Want to know how to improve your lecture listening skills in English?

Want to know how to Improve your listening Skills in English?

Types of listening strategies

Students often come to us asking for advice on how to improve their lecture listening skills in English.  This is a big question as …

Listening in the one skill that is hardest to cheat.  It takes time – this is why we give all those practice resources on our pages on relaxed and serious practice resources.  It’s important to have both…  this is because:

  • Serious listening practice 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 listening practice 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. 

That said, in this lesson we’re going to be looking at a range of different skills that can be used before, during, and after a lecture – definitely the more serious kind of practice listening. 

Types of listening strategies: an overview

We go through a wide range of different listening strategies and skills in our academic lecture listening course, complete with practice activities, feedback and more – definitely worth checking out!

Today though, we’re going to touch on just a few of these to give you an idea of what you can do to help those of you who want to know how to improve your lecture listening skills in English – right now

So we’re going to break this post up into three sections:

  • Before a lecture:
    • Predict potential content
    • Review lecture handouts
  • During a lecture
    • Take notes
    • Listen for signposting/linking words – structure
  • After a lecture
    • Be active – consolidate notes/fill in any gaps

What is the best strategy/skill for effective listening BEFORE a lecture?

A lot of students don’t think about this but getting yourself in the right frame of mind before a lecture definitely helps you be more effective when you’re actually in the lecture.  Now we don’t mean getting enough sleep, listening to mood music, etc. (though that can help) – we mean preparing your mind – in the same way that you will before you exercise.  Think of it kind’ve like stretching or warming up before you exercise – like this…

So you might ask alright so what is an effective listening warmup? 

Well, we cover that in a lot of detail in our lessons on effective lecture listening skills but we’ll cover two useful ones today: predicting potential content and reviewing lecture handouts.

Predicting potential content

You can do this through looking at things like course calendars, pre-readings and handouts (which we’ll look at in just a minute) and information on a lecturer’s specialisations.  For example, imagine that you attend a lecture delivered by this person.

From this information, you’ve probably got a pretty good idea of what she’s going to be talking about, right?  After all, it’s pretty unlikely she’s going to be talking about fossil fuels and petrol-based cars.

Reviewing lecture handouts

Lecture handouts are very common.  They might be posted on Moodle, Blackboard, or whatever your virtual learning environment is called at your university.  These can be used to generate further ideas about what the lecturer will talk about before a lecture.  As well as, during a lecture, being great signals you can used during a lecture to help you know when a lecturer is moving on to the next key point.  We look at how you use these DURING the lecture so let’s turn there now.

What is the best strategy/skill for effective listening DURING a lecture?​

Of the three stages of lecture listening that we’re covering today, this tends to be one that students focus on the most – maybe the only one a lot of students focus on.  There’s two main things to focus on here – taking notes and listening for structure (i.e., linking words and phrases).  Let’s start with the big one – listening and note-taking skills.

Listening and note-taking skills

Listening and note-taking are skill-sets that can students a lot of trouble.  And fair enough – think about what you’re doing when listening to a lecture …  simultaneously, you’re trying to i) learn new information from ii) someone who is speaking to you at speed – often using vocabulary that you don’t know – and if English isn’t your first language, this is another layer of difficulty, while iii) trying to take notes as fast as you can to help you remember all this information later. 

Very much like this …

This is why we have made this the focus of a whole lesson (effective note-taking) over in the Academic Study Skills courses .  Definitely worth checking out…  In this lesson we look at things like using symbols and formatting tricks to improve both with reading and listening note-taking skills.  We’re planning a blog post on this coming soon so keep your eyes out for that (or check out the Academic Study Skills courses) but this is a big skill that needs practice.  If you feel that this something you need to work on, go over to our listening practice resource posts and get some practice in now!   

Listening for structure (using knowledge of structure and linking words)

This connects back to handouts (as we discussed earlier).  If your lecturer has given you handouts, they will almost definitely give you clues as to the structure the lecturer will be using.  For example – check out the handout from the lecture by Emily Williams (the renewable energy expert from above).

Now it’s pretty clear that she is going to be talking about solar power – as you probably predicted.  Beyond that though, she’s also clearly going to be talking about Solar Efficiency and Storage – in that order.  And she’ll be talking about solar thermal before batteries.  This is something that you can use while listening to help you better understand the structure of the lecture – as the lecturer delivers it.

Linking words are also super useful – this means listening for particular phrases that the lecturer uses to help “guide” their listeners through the lecture.  Basic linking words include words like “Firstly … Secondly … In addition … For example … In conclusion” – their functions should be pretty clear in and of themselves and we go into more advanced linking words in both our lecture listening and presentation lessons .

What is the best strategy/skill for effective listening AFTER a lecture?

So most students won’t even think of this step – when a lecture is over, they’ll throw their books in their bag, dust off their hands and go and eat lunch.  And fair enough – lectures can be draining – we’ve been there.  That said, what you do after a lecture is key to how effective your lecture listening will be.  With that in mind, there’s one key thing that makes a big difference to how effective your listening experience will be and that is being ACTIVE.

Being an active listener AFTER the lecture

This is possibly the simplest thing of all.  Go for lunch – definitely do that – you’ll have earned a break.  But after that – definitely the same day if possible – go over your notes and fill in any gaps that you might have in your notes.  Probably the best way to do this is with a friend or classmate – by talking about what you learned, you help your brain better understand what it’s heard/learned that day.  This helps both memory and understanding – two key things given how important lectures (and the content covered in them) are. 

Being active after the lecture is key – sometimes it might be the last thing you want to do but the pay-offs are huge.  We definitely recommend it.

Active listening exercises for students

So what do you think?  We’ve covered a wide range of different types of listening strategies in this lesson – we hope it’s been useful for you!

Want to practice these skills with some active listening exercises?  If the answer is “YES!”, get across to check our lecture listening lessons here!

So that’s us for this HeadStart Guide on how to improve your lecture listening skills in English – we hope it’s been useful!  As always, 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 want to get more of these blog posts straight to your inbox – join our mailing list.  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!  We read every email.


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