How To Improve Listening Skills In A Foreign Language

April 23rd, 2023 - Vera

Listening is an essential skill for learning a foreign language, but unfortunately, it is not something we receive training for in our native language. In this article, we will discuss eleven tips for improving your listening skills in a foreign language, including active listening, passive listening, setting language listening goals, using different audio pacing, utilizing visuals, practicing speaking, including listening repetition, and practicing listening regularly.

Know What You’re Listening For

One of the most significant obstacles to improving your foreign language listening skills is your own perceptions. The most damaging of these perceptions is the idea that you need to understand everything you hear. In reality, you are unlikely to understand everything, but that is okay. Focus on the big picture instead of getting hung up on individual words that you do not understand. The “big picture” might include specific sounds, spoken idiosyncrasies, or the main idea. Before beginning your listening practice, determine what you want to hear to help manage your expectations and monitor your progress.

Set Language Listening Goals

Setting goals helps ensure progress and confidence in your listening abilities when you achieve them. Focus on small, easily attainable goals. For example, give yourself a point every time you hear words that start with “p” or aim to learn five new words each time you listen to something. At more advanced levels, listen for expressions you have not heard before or complex grammar structures. To set attainable goals, choose audio that is only slightly more challenging than your current level. It should be stimulating enough to learn new things but not so difficult that you become confused or frustrated. You might set goals to work through kids’ materials, documentaries, talks and interviews, television shows, or movies.

Practice Active Listening

Active listening is one of the most effective ways to improve language listening skills. It requires giving your full attention to the audio material you are using to study. Focus on the speech and do not allow any distractions. For instance, if you are watching a TV drama, you should be actively trying to figure out what is happening through the characters’ speech. A good technique is to listen first, then write down five questions about things you did not understand. Then, listen again while attempting to answer your questions. To push your active listening skills further, write a summary midway through the listening material and then again at the end. An immersive language environment is the easiest way to practice active listening, either by traveling to a place where your target language is spoken or creating immersion on your own.

Use Passive Listening

Passive listening can be beneficial, even though active listening is more effective for adults. Passive listening is when you listen to speech in a new language without focusing on the actual content. It trains your brain to recognize the sounds and combinations of sounds that the language is built from. Once you have internalized these sounds, it becomes easier to learn words and improve your listening comprehension. Passive listening is something you can do right away, and it can be fun.

Do Plenty of Extensive Listening

Extensive listening involves listening to a lot of audio material over a long period of time without necessarily focusing on the details.

This type of listening is particularly useful for developing a feel for the language’s rhythm and melody, which can make it easier to understand individual words and phrases later on.

Extensive listening is a way to build up familiarity with the language without getting bogged down in the details. It’s also a good way to build up your listening stamina.

To do extensive listening, you’ll want to choose audio that’s interesting enough to keep you engaged but easy enough that you don’t have to concentrate too hard to understand it.

Some good sources of audio for extensive listening include:

  1. Podcasts. There are thousands of podcasts available on almost every topic imaginable.
  2. Audiobooks. Audiobooks can be a great way to get into literature in a foreign language.
  3. Radio shows. Listening to radio shows is a great way to practice listening to conversational speech.

The key to extensive listening is to do it regularly. Even if it’s just 10 minutes a day, doing it consistently will help you develop a feel for the language and improve your listening skills over time.

Utilize Different Audio Pacing

One of the biggest challenges in learning a new language is getting used to the rhythm and pacing of the language.

Every language has its own rhythm and pacing, and it can take a while to get used to it. That’s why it’s important to expose yourself to different types of audio material with different pacing.

Some good sources of audio for practicing different pacing include:

  1. Slow news podcasts. These podcasts are designed for language learners and feature news stories spoken slowly and clearly.
  2. Music. Listening to music in your target language is a great way to get a feel for the language’s rhythm and pacing.
  3. TV shows and movies. TV shows and movies can be great for getting used to the natural rhythm and pacing of the language.

By exposing yourself to different types of audio material with different pacing, you’ll be better equipped to understand the language in a variety of contexts.

Use Visuals for Extra Impact

Using visuals can be a great way to improve your listening comprehension.

When you have something to look at while you’re listening, it can help you understand what’s being said.

Some good sources of visuals for language learning include: YouTube videos. There are thousands of videos on YouTube that combine visuals with spoken language. TED Talks. TED Talks are great for language learners because they feature a lot of visuals to help illustrate the speaker’s points. TV shows and movies. TV shows and movies can be great for language learners because they provide visual context for the spoken language.

By combining visuals with spoken language, you’ll be better able to understand what’s being said and improve your listening skills.

Combine Listening and Reading

Combining listening and reading is a great way to improve your comprehension skills.

When you listen to something while reading along, it helps reinforce what you’re hearing and makes it easier to understand.

Some good sources of audio and text for language learning include:

  1. News websites. Most news websites have audio and text versions of their articles.
  2. Audiobooks with transcripts. Audiobooks that come with a written transcript are a great way to practice both listening and reading comprehension.
  3. Language learning apps. Many language learning apps have audio and text components that you can use to practice your listening and reading skills.

By combining listening and reading, you’ll be able to reinforce what you’re learning and improve your comprehension skills more quickly.

Practice Speaking

It’s important to cross-train between listening and speaking, as this will make you a more fluent speaker and an effective listener. One great technique for this is shadowing, which involves mimicking what you hear. By repeating the audio just after you hear it, you can better understand sounds and sound combinations, and improve your pronunciation.

It’s also helpful to record yourself speaking and compare it with the content you’re listening to, as sometimes the sounds we think are coming out of our mouths and the sounds actually coming out of our mouths aren’t always the same. Additionally, practicing speaking and listening with a native speaker of your target language can help you improve your pronunciation and comprehension.

Include Listening Repetition

Repetition is essential to learning a new language, and incorporating repetition into your language listening toolbox can be done through “re-listening.” This involves repeatedly listening to a short audio or video clip all the way through without pause, trying to catch more details during each successive listen.

To practice “re-listening,” choose audio content that is short enough to listen through repeatedly but hefty enough that you’ll need multiple listens. Play it through once and write down everything you understand, either as you listen or once you’re done. Listen again, filling in any new details you pick out, and repeat until you aren’t getting anything new. Use subtitles if available or look up words you still don’t understand.

Practice Listening Regularly

It’s important to practice listening regularly, as repeated exposure is essential to improving listening comprehension in a foreign language. Consistent practice means you will get better. Doing 15 minutes of listening practice every day is much better than a four-hour cram session every two weeks. Keep in mind that language learning requires interest, motivation, and effort, so it’s important to proceed in small but regular bite-sized chunks, using resources you enjoy and find interesting, and removing distractions to focus on active listening.


In conclusion, by incorporating the above practices into your language learning routine, you can significantly improve your listening comprehension in a foreign language. Remember to cross-train between listening and speaking, use repetition techniques like “re-listening,” and practice listening regularly. With consistent practice and effort, you can overcome the challenges of language listening and become a more proficient speaker and listener.

Achieve fluency with ListLang—it's free!

ListLang Logo
Start learning in under a minute.
Download ListLang iPhone AppDownload ListLang Android App