I've been trying to improve my listening skills for about 9 months.

I realized that I can understand "BBC Radio 4 extra" very well (especially the drama), but I find it's hard to understand "CNN" and most TV movies.

I just want to know your Opinion. Is the British accent easier to understand than the American accent or they are the same?

What is the best way to understand movies? I watch movies with English subtitles but I think I'm improving my listening skills slowly. Is there any other way to understand movies ?

  • 2
    The context in which you learn English - what dialect is used in your classes and practised in your community - is what determines which you find easier: that's the English you've learned to hear. – StoneyB on hiatus Sep 23 '14 at 20:00
  • Being persistent helps. Practice every day. – user230 Sep 23 '14 at 20:04
  • This is a little surprise for me. My idea about BBC Radio 4 Extra and CNN (or any news or documentaries in general) is they are of about the same level of difficulty. Some movies are trickier, because of those sound effects and background music. I'd say that it's a good hint that you're simply more familiar with BrE (British English) than with AmE (American English). Give yourself a little more time. If you did it in BrE, surely, you will be able to do it in AmE. – Damkerng T. Sep 23 '14 at 20:16
  • Americans have no difficulty understanding BBC broadcasts. The opposite may not be true. American English (especially regional accents) is often incomprehensible to continental Europeans because of softer consonant pronunciation. Domestic CNN broadcasts are overloaded with American idiomatic English while BBC broadcasts use more formal English. – user3847 Dec 13 '14 at 18:33
  • 1
    @user3847 AmE has the infamous [ɾ] allophone for /t/ and /d/. – Nihilist_Frost Jan 12 '16 at 17:16

In my opinion, the television news shows may be too fast paced with too many verbal shortcuts to be good sources to listen to. To start with, you may want to try audio books where what is being spoken comes from a written text. I think that it isn't the accent that is problematic as much as the content and pace of the speaking. There are some British movies that I, as a native American-English speaker, have trouble understanding without subtitles while others are easier to understand than some American movies.

I think that dramatized audio is a good choice for listening skills because it is intended to carry all of the meaning through speech and the pacing is likely to be more deliberate. If you purchase an unabridged audio book along with the written book, you would have a transcript to look at if some particular passage was difficult to understand. The quality of an audio book can vary widely based on who is reading the book and how the recording was made, so I would look at reviews before investing too much money.

There are a number of sites that offer free audio dramas - I don't have one particular site I can recommend, but a search for "free audio drama" returns a long list of possibilities. If you like science fiction, The Internet Archive has episodes from "Seeing Ear Theater" that I enjoy, although not all of the recordings are great quality.


I'm a native speaker of American English and find BBC news easier to understand. :-)

BBC news does several things differently: 1) the announcers articulate more clearly 2) often the BBC journalists are using real regional dialects and intonation patterns rather than the artificial delivery of phrases that newscasters in the US are taught to use and 3) the news writing itself is often of higher quality.


From my point of view it's no surprise that understanding BBC (British English) is much easier than that mangled AE of U.S. movies. British English is what we are usually taught at school. So, what we hear from a British native is much closer to our expectation. Of course, it also depends on the region where that native comes from ;-)

How to improve listening skills?

  1. Practise
  2. Practise
  3. Practise

Your progress may depend on your native language and your individual talent for languages.

By the way, being good at listening does not necessarily mean that you are a good speaker and/or writer. For instance, I've always had excellent marks in English throughout my "school career", however one of my colleagues, who's not half as competent in writing and speaking English, has a much better listening comprehension than me - especially when listening to Americans.

  • 2
    Showing a bit of a bias there, friend? – Tory Sep 23 '14 at 21:25
  • Bias? Far from it! It was asked for our opinion, and this is mine, based on my personal experience (by the way, not only mine, but obviously also user2824371's) with both British and American English. If anyone feels offended by my answer - sorry for that! – mic Sep 24 '14 at 8:16

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