English listening practice resources

Looking For English Listening Practice Resources?

English listening practice is vital.

This is because listening tends to be one of the skills that English for Academic Purposes (EAP) and/or university students are the weakest at – something that is generally not their fault.  This weakness often comes about because student exposure to English language listening in their previous studies is pretty limited – teachers might teach English in their native language, for example – and fair enough, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that.

That said though, listening is the one skill that there are no quick shortcuts (unlike Writing – where an understanding of structure, for example, makes a huge difference).  As such, listening practice is essential.

On this page, we’ve compiled a range of both ‘serious’ and more ‘relaxed’ listening practice resources.  Both are important for language learners.

Serious listening resources allow students to practice lecture listening skills in a way that will help when they are listening to lectures at university/college.  When students think about doing listening practice, they’re almost definitely thinking of this kind of listening resource.

However, relaxed practice listening resources are really important as well.  This is where you effectively “trick” yourself into practicing by doing something you want to do – watching a TV show you love, for example.  This way you are getting important study/practice in while relaxing and enjoying yourself.  Both are important – but together, they make an incredible combination.

So on this page we run down some of our favourite more serious and relaxed listening sources.  We hope it’s useful.  And be sure to check to back regularly as we will keeping updating this…

Talk soon

The HeadStart Team

Master Academic Listening Skills today

Academic success is just a click away

Serious English Listening Practice Resources

TED talks are generally by native speakers (or so close as to make no real difference), to an audience of native speakers (or very close) on a topic that often requires some background expertise.  So what does that mean for second-language listeners?  Well, if you’re listening to a TED talk on a topic you’re unfamiliar with, you’re probably listening to someone speaking:

  • At native speed
  • Using a lot of unfamiliar vocabulary
  • And talking about a topic you know very little about.

No wonder students say they struggle with TED talks!

As such, while TED talks are awesome – if you’re low on confidence/your listening is not particularly strong, we don’t generally recommend students use TED talks – at least until they’ve improved their listening skills.  After all, if you do, all you will probably do is break your confidence.

The good news is though, we have a number of good alternatives to TED talks.  First among these is TED-Ed.

TED-Ed is awesome.

Essentially, these are TED talks that have been taken by teachers and adapted in a number of ways to make them more student-friendly.  TED-Eds are generally shorter than TED videos (around 10 minutes) with videos to support you as you listen and with questions to check your understanding after you’ve finished watching the video.

In addition, there are also follow-up reading activities (if you’re interested in finding out more about a topic) and even forums where you can discuss the topics/information in the TED-Ed videos with people from around the world.  With over 300,000 TED-Ed videos and counting, we love TED-Ed and recommend it to all our students.


The University of Reading lectures are (funnily enough) brought to you by the University of Reading, UK.  This university has made some excellent EAP teaching materials (you might recognise the very popular teaching/self-study book series they put out in conjunction with Garnet Education) and the University of Reading lecture series is no exception.  

There are 30+ lectures on a range of different topics (from bananas to the history of writing to gender differences in driving) each with a lecture (each 30+ minutes in length), questions, and a transcript of the lecture.  A bit of a step up in difficulty from TED-Ed, these are well worth checking out. 

*something we will discuss in our upcoming blog post on EAP and Academic Writing self-study and reference books.

The TOEFL Listening test has some similarities to lecture listening skills such as those you will need at university/college (skills that we look at in detail and practice here).  

We have limited direct experience with these tests ourselves (IELTS we know front to back, back to front, side to side and more) but students report that they have had good experience with these as a practice format for lecture listening practice.  Not least because they have questions that you can use to check your understanding – and this is the last of the resources that we look at in this blog post which has questions for direct practice.  

We don’t have any particular websites that we would recommend but a quick Google search should give you a whole bunch of them very quickly.

Kurzgesagt is wonderful.  A YouTube channel which “tries to explain the Universe and our existence one video at a time”.  

To do this, the people at Kurzgesagt create interesting and engaging animated videos which look at all kinds of interesting topics (with a particular emphasis on technology and science) – topics like human origins, artificial intelligence, quantum computers, GMOs and more. 

As previously stated, Kurzgesagt doesn’t come with questions.  That said, it addresses interesting questions in an awesome and entertaining way – and they keep coming – a new one every month.  Lastly, Kurzgesagt is potentially better suited for stronger students – these can be some pretty technical topics they talk about, after all.  All that said, we’ve seen students at all kinds of levels really enjoy Kurzgesagt (and there’s always subtitles if need be)!

The LSE Player has the “latest research films, the award-winning LSE IQ podcast, and more than three thousand public event podcasts featuring some of the world’s leading thinkers”.  While the institution (The London School of Economics or LSE) might seem like this would be better suited for business/finance students that is not the case.  This is a truly world-leading university and they cover all kinds of different topics asking questions like “Can we afford our consumer society?”, “What is GDP and why is it bad for us?” and so on.  Well worth a look. 

If you’re not familiar with them, these are something known as MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses).  Basically, a MOOC is an online course on all kinds of different topics (often IT but there’s a lot on there) often delivered for free by some of the world’s best universities (such as StanfordYale,  and Harvard).  These offer the opportunity to listen to lectures delivered by world leading experts on all kinds of different topics – often for free.  Very hard to argue with that price…



Relaxed English Listening Practice Resources

Content aggregators

These are platforms which collect together a whole range of different TV programmes.  Perhaps the most famous of these is Netflix as it has all kinds of different TV shows, documentaries, and movies from all over the world.  Alternatively, different countries and TV companies often have their own, storing everything that has been played on one of their channels over the past month or more.  The UK’s BBC iPlayer or Australia’s 7 Plus are all solid options – particularly if you’re keen to watch a soap opera (discussed below).  One potential problem before we move on to those though – these websites are often geo-locked meaning if you’re not in the country they come from, you’ll need a VPN to access them*.

*It is 2019 though so we’re pretty confident most of you reading this will have access to one… 



Soap operas

Soap operas are a very particular type of TV show that we almost guarantee you have in your own country(ies).  A fairly standard soap opera story might go like this:

Beautiful girl moves to small town.  She meets handsome stranger.  They fall in love.  Beautiful girl finds out she is pregnant with handsome stranger’s baby.  Handsome stranger is hit by a truck and goes into a coma.  Beautiful, now pregnant girl is sitting with handsome stranger (who is still in a coma) in hospital when a man who looks exactly like the handsome stranger walks in and says he is the true father of her child and the man in the bed is an imposter.  Find out what happens next – next week…

Soap operas can be a great way to master local accents, slang, and talking speed.  We freely acknowledge they’re not for everyone (nor us – there’s much better options below) but if you’re interested, you might want to check out Home and Away (Australia), Hollyoaks (UK), or The Young and the Restless (US). 


TV Shows

This kind’ve speaks for itself.  We are living in a Golden Age of TV at the moment – there is so much good television to watch that it’s a bit crazy.  Only problem is, if you’ve never heard of a show – how can you watch it?

As such, we’ve put together the following list of TV shows in consultation with a range of students of ours so there will definitely be something on there for everyone.  Please note that some of these (the TV shows in italics) could potentially be described as “adult-viewing”.  We’re comfortable that the vast majority (if not all) of our students could be described as adults but if you think that you’re someone who might be offended by such things – please, do the obvious – don’t click the link.



If you’ve never listened to a podcast, you owe it yourself to give it a go.  Not even necessarily in English – in your own language if need be – they’re a fantastic format for sharing information on a truly enormous range of topics.  

Interested in innovation, entrepreneurship, and the stories behind the world’s best known companies?  You might want to listen to How I Built This with Guy Raz.  Interested in history?  Check out Hardcore History.  What about philosophy?  Try Philosophize This!.  Podcasts can take any number of different forms.  

One popular podcast is The Tim Ferriss Show where he “deconstruct(s) world-class performers from eclectic areas (investing, sports, business, art, etc.) to extract the tactics, tools, and routines you can use”.  Past guests include Arnold Schwarzenegger, LeBron James, James and Suzy Cameron, Maria Sharapova, Peter Thiel, and more.   That said, probably the most popular podcast in the English-speaking world (with reportedly well over 1 billion downloads a year) is the Joe Rogan Experience.   Full disclaimer, we love this podcast so we’re definitely biased.  We’d say it’s well worth checking out though.

Anyway, whatever you’re into, there’s almost guaranteed to be a podcast you will enjoy – well worth checking out regardless of whether you’re an Apple or an Android user.


We’re almost there!  Audiobooks are exactly what they sound like – a book being read to you.  A number of our students report that they use these when they are travelling to and from class/school – after all, if the commute takes a half hour one-way, that quickly adds up to five hours relaxed (and if it’s the right book, interesting) practice a week.  Best part is – Audible offers a free audiobook!  Check out their catalogue if you’re interested. 

Music, radio, and more!

Finally, Spotify, Radio Garden, and online radio apps.  These are a new way to access an old medium (i.e., music and radio) and beyond that Spotify is life-changing while Radio Garden is just cool.  With these and a data connection you can listen to music, podcasts, audiobooks, and radio on demand from literally anywhere in the world.  Relaxing in Melbourne while listening to live talkback from New York, Berlin, or Dubai or new music from London, Sao Paulo, or Lagos is pretty incredible. 

And that, for now, brings us to end of this English listening practice resources page.  We plan to keep updating it periodically so be sure to check back regularly.  Otherwise, we hope this has been useful for you! 

This is just the beginning though – if you’re looking to improve your Academic English Listening skills fast – join our Listening course.  It’s easy to do, our writers and teachers are literally world-class, and you can study whenever, wherever you want.   Click Start Learning now to start your journey to academic success today!

Master Academic Listening Skills today

Academic success is just a click away

Finally, we’d love to hear from you if you have any questions or comments – write us a post below.  Or follow us on Facebook.  Or if you have a question or a topic that you’d like us to write a blog post (or even better – a full lesson) about – email us!

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