Two people having a chat

Speaking and listening are key skills for English language learners, but it can be difficult to practice these outside the classroom.

At BSC, we specialise in English Language Training, and our teachers have provided some helpful suggestions for improving your Speaking and Listening when learning English.


Improve your English Listening Skills

If you walk down the street in central London, you will hear many different voices, accents and languages being used. It’s really important to listen to a variety of English speakers from all sorts of backgrounds – this will be something you experience every day when learning English. If we do not learn how to listen properly, we might miss important information – for example, when we are asking for directions in a new town or city, or following cooking instructions.

A general suggestion to help you improve your listening skills is to not worry about understanding every single word. Instead, focus on listening for the main idea (or ‘gist’) – and note down new vocabulary in a diary to look up later.


Listen to podcasts

Podcasts can be very effective at helping you to improve your listening skills. You can choose what you listen to, when you listen and repeat as many times as you like! Podcasts can help you to build your vocabulary, hear different voices and accents, but also learn something new.

BBC Learning English has a number of English language learning-focused podcasts, including The English We Speak and 6-Minute English. Their Business English series supports learners navigate the world of work, and includes interviews with business leaders.


Watch programmes or talks on topics you are interested in

Watching films or TV shows in English – with or without subtitles – is a great way to work on listening skills. You will hear everyday English – colloquial language – and learn expressions that you might not hear in the classroom. You can also slow down or re-listen to dialogue if you mishear anything.

Listening to short talks or news programmes on topics you have learnt about in class or subjects you are interested in will help you improve your vocabulary. TED Talks are short video talks on a huge variety of topics given by expert speakers. Among other ideas, you can hear people talk about business, technology, sustainability and 21st Century skills such as collaboration or critical thinking. Choose something that you are interested in or know about – this will help with understanding vocabulary.


Take part in your college social programme

Practice your English listening (and speaking) with fellow BSC students!

Our colleges have active social programmes, with new activities every week giving you the chance to talk outside of class. These are different for each location and help you to explore exciting places near your college. In Brighton, for example, you might go to Preston Park for a picnic or see over the city at Brighton i360! If you are in Edinburgh, the social programme could include a visit to Edinburgh Castle, or a walk in Holyrood Park.

All colleges have weekly Tea and Biscuits on Tuesdays – a chance for you to talk to students from all levels as well as college team members. What’s your favourite British biscuit? I recommend jammy dodgers!

A plate of jammy dodgers
A plate of ‘jammy dodgers’ – one of the UK’s favourite biscuits.

Improve your English Speaking skills

This may sound obvious, but try to speak English outside of class as much as you can. If you live with other students, suggest using English for an hour in the evenings, rather than your home language. The more you use English, the easier it will be and the more natural it will feel.

When talking with others, ask if you are not sure what something means. This will give you the chance to have instant feedback from the person you are speaking with and help with strengthening understanding. Try not to worry about making mistakes – this is how we learn!


Reading helps!

Try out words and phrases that you have seen written down in conversation. The more you expose yourself to English in different forms, the more natural it will become. Don’t forget to keep a note of new language to help you remember.


Practice using signposting language

These words are sometimes called ‘discourse markers’. They help people understand where a point starts or ends, or when the speaker is moving onto a new topic. Discourse markers can also be a useful way to emphasise your position in a debate.

“First of all, let’s recap what we covered last week in class.”

“Anyway, that’s enough grammar for today! Let’s talk about tomorrow’s class.”

“Some people believe that the only way to learn a new language is to study grammar. Others, however, think that being immersed in the language is a far more natural way to become more proficient.”

“So, that is everything we’re going to cover today. See you tomorrow!”


Aim to learn phrases rather than single words

Having context around the words you learn is really important. This can help you really understand what a word means and how it is used. Context can also help if you don’t know what a particular word means. Reading (or speaking aloud) around the word is a natural way to learn.

Keep a vocabulary dairy of new phrases that you learn and try to add them in conversation. Using new language straight away helps you to remember what something means. Ask other people how they might use a phrase in conversation.


Prepare in advance

Do you have a hospital appointment coming up, or are you going out to dinner? Write down what you would like to say before you go and practice the conversation, especially if it involves unfamiliar language. In addition, you could record yourself playing one of the roles and role play.

Do you have a suggestion for students with their speaking and listening? Add a comment to this post and help other learners!


BSC’s new Speaking and Listening curriculum uses the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals as weekly themes, giving our students a supportive communicative space to learn, discuss and analyse vital topics such as Good Health and Well-Being (SDG 3), Affordable and Clean Energy (SDG 7) and Reduced Inequalities (SDG 10) in a real-world context. 

All ELT and IELTS students have a lesson focusing on Speaking and Listening every day, with communication being a key part of all our English language training

For more information on the UN SDGs, visit the UN website