Listening: How to Practice IELTS Listening Skills Using TV and Film

July 13, 2017 by Tony Rusinak

“Stop watching those videos! Do your homework!” Have you ever heard this? Maybe you even said it to yourself. There is a reason why we have this conflict. It’s because we love to watch videos. Sitcoms, movies, music videos, TED Talks, cat videos, to mention just a few. Who wants to do homework when you have all these options? So, why not combine the two? With some thoughtful preparation, you can prepare for IELTS listening by using videos. Check below for some ideas:

Genre Selection - Follow Your Heart

Don’t  just watch the TV show Friends! It's funny, but really? Are you serious? It’s like 20 years old. They don’t even have cell phones in this sitcom. Many studies have shown that when students watch and study things they like, they learn better. So, choose the right genre. Genre means the style or category. Find a genre of video in English that you really love and use them to study. You'll pay more attention and have more fun.


 Subtitles - With or Without You

When looking for a video to study English, there are a lot of important things to consider. One of the most important is to check for subtitles. Ideally, you will have the option to turn them on and off. If you do have subtitles, you can try this exercise. It will really improve your listening accuracy:


  1. Turn off subtitles.
  2. Choose a short section of spoken English (2-5 minutes).
  3. Using the play and pause button, write down every word you hear.
  4. Watch the video again with subtitles on.
  5. Compare your notes to the subtitles. Check for accuracy. If there is a section you don’t catch, review it until you do.

Subtitles - Found in Translation

This is an awesome exercise that will definitely improve your English. If you can, find a video that has both your first language and English for subtitles and follow these steps:


  1. Turn the volume off and select subtitles in your language.
  2. Watch the video muted with your language subtitles.
  3. Translate the subtitles into English.
  4. Turn the volume on and watch the video again.
  5. Compare the spoken English to your translation notes.
  6. Check for accuracy and synonyms.


Karaoke Time - Reading Along 

It's a well-known fact that reading along with native speakers will help your listening skills and your reading skills. Try finding a short clip of a video that you love. It's best to find one with subtitles. Listen to the script a few times. After that, read along with the actors. This will improve your pronunciation and really help you understand the subtle* points of the language.

*Subtle: Small but important details of something.


Variety is the Spice of Learning

Although you may have found the perfect movie series to learn English, you still need to have variety. Maybe your are addicted to TED Talks, or maybe you just watch action movies. This is great, but just like real English, IELTS tests you on a variety of styles and accents. To be ready, make sure you practice for both familiar and unfamiliar English.



 News is Awesome for IELTS

As you might know, the listening tracks in the IELTS are often recordings of people speaking. There is no music and they usually focus on one topic. TV news reflects this type of speaking. Find a news channel you like then listen to it. There are millions of high-quality and free news clips online. For example, CBC, Local Radio Shows, Podcasts, Archives. Here’s a tip - look for ones with transcripts. This will allow you to check anything that is difficult to hear. 

The All-important Synonyms

Anyone who has taken an IELTS preparation course knows that a good knowledge of synonyms will really help you on the IELTS test. Knowing synonyms helps you understand questions better and be prepared for the listening. One great way to practice synonyms is to pause the movie every minute or two and brainstorm synonyms of all the key nouns you heard. If you can’t think of any or want more, try using a thesaurus. A thesaurus is like a dictionary but searches for synonyms, not definitions.   

Study Buddy

Are you a social learner? Many of us are. For some, the best way to commit to a schedule and to improve quickly is with the help of a friend. Besides it being more interesting and fun, there are a lot of exercises you can do to help each other’s listening while using video. Here are a few:

  1. Prepare a video clip for each other made up of questions. It’s a fact that the person preparing actually learns more!!!

  2. Watch a TV show, then discuss both the main ideas and the fine details. Re-watch the video to check what you talked about.




IELTS Expert

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