Turn up your Canadian English listening-skills: Tune in to CBC Radio

Canadian English PracticeI am often approached by newcomers for tips on how to improve English listening and comprehension skills. As a language learner myself, I have had my fair share of difficulty mastering regional slang and accent. What’s more, when you are immersed in a language that is not your mother-tongue, it can seem as if everyone around you is speaking at a break-neck (incredibly fast) pace. Because language is in constant evolution, and takes various forms depending on the speaker, it is nearly impossible for learners to be exposed to the wide variety of Canadian spoken English in a traditional classroom.

So what advice do I give? I tell every keen language learner to listen to CBC Radio. The national public broadcaster is free-of-charge, accessible online, and provides a variety of spoken content that orients the ear to Canadian speech. For newcomers who are unfamiliar with our culture, CBC also provides a great introduction to Canadian comedy, literature, story-telling, politics, and music.

The radio is the best tool for honing your listening and comprehension skills because it can be used independently, from almost anywhere. Because radio does not offer body language, nor subtitles to read, it is best for those who are focusing on improving their listening in order to be able to conduct everyday tasks such as having a phone conversation or participating in a webinar.

Here is an activity to improve your listening skills while tuning in to CBC Radio:

Turn on the radio and go about your regular activities (cooking, cleaning, walking). After five minutes, stop what you are doing and focus entirely on the radio for one full minute. At the end of the minute, ask yourself these questions to test your comprehension:

  • Who is speaking?

  • What is the topic?

  • How do they feel about the topic? (Are they positive about it? Negative? Happy? Disappointed?)

  • Do I agree with the speaker? Why or why not?

If you can answer some or all of these questions about the content, pat yourself on the back (congratulate yourself) and keep practicing.

If you struggle to answer these questions, it may be that you are focusing on translating vocabulary that you have memorized from your mother-tongue. Memorization is important – it is akin to programming vocabulary into your brain’s software. However, when it is time to listen, we need to step away from the translation/memorization strategy and focus on the message itself. Repeat the exercise above with the questions in mind and consciously avoid focusing on the meaning of each word. You may be surprised at how much of the key message you understand, even if you miss a word here or there.

For many Canadians, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) represents the clearest reflection of our country, its people, and our position in the world. As a CBC fan myself, I usually have the radio on throughout the day-and I’m not alone. In fact, on Saturday night when I arrived at my hockey game I came across a teammate who was humming the very same song that had just been playing on our local CBC1 station (91.5 in Ottawa). We hummed the catchy tune together the entire game of shinny (unorganized) hockey – for me, life just doesn’t get more Canadian than that! It comes as no surprise to read in CBC’s 2001-2002 Annual Report that 92% of Canadians polled believed that the CBC is an essential service. I believe that CBC Radio is also an essential tool for English language learners. Tune in and tell me what you hear – chances are, I’m listening too!

Arrive to Canada with confident English communication skills. My Canada Plan offers expert English language learning strategies and one-on-one practice with a Canadian English speaker.

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