So you’re in a meeting with one sharply dressed gentleman with the legendary Australian drawl, one dapper young Gen Z’er from Texas and a delightful young lady with a super thick accent from South India. And while you’re trying your best to understand the details of what’s being said (at least the context!) you start wondering: "what is the point of all those years of learning English if I can’t even get through 30 minutes of a meeting?"

First of all, know that it happens to the best of us! Secondly, just breathe! Yes, go take one deep breath before you continue reading this post. Did you? Great!

Now here is what I recommend to prepare yourself for future interactions with Native English speakers and their 215,987 (just throwing a random number here!) accents!

10 Steps to Sharpen your Listening Skills (For Intermediate & above ESL learners)

1. Pick a short video to watch. Ideally 4-12 minutes, and a topic of your choice, from the English speaking world. You can choose a YouTube video, a news clip (,, an explainer video from or a TED talk if you want to be inspired by an idea (with 3700+ topics, has an impressive range: cryptocurrency, innovation, fossil fuels, human rights, investing, leadership, philosophy, street art…. if you are passionate about something, you can be sure to find a TED talk about it!)

2. Turn off the subtitles. This exercise is to sharpen your listening skills, not reading skills! (You’ll obviously understand everything when you read it, but are you sure you aren’t missing small little details when you’re listening to a native speaker?)

3. Slow down the playback speed, that is, if the speaker is too fast. People usually blend words together in sentences, and changing the playback speed from 1 to .75 will help you distinguish one word from another. Yes, the sound will drag a little, but it’ll help a little.

4. Use the "10 second rewind" button and watch the parts you didn’t understand. This is the beauty of watching a video! While it’s embarrassing to ask a person to repeat what they said multiple times, it’s perfectly acceptable to click on the "10 second rewind button" on a video! Do it as many times as you'd like, till you understand what was said!

5. Note new vocabulary and look up meanings using an online dictionary. Also note the manner the words and phrases were used in the video. Remember, a large majority of words have more than one meaning, and many simple words can have completely different meanings depending on the collocation.

6. Stop translating! Once you’ve crossed the beginner level, have acquired enough vocabulary and have understood basic sentence structures, stop translating to your first language! The sooner you do it, the better. For 3 reasons: 1) Literal translations don’t make sense most of the time! 2) You need to start thinking in English! 3)You’ll soon realise that it’s a complete waste of time and that it is slowing down learning, rather than accelerating it.

7. Now turn on the subtitles: BUT ONLY once you’ve taken all the effort to understand the video without subtitles, and have sufficiently used the “10 second rewind” option! Yes, you can now go ahead and see whether you understood correctly and see what you missed.

8. Make & explain a quick summary of the video. Pretend you’ve just met someone who knows nothing about the topic. Tell her about it in a few sentences, especially the parts you found most interesting! Try using short sentences. Try using long sentences. See if you can utilise some new words learnt. If you can explain what the video was about in a few sentences in English, well! that’s it! Your job here is done!

9. Pat yourself on the back and congratulate yourself on a job well done!!

10. Do this at least once a week. You will slowly find the language centre of your brain connecting the dots. You WILL improve, slowly & steadily!

Here are some videos recommendations. Feel free to scroll down and choose the topic you like. Once you’ve watched that video, try watching another one suggested by YouTube! Enjoy!

1. Kopi Luwak is the world's most expensive coffee and is made in a rather strange way: By civet cats eating and pooping them out!! Yikes! Find out what makes this coffee so exclusive (& who came up with this idea in the first place?)

2. Do you think it's worth spending millions of dollars on on a single ad? Yes it is! Find out why, in "The brief history of super bowl ads"

3. When a shark sees a pod of dolphins, it quickly swims away! Yes! They're afraid! find our "Why sharks are afraid of Dolfins?"

4. Hate coins? Well this robotics obsessed country is obsessed with both coins and unloading them in the nearest vending machine! Yes, there is 1 vending machine for every 23 people in Japan, Find out more!

5. Did you know Pandas poop over 100 times a day? & other totally weird thing about these gentle vegetarian animals!

6. Did you notice the arrow in the Amazon logo pointing from A to Z? It means they sell everything from A to Z! How cool is that? Find out more hidden messages behind 12 famous logos!

7. Watch funny man Trevor Noah and his experiences as a foreigner in America. Here's his first time trying tacos! Hilarious! (& good practice listing to a South Africa accent)

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