Academic listening is mostly about the understanding of the spoken material in the educational context. The sources may range from lectures, debates, seminars, webinars. In most of the cases, academic listenings include high-level language structures, complex vocabulary, fixed expressions. Therefore, many students have difficulties while comprehending the formal material. 

In this article, we will discuss top tips which will improve your learners’ listening skills and boost their confidence at all levels. 

Tip 1. Content

The selection of the materials is one of the challenges connected with the academic listening. In the case of university lectures, the choice of the topic is course-related. In the ESL lesson, teachers have more freedom in the selection of the material to satisfy their students’ needs and interests. Podcasts and TED Talks offer a wide variety of topics for listening. 

Tip 2. Preparation 

If we deal with a lecture listening, students can read some “background” information about the upcoming lecture beforehand so that they know what they are going to cover in the lecture. In ESL lessons, teachers can integrade these preparation stapes into a warmer activity, devote more time to the pre-teaching of the key vocabulary and use a lot of visuals to stimulate engagement and arouse interest.

Tip 3. Note-taking

Effective note taking will greatly hone learners’ listening skills. Note-taking serves as a useful tool to record the key information, helps you remember what you heard, concentrate and evaluate the information effectively. Furthermore, while selecting what to note down increases the understanding. There are several cues which indicate important information and are signals for the learner to take notes:

  • Introductory remarks by which lectures often begin a “big picture”.
  • Lecturers often signal the key information with phrases like: The main aspects are … , This is important… or To sum up.
  • Important points are usually repeated. Pay attention to repetitions. 
  • Phonological cues (voice emphasis, change in volume, speed, emotion and emphasis) often indicate vital information.

The notes can be used for post-listening activities as well. Students can be divided into groups and asked to reconstruct the listening, write its summary by using their notes. 

Tip 4. Specific Listening Tasks

Any listening lesson has three main steps: pre-listening, while-listening, post-listening. 

Here are some typical activities for these stages:


  • provide keywords; 
  • provide related visuals, ask to guess the content;
  • provide reading, interviews, video clips for students to understand the topic better;
  • preview comprehension/opinion questions. 


  • fill in chart;
  • take notes (structured frame);
  • label a visual. 


  • follow-up questions;
  • summary discussion.

The main difference between academic listening and general listening is the depth and extent to which these techniques are exposed. Teachers should devote more time to the study of functional language, key concepts, words, provide extra reading to some of the most important concepts or words to equip the learners with more information. All that will help to digest the information better.

Tip 5. Divide the listening into small chunks

When learners are exposed to long listenings, they may be distracted from the main “message”. Therefore, listening can be divided into small chunks. Students might listen to the recording for one minute, stop, discuss the material in pairs, answer some comprehension questions, fill in charts, tables, write out signal words, key ideas, etc. 

Tip 6. Bottom-up processing

The main idea of the given technique is to focus learners’ attention to some specific information in the listening. They may listen and write down just the verbs, adjectives, nouns, adverbs, functional language. Another activity can be listening and telling which of the words or expressions they hear (the words and expressions are given beforehand). Or they might need to write out specific items or patterns.  

You can read more information on improving listening skills here.

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