Aiton English

Learning Languages for Life

Category: Easy English

Hours of “Extra” listening practice in 5 steps

The best place to learn English is in an English-speaking country because you are exposed to English a lot and have the chance to use it. You get practice listening in the classroom, and extra practice outside the classroom. In the 21st century you can expose yourself to lots of English in your own country. Everybody knows about it, but not many actually do it.  Below are 5 steps to help you “achieve” this.

1 – get hold of a variety of things to listen to in English. This way you can listen to what you feel like listening to at a particular moment. We spend hours of time “making” ourselves do things when working or studying at university  / school . So listening to English should be a pleasure, and not I DON’T WANT TO LISTEN TO THIS NOW BUT I MUST DO IT TO LEARN ENGLISH pain mentality.  You’re not lazy, you just don’t want more pain than you already have. When choosing think about these guidelines:

a – the more interesting the better: If you like it you will do it. “English for pleasure not pain”

b – the more relevant to your needs the better: If you feel it is useful you will do it. E.g. if you want to improve your speaking with other people, listening to people speaking to other people is more relevant than listening to the news. If you want learn about motivation, then you need lots of motivation speeches.

c – the shorter the better: If the listening is 1-2 minutes, you can listen more times in 5 minutes = easier. If it is only 5 minutes of listening it is also easier to “find time”. People often complain “I don’t have enough time.” This is true if we need to find 60 minutes of complete focus on nothing but English, but we can all find 5 minutes somewhere in the day! If we find 5 minutes 3 times a day, that’s an extra 15 minutes per day,  an extra 30 hours per year.

d – the easier the better: If it is easy, it does not take as much energy = you will want to do it more. Of course, if it is “too easy” / “this is so easy it is wasting my time”, then it is not interesting. So “Easy” but you still feel positive about it. * Easy can be because it is slower, or does not have a lot of new words, or, for example, a movie with subtitles in your language. One example of “Easy” is a movie with subtitles in your language.


these are guidelines to think about. They are not 100% rules that ALL have to be followed with EVERYTHING.  Something may be long and difficult, but it is really interesting and relevant, so that’s fine. Use common sense and how you feel.   And remember, the types of things you feel like listening to can change with time or mood!

Examples of a variety of things are: podcasts with short dialogues, songs, TV series, movies, songs, news apps, English learning podcasts, audiobooks, audio fairytales, different youtube channels…

2 – Create “Easy – start” conditions: At the university where I teach, there are lots of machines selling Coca-Cola. If I want a Coke, it’s only a few minutes’ walk away wherever I am in the university.  It’s easy to get a coke.  Do the same with your listening. Make it easy to start. Put this “variety of listenings” on all your devices (phones, tablets, computers). Buy two / three earphones for listening. If you want, buy an mp3 player and put it with earphones in the pocket of a jacket you often wear. When I was doing this in Chinese, I had 3 mp3 players with their own ear-phones in three different jackets.

3 – Plan your “places of practice” :  Below is a table with my “plan” for the next month of “where” I will listen to Chinese / Arabic. Under the table are some more examples of situations:

Place / action


Listening type *


At the computer typing low-focus e-mails / blog entries

5 – 120 minutes

Low-focus only *

When I feel like it

Doing the dishes

15 minutes morning / evening

Both low-focus and high-focus*

Each time

Walking to the station

12 minutes


When I feel like it

Walking from the station to university

40 minutes


Each time

Washing the floors

20-60 minutes


When I feel like it

Skiing / running

20-30 minutes


When I feel like it

Tidying up

15 minutes


When I feel like it

Listening type *

This is really important to think about.

* High-focus listening = you feel the need to focus all your attention on the listening. Often this can be a movie you haven’t seen, or a podcast that you will only listen to once.  If you are doing some mental work or may be distracted by other people, then you can’t do high-focus listening.

* Low-focus listening = you can listen for a bit, then stop listening while looking at something else, then come back to listening. For example, as I type this I am listening to a Chinese TV series that I have already watched. If I focus more on my work, I stop listening, but when I focus less on my work, I hear more “bits” of the film. Because I have already watched the TV series, it doesn’t matter that I missed bits of it.

Other “Places of practice”

working out at the gym /  sitting in the train / bus on the way to work / walking my dog /putting on make-up / waiting in a queue in a shop, cafe, post office  / ironing the clothes etc

4 – each day keep a record of the approximate amount of time you spent listening when doing something.  At the end of the week look at

how many minutes you did

where you did the listening

why you didn’t do it where you thought you would


then re-write your table.

After a few weeks you will be listening a lot more.


5 – As you listen, speak!! More on this later.








How can I motivate myself to learn a language?


Only joking. Discipline is good, but it may not be enough for most people. Even if you have discipline (and energy), you probably use a lot of it for work / study. But here are 2 magic words to help you keep learning English………..

develop habits

Trust me. I learnt Chinese this way. No discipline, I didn’t like the language, you could even say I hated it. Did I need Chinese? No, not in any way. I was very busy with my job and wife and kid. But by “developing habits” I learnt it. How can you develop habits? The 3 things below should help you…


1 – The magic formula. To develop a habit, you need to keep doing something. This formula will help predict if you will do / keep doing something….


the chances you will do / keep doing  something =  

motivating / +              (enjoyment  / interest)  X  (reward/relevance)

                             demotivating / –          (difficulty) X (time)


so, more enjoyment + more reward / less difficulty and less time = you’re likely to do it / keep doing it

Here’s an example (true for me) with coffee and tea, am I more likely to drink coffee or tea?…..



  +        (I like the taste) X (it wakes me up)    

                                       –           (it’s easy to make and drink) X (it takes 7 minutes)


+        (I like the taste) X (nothing)   

                                     –           (it’s easy to make and drink) X (it takes 7 minutes)

So I’m personally more likely to have a coffee than a tea. But if somebody feels that coffee is bad for them (=bad reward), then they are less likley to drink coffee. If somebody needs to walk 40 minutes to get a coffee and not 10 seconds to the kitchen, they are less likely to have a coffee.

For any language activity, you can ask yourself 4 questions to find out if you’ll keep doing it

  1. Do I like  it? / Is it interesting?
  2. Is it useful for my needs?
  3. Is it easy?
  4. Does it take not much time?

My Chinese example: flashcards. I loved flashcards, they were on my phone, I did them 5 minutes or 120 minutes a day (way more often 5 mins :)) , whatever I felt like. Somebody else had made them. If they were difficult I deleted them.

So I started with developing the habit of flashcards, this helped me get to know and like the Chinese characters (pictures), which then made it easier / more enjoyable to read adapted books, after I built up knowledge from adapted books it made it more enjoyable to listen to songs, then the same for podcasts, movies / television series, writing, and lastly speaking.

Some points…

  • If your answer is “yes” to all 4 questions in the formula, great news, 3 is ok, 2, maybe not so good, 1 not a good idea, 0, oops
  • “Do I like it?” is the most important for longer periods.
  • “Do I need it?” is good for shorter periods
  • If you can “fool” yourself into liking or needing more, please do so
  • “Is it easy” = no……. don’t worry, ask yourself “Can I make it easier?”  (you may need to change your mentality 🙁 )

Example 1: watch a movie with subtitles in your language  or English

Example 2: focus on the words you know, not ones you don’t

Example3: when speaking, you can make it easier by worrying less about mistakes

Example 4: read adapted books

  • “Will it take not much time?” = no, then ask yourself “Can I make it shorter?”

Example 1:  instead of watching a movie, watch a TV Series episode

Example 2: limit youtube video searches about topics to 4 minutes

Example 3: read only the first and last third of a long business article

Example 4: read short stories, not long novels


2 – Create the conditions: lots of things in English, all “close” to you

Sometimes you feel like listening to a podcast. If it is on your phone, and computer, and tablet, you will find it quickly = less time = more likely to do it.

But what if you can’t find the podcasts. Or if suddenly you feel like reading a short story and not a podcast? Or watching a film, or listening to a song, or … . Unfortunately, even if we like something, we do not always feel like doing it. But if you have lots of different things near you, then you can usually find something you feel like doing, and if it’s “near” you, you’ll actually start doing it. For example, on my phone I have Chinese songs, flashcards, podcasts, movies, TV series, books, poetry, cartoons. I can always find something I want to do.

Don’t forget to have earphones near your phone / tablet, so you can listen whenever, wherever you want

Also, is your phone, computer, e-mail, facebook etc all in English? Are all the books around you in English. Are you “making” people around you speak English? This last one is tricky, but by way of example, I’m teaching my daughter Chinese to give myself practice and get someone (in the future) who I can talk with in Chinese.


3 – Always ask yourself, how can I use English, how can I develop this use?

Too often people do develop good passive habits, like listening and reading, but not active ones (speaking and writing). Here are some active habits you can develop. Remember, don’t “push” yourself too much, instead, follow the points I made above. Start with something that you like more (even if not much), and find easy / won’ take too much time / is connected with your “needs”

  • send messages (sms, video or facebook etc) in English (choose a friend that wants to / doesn’t mind = more interesting)
  • talk with a friend / colleague / partner in English (start with “short” time periods at a time that you both feel like – e.g. for ten minutes at lunch)
  • make some videos (start a youtube channel, send your teacher skype videos)
  • start a blog / vlog in English (again, start with shorter posts / videos)
  • sign up at and write some posts
  • sign up at and meet tourists in your city
  • repeat phrases as you watch movies / listen to podcasts
  • sing along to songs
  • take notes in English
  • translate in your mind what other people say (again, do this for short periods when it is convenient)
  • talk to yourself / the walls in English
  • teach someone English
  • join a conversation club
  • read out loud


If you don’t like something, don’t feel like doing something, or don’t need something, always come back later and try again.


For further reading I recommend a site by a guy called “Katsumoto”, who learnt Japanese in 18 months. His site is here for more reading. Might be difficult though, as it is for native speakers.

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