Two simple definitions
to hear: to receive sound with the ears
to listen: to try to hear
You are very good at languages. That's obvious, because you already speak one language very well - your own! And if you can learn and speak one language well, then you can certainly learn and speak one or more other languages.
But did you ever ask yourself: "How did I learn my own language?" In fact, you never really "learned" it at all - you just started speaking it. One day, when you were about two or three years old, you started speaking your language. A few words at first, not full sentences. But you spoke. And very soon you made progress without even thinking about it. It was like magic!
But it wasn't magic. It was the result of hearing. For two to three years before you spoke, you heard people speaking your language all day and maybe all night. You heard people speaking your language. Maybe you listened to people, but more importantly you heard them. Then, as if by magic, you started to speak. All that hearing was necessary for you to start speaking. For two to three years words went IN to your head. Then words came OUT of your head! That is why hearing (and listening to) English as much as possible is so important to you now. The more English you put in, the more you'll get out!
So how can you hear a lot of English when you're not in an English-speaking country or family? Fortunately, there are many ways of hearing English in almost all countries of the world.
You can receive English language radio in most countries. Two of the best international networks are the BBC World Service and Voice of America. Both of them have special programs for learners of English. You can find information about times and frequencies for your country on their web sites. Click here for links to radio stations.
TV is an excellent resource for hearing and listening to English. The pictures help you understand what is being said. If you don't have access to English-language TV, you may be able to watch TV on Internet.
It is now a lot easier to hear English by Internet. If you're reading this at your computer, you can probably listen to some English-language radio news right now, without even moving! To be able to listen to radio on the Internet, you'll need to have special software called a "player" installed in your computer. Most sites work with two players - the RealPlayer from Real Networks and the Windows Media Player from Microsoft. Don't worry. Both these players are free and you may already have them installed on your computer.
Songs in English are everywhere, even on foreign-language radio and TV stations. Listen to them often. Buy some cassettes or CDs, or make recordings, and try to write the words for an entire song. But choose one that is not too difficult. That means it should be reasonably slow, and with real words sung clearly. Some pop songs are very unclear and are difficult even for native English-speakers to understand fully!
Outside the English-speaking world, many large cities have cinemas that show films in English, usually with sub-titles. Make it a habit to go to these films. If you need to read the sub-titles, at least you'll be hearing English even if you don't understand it.
Video has one really great advantage. You can play it again . . . and again. You can use video to watch film cassettes that you buy or borrow. If there are sub-titles, you can cover them with paper (which you can remove if you really don't understand after listening several times). And you can use video to record programs from television and then watch them several times to improve your understanding.
Try to make friends with English-speaking people so that you can practice your English through conversation. Of course, this will practice your speaking as well as your listening. And if you don't have a lot of time to go out and meet people, at least you can chat a little by telephone.
Finally, don't worry if you don't understand everything you hear. Hearing comes first! Understanding comes next!