Improving Your Listening Skills: VOA Special English

By Chris Armstrong

Listening skills are an important part of language learning. But while everyday conversations don’t present a big challenge for most students, longer, more complex listening tasks require more practice. These tasks are an important part of TOEFL and TOEIC tests.

Lectures at university are a good example of extended listening tasks.

I teach a first-year English lecture class on American culture and history. I recommend students go to the VOA Special English web-site for extra practice in listening and reading skills.

The site features news from America and around the world. There’s also a number of special reports on education, health, and business as well as arts and entertainment.

But what’s special about all of this is the simple and easy-to-understand English used in the broadcasts. VOA Special English programs have a core vocabulary of 1500 words, announcers speak slowly, and no difficult idioms are used in the broadcasts.

You can also read the transcripts as you listen online, or you can subscribe to and download podcasts to your MP3 music player.

There’s also a special section called The Classroom with activities and resources for learning English.

From the Classroom page you can also find these helpful features:

VOA Idiom Dictionary
This resource helps you increase your knowledge of special English expressions, or idioms. It includes definitions, usage information and dialogues. You can read and listen.

VOA Wordbook
The VOA Wordbook includes all of the vocabulary used for broadcasts on VOA Special English. For each word, you can see the meaning, synonyms, and example sentences. You can read and listen.

Basic, Intermediate and Advanced activities on this page help you develop your English skills.

If that’s not enough, you can even watch video reports subtitled in English on VOA’s YouTube channel:

If you’re really serious about improving your English listening skills, VOA Special English is a great place to start.

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