How to strengthen your listening comprehension skills

How to strengthen your listening comprehension skills

This week, Insight writer and EAL teacher Niki Cook offers her tips and advice to help strengthen your listening comprehension skills in EAL.

Listening is one of the four key elements of communication, and it’s certainly a key skill when it comes to the VCE English as an Additional Language (EAL) course. In fact, listening comprehension is the major difference in assessment between English and EAL, so it can be easy to overlook if you’re an EAL student in an English class.

While you will be listening to English every day, it’s important to prepare for the type of active listening you’ll need to do in VCE, so the earlier you get started the better. Below are some tips and strategies to help you build your listening skills.


Know the skills

The first step to strengthening your listening skills is to familiarise yourself with them. The VCE English and EAL Study Design outlines the specific skills and knowledge needed for this Outcome, so that’s a good place to start. We won’t go into all the details here, but below are a few key elements to be aware of.

  • You need to know how the non-verbal aspects of speech – such as intonation, stress, rhythm, pitch, timing and volume – affect the message being delivered.
  • You need to know that the context of a spoken text has a significant effect on language and delivery – this means when and where the conversation occurs, and who is speaking. You also need to know how these elements are affected.
  • You need to be able to identify the relationship between the speaker/s and their audience and what each speaker is trying to achieve. These are factors that will affect the way speakers interact with each other.
  • You need to be able to identify the literal and inferred meaning in spoken texts – this means what is actually being said, and what is suggested or implied by what is being said.


Listen, listen, listen

Unsurprisingly, the best way to strengthen your listening skills is to listen! You should aim to listen to a wide variety of material on different topics to build your confidence listening to unfamiliar material. It’s also important to practise listening with purpose – using comprehension questions to check your understanding can be really beneficial.

Podcasts are a great option because they are widely available, can be repeated and paused, and are available on just about any topic you can think of. Some podcasts will also provide a transcript, which means you can read over what is said afterwards. Check out the following podcasts.

  • Behind the News (BTN)
    This is a news website targeted at young people that releases daily videos about topical issues. The videos are typically around five minutes long and a transcript is provided. They also have weekly multiple-choice quizzes so you can test your comprehension.
  • The Squiz
    This is a podcast that releases new episodes every weekday at 6 a.m. It provides a summary of the key news stories for the day and has a pace that is suitable for practising your listening skills. While the podcast doesn’t include transcripts, you can sign up for a written summary that is very similar.
  • TED Talks
    You may already be familiar with TED Talks as they have videos on almost everything, from how the brain works to why cats are weird! Talks vary in length, which means you can always find something to fit the time you have available. Most videos have transcripts, often in a variety of languages, so you may be able to check your understanding of the material in your first language as well. And if you check out the TED-Ed site, some of the talks have quizzes so you can test your understanding after you’ve listened.

Remember that VCE EAL assesses your understanding of Standard Australian English and the material you hear in the exam will be Australian English, so aim to find Australian speakers to help familiarise yourself with relevant accents and vocabulary.


Make it a habit

As noted above, the key to strengthening your listening skills is regular listening. Therefore, look for opportunities to build listening into your daily schedule. If you catch public transport, go for a run or take your dog for a walk, you can use these times to practise your listening. By making listening part of your routine, you’ll help to build your skills over time.

Use your interests to your advantage – find a podcast about a topic that you’re passionate or curious about, as it will be much easier to establish a habit if you are interested in what you’re listening to.


Build your vocabulary

Working on developing appropriate vocabulary and metalanguage (language to discuss language) is just as important as practising your listening skills. Some of the more complex skills that are assessed in VCE relate to the delivery of the text and the interaction between the speakers. You need to be able to explain how something is said and the way the delivery affects the message.

The feedback from the 2020 VCE EAL exam noted that many students struggled to find the words to accurately discuss the interaction between the speakers, and they relied on simple, general words such as ‘happy’. To help you prepare for your future VCE studies, set up a word bank of vocabulary to describe the way that people are speaking, and another one for words to describe the relationship between the speakers. Group words together that are positive, negative or neutral, and include definitions in your first language to help you identify the differences between them. When listening to a text, choose a word to describe the tone being used – you could then compare your word choice with a friend and discuss your selection.

Listen often, listen widely, and listen with purpose, and you’ll be taking positive steps towards preparing yourself for your VCE studies!


Looking for resources to use for extra listening practice? Insight’s Years 11 and 12 EAL Listening Practice Student Collections 1 and 2 offer original audio texts on diverse and engaging topics that are designed to develop students’ listening and comprehension skills. Modelled on the tasks that appear in Section A of the VCE EAL exam, the collections come with questions for each audio text, together with mark allocations and sample responses. These collections are available for sale direct to students.

Insight’s Years 9 and 10 EAL Listening Practice Collection 1 and Years 11 and 12 EAL Listening Practice Collections 1 and 2 are available for sale exclusively to teachers, and are ideal for exam practice.

The EAL Listening Practice Student Collections are produced by Insight Publications, an independent Australian educational publisher.


Photo credit: Mongta Studio/shutterstock

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