How to listen and understand


English is different from any other language. To understand spoken English, you need to only listen to key words (they are more clear) and not to worry about small grammar words (they are not clear). For example:

“Blah blah blah sign blah blah blah bottom”, said my manager.

I understand ‘sign’ and I understand ‘bottom’. I take a pen and I sign. (The missing grammar is “You need to sign here at the bottom.” but the meaning is clear without it.)

Do not try to listen to every word – it’s impossible. Focus on the clear words – these are the words with meaning. If you try to understand every word, you will get tired and frustrated and you will miss the meaning.

Look at this story. All the grammar is missing. But you can still understand it, right?

“Stan arrived–Toronto–December 14. — came alone — wife joined–next year–found–apartment–north part–city. –joined LINC class—- evening — studied English–one year–finding – job.”



You need to learn to ask questions. It’s okay if you don’t understand, but it’s NOT OKAY if you don’t ask questions.

“Blah blah meeting blah blah blah on Thursday,” said my manager.

“Meeting? Okay,” I say. “What time?”

“Blah blah blah two thirty.”

“Two thirty?”


Learn to repeat the words you understand – this way the speaker knows if you understand them correctly.

Learn more about how to ask helpful questions and other conversation management techniques here.



You need to know short forms we use in speaking so that you can understand them in listening. There are many but here are some examples:

wanna = want to

gonna = going to

hafta = have to

gotta or gorra = got to

‘kez = because,  ’cause

kinda = kind of

sorta = sort of

ya = you

dju = do you

didju = did you

‘ev = have

Sentence: Dju wanit?  means “Do you want it?”



You must know that phrasal verbs are often used in speaking and they are pronounced together. For example:

Why is the TV on? Can you turnitoff?  (turn it off)

Why did you stop? Please goon. (go on)

Do you need help? Can you sortitout by yourself? (sort it out)

She worksout at the gym twice a week. (works out)

I need to findout where to buy good winter boots. (find out)


Learn phrasal verbs and how they sound in speaking. This will help you with listening.



Predict. Try to guess. For example, my manager says ‘meeting’. What other information will she tell me? I guess she will tell me the time and the date.

You’re in line at a grocery store. What will they ask you? The usual questions are “Would you like a bag?” and “How would you like to pay?”

You are going to the bank. Think: “What questions they might ask me?” Something about your account balance, payments, deposits, transfers, withdrawals, etc.



Look at the person’s face, lips, eyes, hands, arms. When you are listening, look at the person’s body language. Sometimes when words are not clear, body language can help you understand the meaning. In Canadian culture, it is polite to make eye contact while listening.

Very often you will need to listen to the body language to understand the real meaning of the sentence. Speakers sometimes show their attitude through HOW they talk and not what they are saying. So, listen to their voice and look at their body to get the real meaning.