TRAIN YOUR LISTENING SKILLS: Active vs. passive listening

Nout is holding his hand next to his left ear. On the left side of the picture, there is the title of the video "Improve your listening comprehension

Today, I want to explain to you how to train and improve your listening skills and teach you some tricks that could work for Dutch but also for whatever other target language you might be learning. First of all, we need to make a distinction between active and passive listening. I’ll explain difference between the two and how they can help you improve your language skills. If you’re an A1-A2 student, I’ll also give you some tips on how to build a positive relationship with your target language when passively listening and how to find listening material suited to your needs, interests and level.


Before you start a listening exercise or session, always think about what your goals are. If your goal is to improve your exact, precise understanding of (Dutch/target language X) texts and dialogue (such as names, dates, places information), then active listening is what you’re looking for.

Active listening

Most likely that would entail using the dialogues from the book that you’re using in class, (re)doing a multiple choice related exercise and answering specific questions about the dialogue.

If you don’t want to redo the same exercises you’ve already done, you can either pause after each sentence someone has said and try to repeat that sentence. You could also listen to a dialogue from class without looking at the text, write down some crucial words and information and then try to explain orally what happened. You could even record yourself doing just that. In general, try to do active listening exercises as often as possible, especially if you’re still on an A1-A2 level.

Passive listening

If your goal is on the other hand to interact with the language in a more casual way without necessarily devoting all of your attention to each individual word, then passive listening is the way to go. A1-A2 students tend to underestimate this part, even though it’s so crucial. Believe me, if you only stick to the dialogues from your study book, you’re bound to get a little bit bored at some point during your learning process. Learning a language can be and should be fun, so make it happen.

Passive listening is all about developing a positive, casual relationship with your target language and that also means that you expose yourself to the language in the most casual way possible. Do you listen to music when doing the dishes or laying on the couch drinking a glass of France’s finest, well then just throw on some music in your target language. Do you like to watch tv or movies, why not throw in some videos in your target language? You could maybe even watch a YouTube video about your favorite hobby in your target language.

One warning with passive listening

Don’t get stuck with audiovisual content that you don’t like. If you don’t like a certain artist / creator / documentary, then try and find something else. Remember: this is all about developing a positive relationship, about discovering things that you like and finding things in the culture of your target language that you can relate to. That means putting the work and time in because passive exposure is so much related to personal taste. As your understanding of the language grows, you’ll find more and more material.

If you’re an A1-student and you’re scouring the net for good audiovisual material, always make sure that your material has a substantial visual correspondence. That means: avoid soaps, crime series, detective series, etc. (it’s a bunch of people talking about things that have happened, will happen or might happen to people often not in the room) and go for travel documentaries, food programs (recipes are useful), YouTube videos about gym or yoga workouts, etc. You could also try to watch your favorite animated movie in your target language (no matter the culture, most animated movies are dubbed for kids anyhow) either with English or target language subtitles.

Good luck!

Here you can find some specific sites that will help you find good A1-A2 audiovisual material:


Finally, here you can find my own personal playlists for Dutch / Flemish music.

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