11 Ways ESL Students Can Improve Their Listening Skills 

Ways ESL Students Can Improve Their Listening Skills

While most English teachers focus on speaking skills, I strongly emphasize developing listening skills in ESL students. It is just as important as speaking, as it improves pronunciation. Of course, I have to devise the best strategies to improve the listening skills of my ESL students. 

Some of the ways ESL students can improve their listening skills include using videos, opting for active listening, limiting translation use, vocabulary preparation, and more. Teachers must incorporate all of these exercises to improve listening skills. 

Here is everything you must know about improving the listening skills of ESL students. 

If you are interested in exploring how to help your students improve their vocabulary, I encourage you to read this article: 14 Ways to Drastically Improve and Expand Your Vocabulary.

11 Ways ESL Students Can Improve Their Listening Skills

The top ways of improving the listening skills of your students include:

1- Using Videos

Improving listening skills is a way for the students to boost their conversational skills. The primary aim behind a listening exercise must be to listen, understand, and then respond. An important aspect of this is to look at the speaker’s body language and facial expressions

Because of this, it is crucial to utilize videos with your ESL students. Begin with videos that are easy to understand and listen to. After that, you can keep increasing the difficulty of the videos. 

I also recommend that you use a variety of videos for your students. For example, I use news segments, vlogs, ads, motivational speeches, Tedx Talks, and movie clips for my ESL classroom. Such videos are engaging and help my ESL students understand English better. 

2- Doing Active Listening Exercises 

Many teachers opt for passive listening exercises. This is where the student just sits back and listens to the audio or video. There is no reinforcement, and instructors think that the skills will be improved just by listening.

While I made this mistake at the beginning of my career, I also learned from it. I realized it works best when you offer active listening exercises to your ESL students. For example, you can give them questions, and the audio or video you play must answer those questions

The idea behind this is to offer purpose. Students will work hard to do well and shine in the class when there is a purpose. You can also create groups in the class and give all the groups an active listening activity. 

Be sure to offer incentives and turn them into a competition or game. Such techniques work to boost the motivation of students so that they can do better. 

3- Limiting The Use Of Translation 

You might be tempted to use subtitles or translations during the listening exercises, but students must understand and respond without translations. If you offer translations, their focus will shift to the captions, and they will not feel challenged enough. 

Of course, it is important that you translate it for them and help them understand the meaning better. For example, whenever we are listening to something new, I always offer my ESL students:

  • Action: I get the students to perform an action so that when they hear the phrase or word, later on, they will recall the action
  • Context: You must help the students to find clues regarding the meaning of the listening exercise
  • Antonyms or Synonyms: Explain the words using other words, such as antonyms or synonyms. You can also teach them how to look for these words in a dictionary.
  • Pictures: Whenever they hear a new word or phrase, you can show them a picture

While all of these things are crucial to improving listening skills, it is also important to create a relaxing atmosphere. Students tend to panic whenever they are doing something. It is up to you to aid them in relaxing so that they can listen without panicking

4- Vocabulary Preparation

Before beginning any listening activity, preparing them with the vocabulary is important. As a result, you must go through the listening exercise and note down all the words and phrases your ESL students will find challenging. You might want to tweak the exercise to suit their level if it is too difficult. 

You must also write down all the new words that your students don’t know. This doesn’t mean that you teach them all the new words before starting the listening exercise. Instead, you must let them know about the important ones to help them understand. 

A key point to remember here is that when you introduce new words, you should only translate them if it is necessary. Otherwise, you can connect the new words with actions, pictures, and more. 

You might also enjoy reading: 11 Best FREE Apps to Learn English Vocabulary.

Ways ESL Students Can Improve Their Listening Skills

5- Come Back To The Vocabulary And Sequence 

Once you are done with the listening exercise, you need to refer back to the sequence and vocabulary. Some of the ways you can do that include:

  • Ask the students about the sequence 
  • Ask if they noticed anything they were asked to notice
  • Talk about the characters in the audio. For example, who they liked the most and why
  • Discuss how they were correct or not in their guesses
  • Review the vocabulary that you discussed with the class before the listening exercise

A class discussion after the exercise is crucial to improving the listening skills of ESL students. You can include this in the discussion to guarantee that students learn well.

Besides that, you can also prepare a worksheet, game, or more to enhance reinforcement after the listening exercise. 

6- Motivate Your Students To Do Better 

Motivation is one of the top factors that will help your students to do better in listening skills. Not every student has the motivation to learn every day, which is where you can come from. You can boost motivation by making the lessons engaging, offering incentives, and more. 

As an ESL teacher, you have to keep on finding new ways to improve listening skills and motivate your students.

In the long run, it will help them build confidence, and they will do better even outside the classroom without any issues. 

7- Leverage The Power Of Technology

Finally, technology is one of the top ways ESL students can improve their listening skills. You can give them a podcast, video, or story to listen to at home. After all, students require reinforcement even outside the classroom to learn English better. 

Giving such exercises will also not feel like traditional homework to students. Instead, they will enjoy learning new things and challenging themselves.

You can give them various questions and exercises so that they can focus on the listening exercise and learn from it in the best way possible. 

See also: Top 11 Benefits of ESL Classes: The Facts Explained.

8- Conduct Interview Report

Start by placing your students in pairs and ask them to interview each other. 

Here are topics suggestions: 

  • Family or friends
  • Hobbies
  • Childhood experiences
  • Future goals

After completing their interviews, each student reports what they discovered about their partner to the class. 

Ways ESL Students Can Improve Their Listening Skills

9- Ask Students To Fill In The Blank For Their Favourite Song Lyrics

Find a trendy song with appropriate words and copy and paste the lyrics into a Word document. Remove some of the lyrics and keep some of the part blanks.

You can leave out complete phrases if you want to challenge your students. Ask your students to fill in the blanks as you play the song to your students.

To make it even more fun, you can ask the whole class to sing the songs, but ensure you don’t disturb the other classrooms.

See also: 9 Creative Ways to Teach English For Instant Improved Class Participation.

10- Practice Dictation

Dictation is the method of writing down what somebody else has said. Practicing dictation is one of the best ways ESL students can improve their listening skills. 

Research reveals that students learn letter-sound associations and spelling as they write. In addition, phonological language skills are a crucial foundation for learning to read (Source: Scientific Studies of Reading)

Pick a text or song lyrics and ask your students to write as you read it. Once you are done, take time to give your students proper feedback on words they misspelled.

See also: How To Persuade As A Teacher? (9 best effective ways!)

11- Use The Broken Telephone Game To Help Your Students Improve Their Listening Skills

To play the Broken Telephone game, put your students in a circle. To start, ask one student to whisper a word or phrase into the ear of the next one, who then will whisper it into the ear of the next student, and so on.

The last student will say the word or phrase out loud to examine how close it is to the original.

Check out the video on how to play the broken telephone game in your classroom.

Final Thoughts

These are the top eleven ways you can utilize in your class to improve the listening skills of your ESL students. You must remain consistent in your efforts if you want to reap the best results. As you are consistent, your students will also understand what you expect and learn better. 

Learning a language is always challenging, but you must do everything in your power to make it easy for the students. It will allow them to learn better and be fluent in English even outside the classroom. So, don’t forget to implement these ways with consistency. 


Hello friends, I am Altiné. I am SO excited you are here! I am the guy behind Project English Mastery. I am from Toronto, Canada. I graduated with a Master in International Economics and Finance from Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada. After working a few years in the banking industry and completing my 120 TEFL from the University Of Toronto, I decided to teach English in China. Project English Mastery is a blog that provides helpful resources for English Teachers and Learners: vocabulary and grammar, exercises, and class activities ideas and tips.

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