(This is a revised version of an older post)
At some point when you learn English (or any other language), it is important to listen to “real English,” not just to small pieces or excerpts from language textbooks and manuals, even if you do not understand everything.
There are many easy ways today to listen to English, even if you don’t know English-speaking people or don’t live in an English-speaking country: radio, cable TV, podcasts, the Internet, etc.
Some Practical Recommendations
Whenever you listen to something or watch a video, try to write down three to five words or expressions you just learned or that you know but forget to use. It is very easy to listen to something, watch a video or movie and basically not learn anything new. Passive listening is useful, but at some point you need to be active and say: “Ok, what have I just learned here?”. Then write it down and review it from time to time.
Don’t hesitate to listen to the same thing several times. I do that regularly with languages I work on. I listen to a 3-5 minutes podcast, then listen to it again immediately or a couple of times during the week. If I need to, I write down and learn a few words I need to know after my first listening. You’d be surprised how much you will understand after two or three times.
If what you are listening to is a bit too fast, it’s ok to cheat and slow it down. You can do that with podcasts, YouTube videos (see below), etc. Then, when you understand what you are listening to, go through it again at regular speed.
Listen to podscasts, watch videos, etc. about things that interest you, your hobbies, your field of work. Since I play guitar, I regularly watch videos about it on YouTube in other languages just to practice but also to learn vocabulary. You learn better when you have a vested interest in what you watch or listen to.
These are some of the sites I usually recommend to my students beyond the obvious YouTube (see my Tips to use YouTube to learn languages), CNN, Ted Talks, etc.
Together with its TV counterpart PBS (Public Broadcasting Service), NPR (National Public Radio) is a public service broadcaster in the USA, funded by some tax money and support from many organizations and individuals.
NPR is non-commercial and offers a wide variety of programs. This is the radio I listen to while driving in the USA.
You can listen to the radio live on the internet (click on 24h stream on the upper right) or click on programs and podcasts that you are interested in.
If you do a search on transcripts, you will find the text of some of the podcasts or shows.
This American Life
On This American Life you’ll find plenty of podcasts about … well, life in the USA from a variety people and perspectives, usually with a transcript. Done by journalists, a plethora of great personal story telling listened to and downloaded by millions of people every week. Nice if you want to work on your “American” English.
The BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation), established in 1922 doesn’t really need any introduction. There are many ways you can watch shows or listen to BBC programs. Unfortunately, the BBC rarely offers transcripts of their shows or radio broadcasts.
Explore these sites, I’m sure you will find things to listen to that will interest you.
Financial Times Podcasts (UK)
Podcasts from the Financial Times. These vary in length and can be a bit difficult but they are a good practice for economics, finance, culture, fashion, etc. English.
If you like listening to the radio, a cool web site is Radio Garden. Just go on the site, select a place and choose one of the local radio stations. A nice way to listen to radio in English and vary the type of English you listen to.