5 practical techniques to improve your listening skills

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We listen more than write, read or talk

Listening is our most used skill. Studies say that when we communicate, we spend about nine percent of our time writing, 16 percent reading, 30 percent speaking, and 45 percent listening.

It can be hard to understand Canadians

The Canadian accent is not hard to understand. However, native English speakers can speak quite fast. It’s hard to catch up especially when they use idioms and Canadianisms (See Community Resources below for more Canadianisms).

Techniques to improve your listening skills:

  1. Sentence stress

    Don’t focus on each word a person says. Notice words that are said louder and longer. This will help you understand faster. Ignore words like “like,” “I mean” or “you know.” They are fillers and don’t add meaning to the sentence. For example: “Do you want to go, and like, get a cup of coffee with me sometime?” The words “get” and “coffee” will be stressed. You can guess that the person wants to have coffee with you.

  2. Listen for context

    There are times when you don’t know the meaning of a word. Guess the meaning by focusing on other words said after (or before) it. For example: “I think I’ll get a double-double and a donut at Tim’s.” What is double-double? Guess what it means by focusing on the words “donut” and “Tim’s.” What do you buy at Tim’s? What goes well with a donut? Answer: coffee. Notice the intonation. A person asking a question will sound different from someone saying a fact.

  3. Listen to Canadian radio/watch TV and movies

    Listen to songs and light banter on FM radio stations. Watch Canadian television shows regularly. Songs, shows and movies will help get you used to how Canadian English sounds. Turn the closed captions on and read the dialogue. Practise how to say the words.

  4. Use audiobooks or podcasts

    Listen to audiobooks and podcasts. Your listening skills will become sharper because there are no images or other context clues. You will rely entirely on your hearing.

  5. Relax

    Stay calm when you want to listen well. Stress can make it harder to listen. Don’t worry if you didn’t understand the first time. People usually repeat what they say especially when they want to emphasize something.

Get out there and listen:

Be exposed to conversations. Listen to your neighbours, attend lectures and go to parties. Listen actively at work. Notice how people sound. Say “sorry, I didn’t catch what you said,” when you don’t understand. That’s ok. Just keep on listening.
Article updated October 26, 2021.
Sources: Listening: Our most used communication skill, Dick Lee and Delmar Hatesohl, MU Extension and Strategies to improve English listening skills, Kenneth Beare, Thought Co. Accessed October 30, 2018.

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Community Resources

Learn more Canadianisms. Read Can you Can-speak? Can you Can-speak 2 and Can you Can-speak 3.

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