!’. Personally, I believe subtitles can help you with longer listening texts, but I would encourage you to look for short, simpler texts you can understand without subtitles. After all, you are working on your listening not your reading! If you feel you must use subtitles, at least use English ones rather than those in your first language. At the moment, I am listening to the first Harry Potter story in Chinese, the language I am learning. I listen to this on YouTube and sometimes I read the transcript and sometimes I don't. I feel that both are beneficial to me.


The best thing about extensive listening, in my opinion, is that it is so easy to do. I listen to Harry Potter when I am cooking, cleaning, walking my dog and painting. In all of these situations, I am able to complete a task while accessing Chinese at the same time. You can practice external listening on the bus, train, or while completing other tasks at home. This means you can make good use of 'dead time' in your day and can maximise the amount of English you are exposed to. If you would like something a little more structured, try my eight-step extensive listening method:

1. Choose

Choose something to listen to that you will enjoy and will understand the overall meaning of without difficulty. Shorter texts are better than long ones so try short TED talks, YouTube videos or chapters from a graded reader.

2. Predict

Look at the pictures, headlines or titles. This helps you to form an idea of what the text will be about and makes the first listen easier. This isn’t about ‘getting it right’; it’s about preparing your mind for the task.

3. First Listen

Listen to the complete text (that’s why it’s good to choose something short!). Check your predictions; were they correct? Were there any surprises? How much did you understand, roughly?

4. Summarise

What can you remember? Make some notes or talk through what you understood, preferably aloud. Were there any parts that were harder or easier to understand? Lower levels can do this in their first language, mid and higher levels should do this in English.

5. Second Listen

This time, stop and rewind any parts you don’t understand. Your aim is to develop your notes and understanding. Feel free to add to your notes as you listen. Avoid checking new words on Google translate for now! Aim for overall understanding rather than finer details.

6. Second Summary

Can you expand on your first summary? What do you understand now that you didn’t understand before? Again, it is a good idea to verbally summarise the text, but you can also ‘think’ it in your head if that’s more convenient.

7. Vocabulary

Don’t try to learn every new word! Look for no more than ten interesting examples of language. Remember that many new words are not actually very useful for you and you may not need them. Try to choose words that will help you speak or write better.

8. Final Listen

Listen to the whole text one final time. You can add to your notes if you wish. Finally, observe what has changed in your understanding during this listening exercise.

A final word

It can be a good idea to keep a record of what you have listened to and how you felt about it. Keeping a record is a great way to watch your progress develop over time!


This blog post is taken from my Study Skills Workbook

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