You know that to speak English fluently, you need to practise your listening skills. And you’d love to do it. There’s just one problem: you don’t have anyone to practise with.
There’s a common misconception that, to get properly fluent, you have to go to an English-speaking country and listen to native speakers.
But actually, there are some fantastic ways to improve your listening without ever meeting a native in person. These are available on your mobile, 24/7, and are much cheaper than a plane ticket. They also allow you to learn at your own pace.
Without further ado, here are 8 ways to improve your English listening skills when you don’t have anyone to talk to.
We’re putting this at the top of the list because it’s our favourite. Predictable, you might say, but it’s top of the list because that's where it deserves to be.
Podcasts are an excellent way to learn English and they focus primarily on training your listening skills. We love them because:
- They’re easily accessible online
- They cover a range of interesting topics
- You can find them in a range of accents
- Some, like ours, come with key vocabulary, subtitles, and transcripts
While podcasts are a great way to practise your English listening skills however you use them, you’ll get the most out of them if you listen effectively.
How can you use podcasts to learn like a boss?
- First, just listen. The first time you listen to the episode, listen normally without anything to help you. Just listen for the context. You can make your learning active by writing down words you don’t know and trying to write a summary of the episode at the end.
- Use key vocabulary. Then, listen again. This time, use a list of the key vocabulary to help you understand unfamiliar words. You can also look up words you’re unfamiliar with with a dictionary.
- Use a transcript. Then, listen a third time. This time, use a transcript so that you can understand everything.
Note: Leonardo English provides key vocabulary and transcripts to members for the English Learning for Curious Minds podcast.
- Change the speed. If you’re finding the podcast too difficult, slow down the podcast. If you want a challenge, speed it up!
- Engage in other ways. There are lots of ways you can engage with a podcast. You can try transcribing it yourself, making your own vocabulary list or app, making flashcards, or even reading the transcript aloud.
2. Radio shows
Like podcasts, radio shows are a great way to practise your listening skills. These are typically aimed at native speakers, so you may find them difficult if your level is low. Still, they are a great way to really get engaged in a culture and current affairs.
I’ve certainly found this while I’ve been living in Brazil. There is something about being ‘live’ that gives you a real sense of place in a way that podcasts don’t. Local radio does this especially well. It can help you really understand what is going on in a particular place.
Where podcasts are great for finding particular shows that are interesting to you, radio is great for getting immersed in the culture of a place. All on one channel you can learn about the local news, politics, and what music people like to listen to.
If you want to find radio in English, try TuneIn. It’s is a great place to find radio shows for a particular location of interest to you or on a particular subject.
Audiobooks are another awesome resource for practicing English listening. You can find practically any audiobook you can think of for a monthly subscription to Audible.
However, there are lots of free options available, too. Here’s a list of the ones that I know of:
Keep in mind that the books on here are usually those that are now in the public domain and so they may be old. That means there’s a lot of classics available, which is great—but you may find that the English in older books is a bit more difficult to understand.
You watch it anyway—why not use it to practise listening to English?
Here are our suggestions for getting the most out of Netflix for learning English:
- Don’t use subtitles. When you use subtitles in your native language, it’s really tempting to just read those and not listen to the people speaking. Instead, try only listening, or putting on subtitles in English. That’s a much more effective way to practise listening.
- Be comfortable with not understanding everything. You probably won’t understand everything, and that’s okay. You’ll get there eventually and it will be extremely rewarding when you do!
- Don’t only rely on watching Netflix. Netflix is great and super entertaining, but it’s a very passive way to learn. Active learning is much more effective, so make sure you include some active learning activities in your English-learning programme.
YouTube is another great option for learning English. There are millions of videos in English on virtually every subject you could imagine.
Again, just be careful not to rely on YouTube too heavily, as it also tends to be a more passive way to learn.
Also, I don’t necessarily recommend that you watch videos that talk about learning English unless you like them. The reason is that we don’t really learn language by having someone explain it to us, we learn it by using it in context (like a baby does). And, to be honest, sometimes the YouTube teachers are just, well, wrong.
Instead of watching videos about learning English, try watching videos about things you’re interested in or curious about. Learn how to make a stove out of a tin can, how to whistle, or how to play cribbage. Or, follow a blogger and learn a bit about another culture. Or, check out this reading of James and the Giant Peach celebrities are currently doing for charity.
Watching videos of things you’re interested in will be much more rewarding and you’ll learn just as much—and maybe more—English.
6. Social media
Social media can provide extensive listening practice opportunities. From listening to audio messages on WhatsApp to watching meme videos on TikTok, there’s lots of options for you.
Here are some Instagram accounts you could follow if you want to get connected with English on social media:
- English-speaking politicians like Jacinda Ardern or Barack Obama
- Organizations like Australia, Charity Water, or Unifef
- News organizations like the CBC, BBC, or ABC
- Celebrities like Jamie Oliver, Chimimanda Adiche, Ryan Reynolds, Mindy Kaling, or Taika Waititi
7. Online dating
Over 18 years old? Single? Why not try online dating? With many of the most popular dating apps you can change your settings to be anywhere in the world.
Set your marker down firmly in an English-speaking country and meet some single people. It may not be an effective way to actually meet someone, but you might meet some cool people. And you’ll definitely have lots of people to chat with native-English speakers.
Video games might be the most under-rated way to practise listening in English. There’s actually been quite a bit of research that shows that video games can be an effective way to learn another language.
Dialogue-based games, word games, and role-playing games may be especially useful for learning English.
How can you play games in English? There are lots of options.
- Mobile games. Look on the App store or the Google play store for games that strike your fancy. To play in English, you may have to change the language settings on your phone to be in English.
- Online games. There are a ton of games online, and virtually all of them can be played in English. Downloading online games is very easy. I recommend trying Steam, an online platform that provides a large library of games for Linux, Mac OS and Windows. You can filter them all by languages, so it’s easy to find video games in English.
- Games for consoles. You can also buy games for your Xbox, PlayStation, and Nintendo consoles. If you buy them online from stores in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, or Australia, you should be able to play them in English. Even games sold abroad usually have an English play option as well.
Bonus #1: ways to speak with natives and other English learners.
So far, we’ve covered a bunch of options for practicing your listening skills if you don’t have a conversation partner.
But with so many options online now, there’s not really a reason to not have an English conversation partner. Here’s a short list of websites (both free and paid) that let you find others to chat with.
Lots of these will give you access to native speakers, but you can always chat with someone else who is learning, too. The more conversation you have, the better your listening will get, even when that conversation is with non-natives.
Bonus #2: Chat with Alastair
Better yet, have a conversation with Alastair Budge, the founder of Leonardo English!
It might seem hard to believe, but everyone who joins as a Learner member of Leonardo English gets a 30-minute 1-on-1 call with him.
I couldn’t really believe it when he told me about it, but he loves doing it and it’s a great way not only to practise your English listening (and speaking), but to get a personalised plan of how to improve your English with podcasts.
Subscribe and get access to this great opportunity to practise listening!