5 Super-Fun, Super-Easy Ways to Let Listening Fire Up Your English Learning!

We all know that one of the best ways to get better at speaking is by speaking. And the more speaking, the better. But did you know, the more listening, the better, too? Absolutely. Here are 5 super-fun, super-easy, and science-suggested ways to let listening to fire up your English learning...


Language learning research strongly suggests that implicit learning plays an enormous role in the language learning process. Some studies go so far as to say that implicit learning is actually the best way to acquire certain language knowledge.

So, what is implicit learning? Well, lucky for us, implicit learning is learning that occurs without conscious effort and without an awareness of what’s been learned. And just what, exactly, does that boil down to? Easy: it boils down to listening... but more precisely, passive listening.

In contrast to active listening, passive listening might more properly be described as being able to hear. In other words, a passive listener doesn’t pay attention to the sounds they are hearing. The passive listener simply has to hear the sounds. But what’s even better, passive listening doesn’t require the listener to understand what they’re hearing. That’s right: you don’t have to understand what you’re hearing.

For language learners, passive listening is super easy to accomplish. Just turn on an English radio station, TV show, podcast, whatever, and leave it running in the background. For as many hours a day as possible, every day, day in–day out. To get you going, here are 4 of the best passive listening resources I’ve run across.

1. Radio

Radio Garden is a fantastic, totally free radio-listening resource. Click on the start button to bring up a rotating world globe, glowing with little green dots. Each dot represents a real radio station. Click on one, and voila! you’re streaming live radio from anywhere in the world. For English radio, navigate to North America, the UK, and so on. Click around to find a station you like or listen to a different station every day. Passive listening perfection! One of my personal faves!

2. Podcasts

Every teacher has their favourite podcasts... and here are mine. Remember, passive listening just requires that you HEAR. So, hear away...

National Public Radio, or NPR, has podcasts on just about any topic you can imagine. Podcasts vary in length from 20 minutes to 40 minutes or longer.

If current events and world news are more your thing, you can’t go wrong with the BBC World Service podcasts. Most run about 30 minutes.

And for quick science bites, try Scientific American's 60-Second Science podcasts. Just 60 seconds long.

How It Works

Passive listening seems to work by mimicking how infants learn language. Listeners seem to become attuned to sounds, cadences, and grammar rules at sub-linguistic levels.


Studies reveal that, while communicating, the average adult spends about 45% of that time listening. Yup, listening. Not speaking. Yet listening is probably the most over-looked of the 4 core language skills of reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Another reason to focus on listening? We can do it by ourselves. And lucky for us, technology has made it incredibly easy for language learners to engage in active listening. Here are my 2 favourite and fun ways to actively listen online.

3. Slowing Down the Audio on YouTube

Almost all language learners use YouTube to watch movies, shows, and videos. Most learners probably know about the closed captions or sub-titles option that’s frequently available next to the settings button. But did you know that you can slow down the audio as well? That’s right: click the settings button (the little flower-shaped gear at the bottom right), then click the ‘speed’ option (which, by default, is set to ‘normal’) and select to run the audio at quarter speed, half speed, or three-quarter speed. Cool, huh? And super useful for slowing down fast dialogue to really hear what’s being said and how. (For fun, you can also speed up the dialogue!)

4. Listening for Lyrics in Music

Again, most learners have probably listened to their favourite songs with the song lyrics overlaid. But for more active listening, try this. Over at LyricsTraining, engage with your favourite songs in a new way: as you listen to your chosen song, fill in gaps in the lyrics. Newer learners might start with the option that allows you to fill in the gaps with words from a list; more experienced learners might want to write in the words themselves. Your choice! A great resource to attune your ear, especially if you love music.


Finally, we all know the importance of reading in language learning. Recent studies go one step further to emphasize the value of multimodal input in acquiring and holding on to vocabulary, for example. So, what does that mean? In short, combinations of pictures, words, and audio present learners with more efficient learning opportunities. And, lucky for us, multimodal environments are what the internet’s made of. So, off to the internet again for my all-time favourite news website for language learners.

5. Reading - Seeing - Hearing the News

Most national and international English newspapers run websites and many have special sections devoted to English language learning. I frequently find these sites difficult to navigate, especially if you want to find a good read quickly. The Times In Plain English Times in Plain English has solved all that and more while offering up easy-to-read adaptions of news articles from all The Times’ papers worldwide. Articles come with the expected photos, maps, and visuals, and – get this – a reader can listen to any part of any article by highlighting it, then clicking on the audio button. It gets better: embedded in articles are links to Wikipedia or other sources for terms, phrases, or words that might need further explanation. Plus a handy link to the original article is included at the bottom of the page. An all-round winner for expedited multimodal learning!

So there you are: 5 super-easy, super-fun, and surefire ways to rock your English learning. Have fun!

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