How to improve your listening – Free Resources

Listening is key in language learning, however, it can be more difficult to improve than other skills. Perhaps this is because, unlike reading, we are never really taught how to listen in our first languages. In many  EFL/ESL classes, listening is tested much more than it is taught but there are strategies that can help.

First, it is important to understand why language learners often have difficulties in listening, so you can focus your practice. Below you will find practical, free, solutions you can try.

For English learners there are a number of issues involved in listening.

Understanding native-speaker speech

There isn’t a one-to-one relationship between sound and spelling in English, unlike many other languages: you cannot always tell how a word is pronounced from the way it is spelled. So, you may find that while you know a word when it is written down, you do not recognise it when it’s spoken – especially in fast, connected speech.

To make things more difficult, because English is a stress-timed language, when speaking we often minimise certain words, or parts of words in a sentence, and emphaise others: unlike reading, there are no spaces between words when you are listening.

How to improve:

Listening to a text while reading the tapescript can help.

It can also be helpful to read subtitles or closed captions when watching TV or films.

It also helps if you try to predict content – what is the subject? What do you expect to hear? What do you need to know? Can you find your answers even if you don’t understand everything?

You can try:

EFL/ESL Exercises

Real English is a great site. It offers short listening texts and exercises based on spontaneous speech from people with different accents.

Elllo English Listening Lesson Library offers short videos with a range of accents and exercises at different levels.

ESL Lounge offers short listenings, transcripts and exercises at different levels. Look under ‘Listening Exercises’ on the left.

Randall’s ESL Cyber Listening Lab offers various listening texts at different levels.

Free Audiobooks with Text

Graded Readers (various levels)

Audio Fiction (B1+ Students)

Audiobooks with texts (B1+ Students) (Choose listening speed)

Free Television Online (you can activate closed captions CC or subtitles)

Channel 4 (free if you are in the UK)

ITV (free if you are in the UK)

Short videos with exercises designed for your level (go to ‘Quizzes’ in the top left)


Listening to songs while reading their lyrics, even shadowing, can be very helpful.


Short dictations can help you improve both your listening skills and note-taking.

Language (grammar and vocabulary)

In listening, like reading, you will find new, unfamiliar, words, which can cause problems.

How to improve:

One way to cope with this is to practice using graded listening texts which are created for your level. It is also important to practise guessing meaning from context.

You should also listen to a variety of texts to build your grammar and vocabulary. News and Current Affairs programmes will offer a range of topics and useful vocabulary. You can find fictional or factual audiobooks exploring topics you are interested in. However, you should be aware that the kind of text you are listening to will have it’s own conventions, songs and fiction often use informal, creative language, which may not be very useful if you are studying academic English, for example. 

You can try:

Songs (see above)

Audiobooks (see above)

TV & Film (see above)

News and Current Affairs

There are a number of free news and current affairs sources (both graded for your level and ungraded) available here.


Ted Talks offers lectures on a variety of subjects. Tapescripts are available

Various ESL Listening Texts and Activities can be found at BBC Learning English.

Podcasts offers a lot of listening texts on a variety of subjects at different levels.


IELTS, Cambridge exams, the OET, TOEFL, all use listening texts featuring speakers with different English accents from around the world. Even if you’re not taking an exam, understanding different accents is essential if you are working with native or non-native English speakers or travelling to English-speaking countries.

How to improve:

Really, you just need to practise with some good resources. Try listening with tapescripts.

You can try:

International Dialects of English

Find recordings under ‘Dialects and Accents’ in the header here.

Find short videos of non-native speaker accents here.


Search for accents here.


You can search for words and phrases in a number of accents and it will show you clips of people speaking here.

News and Current Affairs (see above)

Focus and Attention Span

It can be easy to get distracted when listening, leading to comprehension problems.

How to improve:

It helps you maintain focus if you have a purpose for listening: if possible, choose texts which interest you.

You can try:

If you have a challenging text, try to predict the content, the vocabulary and/or the grammatical structures that will be used and set yourself a purpose for listening by questions: When? Where? Why? Who? How? and see if you can answer them.

Cultural Differences

Expressions and idioms, which are very culture-bound, can cause difficulties for learners.

How to improve:

Using a variety of text types from different cultures not only helps improve your language skills but will also help you build cultural awareness and understanding.

You can try:

TV & Film (see above)

Audiobooks (see above)

News and Current Affairs (see above)

Communicative Competence

It is important to understand non-verbal aspects of communication, such as body language, intonation and tone, which do differ between languages.

How to improve:

Actively observing native speakers in different contexts will help you understand these.

You can try:

A Variety of Texts (see above)

A Variety of Accents (see above)

Shadowing Read about it here.


How do you work on your listening? Do you have any favourite websites or resources? Please share what works for you.