English Listening Practice: 50+ Brilliant Resources for ESL Learners
English can be a tricky language to learn. It’s full of weird spellings and strange pronunciations. As such, good English listening resources are really helpful for English learners.
That’s why I’ve put together this collection of English listening resources – to help you become a better listener as you improve your English.
This resources list is organised into five categories:
- Videos: Watching videos helps you understand body language and provides valuable visual cues for your listening practise.
- Podcasts and Radio: For covering a variety of topics and speaking styles, podcasts and online radio can't be beaten.
- Music: Listening to music gives you a look at the creative and poetic side of a language.
- News: News provides you with more formal, standard use of the language, combined with contemporary topics.
- Lessons: Lessons allow you to listen to English in a structured environment. This is really helpful when you first start learning English.
These English listening resources are for everyone, regardless of your level. So, let’s get started!
Videos for English Listening: Your Key To Understanding Body Language
Videos let you see body language. This is really important, because people say as much with their bodies as with their lips. Video is the only type of listening practice lets you see body language, so it’s a perfect place to start.
English YouTube Channels and Web Shows
YouTube started in the United States so of course there are lots of web series in English. Here are a few to help you view life in the English speaking world.
- Chad Vader: Ideal for Star Wars fans, this show is about Chad Vader, a day shift manager at the local Empire Market.
- Gary Saves the Graveyard: Created by the celebrated comedy group, The Upright Citizen’s Brigade, this show is about a man tasked with keeping 235 zombies entertained while they wait for eternal peace.
- Long Story Short: This series of short clips (each under five minutes) share the internal dialogue of a young man as he goes around his daily routine. Short sentences and big jokes make this one worth watching.
- S.O.S.: Save Our Skins: Part sci-fi, part horror, part comedy, S.O.S. won the best British Web Series award at the Raindance Web Festival in 2014.
- Written It Down: This unscripted comedy series by Australian actors won numerous awards at LA Webfest.
That is just the tip of the iceberg. Run a search on YouTube for “web series” and you’re sure to find plenty of English videos to keep you entertained for hours as you learn English.
Live Video Chat with Native English Speakers
I've had great success in my language learning missions when video chatting with tutors. Watching someone's body language while they are responding to what you say is much more authentic than just watching actors in a movie.
The best part? Everything you watch is 100% related to you and your life!
It’s worth checking out the following:
- Google Hangouts: You can chat face-to-face using Google’s popular video and voice calling system. To put yourself out on a limb, you can broadcast the call live to the whole world!
- Periscope: If you haven't jumped on the Periscope bandwagon yet, you might not be too familiar with this live streaming video service. Recently I discovered you can search for live streaming video from different countries around the world, including of course English-speaking countries. This is a direct pipeline to listen to English (or any language) in a very authentic way. After signing up, follow me by searching for “polyglot”!
- Apple Facetime: If both you and your conversation partner have Apple devices, then you can have a free call on Apple’s video conferencing software. This comes bundled with Apple computers, tablets and phones.
- Tango: While I don’t have direct experience of this software, I’ve heard it is a good way to have face-to-face conversations with people all around the world.
- Skype: The standard for most people when it comes to making video calls online. If you download eCamm’s Skype Call Recorder for Mac, or Pamela on Windows, you can record your conversations to review them later on.
- LiveStream: While this isn’t a chat service, LiveStream is a platform where people can broadcast events or activities online. A great sampling of different people and genres from around the world.
Of course, all this assumes you have someone to speak with in English. If you need a language conversation partner, be sure to check out italki, where you can find amazing native English speaking teachers.
How to Watch English Television Online
Many English language TV shows can’t be viewed outside of the country of broadcast due to copyright. That means the pickings here are slim. Even so, I’d recommend that you catch up with English language television using these resources:
- Viki: Viki is a community of television viewers who help create subtitles for shows from around the world. While mostly known for their Asian Dramas, they also have a wide selection of programmes from English speaking countries.
- USTV Now: For American military personnel and families overseas, this service streams US TV networks online. The free service gets you seven networks like FOX, NBC and ABC.
- Hulu: Hulu, a popular video streaming website based in the US, has lots of current and popular shows. If you are outside of the US you may need to use a VPN (Virtual Private Network) service to view the shows due to regional copyright restrictions.
- Netflix: Netflix is a paid-service for streaming TV shows and movies. You will also need a VPN if you are watching outside of their coverage areas.
In both cases, the easiest VPN I’ve found to use is the Hola plugin when watching in your browser.
The US is the home of Hollywood. If you’re an English learner that means you have an easy source of great English listening materials at your fingertips! Again, if you see country restrictions, try using a VPN plugin.
- Hulu Movies: Hulu comes to the rescue again with a great selection English language movies.
- SBS: SBS, a service broadcast out of Australia, has a large selection of movies from around the world.
- Netflix: Netflix has an astonishing selection of movies. Just remember that Netflix is a paid service and you may need a VPN service to view it outside the US.
- Fandor: Fandor, similar to Netflix, is a paid subscription site that provides many films from around the world in a variety of languages.
English Video Lessons
The best part about video lessons in English is that they often follow a structured format. This is is perfect for new English speakers.
The following is a selection of some of great English video lessons to help you get started:
- FluentU English: FluentU curates videos from all over the web, includes subtitles in various languages, and organises them for easy study.
- Yabla English: Yabla specialises in helping you pick up English through videos in a natural way, with real English spoken by real people. You can check out some of the their sample videos and see what it's all about.
- Learn English Through Stories: This genius YouTube channel helps you by reading you stories. Play it before you sleep for a perfect bedtime.
- English Anyone: With over 100,000 subscribers, Drew’s channel focuses on building native skills with English. With his clear diction and way of speaking he’s very easy to understand.
- Rachel’s English: Rachel’s channel focuses on helping you develop your American pronunciation by showing you how sounds are created.
- EngVid: With over 900 lessons, EngVid provides a YouTube channel for each of their 11 teachers. Plus, each teacher is from a different part of the world. If you want to practice listening to clearly spoken English with a variety of accents, then this is your channel!
Online Radio: Whatever You’re Interested In, There’s a Station for You
Online radio provides a wide sampling of topics you may not normally be exposed to. That’s why I love listening to it. Plus, it represents English spoken the way you hear it in real life. Remember: English is an official language in over 80 countries, which means there are a ton of radio stations available, in accents from all around the world.
- Listen Live Europe: This website contains online radio stations for a variety of countries in Europe, including those in the UK and Ireland.
- Talk Stream Live: This network of streaming radio talk shows is a treasure trove of English listening resources.
- Talk Zone: Another network of online talk radio shows to help you listen to more English.
- TuneIn: TuneIn is one of my favourite apps for listening to radio stations from around the world. They even have a category just for Talk Radio.
Music: A Gateway to English Lyrics and Creativity
English is different when used creatively in poetry and song. The topics and issues discussed through music or poetry tend to be closer to our minds and hearts.
Listening to music in English is a fantastic way to develop an ear for the language while being entertained and moved.
Here are some websites and links where you can find English music online.
- TuneIn English: This awesome resource also includes many stations focused on music.
- Irish Pub Radio: A music station from my home country, Irish Pub Radio streams a 24 hour selection of music that’s close to my heart.
- I Heart Radio: Just tell this website which type of music you like and they’ll set you up with a customised playlist of English music.
- Live 365: This network of online radio provides a listing of stations from all around the world.
- Jango: Jango gives you free online radio based on your preferred styles and artists
- Radio Tuna: As it’s tagline says, this is online radio made easy. Pick a genre or artist and you’re good to go!
- Pandora: Probably one of the first online music services, Pandora uses the technology from the music genome project to provide you with music you’ll love.
If all of those aren’t enough, the Telegraph newspaper has put together an exhaustive resource of their favourite online radio stations. Can’t find a radio station to satisfy your tastes here? Then it probably doesn’t exist!
And if music’s not enough, you can listen to English poetry on the following websites:
- Poetry Out Loud: Poems and performances to increase your creative listening skills.
- Poetry Archive: The Poetry Archive has a variety of audio recordings of poets reciting their own poems.
News: Contemporary Topics In Standard English
Having a conversation about the economy, politics, the latest movies or sports may prove challenging if you aren't up to date with what’s going on in the world. Listening to the news in English will teach you valuable current vocabulary, and teach you the best way to phrase common expressions on popular topics. Plus, newscasters tend to use standard pronunciation, so this is a good way to hear things said in a clear (although somewhat fast) manner.
- The Voice of America: Probably one of the best known English language news sources in the world, the VOA has been broadcasting world-wide for the better part of the last century.
- ABC Radio: This is the official radio broadcast of the American Broadcasting Channel in the U.S.
- CNN Radio Soundwaves: CNN also has an online radio broadcast to share it’s 24/7 news reporting with the world.
- BBC News: The British Broadcasting Service provides this online feed of it’s world news service.
- CBS Radio News: Another U.S. television network with it’s own radio news offering.
- National Public Radio: The non-profit NPR network is known for it’s in-depth reporting on a wide variety of topics.
- News in Easy English: Listen to news reports spoken with easy-to-understand English.
Podcast Lessons: Structured English to Help You Level Up
If you're just getting started with English, then listening to the news or watching television shows might be overwhelming. Online English language lessons and podcasts are a great way to practise listening to the language in a graded, structured approach.
The good news is that since English is such a popular language for people to learn, the amount of English-learning podcast lessons are immense!
Here are some links to online lessons and materials that will help you learn English, while providing valuable listening practice.
- EnglishClass101: EnglishPod101 is one of the first resources I recommend to new English language learners. Their lessons and materials are top-notch.
- ESL Pod: This podcast has over 1,000 lessons for English learners to pick from!
- CU Lips Podcast: Fun English lessons with natural expressions and commonly-used vocabulary
- 6 Minute English: This new offering from the BBC gives you English lessons in bite-sized chunks.
- The English We Speak: Another podcast from the BBC, this one focuses on the curiosities of spoken English.
- Listen to English – Learn English!: These short (5 minutes or less) podcasts improve your listening skill with clearly spoken conversations.
- Better at English – Listen and Learn: Genuine, unscripted conversations in English. You can download transcripts at their website.
- Quality Time ESL: Clearly spoken oral exercises with an emphasis on grammar, correct usage and pronunciation.
- ESL Aloud: Guided lessons in spoken English for those wanting to improve their communication skills.
- English Vocabulary for Business: This podcast teaches advanced business-related vocabulary.
While all of these podcasts are related to English language learners, what if you want to listen to podcasts direct from America, England, Ireland, Australia or another English-speaking country? Searching through iTunes is often challenging since they target your search results based on your native language or country of residence. Here’s my hack for finding podcasts in your language of choice which will help you locate the best podcasts in the English language.