English Listening Practice: 3 Exercises to Improve Your Listening Comprehension

If you want to practice your English listening skills, you’ve come to the right place.

Here are three exercises you can do to improve your listening skills:

Let’s talk about each exercise in detail.

Listening Exercise #1: Watch Movies (or TV Series) with Delayed Subtitles.

You can practice this exercise when you watch movies on your computer.

Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Install VLC, which is a movie player that lets you delay subtitles. This program is available in both Windows and Mac versions.
  2. Open a movie and enable the subtitles.
  3. Delay the subtitles for about 2 seconds. (So the subtitles appear 2 seconds late.) You can delay subtitles on VLC by pressing the H key on your keyboard.

As you watch the movie, listen to the dialogue with full attention. If you can understand what the characters are saying, don’t read the subtitles. Read the subtitles only when someone says something you don’t understand.

If you’re a slow reader, or if the text on the screen contains many words, you can pause before you read the subtitles. On the other hand, if you’re a fast reader, or if the part you don’t understand is short, you don’t have to pause.

Why Delay the Subtitles?

If the subtitles appear at the same time as the dialogue, you will read the subtitles instead of listening to the dialogue (because reading text is easier than listening to spoken words).

If you don’t believe me, try watching a movie in your native language with subtitles on. You will find that, oftentimes, your eyes automatically look down to read the subtitles!

When you watch a movie with subtitles (that are not delayed), your attention is on the subtitles, not the dialogue. Which means that you’re NOT practicing your “listening” skills; you’re actually practicing your “reading” skills!

Delaying subtitles forces you to practice “listening”. This is because, the moment a character speaks, the (delayed) subtitles haven’t appeared yet, so you have no choice but to “listen” in order to understand. This is an effective way to practice English listening.

What About Watching Movies With Subtitles First, And Then Without Subtitles? Is It A Good Practice?

Some people practice listening by watching movies twice, with and without subtitles.

Is this practice useful?

Yes, it’s useful. You get to practice listening the second time you watch a movie.

However, this approach has one big problem…


It’s boring to watch something twice. When using this approach, many people get bored and quit before their listening improves.

Therefore, I believe delaying subtitles is a better approach because it’s not boring (but still effective).

Listening Exercise #2: Listen To Conversations at a Faster/Slower Rate

Here’s what you need to do:

  1. On your phone, install an audio player that allows you to adjust playback speed (speed up/slow down).
  2. Download some English listening material to your phone.
  3. When you listen to the material, adjust the playback speed based on the difficulty of that material.
    1. If it’s easy to understand (perhaps the speakers talk slowly), speed it up so that it becomes more challenging.
    2. If it’s too difficult, slow it down so that it’s easier to understand (but still challenging).
    3. If it’s already challenging (not too easy, and not too difficult), that’s perfect. Keep listening at normal speed.

Why Speed It Up or Slow It Down?

First, let me ask you a question.

Which of the following is the most effective way to improve your listening?

  1. Listen to something easy.
  2. Listen to something challenging (a little difficult).
  3. Listen to something very difficult.

Which approach is best? A, B, or C?

According to research, approach B is the most effective.

This makes sense. If you listen to something easy (you can understand everything), there’s no reason for your listening to improve.

On the other hand, if you listen to something too difficult (you understand almost nothing), you won’t learn anything (no improvement).

For your listening to improve, you should listen to something a little higher than your level. You can do that by adjusting the speed of what you’re listening to. If it’s too easy, speed it up. If it’s too difficult, slow it down.

This trick is useful in several situations. For example, if you have trouble understanding fast speakers, you can find easy conversations and speed them up to practice listening to fast spoken English.

Here’s another example: suppose you want to get better at understanding British people. You can find some British conversations to listen to. But before you listen to them, decrease the playback speed so that you can hear the words more clearly.

Listening Exercise #3: Practice Listening During “Mindless” Activities

This listening exercise is the most important one.

If you only do the first two exercises and ignore this one, it will take you a long time to improve your listening.

This exercise is very simple. Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Download some audio English material (podcasts, audiobooks) to your phone. (Don’t use video material like movies.)
  2. Listen to the material during activities that don’t require deep thinking. (For example, working out, riding a train, and walking.)

There’s nothing complicated about this exercise. You just listen to English as much as possible until your listening improves.

Why Listen to English During Mindless Activities?

It takes a lot of time to improve your listening skills. And if you want to improve quickly, you have to practice listening for several hours every day. The more time you can spend practicing, the faster your listening improves.

Unfortunately, you probably don’t have several hours of free time to practice every day. That’s why you need to listen to English during downtime.

During the day, there are a lot of activities that don’t require deep thinking. Don’t waste them by checking email or social medial. Use those times to practice listening.

With this approach, you can listen to a lot of English every day without spending your free time. That’s a very smart thing to do!

It’s Time to Start Practicing!

If you’re still reading this article, it means you’re serious about improving your listening.

Now it’s time to take action, here’s what you need to do:

  1. Install VLC on your computer so that you can delay movie subtitles.
  2. On your phone, install a media player that lets you change playback speed. VLC (for mobile) is one of those apps. It’s on both Android and iPhone.
  3. Download a lot of English conversations to your phone. If you’re not sure how to find them, check out this listening resource.
  4. Start listening!

Thanks for reading!

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