- What are some active listening strategies for students? Can I get some active listening activities?
- Where can I find listening practice online?
- How can I improve my listening skills in English*?
- What is the structure of English lectures? How can I use structure to help me listen better?
We go into all of these in detail in our Academic Listening Skills course – definitely worth checking out. However, if you’re looking for resources that you can use to help you with this key skill, read on!
Why is listening practice important?
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.
We’re going to introduce two different types of listening practice resources over the course of this two part blog post series – serious practice resources and more relaxed ones. Both of these practice resource types are very important for different reasons. 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 we’re going to go through a few more serious listening practice resources today and we’ll be sure to add links to all of these so you can check them out yourselves. Enjoy!
Serious listening resources
TED and TED-Ed
So most students will be familiar with TED talks so we’ll start with those first as we have a bit of a warning about using TED talks.
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.
TOEFL practice tests
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. 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 Stanford, Yale, 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…
Anyway, that’s us all done with the second part of this two-part series on listening practice resources. We hope this has been useful for you! As always though, 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!