How to Improve your English Listening

1: Try a mini-dictation

Find an audio file which also has a written transcription. The BBC’s six minute English podcast, for example, has both audio of native speakers and a written transcript (they speak slightly more slowly than usual, but this is a great place to start). Play the first few words of the recording and try to write down exactly what you hear. Play the same words again and again until you have written as much as you can. Then move to the next part. When you have finished, check your work against the written transcript, and listen again to any parts which you missed. This is hard, but it really works.

2: Understand weak forms

When we’re talking quickly, native speakers of English use weak or short pronunciations of many common words. (We use strong pronunciation when we say the word on its own or when we want to emphasise it). For example, the word ‘have’ has a strong pronunciation /hæv/, but normally when we’re talking we use one of its weak pronunciations: /həv/ or /əv/ or /v/. You can check the pronunciations by looking it up in a learner’s dictionary. I got this example in theCambridge Learner’s Dictionary here. (Look at the top line. The sound you can play is usually the strong pronunciation).

Here is a list of words that have weak forms (download the PDF here):

(You can hear me say the examples by clicking the arrow. Remember, this is me speaking quickly and not being careful. This is how I talk with English-speaking friends.)
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