Improve your English listening skills with authentic material and accompanying transcripts
A common question we get asked at PS English by our students is how to improve listening skills.
One of the best ways to do so is to find some self-study time outside of the 1-1 lesson. The internet provides a wealth of free material, but knowing where to look is sometimes daunting and the choice of websites overwhelming.
Students frequently tell us that many websites with listening content can be disappointing. Perhaps the material is locked behind a paywall. Perhaps the topics chosen are a little uninspiring. Or perhaps there is no transcript available to help students fully access the material.
So the aim of this article is to avoid wasting all those hours surfing the web for good content. We will do the work for you by introducing some well-established and useful sites.
What do our recommendations have in common?
- The majority of speakers are native English speakers from around the world. In many cases, the material is not specifically designated for learners of English so will feature unscripted, unedited natural English. Difficult, but ultimately satisfying.
- The topics are varied in what they cover. There should be a sufficient range of topics to satisfy most interests.
- The materials are free and regularly updated.
- The majority of audio is in video format, making it easier to understand as you can use all the visual clues from watching people’s faces as they speak.
- All videos have a transcript, providing the perfect resource for self-study. Please note that we always recommend listening to the media without the transcript for the first time in order to get the gist and to understand as much as you can. The transcription can be used for subsequent detailed listening and perhaps in conjunction with your teacher who may be able to help you with understanding difficult sections of audio – difficult to catch even with the transcript.
A fantastic resource using up-to-the minute content and in manageable 10-minute daily chunks. Get your daily dose of American English and related content.
Sean Banville is the guy behind this website offering complete lesson packages to accompany audio content. This is one of the few websites that provides a complete learning experience.
Inspiring audiences since 1984, TED talks provide an excellent opportunity to practise your listening on interesting and thought-provoking topics. And given they are presentations, the monologues tend to be delivered at a pace that is a bit slower than normal conversation.
Heading across the globe now for two worthy additions to the list, thanks to ABC (Australia Broadcasting Corporation).
Q&A is a panel discussion show featuring famous people from within and beyond the country’s shores. The format is very similar to the BBC’s Question Time.
The second from ABC is a frequently updated collection of news items and features on ABC’s radio channel.
Unfortunately, the BBC doesn’t provide much content that is regularly supplied with transcripts. This is a huge shame, but fear not, there are one or two isolated areas that can help you.
The first is this Sunday morning show. It features interviews with politicians and some other celebrities. The most recent episodes can be found on BBC iPlayer (if you are in the UK). For the archives, most video content eventually gets uploaded to YouTube.
Thankfully, the BBC does offer a decent site for learners of English. The following suggestions differ from the above list because they specifically cater for a non-native audience, but the general characteristics still hold: native speakers talking, engaging content etc.
Bite-size learning opportunities, regularly updated. Ideal for learners up to intermediate level.
This is the most practical suggestion on our list as it identifies target language for different functions in the work place. A great resource for learners up to intermediate level.
For the very busy student who wants to learn a few new idioms and phrases, these 2-minute compilations of audio clips shouldn’t disappoint.
We hope this list provides you with plenty of ideas to get you started. Remember, as most of the suggestions are not necessarily intended for a non-native audience, the language and speedy of delivery will be challenging. Don’t get disheartened!
In the next article, we will look at how you can use all this free material to study and improve your English in a productive way.