Stop Learning More Slang, Idioms, or Phrasal Verbs

When you’re learning a new language, many people try to learn slang, idioms, and phrasal verbs.

They think that’s the way to sound like a native speaker.

But if you only focus on those things, it might not help you understand the language better.

This lesson will tell you why it’s not a good idea to focus only on slang, idioms, and phrasal verbs, and what you should do instead to improve your listening skills.

Understanding the Basics of Listening Skills

Listening is one of the most challenging aspects of learning a new language.

It requires not just knowing the words but also understanding the context, the speaker’s accent, and the nuances of the conversation.

Good listening skills involve:

Comprehension: Understanding the meaning of words and sentences.

Context: Grasping the context in which something is said.

Accents and Pronunciation: Recognizing different accents and pronunciations.

Nuances and Emotions: Catching the speaker’s tone, emotions, and implied meanings.

The Role of Slang, Idioms, and Phrasal Verbs

Slang, idioms, and phrasal verbs are important parts of any language. They make the language colorful and expressive.

Here’s a quick look at each:

Slang: Informal words or expressions used by particular groups.

For example, “cool” meaning “good” or “excellent.”

Idioms: Phrases where the meaning isn’t obvious from the individual words.

For example, “kick the bucket” meaning “to die.”

Phrasal Verbs: Verbs combined with prepositions or adverbs to create a new meaning.

For example, “give up” meaning “to quit.”

These elements are common in everyday speech and can make conversations livelier and engaging.

However, knowing a lot of slang, idioms, and phrasal verbs won’t necessarily make you a better listener.

Explore more topics:

Why Learning More Slang, Idioms, and Phrasal Verbs Won’t Help

Overemphasis on Vocabulary: Focusing too much on these elements can lead to an overemphasis on vocabulary at the expense of other important listening skills. Knowing words is one thing, but understanding how they fit into a conversation is another.

Lack of Context: Slang, idioms, and phrasal verbs are often context dependent. Without a deep understanding of the cultural and situational context, you might still find it hard to follow conversations even if you know the words.

Diverse Accents and Pronunciations: Native speakers have various accents and ways of pronouncing words. Slang, idioms, and phrasal verbs can sound very different depending on the speaker’s accent. Without exposure to different accents, your listening skills might remain weak.

Listening is More Than Words: Effective listening involves more than just understanding words. It includes recognizing intonation, emotion, and implied meanings. Slang, idioms, and phrasal verbs don’t teach you these aspects.

Real-Life Conversations: In real-life conversations, people use a mix of formal and informal language. Focusing too much on slang and idioms can leave you unprepared for formal or semi-formal conversations.

What You Should Focus on Instead

To genuinely improve your listening skills, consider the following strategies:

Active Listening: Practice active listening by paying attention to the speaker, noting their tone, and observing non-verbal cues. Try to understand the message beyond the words.

Exposure to Different Accents: Listen to a variety of accents. This can be done through movies, TV shows, podcasts, and conversations with native speakers from different regions.

Listening Practice: Engage in regular listening practice. This could involve listening to news broadcasts, audiobooks, and educational videos. Try to follow the content without relying on subtitles.

Interactive Listening: Participate in conversations with native speakers. This real-time interaction helps you practice understanding and responding appropriately.

Focus on Context: Pay attention to the context in which words are used. This will help you understand the meaning even if you encounter new slang or idioms.

Comprehensive Learning: Balance your learning by focusing on grammar, formal language, and everyday conversational skills. This holistic approach will make you a better listener.

Practical Tips to Improve Listening Skills

Watch and Listen to Diverse Content: Consuming content in the target language exposes you to different speaking styles and vocabularies. Mix it up with news, movies, podcasts, and interviews.

Use Subtitles Wisely: Initially, you can use subtitles to help you understand. Gradually try to wean off them to challenge your listening comprehension.

Practice Shadowing: Shadowing involves listening to a piece of audio and repeating it immediately. This can improve your pronunciation and listening accuracy.

Engage in Language Exchange: Find language exchange partners. Speaking with native speakers can provide practical listening practice and expose you to authentic language use.

Take Listening Quizzes: Online platforms offer listening quizzes that test your comprehension and provide immediate feedback.

Join Conversation Clubs: Participate in conversation clubs or online forums where you can practice listening and speaking regularly.

The Role of Patience and Persistence

Improving your listening skills takes time and patience. It’s important to be persistent and consistent in your practice.

Here are some tips to stay motivated:

Set Realistic Goals: Set achievable goals for your listening practice. This could be listening to a short podcast every day or having a conversation with a native speaker once a week.

Celebrate Small Wins: Celebrate your progress, no matter how small. This could be understanding a difficult sentence or following a conversation without needing repetition.

Keep a Listening Diary: Maintain a diary of your listening activities and note down new words or phrases. Reflect on your progress regularly.

Stay Curious: Stay curious about the language and culture. This curiosity will drive you to explore more and improve your skills.


Learning slang, idioms, and phrasal verbs can be fun and helpful when studying a language, but they won’t magically make you a better listener.

To really improve your listening skills, you need to pay attention to things like context, accents, pronunciation, and body language. Practice active listening, expose yourself to different types of content, and make sure to practice regularly.

Don’t forget to be patient and keep trying – becoming a good listener takes time and effort!


Check out these awesome English learning books I recommend:

Oxford Practical English Usage

Conversation Skills for All Occasions


How to Talk to Anyone


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