March 24, 2017

4 ways to understand what you hear in English

Have you ever picked up the phone and had no idea what the person on the other side is saying? Or maybe you go shopping but you can’t understand what the shop assistant says. Even when native speakers do not use slangs, abbreviations, or colloquial expressions, you might still have troubles following what they say.  Fear not for the English Chat is here to help you. In today’s lesson, we are going to learn 4 ways to understand what you hear. Remember, the only secret to English mastery is still hard work, but with our 4 techniques, you will be able to make a better study plan for success.

Ready? Listen up.



  1. DON’T think, just listen!

No one likes a person who is too talkative. Imagine you were trying to hit it off with a beautiful woman (or man) that you just met in a bar and another person nearby just kept on talking and overpowering you. How would you feel? Annoyed? Or even worked up?

What people don’t recognize is that you can be the annoying one yourself! When another person is speaking to you, you should not think! Don’t interfere with the conversation outside your head by the one inside.


  1. Ask questions!

What is easier to chew, or small sandwich or a huge hamburger? Of course it’s the small sandwich. The same thing goes for conversations. If the conversation is very long, it will become harder to understand. But just as you would cut up a big piece of meat into smaller portions, you should also “cut up” a conversation! Here’s how: ask questions.

Asking questions does not only help you to break it up into smaller pieces, but also improves your comprehension. Because if you are able to ask questions, you must somewhat understand what is being talked about. Moreover, asking questions allows the other person to explain everything in more detailed, and details help you remember!

The previous two steps are what we call instant skills. Have you ever had instant noodles? It’s the kind of noodles inside a cup that only needs boiling for 3 minutes before eating. Instant skills are just like that: quick and can be use right away.

However, as you might have guessed, it cannot be that easy. In order to really improve your listening comprehension, you need to do homework …

  1. Home practice

I’ve heard you! No one likes homework. But I promise this kind of home work will not drive you crazy. Because what I’m suggesting is to watch movies! Sounds too good to be true? Here’s why it works.

First thing first, do not use subtitles. Real life does not have those things.

Secondly, don’t start with the whole movie first. Zoom in on a conversation of about 5 lines between two people. Play it again and again, from 3 to 10 times. Remember, do not think too much, just listen.

Thirdly, each time you listen to the conversation, try to write down every word that you can hear. If you hear a word that you do not know, use some kind of notation to record it. For example, you may not know the word blasphemy but it’s likely that you can hear the blas part. So just write blas down!

Finally, turn on the subtitles and watch again, noticing where you went right or wrong and learn from those mistakes!


  1. Close your eyes!

I’m not telling you to close your eyes while talking to someone else! That’s disrespectful. But maybe when you have finished our movie watching exercise in step 3, you can watch it again with your eyes closed.

The thing about humans is that when we lose one sense (hearing, seeing, smelling, etc.) our other senses get better. So when you do not use your eyes, your ears work harder, trying to make up for the loss of information that you just incurred.

But keep your focus on the conversation itself. Don’t go to your heavenly dream land just yet.


  1. A movies list!

You may ask “So what kind of movies should I watch?” Don’t worry for we have worked it out for you. Follow the order of this list:

  • Kid’s programs: They are easy. The hosts talk slowly and there are a lot of visual and textual examples. For example, when they say the word elephant, there will probably be an image of a real elephant on the screen.
  • TV shows: Something like FRIENDS or How I Met Your Mother. They are funny so you won’t feel like you are actually studying! The actors do not speak too fast and they use day-to-day expressions a lot, which is good for your conversation skill! Don’t get too addicted like me though.
  • Action movies: They are simple and fun enough for you. Moreover, action movies are not made for the smartest people. They tend to explain every big word that comes across.
  • Drama: This is a new level because drama movies don’t explain words for you. You have to work hard on your own to catch up with them. Dramas are most often movies about family, love or a social issue.
  • Dark comedy: This is the hardest because it may be hard even for native speakers. Dark comedies play around with the English language to create humor so you have not only to understand each word, but also to understand the logic and culture behind the language.


  1. Bonus:

Here’s a final tip for you to improve your listening skill. Whatever conversation you are listening to, it generally involves 5 things:

  • Time
  • Date
  • Numbers
  • Names
  • Addresses

Pay attention to these five key elements. If you can remember some of these key words, you can increase your understanding of the talk significantly.

In addition, pay attention to the following words: the most, always, never, must, should, the best, etc. They are signals that tell you what is important in a conversation!


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That’s the end of today’s conversation. Although you generally type on the English Chat Room, these tips will become extremely useful when you actually have to live with and talk to native speakers on a daily basis. So don’t hesitate any longer, hit the book and become a better English speaker today.

Until next time!


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