How to make listening a habit

Today I have a guest post for you from Cara of Leo listening. Cara’s post is packed full of tips on how to make listening to English part of your daily routine. So, if you want to do more to improve your listening skills, keep reading and use the comments section to let us know about your listening goals.

Are you listening to enough English?

The answer is probably not!

Jack Askew of To Fluency asked his audience how much time they spent a week listening to English.

How do you think they answered?

Less than one hour a week. Which isn’t enough to make progress. Especially as just listening and just practising won’t solve all your problems.

But if you’re at zero minutes a week, how do you increase that without feeling overwhelmed and just giving up?

Well-intentioned teachers, including me, give learners tons of advice and resources. But we don’t always tell you how to fit all this learning into your life.

I give my learners tasks to do before their lessons. I’ve always assumed that well-educated adults have their act together and know how to get organised. But it’s not easy if you’re not used to it.

I now take the time in my lessons and programmes to share some tips on how to fit in the work. Otherwise it doesn’t get done and progress suffers! And getting things done is the totally boring secret to success.

The people who make progress and achieve their goals are the ones that are the most consistent. They’re not necessarily the most talented, most intelligent or best-looking people (not that those qualities don’t help!). They focus on getting a little bit better every day.

I’ve been reading a lot recently about building habits, rather than setting goals. James Clear has some fantastic advice about this, which you can apply to every area of your life. For him, success is a question of sticking to routines and building habits. I’ve heard as much from Beth Cooper at Buffer too.

So how can you make listening a habit? So you can understand native speakers. And enjoy your favourite shows and films without reading the subtitles.

Give yourself a ridiculously easy goal

Let’s say you’re listening to almost no English. Or sometimes you try to listen to a podcast. Or you occasionally attempt to watch a film but with subtitles in your language.

You’re not going to go from that situation to listening to an hour of English a day. It’s totally unrealistic. You’ll make yourself miserable and give up.

So if your starting place is zero minutes a week, create a habit that’s easy for you to adopt. Like listening to one five minute, or even a 2 minute (yes, they exist) podcast a day.

The aim here is to build the habit. You need to make it so easy that you can’t fail.

I’m working towards doing a short hike (30 minutes) a day. Right now, I’m building the habit of walking around outside for 5 minutes every day – it’s my goal for the month of May. Pretty far from my end goal of hiking every day right?

But I’m building the habit by making sure I can’t fail. I mean, how can I not manage to go outside for 5 minutes a day? I can walk for longer if I feel like it. I might even do my hiking route. But if I don’t and I only do my 5 minutes I’ve succeeded because I’ve done what I need to do to build my habit.

2. Add a goal to an existing habit

We do lots of things every day that we don’t even think about. A classic one is getting your morning cup of coffee or tea. How long does it take you to drink your beverage? Do you have enough time to listen to a podcast or watch a movie clip while you drink?

Listening during your morning routine makes it more likely to happen. This is the big premise of the Miracle Morning, which I finally got round to reading this year. You take time to work on yourself in the morning by doing exercise, reading, visualizing and meditating.

You do all of these tasks before you start the rest of your morning routine like having a shower or breakfast. I find that a bit tricky sometimes. It’s easier to tack some of these activities onto existing routines.

Have a think about what you regularly do. Where and when could you add listening? It doesn’t have to be in the morning. But that ensures it gets done.

3. Get ready for success

So you’re building a habit you can’t fail to achieve. You know which of your existing habits you’re going to add it to. But are you organised enough to make it happen?

You want to listen to a podcast during your morning commute. So the night before, you download the episode or episodes you want to listen to. That way, you won’t need to worry about wi-fi and trying to stream the podcast while you’re in a tunnel or whatever.

You create a playlist on YouTube of movie clips or short videos in English. When you have a 5-minute break at work, you watch one of them. You subscribe to channels in English about your favourite topics so you never miss a new video.

You add an app to your phone like Soundcloud or Stitcher so you can easily stream a podcast when you want to listen to one.

You sign up to hear from a podcaster or vlogger every week with their latest episode. That way you never miss them.

You have a pile of films or CDs in English next to your computer. So it’s always easy to put one on. You have a folder on your desktop full of films and music in English.

With some tiny tweaks, you’ll have no excuses for not listening to English.

4. Productivity is a question of priorities

I love listening to Darius Foroux’s podcast. He talks a lot on his blog about beating procrastination and improving productivity. He did a podcast episode recently where he said that productivity is a question of priorities.

If you don’t know your priorities, you can’t be productive.

So let me ask you this: is understanding spoken English a priority for you? Do you know why you want to focus on this skill?

For some people, it’s a question of understanding what they watch without subtitles. It’s the enjoyment factor.

Others realise they’ve missed out on opportunities. Even though they can speak English, they avoid situations where they risk not understanding.

For others, the stakes are even higher because they’re living in an English-speaking country. They feel isolated because they can’t understand what people are saying to them. They can’t go to the cinema or the theatre because there are no subtitles. They’re thinking about giving up on their dream of living abroad.

Once I admitted a few years ago that I wanted to live in France long-term, my priorities changed. I went from doing 6 random teaching jobs and working in a theatre at night to getting a master’s degree in International Business, doing 2 internships in French-speaking environments, getting a job, and now setting up my business.

My priority in my life is making my business work so I can finance my life in France and maintain a connection with my friends and family in the UK. I try not to worry about other things. Or where other people are putting their time and money. You could do a million different things with your life. But you have to choose according to your priorities.

So is understanding spoken English a priority for you? Maybe there’s another area of English you need to concentrate on first, and then later listening can take a more important role. That’s okay. Your priorities evolve as your life does.

Habit building for listening: your next steps

1. Start with the final step. Why is understanding spoken English a priority for you? What do you want to do? This will help you choose the right materials and set the right goals.
2. Build the habit by setting a ridiculously easy goal. You don’t start with the end goal, like watching a whole 2-hour film without subtitles. You start small and work towards your aims.
3. Add listening to existing habits in your daily routine. Listen while drinking your morning coffee. Listen on your commute. Listen during your afternoon break at work. This way you don’t need to think about when you’re going to listen. You just add it to what you’re doing anyway.
4. Get organised so that listening to English is unavoidable. Everywhere you go: your phone, your computer, your house – make sure it’s so easy to listen to English that you can’t fail.

Tell us in the comments what daily listening goal you’re going to set for yourself to make listening a habit.

About Cara

Hi, I’m Cara Leopold, the online English listening teacher at Leo Listening. I help bookworms and vocab nerds who prefer reading to listening get conversation-ready by teaching them how to understand fast, informal spoken English without translating in their heads.

Check out Cara’s website here: Leo Listening
You can follow Cara on social media: Facebook
Cara’s fast, natural English podcast on Soundcloud
You can subscribe to Cara’s podcast: iTunes or Stitcher.

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