headphone on laptop selective focus

Improve your listening


For lower levels (if listening is very difficult):

The ‘Dot Exercise’

1. Get a blank piece of paper and a pen. You can use a notebook.

2. Go to www.cbc.ca/radio

3. Find ‘Listen Live’ and click

4. Look at time: you will need 10-15 minutes

5. Start listening. For EVERY WORD that you understand, put one dot on the paper.

Only try to hear separate words. You must do this exercise minimum 5 days a week to get good results.

(Note: you can use TV instead of radio but then you MUST NOT look at the picture)

It’s better to use headphones – they will help you focus. Your listening will improve greatly in 2-3 months.


For higher levels (if you understand a lot and you also want to improve your speaking):

The ‘Lip Synching’ exercise

1. Go to www.cbc.ca/radio (or any other Canadian radio station of your choice)

2. Click ‘Listen Live’

3. Look at the time: you will need 10-15 minutes every day.

4. Start listening. For the first 5 minutes, listen and repeat as many words as you can – you speak at the same time as the speaker (follow as closely as you can, as fast as you can). Try to repeat almost everything, even parts that you don’t understand.

5. When you finished the active part of the exercise (5 min of repeating), leave the radio on and listen to it more – another 30 minutes. Your goal is to saturate yourself with the sound of the language so listen as much as you can – listen while you are cooking, getting dressed, brushing your teeth – any time you can find. Remember, children first listen a lot before starting to produce the language. You are like a child in English so listen!


If you understand quite a lot, try note taking (write down some main points or key words).


Another helpful trick is be repeating as if there’s another person in the room. Imagine there’s somebody who needs to hear all this information – somebody who can hear only you and is listening to YOU.


Tip:  It’s better to use earphones/headphones. This way you cannot hear your own voice.


To improve your speaking with this exercise, you must repeat not only words but also intonation (up and down movement of the voice). Don’t just repeat – copy exactly what you are hearing! Imagine it’s a song and you are trying to learn to sing it.

(Note: you can do this exercise with TV instead of radio but then you MUST NOT look at the picture on the screen)


What immigrants need to know about listening in Canada:

  • Nobody can understand every word in English while listening. English grammar is not pronounced clearly. We only pronounce important words. For example, you hear:  “–want–go–bank”  not  “I want to go to the bank.”  So, listen to the clear words only and don’t worry about the small grammar words.


  • Writing and speaking don’t match. Writing: “I’ve got to go.” but Speaking: “Gotta go.” If you want to learn listening, then listen to how people speak. You cannot learn listening from a newspaper or a book.


  • Learn to listen to different accents. In Canada, there are many immigrants. Your co-workers may be immigrants. You manager may be an immigrant. Your customers may be immigrants. So, learn to listen to different accents. You need to understand Chinese accent, Spanish accent, Russian accent, etc. In Toronto for example, over 50% of people are first generation immigrants.


  • Listening is an active process!   a) Pay attention    b) Ask questions   When you hear like this: “Blah blah blah going on a trip blah blah blah .” and you only understand the word ‘trip’, you must ask: Who? When? Where? You must have an active mindset when listening.


  • You need to know the topic! If you don’t know the topic, listening is really difficult. Read Canadian newspapers, watch Canadian TV, listen to Canadian news, learn about Canada – when you know the topic, you will easily understand what people are talking about. But you must get the information first.