How to Listen Actively

Hello there,
First of all I’d love to ask you how the life is going for you. I hope everything is fine…

Today’s question of mine is how to listen actively. We hear every day Active Listening or Passive Listening. However, most of us don’t know them well. I’m one of this most of us.

I can generally get the gist when it’s said Active Listening is the listening in which you pay attention to your interlocutor. I know, so I think all the people do, this definition of active listening. My problem here is the method.

Can someone describe me an active listening of a Podcast step by step like:
-Listen to the Podcast
-Note the words you hear but you don’t know
-Read the transcription
-Listen to the Podcast again
-As last, listen to the podcast reading the transcription.
-Read the transcription
-Note the words that you don’t know
-Listen to the unknown words in several dictionaries
-Listen to the Podcast again and again until you understand it.

As you saw up here, I want to be familiarized with the exact method of an active listening, not the definition.

Thank you all beforehand for all the responses…

i dont know

“active listening” mentions only that you are active while listening, it can be interpreted in many ways
i would just try different things and see what works best for you, there is no magic pill and its easy to spend more time looking for it than actually making use of that time learning the language

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For me, active listening means you’re actually reading along while listening, or are taking notes of what you’re listening to – it’s an active, sit down study session with audio involved.

Passive listening is when you’re just listening to to the audio, more often than not, this would involve listening while doing something else – chores, driving, walking etc. Passive listening does NOT mean you’re not paying attention what you’re listening to. It just means that you’re not making notes or reading along and you’re relying on the audio only for comprehension. Also, I’m not alone in saying that “passive listening,” as in “listening only” usually requires that “doing something else” part, as it is very hard to sit and “just listen” to something.

A third, bridge category exists while watching movies in your TL. Technically, I could call watching without subtitles “passive listening” and watching with TL subs, “active listening.” Sort of.


i think everyone has different methods for active listening. i’ve tried different “methods” and this is the one I’m doing now (this only refers to what I do on lingq, not other stuff outside of lingq)

※ read the text (without audio) first and look up words on lingq
※ i usually only use one dictionary as my main source. only if the translation from that dictionary doesn’t make sense in the context I look it up on other dictionaries
※ then I listen to the audio while reading along. depending on how long the text is or how much time I have, I do this once or twice.
※ repeated active listening: the way i do it is this: I have courses (level 1, 2, 3, 4 …) each course has about 30 lessons. so each day I do 3 lessons: 1 new lesson (level 4) + 2 old lessons (level 2 + 3) (i don’t do level 1 anymore because it has become too easy so there’s no need to do it again)
※ I do a lot more passive listening. I put all the lessons in a playlist on my phone and just shuffle them…

i’m sticking with this method right now, because it works for me so far (time-wise and otherwise) until it doesn’t anymore. then I will have to look for something else…
good luck!


An answer to this question can get very complicated!
The basic point is that as a ‘passive listener’ you are hearing a one-way communication, for example listening to a radio broadcast or listening to a podcast, or, moving up a rung on the language ladder, both listening and seeing visually a film, video, TV broadcast, etc.
As an ‘active listener’ you are able to engage in two-way communication, by both oral and subliminal responses to show that you understand what you are listening to In the conversation, although to start with it may be very difficult for you to respond with any comfort and certainly not at ‘peer’ efficiency in a new language. At a functional level the research indicates that ‘good listeners’ demonstrate three traits:

  1. not interrupting when someone else is speaking;
  2. giving off signals to indicate that you are absorbing information, such as the universal ‘mmm-hmm’ (or variations of this mumble) when, for example, you are on a non-visual two way medium such as the telephone, and then at a more enhanced level with an array of visual clues when face-to-face or on a medium such as Skype, such as a smile, a nod, expressions of surprise etc. These ‘encourage’ the speaker to keep going because they feel you are listening, even if the responses are monosyllabic grunts!
  3. and then often regarded as the epitome of understanding, the ability to repeat back what others have said to you, possibly even ’word-for-word’. [However, talk to any teacher or youth leader who has just given out instructions but has formed the clear visual impression that one of their recalcitrant charges has ’not really been listening’ so asks the classic question ‘so what have I just said?’ only to have the precise words repeated back at speed! Sometimes you suspect that the most badly behaved kids have an internal tape-recorder, even though you can still doubt that they actually ‘understood’ what was being said…]
    Certainly most studies show that ‘active’ responsive listening helps to embed words and phrases, and then using that language in speaking helps even more to transfer them to long-term memory storage. That is the basis of the various ‘spaced repetition’ systems in language acquisition and ultimately being able to communicate orally (and maybe in writing) is a valid goal to aim for.
    But lots of ‘passive listening’ can lay a very good foundation for language acquisition too. It is after all how most of us acquire our first language. There is an amusing story in Professor Katherine Kinzler’s recent book ‘How you say it’. She is a professor of psychology at the University of Chicago. An academic couple of Cantonese-speaking Americans suggested to their Spanish-speaking babysitter that the children might benefit from some ‘Chinese television’ viewing. The babysitter had no idea of two major Chinese languages, so the children became avid viewers of Mandarin programmes. When an academic colleague came to visit and asked if the children spoke Cantonese or Mandarin the parents were very surprised to find that the children spoke both - thanks to a lot of ‘passive listening’ to the latter on the ‘wrong’ TV channel.
    If you want to delve further into the various levels of ‘good listening’, have a look at an article by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, ‘What great listeners actually do’ (Harvard Business Review, 2016) at:
    What Great Listeners Actually Do

But the essential answer for language learners is ‘listen, listen, listen’ as much as you can, particularly at the beginning, and then respond ‘actively’ when you can, until gradually fluency comes.


I think that people are too nitpicky about this. There is only one thing here that determines whether you can learn from an activity, and that is whether or not you understand the message something/one is trying to convey.

For the purpose of your learning, the best thing that you can do is listen to the podcast in order to understand messages. You can also read the transcript in order to understand messages. Don’t focus on words and passages that you don’t know. Focusing on the things you can’t understand does not help you learn anything. You must use the information you do know to help fill in the blank piece of information. Focus on the general message and the more specific things will come to you later. You can look up words while you read, but the purpose of this should be to understand the overall message that the piece of text is trying to convey. I wouldn’t listen over and over because you’re better off encountering words in different contexts. If you’re going to listen again, try and to it at a later time. Not an hour or two later, but days, weeks, or months later. You need time to sort through information (this is mostly done unconsciously in your sleep). Acquisition of EVERYTHING, and I mean LITERALLY EVERYTHING is gradual! You get pieces of things and understand them more as you continue to encounter them. The useful methods focus on the messages trying to be conveyed. You don’t have to grasp these messages with perfect accuracy, but you have to understand roughly what message the context is trying to convey in order for it to be effective. Ideally, you don’t have too many unknown parts, as those prevent you from getting the bigger picture. Also, in order to infer any meaning from a piece of content, your attention must be focused on it. This is why content has to be interesting. If it is not interesting, you will not pay attention, and you will not be able to infer any meaning. So, do activities that grab your attention and allow you to focus on meaning.


I don’t understand the last part that you said I have courses (level 1, 2, 3, 4 …) each course has about 30 lessons. so each day I do 3 lessons: 1 new lesson (level 4) + 2 old lessons (level 2 + 3) (i don’t do level 1 anymore because it has become too easy so there’s no need to do it again) can you explain it easier

I don’t have time to listen to stuff I don’t understand, so I find the following methods very interesting:

  1. listen to podcast while reading translation in your native language or one that you know very well and only then listen to the same fragment while reading transcription in the language you learn.
  2. Download a media player that has a function called A-B repeat. Basically it lets you loop a chosen fragment of and audio file and repeat it ad nauseam automatically. Listen to a sentence while it’s being played back over and over, try to figure out the meaning on your own and then check the unknown words using transcription. Move to next sentence.
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I’m talking about the “courses” here on lingq. when you import a lesson you can add it to a course (or even make a new course and add it to that).
when you go to “my lessons” you see all your courses

First and foremost, listen with the intent of understanding.

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Sadly, try as I may to find one, there is no “cookie cutter” approach to this.

Listening is a number of skills:

At it’s basic comprehension level:

  • you are trying to hear the phonemes of the language. The phonemes in speech aren’t necessarily the same as you may think they are when you read them, and they can vary between speakers and context
  • you are trying to understand the connected speech, because in everyday speech words tend to merge together
  • you are trying to then convert those sounds into words that you know, and retrieve the meaning of those
  • you are then trying to comprehend the meaning of that

Unlike with reading, you have to do all that in real time.

The skills are different if you are, say, listening to a podcast where you can: slow things down, pause, rewind, repeat; then if you are having a conversation with someone.

I would say, you need a strategy that works with the material that you are working with and your level. If you are quite beginner, you may listen and not even be able to hear the individual words. At this stage, you need to listen to short things (30 seconds to a minute) many times, both with the transcript and without. Then as you progress, you might be able to listen and hear the words but not connect the meaning. At that stage, splitting your reading and listening up is helpful. I think understanding that you may listen and just hear words, but not the comprehension, is still progress.

For me, whatever I am working with, I always try to listen to it without reading at least once. I never slow the audio down, as I think it’s important to learn how to listen at native speed. If someone is speaking deliberately slowly, I speed the audio up to match what it sounds like a native speaker would speak at. Otherwise, when you start to try to communicate with real people or listen to native content then you will be lost. I think this is the most important step, because you get the experience of listening to it fresh and you can’t undo that - once you have read it, you can’t go back and do that bit again. So if you want to really “actively” listen, invest as much time as you can in this stage. I try to grasp as much as I can, picking out the words I know and, if I can comprehend, the meaning and the gist of what is happening. I know I won’t understand everything - that’s OK. When I have finished, I ask myself what words came up commonly and what the overall gist of what is happening. If I have time, I will listen again to see if I pick up more, with that framework in my head of what I think is going on. If it’s something short, I tend to listen as much as I can until I get bored of it or I really can’t mine any more out of it.

Then I read and listen, at least once, without looking up any words, to get used to extended reading and listening and trying to defer meaning from context. At more beginner stages or with difficult text, the purpose of this is just for training the ear. With the transcipt, it is already broken down into words for you so you can appreciate how the sounds connect to the words. Oftentimes I will say “oh that’s what that word was” and again this helps train the ear to different phonemes. I repeat that as many times as I need to until I can confidently pick out every single word whilst listening.

Then I usually do an intensive read, going over every word, making LingQs and marking off known LingQs, then if I have time I will try to listen again to reinforce everything.

So in summary, my method is;

  • listen, to get the brain used to listening “blind” to get the brain used to trying to work out sounds. Try to work out what is going on, but don’t worry about comprehension.
  • listen and read, to train the ear to the sounds. Again, don’t worry about comprehension but if that comes then great! Resist any urge to make or review any LingQs at this stage - the “Full Text” is my friend at this stage. However, I do note words that I notice are recurring - but again, don’t look them up! You need to get used to reading and listening for extensive periods, and looking up words breaks your flow
  • intensive read, to make the content comprehensible and mine unfamiliar words and phrases
  • listen again, to reinforce everything. I tend to move on when either I really understand, or alternatively if I am getting bored with what I am listening to! If this feels like it is becoming a chore then I think much better to move onto something new that you will enjoy, rather than getting bored grinding out the same thing.

The final step, that I often forget but is worth including, is to review again. Once we are done, we often then move onto a new chapter/new episode of something, but our brains do need to review again to reinforce those neural connections and so it’s not a bad idea to go back again a day or two later and relisten to the same thing again to check that you still comprehend it. Also, our brains form a lot of our neural networks when we sleep and so reviewing the following day gives your brain time to digest it.

I may work on the same thing for several days to accomplish all those steps, which again is not necessarily a bad thing to do.

That is what I do, give or take. It’s not a rigid method and I am flexible to what I am working with. I am not saying it’s a perfect method or works for everyone but I think I have found this to work best for me.